Our forebears sought insight into the future from legions of fake gypsies employed by the press. Today, in a more sceptical age, we know better.
But old traditions die hard.
WPP Group chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell was in year-end divination mode. Speaking Thursday to The Times of London, he was none too cheerful about next year's prospects for the UK advertising industry.
If not quite the Gypsy's Warning, advertising's favourite knight cautioned that 2006 could be another testing year for British media companies.
The Times, sensing that this lacked the necessary drama, reported instead that "some media company executives say that the downturn is the most severe since the recession of the early 1990s".
Looking to the wider world, Sir Martin ventured an upbeat note. On a global level, his crystal ball foretells a bullish 2006, with adspend boosted by such events as the Winter Olympics in Italy, the soccer World Cup in Germany and mid-term congressional spending in the United States.
Many of Sir Martin's admirers recall his memorable description in 2002 of the ad industry as being in a "bath-shaped recession". Haruspices in advertising ashrams the world over interpreted this as meaning that adspend would slide steeply, stagnate over a prolonged period, then recover.
Fortunately, baths don't figure in next year's crystal ball. Sir Martin sees "no signs of baths or showers yet", although the US market "could be at risk of a shower".
Treading the path of divination blazed earlier this year by such media mystics as Zenith Optimedia's Steve King and Universal McCann's Robert J Coen, Sorrell foresees rose-strewn advertising markets emerging in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe .He is especially bullish about the prospects for adland's new Nirvana, the People's Republic of China.
Even western continental Europe, especially France and Germany, should improve . The UK, however, "may remain difficult".
Data sourced from The Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff