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This article refers to the topic of prophecy as the purported telling of future events or supernatural revelations. For other uses of the term, see prophecy (disambiguation).

Prophecy, in a broad sense, is the prediction of future events. The word's etymology signify simply "speaking before" or "foretelling", but prophecy often implies the involvement of supernatural phenomena, whether it is communication with a deity, the reading of magical signs, or astrology. It is also used as a general term for the revelation of a god's or gods' divine will.

Throughout history, people have sought knowledge of future events from special individuals or groups who were thought to have the gift of prophecy, such as Oracles at Delphi in ancient Greece. Cultures in which prophecy played an important role include the American Indians, Mayans, Celts, Druids, Chinese, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Egyptians, Hindus, Hebrews, Tibetans, Greeks, and many in the Christian tradition, among others.


History of prophecy

The earliest manifestations of prophecy were most often found in the form of magical spells and folk charms. In modern times, astrology and other pseudoscientific techniques have gained wide acceptance.

Prophecies are often based on divination, or determining the will of gods or other supernatural entities. Many methods are used to achieve this, including reading tea leaves, cloud formations, animal behavior, or even the entrails of sacrificed animals.

Prophecy in religion

In many religions, gods or other supernatural agents are thought to sometimes provide prophecies to certain individuals, known as prophets. The Old Testament of the Bible contains prophecies from various Hebrew prophets who foretold of their people's trials and tribulations. The Book of Revelation in the New Testament is accepted by many Christians as a prophecy related by its author, John the Evangelist, of the events of the end times and Armageddon (the "End of the World").

Christians have long held that Jesus fulfilled many prophecies of the Old Testament, thus proving he was the son of God, or messiah. In the New Testament, the stories of Jesus telling a Samaritan woman about her life, or telling the apostles the future, are examples of prophecy in the Christian tradition.

Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, said he had a spiritual awakening in a cave and from that point on spoke about teachings that he said came from God ("Allah," in Arabic).

Evidence of prophecy

Prophecy always involves some kind of communication with the future or with different realms of existence, which are usually not discernible by or in harmony with empirical science. Therefore, skeptics consider prophecy to be false. Believers, however, claim that prophecy is possible through supernatural means, which bypass the natural laws, though these duelling explanations do not often convince opponents.

The hypothetical power of prophecy has not been scientifically tested and remains unproven, but many people believe that certain prophecies have been fulfilled, especially if they are central to their religion. Others consider that some apparently fulfilled prophecies can be explained as simple coincidences, or that some prophecies were actually invented after the fact to match the circumstances of a past event (vaticinium ex eventu).

Many prophecies are also vague, allowing them to be applied to many possible future events. The cryptic prophecies of Nostradamus are a prime example of this, but Nostradamus's supporters argue that detailed predictions would have earned him a reputation for witchcraft.

Sources or Methods of Prophecy

The I Ching

Full link: I Ching

Ancient Greek Oracles

Full link: Oracle

Sortes Virgilianae

In the Middle Ages, as Vergil developed into a kind of magus or wizard, manuscripts of the Aeneid were used for divination, the sortes virgilianae, in which a line would be selected at random and interpreted, very much in the way Old Testament lines were interpreted for arcane meanings, in light of a current situation.

The 'Bible Code'

Full link: Bible code

Folk Prophecy

'The Crawling Baby'

In some cultures it is customary to place a series of objects evocative of possible future occupations in front of a baby. Whichever object the baby crawls to or picks up is said to indicate the kind of profession the baby will grow up to have.

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Last updated: 07-30-2005 19:56:07
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