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In Classical Antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

, an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

  prediction
Prediction
A prediction or forecast is a statement about the way things will happen in the future, often but not always based on experience or knowledge...

s or precognition
Precognition
In parapsychology, precognition , also called future sight, and second sight, is a type of extrasensory perception that would involve the acquisition or effect of future information that cannot be deduced from presently available and normally acquired sense-based information or laws of physics...

 of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination
Divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

.

The word oracle in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 verb means ōrāre "to speak" and properly refers to the priest or priestess uttering the prediction. In extended use, oracle may also refer to the site of the oracle, and to the oracular utterances themselves, called khrēsmoi (χρησμοί) in Greek.

Oracles were thought to be portals through which the gods spoke directly to people. In this sense they were different from seers (manteis, μάντεις) who interpreted signs sent by the gods through bird signs, animal entrails, and other various methods.

The most important oracles of Greek antiquity were Pythia
Pythia
The Pythia , commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi, was the priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Pythia was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by Apollo. The Delphic oracle was established in the 8th century BC...

, priestess to Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

 at Delphi
Delphi
Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god...

, and the oracle of Dione
Dione (mythology)
Dione was a Greek goddess primarily known as the mother of Aphrodite in Book V of Homer's Iliad. Aphrodite journeys to Dione's side after she has been wounded in battle protecting her favorite son Aeneas. In this episode, Dione seems to be the equivalent of the earth goddess Gaia, whom Homer also...

 and Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 at Dodona
Dodona
Dodona in Epirus in northwestern Greece, was an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione, who was joined and partly supplanted in historical times by the Greek god Zeus.The shrine of Dodona was regarded as the oldest Hellenic oracle,...

 in Epirus
Epirus
The name Epirus, from the Greek "Ήπειρος" meaning continent may refer to:-Geographical:* Epirus - a historical and geographical region of the southwestern Balkans, straddling modern Greece and Albania...

.
Other temples of Apollo were located at Didyma
Didyma
Didyma was an ancient Ionian sanctuary, the modern Didim, Turkey, containing a temple and oracle of Apollo, the Didymaion. In Greek didyma means "twin", but the Greeks who sought a "twin" at Didyma ignored the Carian origin of the name...

 on the coast of Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

, at Corinth
Ancient Corinth
Corinth, or Korinth was a city-state on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. The modern town of Corinth is located approximately northeast of the ancient ruins...

 and Bassae
Bassae
Bassae or Bassai, Vassai or Vasses , meaning "little vale in the rocks", is an archaeological site in the northeastern part of Messinia Prefecture that was a part of Arcadia in ancient times. Bassae lies near the village of Skliros, northeast of Figaleia, south of Andritsaina and west of Megalopolis...

 in the Peloponnese, and at the islands of Delos
Delos
The island of Delos , isolated in the centre of the roughly circular ring of islands called the Cyclades, near Mykonos, is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece...

 and Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

 in the Aegean Sea. Only the Delphic Oracle was a female; all others were male.
The Sibylline Oracles
Sibylline oracles
The Sibylline Oracles are a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the Sibyls, prophetesses who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state. Fourteen books and eight fragments of Sibylline Oracles survive...

 are a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the Sibyls, prophetesses who uttered divine revelations in a frenzied state.

Origins


Walter Burkert
Walter Burkert
Walter Burkert is a German scholar of Greek mythology and cult.An emeritus professor of classics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, he also has taught in the United Kingdom and the United States...

 observes that "Frenzied women from whose lips the god speaks" are recorded in the Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

 as in Mari
Mari (goddess)
Mari, Mari Urraca, Anbotoko Mari and the possibly distinct Murumendiko Dama was a goddess — a lamia — of the Basques. She was married to the god Sugaar...

 in the second millennium BC and in Assyria in the first millennium BC. In Egypt the goddess Wadjet
Wadjet
In Egyptian mythology, Wadjet, or the Green One , was originally the ancient local goddess of the city of Dep , which became part of the city that the Egyptians named Per-Wadjet, House of...

