Prophecies for dummies2005, Mar 1st | Emner: New Age, Predictions, Psychic Powers
by Allan Glenn
Moses, Elisha, Zoroaster, Orpheus, Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Alexander of Abonutichus, Nostradamus, Joseph Smith, Baha’u'llah, Edgar Cayce, Sylvia Browne…
Have you ever wondered how some of these and other legendary figures gained their reputation and followers? More importantly, would you like to follow in their footsteps and preserve your name for future generations to revere? Do you want worship, power, wealth, the ability to amaze friends, family and attractive females with psychic insights? (Come now; who doesn’t?!)
With those goals in mind, close the door, shut the blinds, light 12 candles, turn out the lights, and read on to understand arcane secrets of the universe that will grant you supernatural insight into the future.
This guide, Prophecy for Dummies, is a simple, concise and effective resource for jump-starting your religion, gaining or adding to your mythical reputation, obtaining additional followers, and many other worthwhile goals. It lists all of the major ways that preternatural knowledge of future events can be obtained in a detailed and easily understood fashion. No longer will you need a lengthy and exhausting initiation into a mystery religion or years of apprenticeship under a veteran Prophet. Many have found going out on their own a liberating and rewarding experience; with thorough knowledge of the ways of the Prophet, and hopefully a bit of luck, so will you.
Disclaimer: This is a guide for beginning and intermediate Prophets. You may be a complete newbie, or merely need some brushing-up on your prophetic skills. While these esoteric techniques and helpful tips are time-tested classics, you agree that they’re carried out entirely at your own risk.
The author of this webpage will bear no responsibility for any mundane negative consequences (lynching, stoning, crucifixion) or otherworldly wrath (demonic possession, curses laid by competing Prophets, Hell, etc.) of any type incurred as a result of following this guide. If you do not accept this disclaimer, please close the webpage now. Otherwise, read on for the hidden mysteries of Prophecy….
1. Mission-Critical Principles: a Prophet’s arsenal
1a. Retroactive Shoehorning: a Prophet’s best friend. Shoehorning is "… the process of force-fitting some current affair into one’s personal, political, or religious agenda." Interpreting a vague prophecy made in the past as if it were a reference to contemporary events is the most obvious example.
Shoehorning is the basis for many paranormal claims, such as cold-reading, and is most effective with a high degree of symbolism. The human mind excels in establishing meaningful connections between unrelated things. Few people fully understand this, and are thus ideal targets of shoehorned prophecies. For this reason, a large number of vague statements that can have multiple meanings (the more, the better), are an ideal prophecy.
Languages tend to be fluid and symbolic; as a result, almost any statement lends itself to a host of possible interpretations. With the passage of time, as words and idioms take on more meanings and are translated into different languages, ambiguity goes up as well. On
the other hand, contemporary events are generally plentiful, well-known, and can be described in a multitude of ways, from the literal to the abstractly symbolic.
These two facets of shoehorning combined make it one of the most potent weapons in the Prophet’s arsenal. Even a beginner can quickly make a name for himself using this technique alone, but it remains an old standby even for the all-time greats.
"IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…."
With this cryptic and celebrated opening paragraph, Charles Dickens opens the classic A Tale of Two Cities. At the time of its writing, this writing style was considered a literary device called parallelism, but in actuality it may hold a deeper meaning…
Quantum superposition, which has interesting consequences like Schrödinger’s cat, a feline neither "alive" nor "dead" but both at the same time, immediately springs to mind. And surprisingly, read in light of that knowledge, Charles Dickens’ words take on a dramatic new meaning: more than one contradictory version of reality exists. Could the famous writer have predicted quantum mechanics, almost a century before physicists discovered it?
As shown above, shoehorning can work even when the original proof text had no indication of being a prophecy in the first place. Hypothetically, one could take literally any writing and arbitrarily declare it a predictive prophecy. This becomes apparent when one looks at, say, evangelical Christian claims about Messianic prophecies. Many of these are superficially similar to descriptions of Jesus’ life, assuming one takes some liberties with the accounts; often, however, they’re quoted severely out of context, such as "… I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." (Hosea 11:1), which, as the (conveniently omitted) surrounding verses reveal, was actually referring to symbolically personified Israel.
Few will notice if you use a similar method to "accidentally" find incidents from your own life prophesied in the Bible and other scriptures. And in books of that size, sheer chance will dictate many eerily suitable phrases will be available for shoehorning.
A more detailed example might help to illustrate the power of retroactive shoehorning. Let us put on the prophetic hat, and obtain the curious statement:
"The king from the East will fly like the eagle and overwhelm the three giants. The red land will face devastation."
