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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Delphic Oracle

An oracle is a shrine dedicated to a god or mythical hero and from whom requests for information (usually about the future) are made. The word can also be use to denote the answer that is received. There were many oracles in ancient times, but perhaps the most often mentioned in history is that at Delphi dedicated to Apollo.

The Delphic Oracle had a long and celebrated history and indeed its beginnings seem to predate recorded history and some authorities (Park and Warmell, A History of the Delphic Oracle, 1956), suggest it had its origins during Minoan times which dates it back to about 2,400 BCE.

The most sacred object at Delphi was the omphalos or navel believed to mark the center of the earth which was at that time thought to be flat. According to some pictures the omphalos was a cone shaped stone. Another very sacred object was the tripod on which Pythia, the priestess, sat while awaiting inspiration. Much speculation has occurred about the method of trance induction for the Pythia’s utterances. One is that fumes issuing from a cleft in the rock below the tripod intoxicated her; but there was no cleft.

The often quoted injunction inscribed on the temple at Delphi “Know Thyself” (sometimes misquoted as “Man, Know Thyself”), was attributed to the Seven Wise Men (of Greece) by Plato (Protagoras, 343b). Also attributed to the same Seven was the less well-known inscription, “Nothing in Excess.”

Pythia was inspired during nine months of the year, on the seventh day of each, as Apollo was, according to tradition, born on that day. The pronouncement was not given directly to the inquirer, but written in hexameters, which would have afforded ample opportunity for the attending priests to edit the result. According to legend, Julian the Apostate, (Roman Emperor, CE 331-363) was the last person to ask for an opportunity to visit the Delphic Temple, but was told that it was in ruins and no longer in operation.

P.S.H.

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