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The Pythia was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by Apollo. The Delphic oracle was established in the 8th century BC.
Organization of the Oracle Personnel Since the first operation of the oracle of Delphi Temple, it was believed that the God lived within a laurel his holy plant and gave oracles for the future with the rustling of the leaves. It was also said that the art of divination had been taught to the God by the three winged sisters of Parnassus, the Thriae, at the time when Apollo was grazing his cattle there.
The Thriae used to have a Kliromanteion oracle by lot in that area in the past and it is possible that such was the first oracle of Delphi, ie using the lot throwing lots in a container and pulling a lot, the color and shape of which were of particular importance.
Three oracles had successively operated in Delphi — the chthonion using egkoimisi procedure that involved sleeping in the Holy place, so as to see a revealing dream , the Kliromanteion and finally the Apollonian, with the laurel. But ever since the introduction of the cult of Dionysus at Delphi, the God that brought his fans into ecstasy and madness, the Delphic God gave oracles through Pythia, who also fell into a trance under the influence of vapors and fumes coming from the opening, the inner sanctum of the Oracle.
Pythia sat on top of a tall gilded tripod that stood above the opening. In the old days, Pythia was a virgin, young girl, but ever since Echecrates from Thessaly fell in love, kidnapped and violated a young and beautiful Pythia, a woman older than fifty years old was chosen, but still a virgin who dressed and wore jewelry to resemble to a young maiden girl.
According to tradition, Phemonoe was the first Pythia. These women were all natives of Delphi and were required to have had a sober life and be of good character. In the heyday of the oracle, the Pythia may have been a woman chosen from an influential family, well educated in geography, politics, history, philosophy, and the arts.
During later periods, however, uneducated peasant women were chosen for the role, which may explain why the poetic pentameter or hexameter prophecies of the early period, later were made only in prose. So it seems to have been aptitude rather than any ascribed status that made these women eligible to be Pythias and speak for the god.
Priestesses enjoyed many liberties and rewards for their societal position, such as freedom from taxation, the right to own property and attend public events, a salary and housing provided by the state, a wide range of duties depending on their affiliation, and often gold crowns.
The sessions were said to be exhausting. At the end of each period the Pythia would be like a runner after a race or a dancer after an ecstatic dance, which may have had a physical effect on the health of the Pythia. Several other officials served the oracle in addition to the Pythia. Before 200 BC, while the temple was dedicated to Apollo, there was probably only one priest of Apollo.
Priests were chosen from among the main citizens of Delphi, and were appointed for life. In addition to overseeing the oracle, priests would also conduct sacrifices at other festivals of Apollo, and had charge of the Pythian games. Earlier arrangements, before the temple became dedicated to Apollo, are not documented. The other officials associated with the oracle are less well known. Oracular procedure In the traditions associated with Apollo, the oracle only gave prophecies during the nine warmest days of each year.
During winter months, Apollo was said to have deserted his temple, his place being taken by his divine half-brother Dionysus, whose tomb was also within the temple. It is not known whether the Oracle participated with the Dionysian rites of the Maenads or Thyades in the Korykion cave on Mount Parnassos, although Plutarch informs us that his friend Clea was both a Priestess to Apollo and to the secret rites of Dionysus.
The male priests seem to have had their own ceremonies to the dying and resurrecting god. Apollo was said to return at the beginning of Spring, on the 7th day of the month of Bysios, his birthday. This also would reiterate the absences of the great goddess Demeter in winter also, which would have been a part of the earliest traditions.
Once a month, thereafter, the oracle would undergo purification rites, including fasting, to ceremonially prepare the Pythia for communications with the divine. On the seventh day of each month, she would bathe in the Castalian Spring then would drink the holier waters of the Kassotis, which flowed closer to the temple, where a naiad possessing magical powers was said to live.
Euripides described this ritual purification ceremony, starting first with the priest Ion dancing on the highest point of Mount Parnassus, going about his duties within the temple, and sprinkling the temple floor with holy water. The purification ceremonies always were performed on the seventh day of the month, which was sacred to and associated with the god Apollo. Nearby was the omphalos Greek for "navel" , which was flanked by two solid gold eagles representing the authority of Zeus, and the cleft from which emerged the sacred pneuma.
Consultants, carrying laurel branches sacred to Apollo, approached the temple along the winding upward course of the Sacred Way, bringing an animal for sacrifice in the forecourt of the temple, and a monetary fee. Petitioners drew lots to determine the order of admission, but representatives of a city-state or those who brought larger donations to Apollo were secured a higher place in line. Plutarch describes the events of one session in which the omens were ill-favored, but the Oracle was consulted nonetheless.
The priests proceeded to receive the prophecy, but the result was a hysterical uncontrollable reaction from the priestess that resulted in her death a few days later. At times when the Pythia was not available, consultants could obtain guidance by asking simple Yes-or-No questions to the priests.
A response was returned through the tossing of colored beans, one color designating "yes," another "no. The early fathers of the Christian church could think of no explanation for the oracles but that demons were allowed to assist them to spread idolatry; so that the need for a savior would be more evident. Journey to Delphi — Supplicants were motivated by some need to undertake the long and sometimes arduous journey to come to Delphi in order to consult the oracle.
This journey was motivated by an awareness of the existence of the oracle, the growing motivation on the part of the individual or group to undertake the journey, and the gathering of information about the oracle as providing answers to important questions. Preparation of the Supplicant — Supplicants were interviewed in preparation of their presentation to the Oracle, by the priests in attendance.
The genuine cases were sorted and the supplicant had to go through rituals involving the framing of their questions, the presentation of gifts to the Oracle and a procession along the Sacred Way carrying laurel leaves to visit the temple, symbolic of the journey they had made.
Visit to the Oracle — The supplicant would then be led into the temple to visit the adyton, put his question to the Pythia, receive his answer and depart. The degree of preparation already undergone would mean that the supplicant was already in a very aroused and meditative state, similar to the shamanic journey elaborated on in the article. Return Home — Oracles were meant to give advice to shape future action, that was meant to be implemented by the supplicant, or by those that had sponsored the supplicant to visit the Oracle.
The validity of the Oracular utterance was confirmed by the consequences of the application of the oracle to the lives of those people who sought Oracular guidance.
However, most commonly, these refer to an observation made by Plutarch, who presided as high priest at Delphi for several years, who stated that her oracular powers appeared to be associated with vapors from the Kerna spring waters that flowed under the temple.
It has often been suggested that these vapors may have been hallucinogenic gases. Contrary to ancient literature, they found no fissure and no possible means for the production of fumes. No chasm or vapor ever existed; no natural gas could create prophetic visions; and the recorded incidents of a priestess undergoing violent and often deadly reactions was inconsistent with the more customary reports. Dodds, Joseph Fontenrose, and Saul Levin all stated that there were no vapors and no chasm.
For the decades to follow, scientists and scholars believed the ancient descriptions of a sacred, inspiring pneuma to be fallacious. Broad 2007 demonstrates that a French photograph of the excavated interior of the temple clearly depicts a springlike pool as well as a number of small vertical fissures, indicating numerous pathways by which vapors could enter the base of the temple. Hale, forensic chemist Jeffrey P. Chanton, and toxicologist Henry R.
Spiller investigated the site at Delphi using this photograph and other sources as evidence, as part of a United Nations survey of all active faults in Greece. During several expeditions, they discovered two major fault lines, one lying north-south, the Kerna fault, and the other lying east-west, the Delphic fault, which parallels the shore of the Corinthian Gulf. The rift of the Gulf of Corinth is one of the most geologically active sites on Earth; shifts there impose immense strains on nearby fault lines, such as those below Delphi.
The two faults cross one another, and they intersect right below where the adyton was probably located. The actual, original oracle chamber had been destroyed by the moving faults, but there is strong structural evidence that indicates where it was most likely located. Additionally, they discovered at the site formations of travertine, a form of calcite created when water flows through limestone and dissolves calcium carbonate, which is later redeposited. Friction created by earthquakes heat the bituminous layers resulting in vaporization of the hydrocarbons which rise to the surface through small fissures in the rock.
The small chamber was located below the general floor of the temple and offset to one side, perhaps constructed specifically over the crossing faults. Plutarch reports that the temple was filled with a sweet smell when the "deity" was present: Spiller specified that inhalation of even a small amount of ethylene can cause both benign trances and euphoric frenzied states.
Other effects include physical detachment, loss of inhibitions, the relieving of pain, and rapidly changing moods without dulling consciousness. He also noted that uncontrolled doses can cause confusion, agitation, delirium, and loss of muscle coordination. When patients were removed from the area where the gas accumulated they had no recollection of what had happened, or what they had said.
All of these symptoms match the experience of the Pythia in action, as related by Plutarch, who witnessed many prophecies. The Kerna spring, originating uphill from the temple, yielded 0. It is unknown the degree to which ethylene or other gases would be detected at the temple should these waters still flow freely, as they did in the ancient world. The nature of the hydrocarbon accounts for this. Ethylene is extremely light and volatile, having a highly reactive nature, and therefore could have presumably escaped the rock long ago.
This would cause the amounts of ethylene emitted to fluctuate, increasing or decreasing the potency of the drug released, over time.
It has been suggested that the decrease of importance of the Oracle after the era of Roman Emperor Hadrian was due in part to the fact that there had not been an earthquake in the area for a significant time. Venom Another interpretation, by art historian Merlin Stone, suggests the use of venom rather than ethylene.
She indicates that when people, after having been immunized against snake-bite, are bitten by a venomous snake, particularly by krait, cobra or another elapids, they experience an emotional and mental state that has been compared to the effects of hallucinogenic substances.
The Apollonian and Dionysian, concept of human dichotomy. Delphi method, a structured communication technique, unrelated to the Oracle of Delphi.
Retrieved 11 October 2006. West, Homeric Hymns, pp 9—12, gives a summary for this dating, at or soon after the inauguration of chariot-racing at the Pythian Games, 582 BC; M. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 16 1975: It was also said that the young woman was given a tripod on which to be seated, which acted on behalf of her own safety during her frenzied states. Spirit Language, Mircea Eliade]. It is particularly striking that she sits on a cauldron supported by a tripod, reiterating the triad of the great goddess.
This eccentric perch can hardly be explained except as a symbolic boiling, and, as such, it looks very much like a reminiscence of the initiatory boiling of the shaman translated from hallucinatory experience into concrete visual terms. It was in this same cauldron, probably, that the Titans boiled Dionysus in the version of the story known to Callimachus and Euphorion, and his remains were interred close by".
Wormell The Delphic oracle, 1956 Volume 1: Huffman, "The Oracular Process: Delphi and the Near East" Vetus Testamentum 57. Its Responses and Operations". De Boer, and J. Griffiths, P Hancock, and I. The Archaeology of Geological Catastrophes. Geological Society of London 2000. No denial could hide that fact, no scholarly disclaimer could deny the reality....