On the surface, this appears to legitimately say something, although cryptic and in symbolic terms. However, it doesn’t really tell us anything specific in advance. And that, my friend, is the important part! A great many different events, or any combination thereof, could be said to "fulfill it" after the fact. Let’s break down the prophecy into distinct units, listing a few possibilities it could be referring to. Keep in mind, however, that this is not an exhaustive list, and many things that could be represented by the vague symbolism are likely omitted!
- Prime Minister;
- Person with royal ancestry;
- Person named King;
- Person whose name means "King," i.e., Rex (Latin) or Roy (French);
- Person nicknamed "king" at one point or another;
- Person who is "king" in one sense or another, like a "King of Terrorism";
- Person who can make any other claim to being a "king";
- Powerful nation;
- General vicinity of the East;
- East of the country in which these events take place;
- Ancient East, i.e., a descendant of people living in the East;
- Country whose name means "East";
- Anything that could be called or associated with "East";
- Literally fly, say, using an airplane;
- Move with amazing speed;
- Marshall troops under the banner of an eagle;
- Use overwhelming air superiority;
- Launch ballistic missiles;
- Subdue three nations;
- Imprison three heads of state;
- Kill three prominent revolutionaries;
- Destroy three ancient monuments;
- Defeat three famous generals;
- Blow up three famous buildings, or one with three sections;
- Communist nation;
- Nation with a prominently red flag, such as China;
- Region with a reputation for bloodshed;
- Region with reddish soil;
- Region with prominent red architecture (i.e., the "Red Fort" palace in India)
- Region with a name associated with red, such as Red Bay, Alabama;
- Nation with a leader associated with red;
- Military occupation
- Destruction of major cities
- Massive civilian casualties
- Nuclear meltdown
- Burning of oil fields
- Destruction of habitats
People are often amazed when they learn just how many different interpretations a symbolic and seemingly specific statement can take on. The impression will doubtless work to your advantage if you learn to exploit it. Many of the events that would "fulfill" the prophecy are individually very unlikely. Hypothetically, what are the odds that a Chechyan terrorist, descended from a Mongolian Khan (hence qualifying as a "King of the East"), would destroy several prominent Moscow buildings ("three giants") with suicide plane hijackings ("flying like the Eagle") and cause "devastation" in the "red land" (Russia)?
The odds, all things considered, are very low. But you shouldn’t rely on that. You don’t need a specific unlikely event to occur, but merely any unlikely event that superficially resembles the symbolism in the prophecy. The odds of that are basically guaranteed, especially if you make it vague enough and invoke prophecy-aiding devices > like "partial fulfillment" as needed.
And so we come full circle. If any of these events (or any combination or variation thereof!) take place, the Prophet who made the original statement can appeal to them as fulfillment, evidence of his divine inspiration or paranormal ability. Once you plant the suggestion that one of these fulfillments was intended as the subject of the prophecy all along, few will take the time to dispute it. Luckily, much of your audience will want to believe in prophecy already, while the rest will either need just a little encouragement, or consist of incorrigible (and unimportant) skeptics.
Shoehorning works best when you allow the victim’s mind itself to make the necessary connections. Thus, you may want to avoid actually claiming such-and-such was a prophecy, as that can be perceived as an attack on a person’s beliefs and put them on the defensive.
Instead, be subtle about it. Produce the prophecy, demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt it was made in the past, and then quote a news story about the event to engage those brain cells in the audience in some pattern-matching exercises. Many in your audience will pick up on the prediction immediately; the rest need only be asked leading questions to move them in the right direction, not directly confronted.
On the other end of the spectrum, getting too specific is a different method of prophecy altogether, one which shall be explained later in your studies. It’s associated with enough dangers that only experienced Prophets should use it.
A shoehorned prophecy is especially geared for marvelous improvement with some Prophecy Aids.
1b. Vaticinium ex Eventu: After-the-fact prophecy. Common in folklore and later redaction of original material, this method allows you to place specific, highly unlikely predictions in the mouths of Prophets living decades or even centuries before an event–even yourself. This can be done either wholesale, i.e., creation of a prophecy that wasn’t even uttered, or specific predictions can be appended to a previously-existing but vague one.
One of the most famous examples of an after-the-fact prophecy is the "Little Apocalypse," supposedly by Jesus Christ, recorded in the Olivet Discourse (chapter 13) of The Gospel of Mark. It "predicts" the state of affairs in Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish Temple at the hands of the Romans circa. 70 CE. Mainstream New Testament scholars concede this is an ex eventu, as are many of the prophecies in the Old Testament.
Unfortunately, this method has recently fallen out of favor due to the easy availability of mass information, as well as improved methodologies for exposing after-the-fact hoaxes. It’s very risky for a prophet nowadays to forge a 1940 prediction of the Gulf War, for example, as scholars could readily check everything from the paper ingredients, to ink constituency, to signs of wear and tear, to accidental anachronisms, and expose the hoax. But without such documentary evidence, it’s difficult to argue an alleged, impressively detailed prophecy was actually made before it occurred, especially in light of otherwise voluminous records of everything from elections to dog food purchases.
