I believe I’ve mentioned here once or twice that I engage in a practice called “cryptomancy,” or divination through the reading of omens. Many people, upon hearing the word “omen” think of its negative connotations, typically derived from the word “ominous” or the feeling that something bad will happen. And, truthfully, they stem from the same root word; however an omen is actually a natural phenomenon that occurs in an unusual or unnatural way.
Most Pagans – and many non-Pagans – engage in cryptomancy without realizing it. When walking down the sidewalk, you might spot a fox run in front of you and disappear. It’s unexpected and unusual, right? It could be an omen. Or if a black cat crosses your path instead, that could be an omen. But how does one read an omen?
When I read omens, I typically make a mental note of it and then write it down later. I then write down my impressions of the event, its context, and my immediate reaction to it. This is one way to read omens: instinct. Doing this is relatively easy. For example, if I am driving and I get a bad feeling when I see a duck quacking on the side of the road, that’s not a good omen. But if I smile when I see the same duck and get a good feeling, then it can be interpreted as a good omen. Another example is crows: many folks believe them to be negative spirits and link them with death, but I tend to view them differently, more as messengers and signs of significant change in my future. (Though less these days due to the large number of crows that live around my building.)
The other way I interpret omens is through folklore. In this manner, I have a base knowledge of many different omens. For example, if you hear three knocks at your door in the middle of the night but no one is there, it might mean someone you know (or someone in the house) will die soon. The same for hearing dogs howling in the middle of the night. There are plenty of books that describe omens and signs in various cultures all over the world and throughout time, so if you desire to go that route, look into your local libraries. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft has a variety of different entries on folk-belief and folklore pertaining to different omens and phenomena. Doing research that pertains to the mythology of your own path(s) as that will influence the meaning of your interpretation. Seeing a crow or raven would mean something entirely different to a Welsh practitioner than it would to a Greek Reconstructionist.
Going with your own internal symbolic structure is always the better choice, even if the folklore goes against what you believe. You likely engage in cryptomancy this way without even realizing it; I know I did. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I learned there was a name for what I had been doing for many years. Cryptomancy is the cheapest, easiest, and most reliable divination technique I’ve found. It happens much more organically, without intrusion from the reader.