Showing posts with label oracle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label oracle. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Vision-Inducing Delphi Fumes Probed

Part of the mystique surrounding the Oracle of Delphi concerns the possibility that the oracle herself ~ usually referred to as the Pythia ~ inhaled fumes as she described her visions. Recent research shows that the fumes may have existed, and that they likely contained ethylene, creating an effect similar to the experience sought by modern-day “huffers.”
Archeological Odyssey recently published a detailed account of the research, reprinted in Bible History Daily. Here’s an excerpt:
The ancient sources describe two distinct types of prophetic trance experienced by the Pythia. First, and more normally, she would lapse into benign semi-consciousness, during which she remained seated on the tripod, responding to questions—though in a strangely altered voice. According to Plutarch, once the Pythia recovered from this trance, she was in a composed and relaxed state, like a runner after a race. A second kind of trance involved a frenzied delirium characterized by wild movements of the limbs, harsh groaning and inarticulate cries. When the Pythia experienced this delirium, Plutarch reports, she died after only a few days—and a new Pythia took her place. 
According to toxicologist Henry Spiller, both of these symptoms are associated with the inhalation of hydrocarbon gases. Spiller studies the effects of such inhalants on young people, known as “huffers,” who breathe in fumes from gas, glue, paint thinner and other substances because of their intoxicating properties. Perhaps the Pythia too was high on one of these hydrocarbon gases. 
It may even be possible to identify the kind of gas. Plutarch—who, we recall, was a priest of Apollo at the Delphic sanctuary—noted that the intoxicating pneuma had a sweet smell, like expensive perfume. Of the hydrocarbon gases, only ethylene has a sweet smell—so ethylene was probably a component in the gaseous emission inhaled by the Pythia.
Most researchers agree that the Pythia was chosen for her clairvoyant abilities as a trance medium, and that the fumes likely played an auxiliary role in her pronouncements.
Painting of the oracle is by the Hon. John Collier, from 1891.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Greek's Oracles Relied on Nature's Signs

"Priestess of Delphi," 1891, John Collier.

Oracles in ancient Greece relied greatly on natural phenomena ~ sounds, smells, the rustling of leaves ~ to glean information regarding the fate of individuals and nations alike. According to an article in the Greek journal,
Unlike fortunetellers today … ancient soothsayers dealt less with making specific predictions about the future than offering assurances that particular decisions were correct or incorrect or that the gods looked favorably or unfavorably upon particular actions. Ancient augury took many forms, including the reading of flights of birds and the examination of sacrificial animals’ livers or other internal organs. Sometimes right and wrong, or favor and disfavor, were determined through the casting of lots -- like the rolling of dice today. Colored pebbles or animal bones (including pigs’ “knucklebones”) were commonly used in these divinations.  
More formal, highly ritualized prophetic practices also took place in or beside certain ancient Greek temples. Among the gods associated with oracles and prophesies were Apollo and Zeus, whose sanctuaries at Delphi and Dodona were well-known in Greek lands and elsewhere in the Mediterranean world for their priests’ and priestesses’ strange abilities to convey divine pronouncements.
Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Bone-Oracle Symbols Discovered in China

Example of ancient Oracle Bone Script on a turtle's shell.

Archaeologists in China’s Shaanxi province recently unearthed more than 1,100 oracle bone characters, shedding new light on their symbolism.

The find was made at a cluster of tombs in Qishan county that date back to the Western Zhou Dynasty in the 11th Century BC. Among the finds is the character for "king,” which could help archaeologists learn more about the lives of the Zhou kings and the region in which they lived.

Zhou Chunmao, a researcher with the Shaanxi archaeology research institute, told China Daily this week that the discovery of the new oracle bone scripts has great significance for the understanding of the formation of the Western Zhou dynasty and the structure of society at that time.

Since the first oracle bones were found in 1898, Chinese archaeologists have unearthed more than 100,000 pieces of bone and tortoiseshell inscribed with characters. Oracle bone script is the earliest recorded form of Chinese writing, dating back to the Bronze Age.

The oracle bones ~ also known as Dragon bones ~ were made of turtle shell, burned and inscribed in a process of divination known as pyromancy. Due to the fundamental importance of fire in society, it is quite likely that this was one of the earliest forms of divination.

Click here for the article in China Daily.