Nevertheless, some notable modern examples abound. Many otherwise reasonable people were caught off-guard by an unusually specific (wink wink) Nostradamus prophecy about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; one the Prophet never actually wrote. Moreover, it’s still very easy to allude to predicting something after it occurs; couch it in uncertain, non-committal terms, and then, on the rare occasions when you get challenged to provide evidence such a prophecy was made, backpedal and downplay the claim.
Additionally, despite the dangers, one could still forge an earlier prediction and use that as supporting evidence. The risk of exposure can be lessened by carefully avoiding curious scholars, and predicting terrible consequences for any member of your cult that subjects the predictions to outside review.
However, should you choose this route, you cannot count on the prophecies remaining within a trusted circle forever. Eventually, no matter what precautions you take, it’s almost assured they’ll fall into the wrong hands. For this reason, a wholesale fabrication of an ex eventu prophecy is not recommended for beginners, whose fledgling career can be wrecked by its exposure.
Veteran Prophets, however, can sometimes get away with it. For one, they will, over the years, become highly skilled in the art of apologetics and damage control. Thus, even a complete exposé will not end their careers, but merely provide a setback. Additionally, they may gather followers with impressive scientific credentials willing to dispute the unpleasant findings of the mainstream.
These friendly scholars may face an uphill battle in light of the evidence for fraud, depending on how strong it is. Nevertheless, even if other scholars don’t take them seriously, these few unusually vocal holdouts will be enough to establish "a controversy" in the news media, which uncritically accepts most everything from time to time.
Laymen, who often read tabloids and other sensationalistic portrayals instead of research journals, are often incapable of analyzing such issues in depth. And where there’s an impression of controversy, even where none exists in the scientific community, there’s reasonable doubt about fraud, which is all the veteran Prophet will need.
The second form of ex eventu, however, that of subsequently dressing up a legitimate prophecy that can be shown to exist, is perfectly safe for beginners, and still one of the best ways to add to your résumé later on. This second variety is discussed in detail at
the Prophecy Aids entry.
1c. The Law of Large Numbers: 1 in a million is all you need with a million attempts. Whereas shoehorning and a bit of after-the-fact prophecy are sufficient by themselves to make droves of people follow you, veteran Prophets have still more techniques at their disposal.
The Law of Large Numbers predicts that even extremely unlikely coincidences will occur, assuming a large enough number of trials. Thus, specific prophecies are easy to achieve; one need only make a lot of them, and a few will be correct by blind luck alone. A Prophet has very little to lose, and everything to gain, by making a large number of specific predictions.
Certain caveats apply, however. Even laymen will realize that one in, say, 50 prophecies about assassinated heads of state or ruined cities is likely to come true on its own. If your record is no better, even the most thick-headed followers will become curious. Therefore, you must not allow any of your prophecies to be perceived as failures, regardless of whether they actually are.
Ways of assuring none of your prophecies ever fail, which will prevent unpleasantries like assassination attempts at the hands of angry fundamentalists (per Deuteronomy 18:20-22) are discussed in the Unfalsifiable Escape Hatches entry. The most important of these is partial fulfillment, which transfers any unfulfilled part of the prophecy into the future and renders unlikely any possibility of failure by deadline.
"Every one knew he could foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for there was always a war and generally a famine somewhere."
- Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger
Certain successful prophecies are, to put it bluntly, exceedingly easy to make. These include unspecified diatribes about "wars and rumors of wars," "betrayal of innocents," "horrific disease" and so on, all of which will occur at any time in history. You don’t need an IQ higher than a cucumber, much less divine inspiration or psychic powers, to think up such "insights" into the future. Nevertheless, they remain an old and underestimated standby that will make all the difference between a mere prophet and a Prophet. Liberal use is recommended.
As a side note, it’s not clear why any people fall for these. Surely, you observe, even the most cursory critical thought by a toddler would reveal that unspecified "wars," "plagues," "deaths," "betrayals" and so on will occur regardless of your prophetic abilities..?
Are people simply impressed with the large amount of predictions in one sentence, i.e., quantity over quality? Do they automatically think you meant AIDS, Ebola and other heretofore unknown modern diseases by "plague," or specific conflicts in the Middle East and Europe by "wars," thus interpreting the prophecy in a much more specific manner than it was intended? Do they just want to believe in your prophetic abilities so much that any straw, no matter how thin, will suffice for grasping at?
Regardless of the answer, this works, and that’s ultimately the important part.