 (eye of the moon) was depicted as a snake-headed woman or a woman with two snake-heads.Her oracle was in the renowned temple in Per-Wadjet (Greek name Buto
Buto
Buto , Butus , or Butosus, , now Tell al-Fara'in near the city of Desouk , was an ancient city located 95 km east of Alexandria in the Nile Delta of Egypt. The city stood on the Sebennytic arm of the Nile, near its mouth, and on the southern shore of the Butic Lake...

). The oracle of Wadjet may have been the source for the oracular tradition which spread from Egypt to Greece. Evans linked Wadjet with the Minoan
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 snake goddess
Snake Goddess
Snake Goddess, indicates figurines of a woman holding a snake in each hand found during excavation of Minoan archaeological sites in Crete dating from approximately 1600 BCE.It seems that the two elegant idols found in Knossos represented goddesses and by implication, the term 'snake goddess'...

, a chthonic deity and one of the aspects of the Great Mother.

In Greece the old oracles were devoted to the Mother Goddess
Mother goddess
Mother goddess is a term used to refer to a goddess who represents motherhood, fertility, creation or embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.Many different goddesses have...

. At the oracle of Dodona
Dodona
Dodona in Epirus in northwestern Greece, was an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione, who was joined and partly supplanted in historical times by the Greek god Zeus.The shrine of Dodona was regarded as the oldest Hellenic oracle,...

 she will be called Diōnē
Dione (mythology)
Dione was a Greek goddess primarily known as the mother of Aphrodite in Book V of Homer's Iliad. Aphrodite journeys to Dione's side after she has been wounded in battle protecting her favorite son Aeneas. In this episode, Dione seems to be the equivalent of the earth goddess Gaia, whom Homer also...

 (the feminine form of Diós, genitive of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

, PIE
Pie
A pie is a baked dish which is usually made of a pastry dough casing that covers or completely contains a filling of various sweet or savoury ingredients....

 *Dyaeus; or of dīos, "godly", literally "heavenly"), who represents the earth-fertile soil, probably the chief female goddess of the PIE
Pie
A pie is a baked dish which is usually made of a pastry dough casing that covers or completely contains a filling of various sweet or savoury ingredients....

 pantheon. Python
Python (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Python was the earth-dragon of Delphi, always represented in Greek sculpture and vase-paintings as a serpent. He presided at the Delphic oracle, which existed in the cult center for his mother, Gaia, "Earth," Pytho being the place name that was substituted for the earlier Krisa...

, daughter (or son) of Gaia
Gaia (mythology)
Gaia was the primordial Earth-goddess in ancient Greek religion. Gaia was the great mother of all: the heavenly gods and Titans were descended from her union with Uranus , the sea-gods from her union with Pontus , the Giants from her mating with Tartarus and mortal creatures were sprung or born...

 was the earth dragon of Delphi
Delphi
Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god...

 represented as a serpent
Serpent (symbolism)
Serpent in Latin means: Rory Collins :&, in turn, from the Biblical Hebrew word of: "saraf" with root letters of: which refers to something burning-as, the pain of poisonous snake's bite was likened to internal burning.This word is commonly used in a specifically mythic or religious context,...

 and became the chthonic deity, enemy of Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

, who slew her and possessed the oracle.

In the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 there is a reference to Oracle in II Chronicles
Books of Chronicles
The Books of Chronicles are part of the Hebrew Bible. In the Masoretic Text, it appears as the first or last book of the Ketuvim . Chronicles largely parallels the Davidic narratives in the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings...

 5:7-9 "And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD unto his palace, to the oracle of the house, into the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubim: For the cherubim spread forth their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim covered the ark and the staves thereof above. And they drew out the staves of the ark, that the ends of the staves were seen from the ark before the oracle but they were not seen without. And there it is unto this day."

Pythia


Pythia
Pythia
The Pythia , commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi, was the priestess at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Pythia was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by Apollo. The Delphic oracle was established in the 8th century BC...

, the oracle at Delphi
Delphi
Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god...

, only gave prophecies the seventh day of each month, seven being the number most associated with Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

, during the nine warmer months of the year; thus, Delphi was not the major source of divination
Divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...

 for the ancient Greeks. Many wealthy individuals bypassed the hordes of people attempting a consultation by making additional animal sacrifices to please the oracle lest their request go unanswered. As a result, seers were the main source of everyday divination.

