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A paranormal impression warning of a future event. Premonitions may range from vague feelings of disquiet, suggestive of impending disaster, to actual hallucinations, visual or auditory. Dreams are frequent vehicles of premonitions, either direct or symbolical, as well as veridical dreams. Spiritualists do not know if the warning comes from an external intelligent source such as a knowledgeable spirit being, from claivoyance (precognition), the intuitive projection of the outcome of presently existing trends, or coincidence or self-fulfilling prophecy, a form of autosuggestion.

A premonition differs from prediction. Reportedly the latter has a degree of precision and tends to detail the basic who, what, when, where, and how questions. When the event foreseen is not precisely outlined or is too insubstantial to prompt a prophetic utterance, "premonition" is the more appropriate term. For vague future events of a personal nature, "presentiment" is employed.

Richet's Conditions

According to psychical researcher Charles Richet, premonitions should have two fundamental conditions:

"1. The fact announced must be absolutely independent of the person to whom the premonition has come."

"2. The announcement must be such that it cannot be ascribed to chance or sagacity."

Richet did not employ the term "presentiment." He also ruled out personal premonitions. It was believed subconscious perception or suggestion is possible if sickness or death were announced. Richet claimed a photograph taken of a person suffering from a slight attack of fever may show signs of a rash or eruption on the face invisible to ordinary sight. The photograph "foresees" the sickness. However, Richet accepted personal premonitions ("auto-premonitions," to use his term) in cases when accidental death figured in the paranormal perception.

According to legend, the Earl of Hartington's dream illustrates pseudo-premonitions. In good health, he dreamt of a skeleton that looked like him; it raised the coverlet bedclothes and slipped in bed between him and his wife. He died fifteen days later.

Premonitions where the subconscious is ruled out may be received under hypnosis, in trance, or accidentally in the dream or waking state. The Seeress of Prevorst (Frederica Hauffe ), claimed while in hypnotic sleep she saw a spirit anxious to speak of misfortune threatening her daughter. Reportedly a few weeks later, the girl was almost killed by a tile falling on her head.

If the percipient is positive the event in question is about to happen, the term "precognition" is used. If it takes visual form, "prevision" is the appropriate label. When predictions involving the fate of larger units, countries, or nations are made, "prophecy" is the appropriate term. Premonition may be conceived of as the lowest degree of prophecy. Whether the premonition comes in the waking state or during sleep, it is believed the impression is usually deep and lasting. The recipient may write it down or narrate it for later verification.

In the 1880s, the Society for Psychical Research collected 668 cases of death premonitions; 252 more were added in 1922. Camille Flammarion collected 1,824 cases. From time to time, cases were registered in English, German, French, and Italian psychical periodicals. Ernesto Bozzano collected 260 cases in his Des Phénomènes Premonitoires. Count Cesar Baudi de Vesme analyzed premonition in games of chance (Le Merveilleux dans les jeux de hasard, Paris, 1930). An earlier work of William MacKenzie (Metapsichica moderna, Rome, 1923) related experiments in the same field with mediumistic intervention.

In L'Avenir et la Premonition (1931), Richet referenced Julien Ochorowicz 's experiment (Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 1909-10), stating a telekinetic explanation in stopping the roulette ball at the announced number should be considered.

Incidents of Premonitions

Many prominent people have left records illustrative of the general nature of premonitions:

Charles Dickens dreamed of a lady in a red shawl, who said: "I am Miss Napier." He did not know who this woman was. Some hours later, he was visited by two ladies, and a girl in a red shawl was introduced as Miss Napier. (Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, vol. 14, 1920).

Sir Oliver Lodge quoted the account of an English minister who dreamed of a terrible storm and lightning that entered the dining room and destroyed the chimneys of the roof opposite. Under the impression of the dream, although it was bright sunshine, he directed his wife to prepare lunch at an early hour. Events happened just as in the dream. Soon a storm broke out, and lightening struck through the dining room and demolished the chimneys of the neighboring roof.

Field-Marshal Earl Roberts (1832-1914), in his autobiography Forty-one Years in India (1897), related his experiences when commanding: "My intention, when I left Kabul, was to ride as far as the Kyber Pass, but suddenly a presentiment which I have never been able to explain to myself, made me retrace my steps and hurry back to Kabul, a presentiment of coming trouble which I can only characterise as instinctive. The feeling was justified when, about half way between Butkhak and Kabul I was met by Sir Donald Stewart and my Chief of Staff, who brought me the astounding news of the total defeat by Ayub Khan of Brigadier General Burrow's brigade at Maiwand and of Lieutenant-General Primrose, with the remainder of his force, being besieged at Kandahar."

President Abraham Lincoln had strange presentiments of his coming end. John Forster, in his Life of Dickens (3 vols., 1872), quoted a letter written to him by Dickens, dated February 4, 1868. Charles Summer had told Dickens that on the day of Lincoln's assassination an extraordinary change was noticeable in him. Lincoln said: "Gentlemen, something extraordinary will happen, and that very soon." Later he spoke of a dream that came to him for the third time and said: "I am on a deep, broad, rolling river; I am in a boat, and I am falling in! I am falling in!" Six weeks before his assassination he saw a great concourse of mourners in the White House in a dream. The mourners surrounded a coffin in which he saw his own body. Presidents Garfield and McKinley also had premonitions of their violent ends.

