Omens: Appearances That Speak
Have the oracles really grown silent, as the ancients complained even in Greek times? Or do we simply no longer understand the language in which they are speaking? Here we will attempt to give oracles and omens a legitimate phenomenological foundation, interpreting them (along with angels, prophetic dreams, phantasms, etc.) in terms of a new concept that we call phasis, which describes "appearances that speak."
The Stoic philosophers, many of whom were advocates of divinatory practices, held the view that for human beings, perceptions (and appearances generally) come preformed with a linguistic structure; we can express the content of these appearances in human language because they are already essentially structured in a rational manner. Saying what we see is essentially a matter of translation. It is a short (although not necessarily obvious) step from this to saying that the appearances are speaking to us about the things we perceive, not just showing them to us but "commenting" on them at the same time. We designate this act by the term "phasis," a Greek derivative that can be derived either from a verb meaning to speak, or one meaning to appear. It is another short (albeit precarious) step to say that the appearances can announce - and comment upon - something that is not present to us and does not immediately show itself forth in the appearance itself, something that is elsewhere in the world, for example, or an event that has not yet occurred. This is tantamount to saying that the "verbs" in this "phasic" grammar can be "tensed" and modified by "adverbs" of location. Some such thing must be possible if omens and oracles are to have any real validity, and this is the approach that we intend to pursue here.
We must carefully distinguish this view from esoteric ideas of a "language of nature," as well as from the view of early modern scientists that "the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics," for both of these views regard the language of nature as announcing something about the objects of perception insofar as they are present. So distinguished, we believe that the phasis concept explains much of the esoteric and occult literature of ancient times and gives it a philosophical import worthy of serious study.