The temple was changed to a center for the worship of Apollo during the classical period of Greece and priests were added to the temple organization—although the tradition regarding prophecy remained unchanged—and the apparently always-female priestess continued to provide the services of the oracle exclusively. It is from this institution that the English word, oracle, is derived.

The Delphic Oracle exerted considerable influence throughout Hellenic culture. Distinctively, this female was essentially the highest authority both civilly and religiously in male-dominated ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. She responded to the questions of citizens, foreigners, kings, and philosophers on issues of political impact, war, duty, crime, laws—even personal issues. Nevertheless there was a catch. The Pythia, when about to deliver, would chew leaves from Apollo's sacred laurel
Bay Laurel
The bay laurel , also known as sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree, or simply laurel, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. It is the source of the bay leaf used in cooking...

 tree and would then sit on her holy tripod, seated in the innermost sanctum, over a crack on the rock from where noxious volcanic fumes emanated. Dazed and disoriented, she would then be "possessed by the voice of Apollo" and utter inarticulate sounds before fainting. Only the priests were present there, and they had the task of "translating" her utterances in plain speech. The priests were extremely well versed on the various matters of state, as part of their work was to debrief pilgrims about all that they knew. In addition, no question to the god was ever dealt with immediately. After the query was submitted, several days of prescribed ceremonial had to be observed before Apollo was so satisfied as to speak through his priestess, which gave the priests precious time for research.

The semi-Hellenic countries around the Greek world, such as Lydia
Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

, Caria
Caria
Caria was a region of western Anatolia extending along the coast from mid-Ionia south to Lycia and east to Phrygia. The Ionian and Dorian Greeks colonized the west of it and joined the Carian population in forming Greek-dominated states there...

, and even Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 also respected her and came to Delphi as supplicant
Supplicant
A Supplicant, one who supplicates, is a term applied to humble petitioners, and in particular to University of Oxford students who have qualified but not yet been admitted into their degree....

s.

Croesus
Croesus
Croesus was the king of Lydia from 560 to 547 BC until his defeat by the Persians. The fall of Croesus made a profound impact on the Hellenes, providing a fixed point in their calendar. "By the fifth century at least," J.A.S...

, king of Lydia beginning in 560 B.C., tested the oracles of the world to discover which gave the most accurate prophecies. He sent out emissaries to seven sites who were all to ask the oracles on the same day what the king was doing at that very moment. Croesus proclaimed the oracle at Delphi to be the most accurate, who correctly reported that the king was making a lamb-and-tortoise stew, and so he graced her with a magnitude of precious gifts. He then consulted Delphi before attacking Persia, and according to Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 was advised, "If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed." Believing the response favorable, Croesus attacked, but it was his own empire that ultimately was destroyed by the Persians.

She allegedly also proclaimed Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 to be the wisest man in Greece, to which Socrates said that, if so, this was because he alone was aware of his own ignorance. After this confrontation, Socrates dedicated his life to a search for knowledge that was one of the founding events of western philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. He claimed that she was "an essential guide to personal and state development." This Oracle's last recorded response was given in 393 AD, when the emperor Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 ordered pagan temples to cease operation.

The oracle's powers were highly sought after and never doubted. Any inconsistencies between prophecies and events were dismissed as failure to correctly interpret the responses, not an error of the oracle. Very often prophecies were worded ambiguously, so as to cover all contingencies - especially so ex post facto. One famous such response to a query about participation in a military campaign was "You will go you will return never in war will you perish". This gives the recipient liberty to place a comma before or after the word "never", thus covering both possible outcomes. Another was the response to the Athenians when the vast army of king Xerxes I was approaching Athens with the intent of razing the city to the ground. "Only the wooden palisades may save you", answered the oracle, probably aware that there was sentiment for sailing to the safety of southern Italy and reestablishing Athens there. Some thought that it was a recommendation to fortify the Acropolis
Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens or Citadel of Athens is the best known acropolis in the world. Although there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as The Acropolis without qualification...

 with a wooden fence and make a stand there. Others, Themistocles
Themistocles
Themistocles ; c. 524–459 BC, was an Athenian politician and a general. He was one of a new breed of politicians who rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy, along with his great rival Aristides...

