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Pickover not only explores a vast and colorful array of methods of prediction--including dreaming--he also evaluates the accuracy of some of the most astonishing prophecies made throughout history. Just how accurate were such famous soothsayers as Nostradamus, the Delphic Oracle, Edgar Cayce, the children of Fatima (whose third vision has only recently been revealed), and dozens more?
This book takes us one step further by exploring our own inner psyches: Why does looking into the future provide a source of solace in a world filled with uncertainty, disease, and chance? And why do the most noted prognosticators so often warn of natural catastrophes of biblical proportions, such as earthquakes and floods that will signal the end of the world?
Through insight and wit, Pickover will unlock the door of your imagination with engrossing mysteries, intriguing illustrations, and even modern patents and computer techniques. Also included is a range of practical experiments and recipes--from Stone Age to New Age.
Prepare yourself for a strange but captivating ride!
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Beyond Sticks and Stones
How flattering to the pride of man to think that the stars in their courses watch over him, and typify, by their movements and aspects, the joys or the sorrows that await him. How we should pity the arrogance of the worm that crawls at our feet, if we knew that it also desired to know the secrets of futurity, and imagined that meteors shot across the sky to warn it that a bird was hovering near to gobble it up.
Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
You are so part of the world that your slightest action contributes to its reality. Your breath changes the atmosphere. Your encounters with others alter the fabrics of their lives, and the lives of those who come in contact with them.
Jane Roberts, The Seth Material
* FROM SHEEP GUTS TO FORTUNE COOKIES
The difficulty in life is the choice.
George Moore, The Bending of the Bough
On December 1, 1999, Japanese police raided offices of a religious foot cult. Police suspected cult members had defrauded numerous women by examining the women's feet to diagnose ailments. In particular, police said they believed that the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo cult had persuaded the women to give them 22 million yen ($215,000) in return for health advice. Police also suspected Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo members of telling the women they would die young or contract cancer if they failed to heed thecult's warning. Separately, about 1,100 former followers have filed lawsuits against of Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo seeking damages.
Stories like these suggest that we have a strong tendency to believe in divination in many forms, for example, divining the future, divining the location of precious metals in the Earth, or divining the presence of disease. In this particular example, cult leader Teruyoshi Fukunaga and his disciples did not have any license to practice medicine but said they could diagnose people's health and predict their future by foot exams. As a result, the Japanese police searched seventy-four locations, including the headquarters of the religious group based at the foot of Mount Fuji. It was the biggest police search of a religious group since Aum Shinri Kyo's 1995 nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway that killed twelve people and affected thousands.
Since the earliest civilizations, people have used divination methods to communicate with the supernatural, diagnose diseases and forecast the future. In the introduction, I mentioned that divination practices are often classified in two categories:
The observation and interpretation of natural phenomena, such as stars, storms, clouds, monstrous births, or the behavior and look of animals.
The observation and interpretation of phenomena deliberately induced or controlled by humans. For example, a diviner might pour oil into a basin of water to observe the formation of bubbles or throw a hatchet at a wooden block to see how the hatchet quivers.
The ancient Romans favored augury and haruspicy. The Egyptians, Druids, and Hebrews relied on scrying. The Druids also divined by watching an animal's death throes or studying the entrails of sacrificed animals. The Greeks used oracles who spoke for the gods. In the Middle Ages, sand or peas were scattered on the ground in order to read the resulting patterns. As far back as 1000 B.C.E., the Chinese used I Ching, a method that involved the tossing of long and short yarrow sticks. Another ancient Chinese divinatory practice we discussed that is still used today is feng-shui, or geomancy, which allows practitioners to determine favorable locations for buildings and tombs. Even in America, many people use similar principles for efficiently arranging furniture.
Many divinatory methods are still used today, especially in paganism, witchcraft, voodoo, and Santeria, a religious practice originating in West Africa. Even Judeo-Christian prayers might be considered a form of divination to the extent they extoll God to give information about or affect future events. Many diviners through history did not believe the future was set in concrete. Instead, people had free choices about their future, and divination was supposed to help them make better choices.
This chapter presents a large sampling of divination methods, some with "how-to" recipes to encourage reader involvement. Here are just a few topic that we'll touch upon:
Astrology. Since caveman days, humans have been awed by the night sky. In an attempt to personalize the universe, some people believe that the positions of stars and planets can influence our lives.
Tribal Divination. Unlike astrology, many cultures, particularly in Africa, believe that the key to unexplainable events lies in interpersonal relationshipseither with fellow members of the tribe, or with ancestors or tribal spirits.
Oracles and Prophecy. In the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Hittite, Greek, and Roman cultures, oracles had a sacred position, and no important personal or governmental decisions were made without consulting them.
The I Ching, or Book of Changes. The I Ching originated in China at least one thousand years before the birth of Christ and is one of the oldest books in the world. Confucian and Taoist sages thought very highly of the I Ching, treating it as a scared book and prizing its powers of divination. Science-fiction writers, such as Philip K. Dick, used the I Ching to develop plot lines in their novels.
Feng-shui. Feng-shui is an ancient Chinese form of geomancy believed to date back to the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.220 C.E.). Translated as "wind" and "water," feng-shui is used to discover the most auspicious sites for buildings and graves by analyzing the ch'i, or the natural life force, of the surrounding landscape.
Dowsing. Often referred to as water-witching, or water-divining, dowsing is not necessarily concerned with locating water. Some diviners believe it can be used to discover the whereabouts of natural substances, people, and objects that cause illnesses.
The Tarot. One of the most visually interesting and popular of all occult practices is tarot card reading. Tarot cards were the precursors of the standard playing cards, and they are best known for their use in fortune telling.