1e. False Fulfillment: Don’t let the facts stop you. This refers, of course, to imagining a fulfilled prophecy where there is, in actuality, only a prediction. Do you need to be born in a specific place to fulfill a prophecy? Certainly, you could reinterpret the original to mean something other than a literal birthplace… but why, when a simpler solution presents itself? Just have your followers claim you were born there!
A variation of this is the unfalsifiable prophecy. While you may still be holding out hope that people are reasonable creatures, reality is not as optimistic. Many will see nothing wrong, or circular, with your predicting a conveniently unverifiable war in Heaven, and later saying it happened just as expected!
You can predict any amount of specific things as long as they can’t be falsified. Use this to annoy the skeptics by confidently predicting they’ll face unpleasant consequences in the afterlife. When any of them die, pretend their spirits call out to you for forgiveness, but too little, too late, and that there’s nothing you can do for them anymore. This will have the added benefit of scaring recalcitrant followers back into submission.
And if you don’t believe me about unverifiable fulfillment being a useful apologetic, ask those Christians who think well of the Isaiah 7:14 "virgin birth prophecy." You may note that a source arguing for Jesus’ divinity, also claiming, without external corroboration, that he fulfilled an unverifiable prophecy, is a circular argument. But most won’t notice. Indeed, some consider this a good enough apologetic to bring up in debates with atheists. Do you seriously think your followers will be any less credulous?
1f. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: "They make it possible." Are there prophecies of great spiritual leaders you could easily fulfill, merely by virtue of showing up at the right place at the right time? Can you predict a certain city will respond unfavorably to you, and then ensure it does by intentionally being unconvincing? This is the gist of the self-fulfilling prophecy, whose fulfillment lies almost entirely in your hands.
You can often predict something that will depend on your followers for its fulfillment. "Join me, and you will enjoy inner peace" is a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people convince themselves to believe, and that this will give them inner peace, they won’t worry about things as much, and consequently achieve it automatically. This is something that transcends mere prophecy into all aspects of human life, with even doctors accounting for a notorious variation–the Placebo Effect–in double-blind studies.
One of the best, most useful predictions of this type you can make is to tell your followers how great the cult will eventually become. While this won’t be as convincing to outsiders as a good example of shoehorning or after-the-fact prophecy, it will have other, practical benefits. It will ensure heightened expectations among your followers, which itself will make them more confident and willing to evangelize others in the hope of achieving the dream faster and with more personal credit.
In the end, this method is only marginally useful. It remains possible, of course, to predict something highly unlikely, incredibly impressive and very specific in advance by engineering the event itself, or using insider knowledge. However, this is not recommended for obvious reasons. Should you fail, some heavy-duty apologetics will be required, and your career may be dealt a nasty blow.
Moreover, a prediction of something big, like an assassination, invasion, stock market crash, and so on, will often come to the attention of people whose jobs involve preventing it. That will make it all the more difficult to fulfill, and should you try to engineer an event while additional precautions are being made against it, or use insider knowledge in an illegal fashion, you can find yourself in jail (or worse).
In the end, it’s just not worth the risk, so stick with legitimate prophecy and lesser self-fulfillments.
Note: this method is not foolproof. Eventually, something won’t go according to plan. Perhaps you’ll accidentally break your right leg immediately after predicting a marathon run. A follower you said would be a great leader of the cult in your absence might go apostate on you. And so on. While almost all prophecies you make should be laden with blame-shifting escape hatches just in case, those that aren’t, whether by unfortunate accident or ill-reasoned design, can be explained away with some fairly effective apologetics.
1g. Confirmation Bias: Make them squeal with select fulfillment. This is not a standalone technique, but is nevertheless remarkably effective. It can combine elements of shoehorning, unlikely coincidence, unverifiable prophecy, the obvious, and self-fulfillment into one whole that will knock their socks off! Just toss out a lengthy diatribe in the following form:
"The President will save the economy, leading to greater prosperity for Americans; the Middle East will quiet down, with terrorism becoming a distant memory; medical knowledge will continue to increase at an ever-expanding pace; The one named Merian shall be celebrated for her great achievements in the place of frost; England’s Crown will be abolished; my followers will go out to proselytize the nations; a new, horrendous parasite will kill millions living in Mexico; China’s government will collapse in an unprecedented popular revolution."
Now that’s impressive! Even the hardiest of skeptics will take pause in light of so much content at once. However, don’t presume enough parts will be fulfilled quickly enough to jump-start your career. While none of these are unlikely in the long term, and in fact many are more likely than they appear in the short term, the entirety of the prophecy probably won’t be fulfilled for centuries. Assuming you make enough of them, however, some of these predictions should be fulfilled within mere decades. The rest, if you play your cards right, won’t count against you, since they just "didn’t happen yet" or some such.
Why is this effective? The answer most likely lies in a psychological quirk known as confirmation bias. f="#f_confirmation_bias"> People will remember and over-emphasize things that confirm their beliefs and desires long after they forget evidence that goes against them.
