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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

prophecy This general term encompasses a wide range of claimed phenomena——prediction, premonition, prognostication——all of which can be defined as the ability to foretell events, more limited to an ability not related to induction or deduction from known facts. Many studies have been made to determine whether the ability exists, and if so, how accurate it might be. One of the most extensive is the Premonition Registry, where records are kept of thousands of predictions that are sent in. Not much has been heard from the registry in recent years.
      Research in this matter is subject to the element of selective recall, whereby individuals tend to remember when a dream or hunch turns out correctly and forget it if it fails. Therefore, anecdotal reports are not of much value.
      In 1983, an examination was made of the evidence offered by 127 persons who responded to a U.K. newspaper feature on premonitions. A questionnaire was accompanied by a personality test. Most who answered were female, average age was forty-six years, and 80 percent of them said that they were correct 70 percent of the time. The personality test showed that these persons were significantly more neurotic than average and scored high on a “lie scale.” Some 85 percent of their predictions involved death or other tragedies. The investigator concluded that the ability to have premonitions is important since it warns females and thereby provides a “survival advantage to the species.” No comment.
      Large-scale studies of prophetic ability have failed to provide sufficient dependable data to support claims that it is valid. Mystics have offered strange rationalizations of this fact, as demonstrated in The Magician's Companion, a comprehensive volume by Bill Whitcomb dealing with magical formulas and systems. Mr. Whitcomb observes:  

      One point to remember is that the probability of an event changes as soon as a prophecy (or divination) exists. . . . The accuracy or outcome of any prophecy is altered by the desires and attachments of the seer and those who hear the prophecy.

      The obvious paradox provided by these caveats is quite acceptable in the pursuit of magic, it seems.
      The prophecy business was once fraught with danger. While modern practitioners are forgiven over and over again for failures, Henry VIII of England meted out a nasty death to Elizabeth Barton, the “Holy Maid of Kent” who predicted His Majesty's immediate death for having married Anne Boleyn. The punishment was for treason, not for having been wrong by fourteen years.
      Of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, eighteen are ascribed to prophets. The Hebrews, Muslims, and Mormons all have strong dependence upon the teachings of prophets.
      See also astrology, Edgar Cayce, I Ching, Jeane Dixon, Nostradamus, palmistry, and scrying.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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