Monday, October 1, 2012
Divination part 2: Within the context of a single Paleo-Pagan Indo-European culture, discuss three different forms of divination or seership,
In Hellenic culture there were many forms of divination which people could turn too. Over time,
these various forms changed, while many others found a home in the culture from outside influences. They ranged from personal types of divination, such as the drawing of lots, to actual institutions centered on Oracles.
Like many of the Indo-European culture, the Hellenic culture had forms of ‘lot’ divinations, classified as cleromancy. The drawing of lots is a form of divination where the practitioner has a set of tokens, each marked with individual symbols. These symbols represent meanings that help divine the answer to questions. Then practitioner forms a question. With the question in mind, he/she then mixes the tokens in some fashion before drawing out tokens to divine the answer. One of the very rarely talked about forms of lot divinations, is that of the Greek Alphabet Oracle. The knowledge of this device comes from inscriptions found in the city of Olympus. ‘Each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding oracle, and the first word of the oracle (in Greek) begins with that letter (Sophistes).’ Made from tiles of pottery or bone, the Greek Oracle Alphabet tiles were cast very much like Runes are today. The method of selection ranged from drawing a single tile from container to tiles being shaken from an open mouthed container, such as a bowl. Once drawn, the reader looked up the corresponding meaning on a tablet upon which contained the oracle meanings.
The Greeks were very fond of augury. Augury, seen as a type of omen, is a pretense of what is to come. George Luck had this to say about augury in Hellenic society: ‘… the interpretation of the flight, sound, and manner of feedings birds. This technique was practiced so commonly that augur became the word for any soothsayer, diviner, or prophet.’ (Luck 250)
There were two main types of augury. The first consisted of intentionally watching for signs. These signs could be seen in the movement of the clouds, within storms [either by lightening or through thunder],
and through the movement and behavior of animals. This type of augury is also where the reading of
entrails and other organs of animals would fit. In Classic Greece up through the dark ages the reading
of entrails and organs was a very popular form of divine. The second type was usually sudden and unexpected. These types of auguries tended to center around the sudden appearance of animals sacred to the gods; or by mundane things such as the spilling of salt, sneezing, stumbling, or something as simple as the breaking of a reflective surface, which could pretense an omen of misfortune.
The most notable form of divination in ancient Hellenic times is that of Oracles. Many considered
Oracles a form of spontaneous prophecies. In this form of spontaneous prophecy, thought to be a direct
connection to the divine, seemed a sort of trance state that the Oracle fell into. In this trance state the
Oracle was able to access or receive information from the divine about future events. Many times the
information spoken by the Oracles was unintelligible, needing translating by the officiating priests and
priestesses of the temple which housed the Oracle. It very well could be one of the oldest forms of divination in the Indo-European cultures. ‘As early as Homer, divination came under the control of religion and was concentrated in a few shrines that soon became prominent and wealthy (Luck 239).’ Perhaps because Oracles where seen as a direct connection to the gods explains why they became controlled by the religious leaders of the times. Examples of these shrines would be the Oracle at Delphi and at Cumae. Oracles became so popular, that many turned into large state supported institutions which prospered for hundreds of years.