Thus, if the President does save the economy and an Olympic ice skater named Mary Anne wins the Gold Medal, but the English monarchy continues on its merry way and China joins the ranks of space-capable superpowers instead of collapsing, your followers and the media in general will remember and spread news of the first two far and wide, but downplay and ignore the latter. You really have to see it in action before you can appreciate this technique.
You may also opt to improve the prediction. When you bring it up in future, paraphrase; conveniently omit unfulfilled parts, or clarify fulfilled ones with additional detail. 9 out of 10 peons won’t notice.
Tip: take care not to phrase any part of the prophecy so that it’s easily falsifiable by a specific deadline, or must be taken as a reference to a specific event. This includes mentions of individual presidents by name, or references to specific governments (like the People’s Republic of China) that can pass away and leave your prophecy beyond reasonable fulfillment. There are, however, ways of dealing even with these problems the rare times they’ll occur, so don’t panic.
1h. Wishful Thinking: Play off their dreams, hopes and fears for greater success. As a general rule, people flock to magical and superstitious explanations to mysterious phenomena. In this (or any other) era of uncertainty, many of them want to believe that you, or at least the higher forces backing you, are in full control of the situation.
They want to believe they’ll be reunited with their deceased loved ones, that innocent victims of random disasters will be vindicated in the end, that sociopaths who die before punishment will get their comeuppance regardless, and so on. Quite frankly, no one can blame them.
What they don’t want is some obnoxious rationalist ruining the party by trying to expose you as a mere mortal, equally privy to the secrets of the universe as any uninspired one of them. Wishful thinking gives you an automatic home-field advantage in almost any circumstance. Where uncertainty exists about your ability, most people (certainly your followers) will give you the benefit of the doubt, not your opponents. Where they wouldn’t accept an accusation against you, they will against your main detractor. Where two different experts will testify, they’ll accept the testimony most favorable to your position. To do otherwise would be admit the mere possibility your opponents are correct, which can be like a wrench thrown into the delicate machinery of fervent religious belief.
Be sure to harvest and encourage this effect, which is perhaps the only truly indispensable tool you’ll ever need. Promise ample rewards for your supporters, and horrific consequences (or, if you can’t bring yourself to that, at least future disadvantage of some sort) for your detractors.
1i. Dealing with Doubts: Reconciling Prophet Guilt Syndrome. Every so often, you may have doubts about whether your abilities are legitimate. These may be accompanied by guilt pangs at the thought that you may be leading people to dedicate their lives to a lie. Alternatively, you may be living in constant fear of embarrassment by errant skeptics who somehow got their greedy paws on the secrets of prophecy outlined above. These considerations will either nag at you until you die of a stress-related ailment, or you need to suppress them and be confident you’re a real Prophet.
Convincing yourself you’re lying, but doing the world a favor anyway, may come in handy at alleviating such concerns, but it’s only a temporary solution. You need to believe in yourself to have any chance at making the Major League. But don’t worry, this won’t require any active dishonesty or effort on your part.
As your confidence and number of successful predictions to your credit grows, you will find it increasingly hard to discount them all. You are not, after all, superhuman. Just like your followers, you’re not immune to confirmation bias and wishful thinking. You’ll forget those failed predictions with the rest of your followers, and keep seeing new and improbable coincidences "too large to ignore" in the successful predictions you do make. People may report being saved from various problems after contact with you, or after reading and following your writings. Miracle reports to your name may grow in the retelling. You may have a spontaneously induced vision from prolonged ritual, fasting or hallucinogenic substances. And so on.
The world already has enough cretins willing to take advantage of others for a fast buck. Prophets are often tragic figures, more in it out of a genuine desire to better society than any disingenuous personal goals. You may as well follow in that respectful tradition. Your followers will certainly thank you for the sincerity if your diary, once found, reveals a genuine belief rather than a set of "Hah hah, I got away with it" diatribes.
Plus, if your intention is dishonesty, there are plenty of other, possibly more rewarding career opportunities for you, such as politics, authoring creationist books or corporate accounting.
1j. Prophecy Aids: Dressing up both Prophecy and Fulfillment. If you can paraphrase the original prophecy or eventual fulfillment to omit damaging facts or exaggerate helpful ones, but still leave them technically accurate, by all means do so!
If a news story has a caveat that the "so-called ‘King of the East’ has not demonstrated a legitimate claim to Mongolian royalty," omit it or, better yet, paraphrase. "Said to be
i> King of the East" is a fine alternative, as it nonchalantly doesn’t focus on who says it, why they say it, or whether it’s actually correct. Your followers are very unlikely to notice such hanky-panky if you play your cards right, and if the real version soon falls out of common memory, your version of events might end up enshrined in history instead of the original.
