Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to Pronounce an Oracle


The woman who was the Oracle of Delphi sat on a tripod above a rock crevice, inhaling fumes from the center of the earth. The fumes contained ethylene, a.k.a. laughing gas. When conditions were just right and the fumes didn't make her pass out, she spoke the prophecies that came from her untethered mind.

Nations and great leaders consulted her. For many centuries, all decisions of consequence required the input of the Oracle. But petitioners had to come with a really good question, something of great significance (Usually, it was some variation of, "If we start this war, will we win?"). And to get the Oracle's attention, they brought boat-loads (literally) of gold.

Over hundreds of years, many women filled the role of Oracle. Some young, some old. Some were more educated, some were simple country girls.

One thing was consistent over time: the Oracle spoke in riddles. Her pronouncements were always true, but often misunderstood. Nations that were wise (or lucky) enough to benefit from them built commemorative marble monuments on the grounds at Delphi. Those that misused or misunderstood the Oracle fell into ruin.

You might wonder, if the Oracle was so wise, why couldn't she just give a straight answer? But the Oracle understood that telling people what to do gives them an excuse not to think, and to refuse to take responsibility for their actions.