Happy Halloween: Omens And Portents

My life sometimes seems full of Halloween portents and omens. When I moved to North Carolina, we lived on the shore of a large lake; I occasionally watched an eagle gracefully swoop down, a picture of serenity, and suddenly scoop up a large bass with his talons. I would then watch this predator glide to a large longleaf pine tree on the edge of the water where the bird ripped and shredded the flesh of the fish with its curved beak, and ate.

Later, I reflected that in ancient cultures, people would regard such a sight as an omen, a predictor, a portent of the future. I then recalled an intense image I experienced during the total eclipse of the moon on November 29, 1993, about six months before we moved. A two foot owl, light-colored, rested high in a tall, leafless tree in my backyard. From where I stood, the globe-like, eclipsing moon appeared to hover directly over the owl’s head, framing it as though in a painting. Other people also saw this freakish halo.

I had never before seen a lunar eclipse in my backyard, nor, for that matter, an owl either. The unearthly vision of both at the same time evoked thoughts of ancient magic in that part of my mind that loves fantasy and superstition, that part of me that eventually wrote four books on card magic tricks. Even the scientific part of my mind stood up and paid attention, futilely calculating the probabilities of such an event happening.

I wondered what the iconic witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Merlin in Camelot would read into this strange happening. Or how Native-Americans would have interpreted a great owl framed by an eclipsing moon 500 years ago? Or Caesar’s wife?

And what would the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece have foretold if told about such a happening. In early Greek plays, a manifestation like this could predict ruin on a grand scale: war, famine, plague, pestilence, or even worse. What code did the oracle use to translate arcane information into ruinous outcomes, I wondered. Maybe it would be seen as a good omen?

And what would the ancient Druids in England interpret and say had they seen a similar vision: a great owl and an eclipsing moon?

Eventually I asked acquaintances and friends to fantasize what this bizarre fluke concerning a great owl and an eclipsing moon could mean. One person placed the owl and the moon in a dark, foggy scene in a horror movie just before a skeletal hand reaches out from inside a grave, a grotesque Halloween moment.

Another person suggested I call a 900-number psychic hotline. Can this possibly be the modern counterpart of the Delphi Oracle?

Then a friend told of the time when he and his teenage brother had walked in the woods, a bright, full moon lighting the way. Suddenly, a large owl catapulted from a tree, totally ‘eclipsing’ the moon, a compelling reversal of what I had seen. The quick movement and sudden darkness scared the dickens out of them both.

One wise person predicted that if the owl lived nearby, we would have fewer rodents in our garden. When pressed for a more creative symbolism, he said that while many popular songs contain moon in their titles, few, if any, pay tribute to an ‘eclipsed moon.’ This triggered a chorus of “Shine on eclipsed moon, up in the sky,” sung with gusto.

Another friend said, calmly, “An owl flew into your tree during an eclipse of the moon, period. Nothing special at all.” No room for occult fantasy or superstition in that assessment. Indeed, I have always thought that simple explanations work best for bizarre coincidences, though we can always manufacture meaning where none exists. Yet this story continues.

Soon after, an optimistic friend, joyously riding her bicycle, saw a great horned owl sitting near the top of a longleaf pine tree. She then proposed that the owl, the eclipsed moon, and the longleaf pine tree fused into a good omen, a portent to increase our quality of life. It foretold that we would move to North Carolina, where we now live.

So if anyone out there knows of any additional symbolism concerning owls and eclipsing moons, I’d be curious to know about it. Still, Halloween inspired omens surround us; a former neighbor of mine on the lake told me that our resident eagle had swooped down and vigorously attacked a stone rabbit in his garden. And another friend saw a red-tailed hawk eating a snake in front of the Health Center. Are these also omens to ponder?

And consider Halloween, a night during which omens and portents abound. Oh to possess the code with which to discover and capture hidden meanings in a night scarier than great owls framed by an eclipsing moon, or an eagle shredding fish flesh. Are the auguries good? Boggles the mind.

©2017 by Ed Glassman

Ed Glassman is a retired professor from the University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a former columnist for the Chapel Hill Herald and the Triangle Business Journal.

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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