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Ancient Prediction Methods

I got this from an article by Kevin Krajick in The Best Science and Nature Writing (2019). Trying to predict the future is an ancient human impulse. If only there were a way…

Ancient Prediction Methods

    1. Greece’s Oracle of Delphi

    Everyone for a thousand years visited the site. It was said to be where Zeus placed the center of the world. Inside, the “pneuma” or “breath of god“ seeped into the air from its walls. Each month a priestess sat in a special chair inside, inhaled, and answered questions in a voice unlike her own. Treaties, wars, and crucial business decisions were made based on the pronouncements.

    2. Why their predictions may have been believed

    The officials at the temples had unusually good access to information. They grilled the powerful for days to weeks to learn about economic and political developments. In some cases, even the military strategies of both sides in a conflict were learned and shared with the priest or priestess.

    3. Temples of Klaros and Didyma

    On certain nights “a priest…went down into a cave; there he [drank] from a secret fountain”. He then entered a trance and voiced his predictions from the dark. (The priests served only one-year terms, though. There lives were shortened by the drink’s “magical” ingredients!)

    4. Plutonium site

    A small doorway cut in the side of a cliff near a small temple. Said to be an entrance to hell—a lethal vapor could be seen coming from it's interior. Animals pitched inside died immediately, but priests entered and came back miraculously unharmed . One scientist’s explanation is that the priests carried bladders of air beneath their robes. He also speculated that the fumes may have settled to the floor which killed animals close to the ground but not the taller priests.

    5. Haruspicy

    Reading the organs of animals sacrificed in religious rites.

    6. Empyromancy

    Decoding the messages of flickering flames.

    7. Augury

    Interpretations were made of lightening flashes and the behavior patterns of flocks of birds.

    8. Dadona’s trees

    The future was divined in the sound of the rustling leaves of a sacred oak.

    9. Sura’s waters

    The patterns of fish that gathered around a sacred whirlpool told the future.

    10. Dreams on Mt. Garganus

    Seers went to bed dressed in the skins of burned animals and dreamed of what was to come.

    11. The Oracle of Omaha

    The success of this oracle is believed to be the result of reading multiple news sources, financial reports, and the behavior of managers. Warren Buffet may be capable of divining the future of stock prices. His average annualized return is 20% over the last 58 years. Has he made any trips to Greece, do you know?

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