Pythiai and Inspired Divination in the Delphic Oracle: Can Cognitive Sciences Provide Us with an Access to “Dead Minds”?


  • Aleš Chalupa Masaryk University



cognition, Delphic oracle, Pyhtia, spirit possession


The aim of this article is to deepen our knowledge of mantic procedures used at Delphi, especially with respect to the mental state of the Pythia, which was induced in the course of oracular sessions. The first section provides a short reconstruction of the Delphic oracular session based on the information gleaned from historical and (to lesser extent) archaeological sources. The second section aims for clarification of some contentious points, which are still the subject of intensive scholarly debates and controversies. They concern particularly questions about the authorship of pronounced oracles and the method by which the Pythia brought about her reputed mantic abilities. The third section raises a question about how and to what degree our knowledge about the history of the Delphic oracle and the Pythia’s behaviour in the course of oracular consultations is deepened by looking at it from the perspective of cognitive psychology. A cognitive perspective can, perhaps, give us useful material for possible comparisons based on analogically similar cases of spirit possession currently studied anthropologically, psychologically, and neurologically.

Author Biography

Aleš Chalupa, Masaryk University

Aleš Chalupa is Assistant Professor at the Department for the Study of Religions at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. His field of research is ancient religions, especially Roman religion, ancient mystery cults, Graeco-Roman magic and Mithraism. In recent years, he has also focused on the cognitive science of religion and its possible contribution to the methodology of the study of ancient religious traditions.


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How to Cite

Chalupa, A. (2014). Pythiai and Inspired Divination in the Delphic Oracle: Can Cognitive Sciences Provide Us with an Access to “Dead Minds”?. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 1(1), 24–51.