Tuesday, October 16, 2012

But without the honey-cakes

Sent to me by the inestimable Grant Munroe, and very relevant to my upcoming divination-themed Halloween party, from Robert Graves' The Greek Myths:

i. Some oracles are not so easily consulted as others. For instance, at Lebadeia there is an oracle of Trophonius, son of Erginus the Argonaut, where the suppliant must purify himself several days beforehand, and lodge in a building dedicated to Good Fortune and a certain Good Genius, bathing only in the river Hercyna and sacrificing to Trophonius, to his nurse Demeter Europe, and to other deities. There he feeds on sacred flesh, especially that of a ram which has been sacrificed to the shade of Agamedes, the brother of Trophonius, who helped him to build Apollo's temple at Delphi.

j. When fit to consult the oracle, the suppliant is led down to the river by two boys, thirteen years of age, and there bathed and anointed. Next, he drinks from a spring called the Water of Lethe, which will help him to forget his past; and also from another, close by, called the Water of Memory, which will help him to remember what he will see and hear. Dressed in country boots and a linen tunic, and wearing fillets like a sacrificial victim, he then approaches the oracular chasm. This resembles a huge bread-baking pot eight yards deep, and after descending by a ladder, he finds a narrow opening at the bottom through which he thrusts his legs, holding in either hand a barley-cake mixed with honey. A sudden tug at his ankles, and he is pulled through as if by the swirl of a swift river, and in the darkness a blow falls on his skull, so that he seems to die, and an invisible speaker then reveals the future to him, besides many mysterious secrets. As soon as the voice has finished, he loses all sense and understanding, and is presently returned, feet foremost, to the bottom of the chasm, but without the honey-cakes; after which he is enthroned on the so-called Chair of Memory and asked to repeat what he has heard. Finally, still in a dazed condition, he returns to the house of the Good Genius, where he regains his senses and the power to laugh.

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