 among them, said the oracle was clearly for fighting at sea, the metaphor intended to mean war ships. Others still insisted that their case was so hopeless that they should board every ship available and flee to Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, where they would be safe beyond any doubt. In the event, variations of all three interpretations were attempted: some barricaded the Acropolis, the civilian population was evacuated over sea to nearby Salamis Island
Salamis Island
Salamis , is the largest Greek island in the Saronic Gulf, about 1 nautical mile off-coast from Piraeus and about 16 km west of Athens. The chief city, Salamina , lies in the west-facing core of the crescent on Salamis Bay, which opens into the Saronic Gulf...

 and to Troizen, and the war fleet fought victoriously at Salamis Bay
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

. Should utter destruction have happened, it could always be claimed that the oracle had called for fleeing to Italy after all.

Dodona


Dodona was another oracle devoted to the Mother Goddess
Mother goddess
Mother goddess is a term used to refer to a goddess who represents motherhood, fertility, creation or embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.Many different goddesses have...

 identified at other sites with Rhea
Rhea (mythology)
Rhea was the Titaness daughter of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth, in Greek mythology. She was known as "the mother of gods". In earlier traditions, she was strongly associated with Gaia and Cybele, the Great Goddess, and was later seen by the classical Greeks as the mother of the Olympian...

 or Gaia
Gaia (mythology)
Gaia was the primordial Earth-goddess in ancient Greek religion. Gaia was the great mother of all: the heavenly gods and Titans were descended from her union with Uranus , the sea-gods from her union with Pontus , the Giants from her mating with Tartarus and mortal creatures were sprung or born...

, but here called Dione
Dione (mythology)
Dione was a Greek goddess primarily known as the mother of Aphrodite in Book V of Homer's Iliad. Aphrodite journeys to Dione's side after she has been wounded in battle protecting her favorite son Aeneas. In this episode, Dione seems to be the equivalent of the earth goddess Gaia, whom Homer also...

. The shrine of Dodona was the oldest Hellenic oracle, according to the fifth-century historian Herodotus and in fact, dates to pre-Hellenic times, perhaps as early as the second millennium BC when the tradition probably spread from Egypt.Zeus displaced the Mother goddess and assimilated her as Aphrodite
Aphrodite
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.Her Roman equivalent is the goddess .Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia....

.

It became the second most important oracle in ancient Greece, which later was dedicated to Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 and to Heracles
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 during the classical period of Greece.At Dodona Zeus was worshipped as Zeus Naios or Naos (god of springs Naiads,from a spring which existed under the oak), and Zeus Bouleos (cancellor). Priestesses and priests interpreted the rustling of the oak leaves to determine the correct actions to be taken.The oracle was shared by Dione and Zeus.

Trophonius


Trophonius
Trophonius
Trophonius or Trophonios was a Greek hero or daimon or god - it was never certain which one - with a rich mythological tradition and an oracular cult at Lebadaea in Boeotia....

 was an oracle at Lebadea of Boeotia
Boeotia
Boeotia, also spelled Beotia and Bœotia , is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central Greece. It was also a region of ancient Greece. Its capital is Livadeia, the second largest city being Thebes.-Geography:...

 devoted to the chthonian Zeus Trophonius. Trophonius is derived from the Greek word "trepho" (nourish) and he was a Greek hero, or demon or god. Demeter
Demeter
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons . Her common surnames are Sito as the giver of food or corn/grain and Thesmophoros as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society...

-Europa
Europa (mythology)
In Greek mythology Europa was a Phoenician woman of high lineage, from whom the name of the continent Europe has ultimately been taken. The name Europa occurs in Hesiod's long list of daughters of primordial Oceanus and Tethys...

 was his nurse. Europa (in Greek: broad-eyes) was a Phoenecian princess who Zeus transformed into a white bull abducted and carried her to Creta, and is equated with Astarte
Astarte
Astarte is the Greek name of a goddess known throughout the Eastern Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to Classical times...

 as a moon goddess by ancient sources. Some scholars connect Astarte with the Minoan snake goddess, whose cult as Aphrodite spread from Creta to Greece.

