Religious motifs : Overview. Search. About religious motifs

See also Prophet, prophecy


Augury, omen, portent, sign

Description of this motif: Signs, portents and omens are numerous in Andersen's fairy tales and stories. There are two main types of omens: omens evoked by experiments, socalled divination (asking the God(s) by, for example, tossing dice. Cf. Picturebook Without Pictures's First Evening), and omens that come unexpectedly, e.g. in a dream.

Example 1:

Out of the bushes there stepped a tall old woman whose face was very brown and whose hair was shining black. The whites of her eyes glistened like a mulatto's; on her back she carried a knapsack, and in her hand a knotted stick. She was a gypsy.

At first the children couldn't understand her. Then she took three large nuts from her pocket and explained that these were wishing nuts and that in them the most wonderful things were hidden.

When Ib looked at her she seemed so friendly that he found courage to ask her to give him the nuts. The woman handed them to him, and then she gathered a whole pocketful more for herself from the nut bush.

Ib and Christine looked at the wishing nuts with wondering eyes. "Is there a carriage and horses in this nut?" he asked.

"There is a carriage of gold with golden horses," said the woman.

"Then give me that one!" said little Christine.

So Ib gave it to her, and the woman tied it in the little girl's neckerchief for her.

"And in this one is there a pretty little neckerchief, like the one Christine is wearing around her neck?" asked Ib.

"There are ten neckerchiefs in it," replied the woman. "There are beautiful dresses, too, and stockings, and a hat."

"Then I want that one, too," said Christine.

So little Ib gave her the second nut also. The third was a little black one.

"You can keep that one," said Christine. "And it's a very pretty one, too."

"What's in it?" asked Ib.

"The best of all things for you," said the old gypsy.

Comment on this quote:

The children take see the gipsy woman's "wishing nuts" as predictions. Ib takes it seriously. Later in life, after having lost his beloved Christine to another man, he interprets the contents of the black nut, earth-like snuff, as an omen of death – the best for him.

Later again he finds a golden treasure from the past in the soil. That is the nut's omen coming true.

Example 2:

When the spring sun shone again Ib guided his plow across the field, and one day it struck against something that seemed to be a firestone. A piece like a big black wood shaving came out of the ground, but when Ib examined it he found it was a piece of metal. And where the plow blade had cut into it, the stone gleamed brightly with ore. He had found a big, heavy, golden bracelet of ancient workmanship. For he had disturbed a viking's grave and discovered the costly treasure that had been buried in it. Ib showed his find to the clergyman, who explained to him how valuable it was and sent him to the District Judge. The latter in turn reported the discovery to the curator of the museum in Copenhagen and recommended that Ib take the treasure there in person.

"You have found in the earth the best thing you could have found!" said the District Judge.

"The best thing," thought Ib. "The very best thing for me – and in the earth! Then, if that is the best, the gypsy woman was right."