This can also be done with the original prophecy, and works best with shoehorned ones. When and if the "King of the East" becomes identified as a descendant of a Khan, say you predicted that all along. Downplay or ignore the original wording whenever possible in favor of a new, improved, more specific version. This is the second form of an ex eventu prophecy.
If challenged by a skeptic with the original quotes, put on your best charismatic voice, say it should be obvious what was intended to anyone who isn’t set on denying The Truth™, and return the favor by challenging them to prove it wasn’t what you meant all along. You’d be surprised how often shifting the burden of proof works at winning over the audience and making your opponents look like fools.
Very few people will notice such subtle "prophecy aids," and those that will are probably not the best quarry, as they are familiar with Prophets, know the tools of the trade, and will have to be dealt with in other ways. Luckily, if you have the right cards, they’re not a real threat to your reputation as a Prophet.
2. Damage Control: the general anti-skeptic FAQ.
2a. Specifics, Dates and Deadlines: a Prophet’s bane. The first rule of prophecy club is, you don’t talk about specifics or deadlines! These are the #1 beginner mistake, and have ruined many a promising career. Prophecy should almost never contain names, places, dates and cutoff times.
When you make an unqualified and arrogantly confident prediction, most people who hear it will expect it to be fulfilled. This expectation is a common mistake ill-informed skeptics make; nevertheless, don’t even give them a chance to levy the accusation. To avoid a false prophecy which will either require some mental gymnastics to explain away or (worse) haunt you for the rest of your career, avoid specifics and deadlines. This cannot be stressed enough.
As a beginning Prophet, most statements you make should be general, applicable to a wide variety of situations and not limited to specific timelines. That maintains plausible deniability in the event that a prediction’s most likely interpretation fails: you can just claim it hasn’t been fulfilled yet, or the prophecy was referring to something else, and so on. These excellent and highly useful ad hoc rationalizations become more difficult to pull off convincingly the more specifics and reasonable deadlines can be culled from your prophecy.
There are exceptions to almost every rule, though. Prophecies with specifics and deadlines can be attempted, provided (1) you don’t mind the majority of them not panning out and (2) you add clever disclaimers to all such predictions which ensure you can’t be blamed for their failure. See Unfalsifiable Escape Hatches.
While a beginning prophet is well-advised to avoid specifics and deadlines completely, eventually, you may want to experiment with those as well. While shoehorning, after-the-fact predictions and so on are quite effective, nothing brings quite so much fame so quickly as a successful, specific prediction of war between two countries, assassination of a prominent official, outbreak of mutant incurable tuberculosis in China, or similar. One that you can point to in the mainstream press as demonstrably prophesied before the fact.
Per basic probability, the majority of specific prophecies you’ll make won’t pan out. Therefore, it’s recommended that you add an unfalsifiable escape hatch to all specific prophecies. These are triggered when and if the prophecy remains unfulfilled. Thus, if you predicted France will be blown up by an American nuke during a trade war, the fact they settle their economic differences diplomatically shouldn’t mean squat. You were just referring to a repeat of the incident in the (conveniently unspecified) future.
If you predicted that New York City will prosper, but it’s hit by a huge radioactive meteor and can never be inhabited again instead, you meant some other New York city. Perhaps the original city of York in England, which you can argue will be architecturally renovated (thus "New") after a major economic boom. Or the cities of York in Ontario, Pennsylvania and Maine, which I’m sure you’ll be able to find a similar "New" qualification for.
Have a special, visually impressive "magic hat," ritual dress or something which you’ll use when making "official, legitimate, inspired" prophecies. Don’t wear it for the majority of predictions, which you can later deny were meant as such in the first place. What, did the deceived expect your friendly advice and educated guesses, made without appeal to your special paranormal ability, to always occur as expected? And if those predictions just happen to come true… well, you never said you couldn’t make legitimate prophecy without the jeweled cap, did you?
Obtain a trusted lackey or two to receive and announce your prophecies for you. That way, if something you predicted fails miserably, you can convince them to take the blame and "admit" they presumptuously put words in your mouth.
Conditional escape clauses are a very nice addition to any prophecy, especially unfalsifiable clauses. Thus, a specific place will be ravaged if God continues to be displeased with them, or if the aliens decide not to give them more time to repent. Prince Charles will die in an auto accident like his wife Diana, assuming he doesn’t feel remorse over getting MI5 to kill her. The more unverifiable and difficult to disprove, the better!
