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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology


The most famous and powerful Oracle of ancient Greece, the Oracle of Apollo, was located at Delphi, a shrine about 100 miles from Athens near the foot of Mt. Parnassus.   Hundreds of correct Delphic prophecies have survived history.

The temple was built in the 6th Century B.C., originally for the worship of the Earth Goddess, Gaia.   The name Delphi comes from Delphyne, the great snake of the Mother Goddess.   Snakes, associated with prophecy and wisdom, were in residence at the shrine, and the sacred snake was a spiraling python.   Later, the Earth Goddess gave way to Apollo, when, according to a myth, he slew the sacred python.

Gaia, followed by Apollo, dispensed prophecy and advice through an entranced priestess, the Pythia or pythoness.   Enquirers were chosen by lots and paid fees.   While the enquirer remained in an outer chamber, the Pythia entered into an inner sanctuary.   Her trance ritual included drinking blood, which was supposed to feed the ghosts of the shrine and induce prophecy.

According to some accounts, she may also have inhaled smoke or chewed laurel leaves.   Ancient art depicts her as sitting on a tripod, gazing into a flat dish and holding a laurel branch.   The Pythia's trance was often accompanied by frenzy and strange moanings and sounds.   The sounds and obscure an-swers that issued forth were interpreted by priests and turned into hexameter verses.   Originally, the prophecies were given only on the seventh day in a month in spring, but later they were given once a month, except for three months in the winter.

One of the best-known Delphic prophecies was said to have been given to King Croesus of Lydia.   After testing a number of oracles for accuracy, he asked the one at Delphi if he should wage war against the Persians.   The answer was that if he attacked the Persians, a great army would be destroyed.   He did and it was - his own.

There is no evidence of a cave or subterranean room at Delphi, despite the belief of some scholars that the Pythia did her work underground.   By the 4th Century A.D., the Greeks and Romans believed the Pythia breathed vapours emitted from the rocks in order to enter a trance.   However, geologists have determined that the rocks, which are limestone, could not have produced hallucinatory vapors.   No clefts have been discovered that might indicate the escape of gases from the earth's interior.

Nevertheless, foliage, branches or other substances could have been burned and inhaled.   The Pythia is said to have eaten laurel leaves.   (Greek laurel leaves are similar to the bay-rum herb of the West Indies.)   Some experts believe the prophecies were merely bits of advice written by the Pythia's assistants.

see also: ORACLE

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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc
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