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oracle (prophecy, revelation)

An oracle is a shrine or temple sanctuary consecrated to the worship and consultation of a prophetic god. The person who transmits prophecies from a deity at such a shrine is also called an oracle, as is the prophecy or revelation itself.

Oracles are usually presented in the form of an enigmatic or ambiguous statement or allegory. "Socrates is the wisest of men." "A great king will achieve victory." Such statements can have several meanings, thus affording a greater chance of being interpreted in such a way as to make them accurate than if they were more clear and precise, such as "Socrates has seven toes" or "Cyrus will defeat the Persians at Salamis on Tuesday."

The belief in oracles can be traced to the desire to know the future. There are literally dozens of strange techniques humans have developed in an effort to divine events before they occur. Unfortunately, the only sure guide to the future is the past, and even that isn't always reliable.

One of the most famous oracles in history is the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The oracle flourished from the 8th century BCE until pagan temples were shut down by the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I in 393 CE. A priestess (the Pythia) allegedly received messages from the god Apollo, which she passed on for a fee (call it a donation, if you will). Tradition holds that the Pythia spoke from a trance state induced by neurotoxic gases emitted from beneath the temple.* G. Etiope et al., writing in Geology (October 2006), report that recent studies of soil and groundwater have found that "methane, ethane, and carbon dioxide are being released from a thermogenic (catagenetic) hydrocarbon-prone environment." The temple is located above a fault that "may have been the site of enhanced degassing in the past." However, Etiope et al. reject the hypothesis of some that ethylene rising from bedrock fissures inspired the Pythia. The "environment is not prone to biogenic production of ethylene in amounts inducing neurotoxic effects (hundreds or thousands of ppmv)." Instead, they propose: "If gas-linked neurotoxic effects upon Pythia need to be invoked, they should be sought in the possibility of oxygen depletion due to CO2-CH4 exhalation in the indoor temple. Alternatively, a plausible geological explanation behind the natural presence of sweet scents could be the occurrence of aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzene, dissolved in the groundwater spring."

See also Bible Code, cabala, clairvoyance, confirmation bias, crystal power, I Ching, divination, Jeane Dixon, doomsday, lunar effects, Mayan prophecy, Nostradamus, numerology, selective thinking, shoehorning, Gordon-Michael Scallion, and Tarot.

Last updated 01-Dec-2013

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