Oracles of Deception

Oracles of Deception

Oracles of the dead are peculiar places. We have grown accustomed to believing that they were all sacred domiciles, where otherworldly events took place in the presence of the gods. However, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I believe that this was not always the case.

I recently travelled to Baia, Italy, and to the famed oracle in Delphi, Greece, to co-present an episode of director Bruce Burgess’s Forbidden History 2 with the United Kingdom radio and television celebrity, Jamie Theakston. What I discovered amazed me.


Exploring an Oracle of the Dead with Jamie.
© Raffaella Lamagna

Oracles were ritual centres, believed to contain portals, through which gods spoke; Delphi, and its famed Temple of Apollo, was one of the most ancient, and perhaps the most famous, in the ancient world. It is likely to have sprung, quite literally, from the sacred groves in and around Mount Parnassus, which surround the spectacular Delphi site.  Although there is little doubt that the sacred oracle at Delphi has its roots in ancient, holistic and honourable prophecy, what it became is quite disappointing, and often overlooked.

Oracles of the Dead

Heading down to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
© Alexandre Victorino

The oracle’s powers were highly sought after and their prophecies were never doubted or speculated upon. In fact, any inconsistencies between prophecies and events were dismissed as failure to correctly interpret the responses, not an error of the sacred oracle itself. This principle was never questioned.

Those who frequented oracles ranged from ordinary people to kings and queens, warriors and leaders of men. This goes to show that nothing has changed. Famously, the former American President, Ronald Reagan, and many other world rulers consult with psychics about world affairs today, as do many of us when we desire insight into which job should we should choose, which partner is right for us and what our future may hold. Clearly, the questions of humankind are eternal and common among all walks of life and rank and file.

Kings, queens, dignitaries and the affluent were convinced that their exalted status would mean that the gods would speak to them and advise them as to the best course of action regarding government, war or matters of state. They also had the most money to spend, which meant they would receive the best bang for their buck. And so, the problem is that Delphi became a bit of a spectacle; a farce, if you will, not unlike a modern-day fortuneteller – the only difference being that today’s tarot readers (not all, but many) do not need to speak in tongues to deprive us of our cash.

Priestesses like this used a variety of methods to enter a trance like state, where the priest would interpret her utterances in a manner aimed to please the patron. © Andrew Gough

Patrons with the most money were given the best show and everyone, regardless of status, was required to complete a list of questions in advance of their arrival, so that the priest could become familiar with their likes, dislikes and aspirations. Once the patron had arrived, the very priests who later interpreted the oracle utterances of a priestess (who was speaking in tongues and under the influence of hallucinogenic substances) would interview them for hours and even, in some cases, days.

The priests of the temple left nothing to chance and resorted to sending carrier pigeons to faraway lands to learn the fate of events (such as battles won and lost), so that they could appear more accurate in their interpretations of the priestess’s vision. After all, the social media of the day was word of mouth and accurate and entertaining prophecies meant more money from more patrons, and more profit for the priests and residents of the Delphi ritual complex. In short, in the process of becoming the original customer-experience management retreat for the rich and famous, Delphi had become the antithesis of the very principles upon which it had been founded.

However, the oracle of the dead in Baia, Italy, is another matter completely, and worthy of a bit more time and space than can be afforded here. Suffice it to say, it is not every day that one gets to escort a celebrity to hell and back. But that is exactly what I did. You can read all about my descent into hell with Jamie Theakston, and the remarkable adventure we had. It was quite a journey!

*** Please note that this blog, the article it links to, and the Forbidden History Television episode are not meant to discredit mediums, clairvoyants and fortune tellers, but rather the aspects of the discipline, both ancient and modern, that exploit individuals for profit. ***


  1. Nate Beck 7 years ago

    Hi Andrew,

    Great and interesting articles. Keep up the Great Work.

    Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you and yours.

    • Author
      Andrew Gough 7 years ago

      Nate hi. Thanks so much! It is always good to hear from you. Wishing you a great 2015.

  2. Karen Little 7 years ago

    I am working on a theory related to meditation/prayer/oracle consultation.

    Structuring though leads to insight. If the structure of the thought (check how ancient Romans structured prayer) is highly focused, the brain returns information. (I’m currently doing a mini-series on Facebook related to drawing and revealed insight that is related to this.)

    Numerous years ago, I was a member of the Milwaukee-area Theosophical society where I studied and practiced various forms of meditation and during that time, I experienced some really wild things. The experiences are based on developing awareness as one’s brainwaves settled down into deep sleep. Self-induced experiences like these can also be induced by drugs.

    The issue is whether the information revealed during meditation is worth anything and that is an issue the fully conscious self needs to determine.

    OK, the other part of my experience was with divining. In this case, members of a rather large group exchanged quick notes, usually of our names. We then listened to people on a one-by-one basis reading the notes and telling us what we had on our minds. There were some people who could really nail this exercise and do it time and time again. … a second part of this experiment was to determine whether what was said was useful, which is fodder for another discussion beyond this one.

    IMHO, writers and creative people of all walks of life have conversations with their “inner self” (probably without realizing it) which results in revealed information. I’ll take it a step further that when numerous people tend to think/meditate on the same thing (Virgin Mary, for example) they delve into a shared pool of information. As a total non-Christian, I had the experiencing of hearing a Virgin Mary statue speak to me as I made my way into an office I had at a former Catholic School in Milwaukee and “she” told me that my daughter who had just suffered a serious ailment was OK. Whoa. . . .

    The problem with inquiries into oracles and the like is that it is stacked against the possible usefulness of such a practice. The other problem is when people believe that everything uttered by an oracle is the “god’s truth” and worth more than rational thought.

    If you want to experiment, write down a simple concern (not “how to achieve world peace in the next 24 hours”), email me and ask my thoughts about what you wrote, but without telling me what it was. If I say something of value, hey! If not, hey! (I say lots of things of no value.) It’s a fun game, however, and it can be very revealing.

    • Author
      Andrew Gough 7 years ago

      Thank you Karen, for that very well argued position. It’s a awkward subject to debate as many people hold the status of Oracles as untouchable…Sadly, this is not always the case.

  3. Karen Little 7 years ago

    Proofreading – I wrote the original message “off the cuff” and did not re-read it until I clicked submit. Oy!

    General corrections: Prayer/Meditation/et al = programming for thought.

    “spiritual awareness” = 1) becoming aware of one’s own thoughts and 2) experiencing some type of illumination that is surprising. All of this without the aid of drugs, or, similar things could be experienced with drugs.

    “divining” = the answers thoughts return to us. Some people can divine information for us better than we can do for ourselves. A divination can cause us to “think differently,” which is a plus, and that is its usefulness.

    “way out there” = frankly, I believe that thoughts, like radio waves, are a “thing” and can be sampled like a computer can sample data through a database. It is up to our rational mind to determine if our thoughts revealed something worthwhile or suprising.

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