William T. Stead, the Spiritualist journalist, had a presentiment that he would not die normally. He thought he would be kicked to death by a mob. Instead, he went down in the "Titanic" in 1912. In 1892 Stead had written a fictional story about a ship called the "Majestic," that received a psychic message from a survivor of another ship that had struck an iceberg in the Atlantic. The novelist Emile Zola always dreaded asphyxiation by gas. It was the cause of his death.

A method of experimental premonitions was described by Richet in L'Avenir et la Premonition (1931) and La Grande ésperance (1933). To quote from the latter (p. 198):

"Thirty six pieces of paper, each containing a number written in pencil. They are carefully folded, all alike. Armand, a painter of my friends, the brother of Brigitta, indicates the number which Brigitta is going to draw. There are errors, certainly. Armand is not always correct, but the result is far superior to the probability. There are periods of error and periods of astonishing lucidity. At my formal recommendation Armand only makes one experiment per day which gives the probability of 1/36. Well, during a certain week, in six draws, his predictions was five times correct. This is about 1/30,000,000."

We have no satisfactory explanation for premonitions. Possibly Richet was right when he stated: "If we knew the totality of things in the present we should know the totality of things to come. Our ignorance of the future is the result of our ignorance of the present."

According to novelist Maurice Maeterlinck, the phenomenon of premonitions is far less exceptional than generally thought. He believed in "human foreknowledge" and observed that the great catastrophes usually claim fewer victims than the probabilities of each case would allow. He found that generally some strange chance keeps a number of people away who otherwise would be there and perish. They are warned by a mysterious, unfailing instinct.

Richet concluded, from his belief in the reality of premonitions, that the future is determined. His conclusion is a possible logical surmise from his line of reasoning, but it is not the only or right one. The basis of premonitions need not be the supposition of either a closed future or an eternal present. The consideration of the presence of presupposition leads directly to questions of freedom and the nature of the future. Do premonitions announce an unalterable future or suggest a future that can with attention be altered?

More recently an extended study of precognitive dreaming was done by Mary Stowell with a group of five women tabulating 32 characteristics of such dreams. Syntheses of the narratives of interviews indicated common patterns across the dream descriptions and the responses to the experiences. Both traumatic and nontraumatic situations arose, some of which would benefit by professional counseling to assuage guilt and a sense of helplessness. In some cases intervention was possible to prevent the dreams from coming true.

Premonitions registries founded in recent decades included (with their last known address) the Central Premonitions Registry (Box 482, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10023); the Southern California SPR (via Carolyn Jones, 4325 E. Broadway, Long Beach, CA 90803); and the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (10 North Sherbourne St., Toronto 5, ON, Canada).


Barker, J. C. Scared to Death; An Examination of Fear, Its Causes and Effects. London: Muller, 1958. Reprint, New York: Dell, 1969.

Brier, Robert. Precognition and the Philosophy of Science; An Essay on Backward Causation. New York: Humanities Press, 1973.

Central Premonitions Registry. April 10, 2000.

Dunne, J. W. An Experiment With Time. London: Macmillan, London, 1927. Reprint, New York: Hillary, 1958.

Greenhouse, Herbert B. Premonitions: A Leap Into the Future. London: Turnstone Press, 1972. Reprint, London: Pan, 1975.

Jaffé, Aniela. Apparitions and Precognition: A Study From the Point of View of C. G. Jung's Analytical Psychology. New Hyde Park,N.Y.: University Books, 1963.

MacKenzie, Andrew. The Riddle of the Future: A Modern Study of Precognition. London: Barker, 1974. Reprint, New York: Taplinger, 1975.

Osborn, Arthur W. The Future Is Now: The Significance of Pre-cognition. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1962.

Saltmarsh, H. F. Foreknowledge. London: G. Bell, 1938.

Stowell, Mary S. "Precognitive dreams: A phenomenological study. Part I. methodology and sample cases." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 91 no. 3 (July 1997).

. "Precognitive dreams: A phenomenological study. Part II. Discussion." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 91 no. 3 (July 1997).

. "Researching precognitive dreams: A review of past methods, emerging scientific paradigms, and future approaches." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 89 no. 2 (April 1995).

UK PsychicsPremonitions Registry. April 10, 2000.

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pre·mo·ni·tion / ˌprēməˈnishən; ˌprem-/ • n. a strong feeling that something is about to happen, esp. something unpleasant: he had a premonition of imminent disaster. DERIVATIVES: pre·mon·i·to·ry / prēˈmänəˌtôrē/ adj.

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premonition XVI. — F. premonicion or late L. præmonitiō, -ōn-, f. L. præmonēre; see -ITION.
So premonitory XVII.