At various moments in history and in times of great stress,
suffering, and persecution, reports of paranormal signs (believed
to portend great events) frequently emerged. Under
these conditions it was not unusual for ecstatic states to become
epidemic, prophecies to be uttered, and unusual physical phenomena
to appear. Many of these reports appear to be a mixture
of misobservation of mundane if unusual occurrences and
The ancient historians Josephus and Tacitus wrote of fearful
sights and great signs from heaven before the judgment on Jerusalem.
When, three centuries later, Julian the Apostate attempted
to rebuild Jerusalem, fiery balls burst forth upon the
workmen and took strange shapes. This was recorded not only
by Julians own historian but by Jewish and non-Roman writers
as well. Many accounts testify of the signs and wonders during
the persecution of the Huguenots in France.
From the dawn of printing onward, unnatural events and
prodigies of nature became the subject of broadside balladsheets
and chapbook pamphlets, the street literature of poor
people. Monstrous births and other signs and wonders were
made the occasion for moralizing about the sins of the day and
predicted divine judgment. Even in modern times, visions of
the Virgin Mary are often considered signs of divine wrath at
a sinful world. (See also Fatima; Garabandal)
Eniatos. Mirabilis Annus; or, The Year of Prodigies and Wonders;
Being a Collection of Several Signs That Have Been Seen in the Heavens,
in the Earth, and in the Waters, Together with Many Remarkable
Accidents and Judgments . . . Within the Space of One Year Last Past.
Grey, E. Howard. Visions, Previsions and Miracles in Modern
Times. London L. N. Fowler, 1915.
Rollins, Hyder E., ed. The Pack of Autolycus or Strange and Terrible
News of Ghosts, Apparitions, Monstrous Births, Showers of
Wheat, Judgments of God, and other Prodigious and Fearful Happenings
as told in Broadside Ballads of the Years 16241693. Cambridge,
Mass. Harvard University Press, 1927.
Thompson, C. J. S. The Mystery and Lore of Monsters. London
Williams & Norgate, 1930. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University