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Related to Oracles: Sibylline oracles


in Greek religion, priest or priestess who imparted the response of a god to a human questioner. The word is also used to refer to the response itself and to the shrine of a god. Every oracular shrine had a fixed method of divination. Many observed signs, such as the motion of objects dropped into a spring, the movement of birds, or the rustle of leaves. Often dreams were interpreted. A later and popular method involved the use of entranced persons whose ecstatic cries were interpreted by trained attendants. Before an oracle was questioned consultants underwent rites of purification and sacrifice. There were many established oracles in ancient Greece, the most famous being those of Zeus at DodonaDodona
, in Greek religion, the oldest oracle, in inland Epirus, near modern Janina, sacred to Zeus and Dione. According to Herodotus, an old oak tree there became an oracle when a black dove, from Egyptian Thebes, settled on it.
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 and of Apollo at DelphiDelphi
, locality in Phocis, Greece, near the foot of the south slope of Mt. Parnassós, c.6 mi (10 km) northeast of the port of Cirrha. It was the seat of the Delphic oracle, the most famous and most powerful of ancient Greece.
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 and at Didyma in Asia Minor. Other oracular shrines were located in Syria, Egypt, and Italy.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In ancient Greece, the populous consulted with oracles, which are those able to contact the gods and answer questions put to the deities. Although the priesthood led public worship and offered necessary sacrifices, the oracles made the personal contact and expressed the will of the gods. These oracles would go into trances and frequently speak in a greatly changed voice, with no later recollection of what they had said.

The words uttered by the oracle were frequently confusing to the questioner, often ambiguous or even nonsensical. The priests interpreted what was said and thereby brought order out of possible chaos. This was especially the case when the questioner was an ambassador or diplomatic figure and where the question held political significance.

Delphi was the Greek center for oracles. It was only open for nine months out of the year. When open, the oracle could only be approached on one day a month. The order of questioners was determined by lot, although it was possible for those with influence to gain precedence.

Greece was not the only place for oracles. Many primitive societies had similar soothsayers. James Wellard, writing in Man, Myth and Magic, suggests that all practitioners of divination are, in effect, oracles, and that African tribes, Australian aborigines, medieval necromancers, astrologers, and modern psychiatrists are all variations on the same theme.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

An Oracle is a shrine to a deity, at which questions may be asked. It is also the term for the answers to those questions. Sometimes the “channel” giving those answers is also referred to as the oracle. The word comes from the Latin oraculum, meaning “to speak.” Oracles were numerous in antiquity. Among the most celebrated were the Oracle of Delphi, the Oracle of Dodona, of Amphiaraus in Bæotia, and of Trophonius at Lebadea. In Italy, the best known oracle was that of Fortuna at Præneste.

Various methods of presenting the oracles—the answers to questions—were employed, differing from one site to another. The most common method was “incubation.” This required the enquirer to sleep in the sacred area until he or she received an answer in a dream. Also common was direct voice from the priestess, who acted much like a medium. Here, however, she was acting as an intermediate between human and deity, rather than between human and spirit of the deceased. Sometimes oracles were received by the petitioner clairvoyantly or clairaudiently.

The expression “to work the oracle” meant to influence the message given; to bring pressure to bear to obtain an utterance in your favor.


Buckland, Raymond: The Fortune–Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2004
Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: William Benton, 1964
Parke, H. W.: Sibyls and Sibylline Prophecy in Classical Antiquity. New York: Routledge, 1988
Potter, D.: Sibyls in the Greek and Roman World. Rhode Island: Journal of Roman Archæology 3, 1990
Rose, H.J.: Religion in Greece and Rome. New York: Harper & Row, 1959



in ancient Greece, Rome, and the Orient, a prediction that supposedly came from a divinity and was communicated by priests to inquiring believers; the site where such predictions were given was also called an oracle. The most famous oracles were those of Ammon at Thebes (Egypt), Zeus at Dodona (Epirus), Apollo at Delphi (Greece), and Faunus and Fortuna at Praeneste (Italy).

In modern literary language, the term “oracle” is also used to describe the prophesying divinity himself or the priest who gives the answers or prophecies that supposedly come from the divinity. In a figurative sense an oracle is a person whose judgments are acknowledged as absolute truth, as revelation.


1. a prophecy, often obscure or allegorical, revealed through the medium of a priest or priestess at the shrine of a god
2. a shrine at which an oracular god is consulted
3. an agency through which a prophecy is transmitted
4. Bible
a. a message from God
b. the holy of holies in the Israelite temple



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