Jerry Huckaby's

--Literary Lessons--



I FANCY that few of us think about haruspication very often, probably because it's difficult to work into your conversation without someone quickly interjecting "Bless you!" and handing you a hankie. Which is not very helpful to one's concentration -- at least not mine, which is not what it used to be. Where was I? Ah, yes, haruspication.

To remind the younger readers, who think school is society's way of numbing their minds -- to be like their parents -- and that nothing of interest happened before gangsta rap and crystals, haruspication is the ancient art of investigating the entrails of birds in order to see what the future holds. Now, that should get your attention, teenager! It's sort of like a messy reading of a horoscope, or tea-leaves -- that sort of thing. The idea seems to be that since birds fly high in the heavens, where the gods reside, their delicate organs are affected by the gods' knowledge, which can then be learned by the earth-bound -- if he has passed Biology 101 and didn't pass out in the lab.

Granted, not many of us believe any longer that "gods" are sporting about above the clouds, and all that Greek and Roman claptrap -- or we would be dissecting airplanes, right? Ha ha. Underlining the point, the first Russian Cosmonaut in the 1960s announced to the world that "There are no angels up here!" -- which of course some took to mean that, being a communist, he was himself something of a devil. And was probably drinking kvass and smoking a cigarete at the time -- get the picture, you naughty teenagers? What do you mean, where can you get some kvass! Don't be facetious.

No, I'm not going to tell you what facetious means -- don't you have some sort of dictionary in your infernal computers?

The angels that the Cosmonaut did not find in space are, of course, a kind of spiritual bird -- you know, with feathery wings and has been traditionally thought to be a messenger of God. And angels, or the idea of angels, are very popular nowadays -- perhaps just another fad in these fad-happy times, but a belief found in ancient Judaism, and Christianity, among the Muslims, etc. So you can see the continuity of man's belief that the truth lies in the heavens -- the stars, if you subscribe to astrology -- and man's hope to gain access to the truth through intermediaries -- birds, angels, stars. What? No, I'm a Taurus, but what does that matter, you silly Virgo. Pay attention.

It is reported that among the three priestly haruspicators in ancient Rome was Julius Caesar, who himself discovered bad omens in the entrails of birds on the eve of the Ides of March -- but, like a modern man, refused to be intimidated by such things and went to the forum the next day anyway. Kaboom. Kaboom? Well, I mean of course that he was stabbed by his buddy Brutus -- didn't you read the Shakespeare version in your high school sophomore English class? What, you did but you thought it was badly written -- what you did like was "The Lord of the Flies" about the kids having fun on an island, with no school or parents or anything? No, it was about the thin veneer of civilization, a concept I totally agree with.

In conclusion, haruspication means, generally, looking for omens in exotic places -- like the shape of clouds, as another example. So that when one wants to respond in a rational manner to a fanciful notion, such as "I know I'm going to pass my history test because I put on my Elvis T-shirt this morning," one can say "Haruspication aside, you're going to flunk because you slept through classes, did none of your homework, and didn't study for the test." See?

No, I don't think your Grateful Dead T-shirt will help much either -- and quit staring out the window at the pigeons.

It was probably one of them that dropped the white doo-doo on my new homburg this morning, and I just knew this was going to be a lousy day!

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