Numerology. From the earliest times, humans have been fascinated by the symbolism of numbers. The numbers 7 and 12 have sacred significance in many cultures. Magic squares consisting of number arrays are used to divine the future and shape destinies.
Palmistry. In its simplest form, palmistry is a fortune-telling technique of reading hands, popularized at fairground sideshows. Palmistry, also known as cherigonomy or cheiromancy, has had a rich history and is concerned with the analysis of lines on the palms and features of the hands and fingers.
Entrail Reading. Entrail reading, or divination by studying of animal organs, was one of the most common forms of divination in ancient times. By 2000 B.C.E., the art of divination by the study of sheep livers was popular in Mesopotamia. The ancient Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans also had a passion for sheep guts. For example, Etruscans thought they could read messages in the surface of the liver. They also studied liver folds and veins, along with other features of sheep spleens, lungs, and hearts.
Crystal Gazing. The word "crystal" comes from ancient Greece where crystals were thought to be a form of clear ice or frozen water. For centuries people believed that crystals were water rendered into stones. Crystal gazing is part of the art of scrying, which also includes gazing at blobs of ink, pools of water, mirrors, or any transparent or reflecting object.
Teacup Reading. Also known as tasseography, teacup reading remains one of the most popular parlor-room varieties of divination. In the section on tasseography, I give some simple steps that allow you to experiment with this method.
Before starting the heavy material on divination with all its fancy-sounding vocabulary, I thought we might like to begin on a lighter note. I've been interested in fortune cookies since I was a teenager. At that time in my life, I enjoyed removing the standard fortunes and reinserting new ones of my own design. The best part was watching people's faces when they opened their cookies and read my odd "fortunes" such as:
You like Fortune Cookies.
Answer this question with "yes" or "no."
Will your next word be "no"?
Confucius: "What is the best possible question, and
what's the best answer to it?"
Buddha: "You've just asked the best possible question,
and I'm giving the best possible answer."
Modern fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco in the early 1900s. However, their ancient origins date back much further. For many centuries the Chinese marked special occasions such as harvest and new year by exchanging moon-shaped cakes or "moon cakes" made from lotus nut paste. Even today, moon cakes play a role in the moon-cake festival, a mid-autumn Chinese festival known as Chung Chiu. The moon also plays a significant part of this festival, and in Hong Kong, open spaces or mountain tops are crowded with people trying to get a glimpse of this season's full moon.
Nobody knows when the custom of eating moon cakes to celebrate the moon festival began, but it may date back to the fourteenth century. At the time, China was fighting the Mongols who occupied China. When plans were made in Peking for a popular uprising to oust the invaders, the Chinese thought about how to circulate news of the uprising's date without alerting the Mongols. Supposedly, the Mongols had no taste for lotus nut paste, and so the Chinese hid the message containing the date in the middle of their moon cakes. When the time for the year's Chung Chiu festival arrived, people opened their cakes and found hidden messages advising them on how to coordinate their uprising. This uprising formed the basis of the Ming Dynasty. Cakes with messages gradually became a popular way of expressing good wishes on an important occasion.
The origins of the modern fortune cookie came from the Chinese 49ers who helped build the American railways through the Sierra Nevada into California. The work was difficult, so to improve failing spirits, the workers exchanged biscuits with hidden, happy messages inside during the moon festival. This led to the development of the fortune cookie in America. Fortune cookies became common and continued to be made as the Chinese settled in San Francisco after the railway and the Gold Rush. Today fortune cookies are provided by virtually all Chinese restaurants in America and Canada.
Fortune cookies were made by hand until 1964 when the first automated production took place in America. In recent years, fully automated facilities have been set up in the UK to produce fortune cookies that are now gaining popularity in Chinese restaurants in England and Europe.
Today, increasing numbers of businesses and even governments place promotional messages in fortune cookies. The Hong Kong police used them in antidrug campaigns, and the United States has followed this example. Companies like CustomFortuneCookie.Com (Houston, Texas) permit schools to order fortune cookies with custom messages that reinforce positive behavior in their students.
Today, you do not have to wait to go to a restaurant to get a fortune because many Internet fortune cookie Web sites exist, such as my own at www.pickover.com. If you visit my Web page, give it a try and then create your own if you are handy with Web page design. At my own Web site, visitors enjoy clicking on a blinking icon to get a new printed fortune. (Endnote 3 gives further information on computer codes to generate your own fortune cookie program.)
* How to Make a Fortune Cookie
Here's a recipe I like, derived from dozens of similar recipes. If you would like to examine variants of this recipe, just type "fortune cookie recipe" in any Internet search engine, and you will be amazed with variety and creativity of cookie makers.
Ingredients: 8 ounces all-purpose flour; 2 tablespoons cornstarch; 4 ounces sugar; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 4 ounces vegetable oil; 4 ounces egg whites; 1 tablespoon water; 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
Recipe: * In a deep bowl, mix the following ingredient: 8 ounces of flour; 2 tablespoons of corn starch, 4 ounces of sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon if salt. Blend in 4 ounces of oil, 4 ounces of egg whites, 1 tablespoon of water, and a teaspoons of vanilla extract, and then beat until you have a smooth consistency.
* Write your own "fortune" on a piece of paper, 2 1/2" by 1/2".
* Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
* Scoop a tablespoons of cookie batter, and spread it evenly into a 4" circle on a well greased baking sheet.
* Bake the flat circular cookie for about 14 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove one cookie at a time from the oven.
* You have about 15 seconds working time before the cookie hardens. Place the fortune in the middle of the cookie, along the diameter.
* Shape the cookie by folding the circular shape in half so it looks like a tortilla chip, and then grasp both ends. Bend the folded circle into a moon shape over the edge of a metal pot. Place the finished in a muffin-pan hole with the ends down to hold its unique shape.