"Oracles" in other cultures



The term "oracle" is also applied to parallel institutions of divination in other cultures.
Specifically, it is used in the context of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 for the concept of divine revelation, and in the context of Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 for the Urim and Thummim
Urim and Thummim
In ancient Israelite religion and culture, Urim and Thummim is a phrase from the Hebrew Scriptures or Torah associated with the Hoshen , divination in general, and cleromancy in particular...

 breastplate, and in general any utterance considered prophetic
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

.

China



Oracles were common in many civilizations of antiquity. In China, the use of oracle bones dates as far back as the Shang Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was, according to traditional sources, the second Chinese dynasty, after the Xia. They ruled in the northeastern regions of the area known as "China proper" in the Yellow River valley...

, (1600–1046 BC). The I Ching
I Ching
The I Ching or "Yì Jīng" , also known as the Classic of Changes, Book of Changes and Zhouyi, is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts...

, or "Book of Changes", is a collection of linear signs used as oracles that are from that period. Although divination with the I Ching
I Ching divination
Among the many forms of divination is a bibliomancy method using the I Ching or Book of Changes. The book is structured as 32 pairs of hexagrams, divided in half after the first 30. The text was a subject for civil service exams in Imperial China...

 is thought to have originated prior to the Shang Dynasty, it was not until King Wu of Zhou (1046–1043 BC) that it took its present form. In addition to its oracular power, the I Ching has had a major influence on the philosophy, literature and statecraft of China from the time of the Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...

 (1122 BC – AD 256).

Celtic polytheism


In Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism, commonly known as Celtic paganism, refers to the religious beliefs and practices adhered to by the Iron Age peoples of Western Europe now known as the Celts, roughly between 500 BCE and 500 CE, spanning the La Tène period and the Roman era, and in the case of the Insular Celts...

, divination was performed by the priestly caste, either the druid
Druid
A druid was a member of the priestly class in Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, and possibly other parts of Celtic western Europe, during the Iron Age....

s or the vates
Vates
The earliest Latin writers used vātēs to denote "prophets" and soothsayers in general; the word fell into disuse in Latin until it was revived by Virgil...

. This is reflected in the role of "seers" in Dark Age Wales (dryw) and Ireland
History of Ireland 400–800
The early medieval history of Ireland, often called Early Christian Ireland, spans the 5th to 8th centuries, from the gradual emergence out of the protohistoric period to the beginning of the Viking Age...

 (fáith
Faith
Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. In religion, faith is a belief in a transcendent reality, a religious teacher, a set of teachings or a Supreme Being. Generally speaking, it is offered as a means by which the truth of the proposition,...

).

Hinduism


In ancient India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the oracle was known as Akashwani or Asariri (Tamil), literally meaning "voice from the sky" and was related to the message of god. Oracles played key roles in many of the major incidents of the epics Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

 and Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

. An example is that Kansa
Kamsa
In Hinduism, Kamsa or Kansa , often known as Kans in Hindi, is the brother of Devaki, and ruler of the Vrishni kingdom with its capital at Mathura. His father was King Ugrasena and mother was Queen Padmavati...

, the evil uncle of lord Krishna
Krishna
Krishna is a central figure of Hinduism and is traditionally attributed the authorship of the Bhagavad Gita. He is the supreme Being and considered in some monotheistic traditions as an Avatar of Vishnu...

, was informed by an oracle that the eighth son of his sister Devaki
Devaki
In Hinduism, Devaki is the wife of Vasudeva and biological mother of Krishna.She was the daughter of Devaka, the younger brother of King Ugrasena of Mathura. She was a partial incarnation of Aditi, the mother of the Devas.-Imprisonment :...

 would kill him.
There are still a few existing and publicly accessible Oracles in India.

Tibetan Buddhism


In Tibet
Tibet
Tibet is a plateau region in Asia, north-east of the Himalayas. It is the traditional homeland of the Tibetan people as well as some other ethnic groups such as Monpas, Qiang, and Lhobas, and is now also inhabited by considerable numbers of Han and Hui people...