This works out as the best of both worlds; if your statement is borne out, your prophetic ability is vindicated. But if it doesn’t, your warnings made all the difference and saved numerous lives to boot! Your prophecies don’t "fail." They can be:
- Referring to the future (where they will be fulfilled, rest assured);
- Referring to something completely different than what those ignorant skeptics are reading into it;
- Never intended as prophecies in the first place;
- Conditionally true assuming
certain other (preferably unverifiable) events happen as expected;
- Etc. (By now, you should be experienced enough a prophet to think of something more on your own);
…But they don’t ever "fail." Your success rate in dealing with specific prophecies, unlike that which could be expected from chance alone, is an impressive 100%. And no one but an unbeliever, who’s spiritually blind or deceived by evil forces and can’t be trusted anyway, can say otherwise. Capiche?
2c. Unexpected Difficulties/Apologetics: Apologizing for failed prophecy. So it’s finally happened. You’ve blundered and forgot to add an escape clause to a very specific prophecy you’ve made, and it failed. You got angry at a particularly rude skeptic and predicted a nasty, empirically verifiable fate for him. Or you took great care to safeguard against everything, and did everything by the book, but the proverbial feces hit the turbine anyway.
Argue, against all probability, that you were referring to something else after all. You said, and this is directly evident in the video broadcast, "Prime Minister Tony Blair will sign the ultimate Middle Eastern peace treaty in a few weeks," and he finished his term, went off to live with his wife and kids and eventually died a happy old man instead.
But you weren’t referring to this Prime Minister Tony Blair! A future namesake, as improbable as that seems, will do the job. And you didn’t mean "a few weeks from today," but literally "will take weeks to sign a treaty," perhaps because he keeps getting delayed.
Someone may object that this is just a wee bit too far-fetched. If that occurs, remind them of the two different US Presidents named John Adams and George W. Bush. Confidently declare they’re being presumptuous and dogmatic by stating the same thing couldn’t happen in England, as if they were the prophets! Challenge them to prove their wild assertions.
Still, this may not be too popular with the skeptics or the public, and depending on how badly you screwed up, this prophecy might be coming back to haunt you for years. However, at least your closest followers will have an explanation, and most of them might grasp at straws even weaker than that instead of admitting all their hopes and dreams are false.
Deny ever making the prophecy. This option only works if it isn’t recorded on 500 independent newsreels around the country. Otherwise you’ll wind up looking like a moron. It may work if you made the prophecy in front of a few witnesses, however; ones you can pay off to keep their yappers shut. Try to convince others to contradict their testimony and set up some reasonable doubt.
A related, albeit safer alternative would be to claim you were quoted out of context by the evil media, and the prophecy was actually conditional on something the record omits. Don’t laugh, Prophets have saved their reputation with less. Or, if it was a proclamation made by proxy, see if you can get them to save face for you by taking the fall.
Be a man, and admit you spoke a false prophecy. Say you’ll never get over this incident, flagellate yourself with the nastiest curses you can think up, say no one is to blame but yourself, and beg for forgiveness in your best TV-evangelist-caught-with-a-hooker face.
You can never overdo your apology. Keep bringing it up for years, buy lunch for your staunchest critics, go on TV and fake the best tears of your life. Paradoxically, this can actually make you more popular than before, not less, by virtue of the free publicity and "Prophet admits error, vows to move on" tabloid headlines.
Fortunately, skeptics have a disadvantage fighting you on your home turf because people want to believe, and attempts to debunk a prophecy will not receive as much media attention as the original, so the above situation poses little threat to your reputation. The sole exception lies within skeptic and rationalist circles, which you can demonize and avoid confronting anyway.
3. Concluding Remarks
3a. Prophecy Verification Criteria: Avoid getting duped by other Prophets. Occasionally, you’ll run across other Prophets who’ll compete with you for converts. They may even attempt to convince you of their ability and gain your allegiance. Generally, the best advice is to simply ignore them. Rarely will two Prophets compete for the same quarry. Most of the time, there will develop an unspoken understanding. There’s plenty of suckers to go around without violating each other’s turf, after all.
As shown above, however, you may begin to have doubts if your competition is particularly good, or aggressive. Perhaps you’ll begin asking yourself "but what if that guy is right, and aliens are going to kidnap anyone who doesn’t join him?" In such cases, it helps to reassure yourself they’re no more inspired than you are.
The easiest way to reassure yourself is to critically analyze their prophecy. Use an objective, rigorous methodology that exposes use of the arcane secrets listed in the bulk of this Guide. While there is room for disagreement, a basic set of criteria, good enough for almost any situation you’ll find yourself in, is listed below.
A prophecy that wasn’t created using the techniques in this Guide will:
- Be demonstrably written before the event. This one is a no-brainer. If one of those false prophets "predicts" 9/11/2001, with all records of said prediction conveniently dating to 9/12 or later, confront them and keep pressing the issue until they realize you don’t mess with a real Prophet..
