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Oracle at Delphi

From Thelemapedia

The first Oracle at Delphi was commonly known as Sybil, Herophile, or the Pythia. Later, Sibyl or Pythia became a title given to whichever priestess manned the oracle at the time. She was the Pythian priestess of Python, an archaic chthonic serpent. Later, Sibyl or Pythia became a title given to whichever priestess manned the oracle at the time. The Sibyl sat on a tripod over a cleft in the Sibylline Rock, gaining her often puzzling predictions from it. She sang her predictions, which she received from Gaia, in an ecstatic swoon; her utterings were interpreted by attendant priests during classical times, and rendered into hexameters of notoriously difficult interpretation. Pausanias claimed that the Sibyl was "born between man and goddess, daughter of sea monsters and an immortal nymph". Others said she was sister or daughter to Apollo. Still others claimed the Sibyl received her powers from Gaia originally, who passed the oracle to Themis, who passed it to Phoebe.

Before descending to the shrine, the Pythia did make a burnt offering of laurel leaves (sacred to Apollo) and barley flour (sacred to Demeter, the Earth Mother, whose presence at Delphi preceded Apollo's). The Pythia is depicted in vase-paintings holding a sprig of laurel, with a laurel-crowned interlocutor.

Much has been made of the Pythia's breathing in vapors from the ground and eating laurel leaves. Modern reductionists dismiss the archaic propensity for visions and sometimes attempt to account for the Pythia's swoon with toxic methane or ethylene hydrocarbon vapors—for example, in "Questioning the Delphic oracle," in Scientific American, October 2003. Secular mythographers doubt that the visions of Teresa of Avila would be linked in any comparable way to the effects of sacerdotal wine. As for the eating of laurel leaves, reported everywhere in modern retelling, this comes only from hostile Christian satirists, who were bent on denigrating the oracle, and is not reported in any pagan context.


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