, oracles have played, and continue to play, an important part in religion and government. The word "oracle" is used by Tibetans to refer to the spirit that enters those men and women who act as media
Mediumship
Mediumship is described as a form of communication with spirits. It is a practice in religious beliefs such as Spiritualism, Spiritism, Espiritismo, Candomblé, Voodoo and Umbanda.- Concept :...

 between the natural and the spiritual realms. The media are, therefore, known as kuten, which literally means, "the physical basis".

The Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The name is a combination of the Mongolian word далай meaning "Ocean" and the Tibetan word bla-ma meaning "teacher"...

, who lives in exile in northern India, still consults an oracle known as the Nechung Oracle
Nechung Oracle
The Nechung Oracle is the State Oracle of Tibet. The medium of the State Oracle currently resides with the current Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India...

, which is considered the official state oracle of the government of Tibet. The Dalai Lama has according to custom, a custom that has endured for centuries, consulted the Nechung Oracle during the new year festivities of Losar
Losar
Losar is the Tibetan word for "new year." lo holds the semantic field "year, age"; sar holds the semantic field "new, fresh". Losar is the most important holiday in Tibet....

. Nechung and Gadhong are the primary oracles currently consulted; former oracles such as Karmashar and Darpoling are no longer active in exile. Another oracle the Dalai Lama consults is the Tenma oracle
Tenma goddesses
The Tenma goddesses are twelve guardian deities in the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism. In hierarchy, they fall under Palden Lhamo, one of the eight Dharmapala deities....

, for which a young Tibetan woman is the medium for the goddess. The Dalai Lama gives a complete description of the process of trance
Trance
Trance denotes a variety of processes, ecstasy, techniques, modalities and states of mind, awareness and consciousness. Trance states may occur involuntarily and unbidden.The term trance may be associated with meditation, magic, flow, and prayer...

 and spirit possession in his book Freedom in Exile. http://www.tibet.com/Buddhism/nechung_hh.html.

Pre-Columbian Americas


In the migration myth of the Mexitin, i.e., the early Aztec
Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

s, a mummy
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

-bundle (perhaps an effigy
Effigy
An effigy is a representation of a person, especially in the form of sculpture or some other three-dimensional form.The term is usually associated with full-length figures of a deceased person depicted in stone or wood on church monuments. These most often lie supine with hands together in prayer,...

) carried by four priests directed the trek away from the cave of origins by giving oracles. An oracle led to the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. The Yucatec Mayas knew oracle priests or chilanes, literally 'mouthpieces' of the deity. Their written repositories of traditional knowledge, the Books of Chilam Balam
Chilam Balam
The so-called Books of Chilam Balam are handwritten, chiefly 18th-century Mayan miscellanies, named after the small Yucatec towns where they were originally kept, and preserving important traditional knowledge in which indigenous Mayan and early Spanish traditions have coalesced...

, were all ascribed to one famous oracle priest who correctly had predicted the coming of the Spaniards and its associated disasters.

Sub-Saharan Africa


The Igbo people
Igbo people
Igbo people, also referred to as the Ibo, Ebo, Eboans or Heebo are an ethnic group living chiefly in southeastern Nigeria. They speak Igbo, which includes various Igboid languages and dialects; today, a majority of them speak English alongside Igbo as a result of British colonialism...

 of southeastern Nigeria
Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

 in Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 have a long tradition of using oracles. In Igbo villages, oracles were usually female priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

esses to a particular deity, usually dwelling in a cave or other secluded location away from urban areas, and, much as the oracles of ancient Greece, would deliver prophecies in an ecstatic state to visitors seeking advice. Two of their ancient oracles became especially famous during the pre-colonial period: the Agbala oracle at Awka
Awka
Awka is the capital of Anambra State, Nigeria with an estimated population of 301,657 Nigerian census. The city is located about 600 miles east of Lagos in the centre of the densely-populated Igbo heartland in southeastern Nigeria...

 and the Chukwu oracle at Arochukwu
Arochukwu
Arochukwu, sometimes referred to as Arochuku, or Aro-Okigbo, is the third largest city in Abia State in southeastern Nigeria and homeland of the Igbo subgroup, Aro people....

. Though the vast majority of Igbos today are Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, many of them still use oracles.

