Significance of Astral Omens
The view that the stars make manifest the divine will is closest to the concept that lies behind the ancient Mesopotamian collections of celestial omens. Their primary purpose was to inform the royal court of impending disaster or success. These might take the forms of meteorological or epidemic phenomena affecting entire human, animal, or plant populations. Frequently, however, they involved the military affairs of the state or the personal lives of the ruler and his family. Since the celestial omina were regarded not as deterministic but rather as indicative—as a kind of symbolic language in which the gods communicated with men about the future and as only a part of a vast array of ominous events—it was believed that their unpleasant forebodings might be mitigated or nullified by ritual means or by contrary omens. The bāru (the official prognosticator), who observed and interpreted the celestial omina, was thus in a position to advise his royal employer on the means of avoiding misfortunes; the omens provided a basis for intelligent action rather than an indication of an inexorable fate.