- Be specific, with little recourse to multiple vague interpretations. It should be obvious in intent before the fact. If a prophecy requires oodles of allegorizing and force-fitting some event to various obscure symbols, consider that a warning sign. As another well-informed Prophet friend of mine (from the Internet Infidels board), who independently devised a set of criteria for evaluating prophecy, put it, "Obviously a [false] prophecy that can be applied to a host of things with equal explanatory scope is useless."
- Demonstrably be fulfilled outside of the false prophet’s imagination. That’s a bit harsh, but you get the picture. Don’t take them at their word on any fulfillment unless you can obtain outside confirmation. Even if the basics are right, make sure they haven’t given any spin to the fulfillment story and made it more favorable than it really was. These hucksters earned the label of "false" prophet for a reason, you know.
- Be fulfilled in its entirety. A fulfilled prophecy within a larger group of prophecies that were left unfulfilled is unimpressive to those in the know, and most likely a textbook example of the shotgun approach. Don’t let them rip off and spoil a perfectly serviceable technique that you could use instead!
- Be very unlikely to occur solely via currently known means. This is to guard against the self-fulfilling, "duh" predictions, educated guesses, the law of large numbers, and so on. Any prediction that can be explained in light of the techniques listed in the body of this article, if used by someone other than yourself, automatically fails as prophecy. There is some insignificant overlap here with previous criteria.
li>Be clearly identifiable as an actual prophecy of the future. This is to prevent the obvious, where those false prophets go through the Bible or another source and pluck out any statement that resembles a modern event, even if it was, say, not a prediction of the future, but a flavored goat recipe in context.
If a prophecy, somehow, manages to pass all parts of the test, your worries may be legitimate. But, since none demonstrably has in over 5000 years, relax. There’s really nothing to worry about.
Note: For obvious reasons, you may want to avoid mentioning these prediction-testing criteria in front of your followers. Let’s just keep them our little secret. If anyone does come up with something remotely similar and attempts to apply them to your predictions, publicly rebuke them and make it clear the source of your power is fickle and is not to be tested. Use excommunication and blackmail if necessary.
3b. About: "Just who is this bozo, revealing our trade secrets?" I’ll have you know that "this bozo" is Allan Glenn, netherworld-affiliated denizen of New York City. I go by the ancient sorcerer’s nickname "WinAce" on more than one online forum. My Prophetic curriculum vitae is impressive, and boasts a number of successful prophecies. Foremost among these:
- Iraq would be invaded by George W. Bush under false pretenses if he was elected.
- Handheld computers would go mainstream.
- I would be repeatedly banned on the message board known as "RaptureReady."
- Those who need it the most won’t get the point of this article.
Anyway, nice to meet you. If you found this article interesting, useful, funny, damaging to your livelihood or heretical, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and write comments to your heart’s content. Include "Prophecy for Dummies" in the subject line for a quicker response.
3c. Acknowledgements. I would like to thank the following individuals for their contributions in diverse fields related to prophecy, influence on my beliefs and arguments, and occasionally input on this specific article.
- Robert T. Carroll, author of the Skeptic’s Dictionary, an invaluable guide to understanding and avoiding the parlor tricks other Prophets will attempt to trick you with.
- Peter Kirby, whose encyclopedic knowledge, open-mindedness and amazingly exhaustive site on Early Christian Writings is an inspiration to all.
- Derek Mathias, fellow Prophet and expert grammarian of arcane languages, who suggested many an improvement to this guide.
- Vincent Sapone, another fellow Prophet worthy of anyone’s friendly rivalry. After-Hourz.net is his website; the sheer diversity of articles on subjects from Biblical criticism to philosophy are well worth the visit.
- A multitude of posters at BlizzForums, Internet Infidels and other boards who graciously and politely peer-reviewed many of the arguments now contained herein, leaving only the most successful. You sure know how to treat a Prophet, guys.
- Several of my online friends, who reviewed boring draft versions of this article and suggested various improvements, as well as those certain to review it in future. Thanks!
- Robert T. Carroll, Shoehorning , (accessed March 1, 2004).
- J.M. Raimond, The Schrödinger cat "paradox", Source (accessed March 3, 2004).
- Peter Kirby, The Gospel of Mark, Source (accessed March 4, 2004).
- David Emory, Did Nostradamus Predict the 9/11 Attacks?, Source (accessed March 6, 2004), p. 2.
- Robert T. Carroll, Law of Truly Large Numbers, Source (accessed March 6, 2004).
- Deuteronomy 18:20-22, NIV translation: "But a prophet who presumes to speak in my [God's] name anything I have not commanded him to say… must be put to death…. If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."
- Paul Tobin, The Birthplace of Jesus, Source (accessed March 6, 2004).
- Austin Cline, Confirmation bias, Source (accessed March 6, 2004).
- Gary N. Curtis, Wishful Thinking, Source (accessed March 6, 2004).
- Vincent Sapone, Prophecy fulfillment criteria, Source (accessed March 6, 2004)