Amongst the related Yoruba people
Yoruba people
The Yoruba people are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language...

s of the same country, the Babalawo
Babalawo
Babalawo is a Yorùbá chieftaincy title that denotes a Priest of Ifá. Ifa is a divination system that represents the teachings of the Orisha Orunmila, the Spirit of Wisdom, who in turn serves as the oracular representative of God...

s (and their female counterparts, the Iyanifas) serve collectively as the principal aspects of the tribe's World-famous Ifa divination system. Due to this, they customarily officiate at a great many of its traditional and religious ceremonies.

Norse mythology


In Norse mythology
Norse mythology
Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology, is the overall term for the myths, legends and beliefs about supernatural beings of Norse pagans. It flourished prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia, during the Early Middle Ages, and passed into Nordic folklore, with some aspects surviving...

, Odin
Odin
Odin is a major god in Norse mythology and the ruler of Asgard. Homologous with the Anglo-Saxon "Wōden" and the Old High German "Wotan", the name is descended from Proto-Germanic "*Wodanaz" or "*Wōđanaz"....

 took the severed head of the mythical god Mimir
Mímir
Mímir or Mim is a figure in Norse mythology renowned for his knowledge and wisdom who is beheaded during the Æsir-Vanir War...

 to Asgard
Asgard
In Norse religion, Asgard is one of the Nine Worlds and is the country or capital city of the Norse Gods surrounded by an incomplete wall attributed to a Hrimthurs riding the stallion Svadilfari, according to Gylfaginning. Valhalla is located within Asgard...

 for consultation as an oracle. The Havamal
Hávamál
Hávamál is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom....

and other sources relate the sacrifice
Sacrifice
Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or people to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artifacts...

 of Odin for the oracular Runes whereby he lost an eye (external sight) and won wisdom (internal sight; insight
Insight
Insight is the understanding of a specific cause and effect in a specific context. Insight can be used with several related meanings:*a piece of information...

).
to be a consulted oracle

Hawaii


In Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

, oracles were found at certain heiau
Heiau
A heiau is a Hawaiian temple. Many types of heiau existed, including heiau to treat the sick , offer first fruits, offer first catch, start rain, stop rain, increase the population, ensure health of the nation, achieve success in distant voyaging, reach peace, and achieve success in war . Only the...

. These oracles were found in towers covered in white kapa. In here, priests received the will of gods. These towers were called "'Anu'u." AN example of this can be found at Ahu'ena heiau in Kona
Kona District, Hawaii
Kona is the name of a moku or district on the Big Island of Hawaii in the State of Hawaii. In the current system of administration of Hawaii County, the moku of Kona is divided into North Kona District and South Kona District . The term "Kona" is sometimes used to refer to its largest town,...

. http://gohawaii.about.com/od/bigislandofhawaiiphotos/ig/kailua-kona/kailua_kona_038.htm

Further reading

  • Broad, William J. 2007. The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets. New York: Penguin Press.
  • Broad, William J. 2006. The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Message of Ancient Delphi. New York: Penguin Press.
  • Curnow, T. 1995. The Oracles of the Ancient World: A Comprehensive Guide. London: Duckworth – ISBN 0-7156-3194-2
  • Evans-Pritchard, E.
    E. E. Evans-Pritchard
    Sir Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard was an English anthropologist who was instrumental in the development of social anthropology...

     1976. Witchcraft, oracle, and magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Fontenrose, J.
    Joseph Fontenrose
    Joseph Eddy Fontenrose was an American classical scholar. He was centrally interested in Greek religion and Greek mythology; he was also an expert on John Steinbeck, commenting on the mythology in Steinbeck's work.He was from Sutter Creek, California...

     1981. The Delphic Oracle. Its responses and operations with a catalogue of responses. Berkeley: University of California Press
    University of California Press
    University of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. It was founded in 1893 to publish books and papers for the faculty of the University of California, established 25 years earlier in 1868...

    (main page)
  • Smith, Frederick M. (2006). The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature. Columbia University Press, USA. ISBN 0231137486.
  • Stoneman, Richard (2011). The Ancient Oracles: Making the Gods Speak. Yale University Press, USA
  • Garoi Ashram, (2004–2011). The copper oracle of Sri Achyuta: answers as instantaneous inscription.