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Painting of Greek oracles

Where Are They, and What Do the Oracles Say?


Throughout history, divination has centered on temples or geographical locations, but for those consulting it, it is more a question of attentive listening than visiting a precise place.

The Latin poet Lucretius once said: “All places with an echo are temples.” The majority of cultures have built temples, which tells us that there was a cult, a deity or various, and that those deities not only had a voice, but also things to tell us. The message, the oracle, always possesses the characteristic of prediction. What is told to us through these consultations is something that we could not have known without having access to that source, the mystical source, those of the arts of prediction dispersed by diverse rites and resources across the world.

This is why temples are located where the oracle is received. Of the best known examples is the Oracle of Delphos, the sanctuary of the god Apollo, where the message was transmitted via Pythios, who entered into ecstasy and produced an encrypted mensaje, aimed solely at the soul of the seeker: a secret message, yes, but not for reason but rather for that part of us that is intimately linked to that which exceeds our expectations: fate, or as the Moderns called it, uncertainty; the Egyptian oracles, such as those found in Heliopolis and Abydos, were also important oracle destinations of antiquity, and which had the peculiarity of being consulted in written form and which responded in the same manner. Who wrote those replies? That is an enigma.

An enigma, Pascal Quignard reminds us, is something that is understood without explanation. An oracle could be a series of images that it is difficult or impossible to articulate in a discourse, such as dreams, although, in general, as in the case of initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries, “it was not possible to divulge the mystery because there was nothing to divulge” (Agamben). Knowledge received there was non-discoursive, with which initiation, or wisdom, resulted in both a fruitless and non-transferrable search, and instead one that could be experienced. In other words, the seeker receives an image, an experience perceived through the senses, meaning that the enigma is understood through images. An enigma is an image.

Of course, nowadays people do not consult the Oracle, but they do consult the Tarot or Runes, they read the horoscope in some magazine or attend psychotherapy to obtain that image in which the enigma that each of us are to ourselves is encrypted. Although the ways of accessing the mystery are modified, what remains of the oracular practice, perhaps unconsciously, is the possibility of enunciating an oracle and maintaining the relationship that we hold with the mystery as mysterious. The prophetic character that oracular messages contain could well be limited to poetry, the act of attentively listening to the words of a poem. The way in which language operates in poetry is very similar to how an oracle was delivered. As the poet Fernando Pessoa said: the mystery is that there is a mystery.

The Oracle is something that is believed, but not known. In this sense, the Oracle is the ultimate space of the word, the last resource, and the temple is the sacred architectural construction par excellence, where that voice is protected. The Oracle is the closest thing to the Word; it is information that is not in the scriptures, or that can be if the interpretative method is Kabbala, for example, and which is an exhaustive reading method, a kind of metaphysical philology. The Oracle is like the opposite of that which we can have a hand in when we momentarily suspend our rationality with reality. It is to return irrationality to a place in our lives that modernity and the evolution of technology have eroded.

There is a Pythius-esque moment in the movie Matrix. It is a woman, always in a kitchen and often smoking. It is a modern oracle and in the film it is said that she is an “error of the Matrix.” The woman knows everything, but the way in which she knows everything can only be told to those that need to know something tangible. Which means that she does not know it, but that she contains that information to those who ask. We could therefore say that all oracles are non-transferrable, and the echo of which Lucretius spoke was simply the inside of an ear that remains hollow in order to attentively listen to the words of an oracle, or a poem, and which appear to be solely directed at us.

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