One of the most famous oracles from Greek antiquity is the Oracle of Delphi, also known as The Pythia. It is a sanctuary near the city of Delphi that was dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. Today, only a few ruins remain.
According to ancient myth, Apollo, who was considered one of the most important gods of the Greeks and Romans and the main god of prophetic divination, was looking for a suitable oracle. During his search, he came to the place where the serpent Python, endowed with clairvoyant powers, lived. The serpent guarded a crevice for his mistress and mother Gaia, the goddess of the earth.
Apollo killed Python and, through the spilled blood, the serpent's powers were transferred to the site and the crevice. Vapors rising from the fissure were said to give people clairvoyant powers.
In the cult practice based on this myth, a woman was chosen to sit on a three-legged chair above the crevice and guard the rock opening. If she breathed in the vapors, she would enter a trance state and be able to let the oracle speak through her. In honor of Gaia and the serpent, she was called Pythia.
At first, Pythia spoke oracle spells only once a year in honor of Apollo's birthday. But over time, her predictions came on the seventh day of every summer month. In addition, the Greeks inaugurated the annual "Pythian Games" in honor of Apollo and Pythia, a competition that was initially just musical and later involved athletic challenges.
In the course of history, the temple complex in Delphi also became one of the most important political sites for the Greeks. Many politicians and important personalities came to the temple seeking advice and brought valuable knowledge to the priesthood based there.
At the end of the 4th century, however, the cult of Apollo and Pythia was over: Emperor Theodosius I declared Christianity to be the only valid religion and banned all pagan cults, and the temple complex was closed.
The oracle of Pythia was accompanied by important ritual acts. Only when a certain omen appeared could the oracle be consulted (a goat was often used for this purpose, which was sprinkled with water; if it showed a reaction, the ritual could begin). If the omen appeared, Pythia could cleanse herself in a bath and drink holy water. She was then ready to inhale the vapors from the fissure, which brought her into the trance state. Now a few chosen people could ask her their questions. The answers often remained mysterious, and it is assumed that priests of the temple interpreted them.
Other ancient oracles are known. Among them are the oracle of Dodona of the god Zeus, Ephyra, Klaros in Turkey, and the Siwa oasis in Egypt.
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