Unless you're a Free Mason, it's not at all likely that
you've ever heard of the dark and mysterious Oracle of
about the Delphi Oracle? Probably... but heard about the
Oracle of Trophonius? Nope... at least I know it was total
news to me when originally digging deeper into it...
discover most of what we now know about this much lesser
known "Oracle of Trophonius" by piecing together
(chronologically) accounts from five different ancient
was Trophonius? According to the Homeric Hymn to Apollo,
(522 BC - John Burkett) Trophonius along with
brother, Agamedes, were the two architects who had designed
and built Apollo's temple at the oracle at Delphi.
Croesus Consults Multiple Oracles (including the Trophonius
(484 BC – 425 BC) tells us about King Croesus who
who apparently frequented various ancient oracles.
was the immensely powerful and rich king of Lydia (part
of modern day Turkey) from 560 to 547 BC until being defeated
by the Persians.
Herodotus' record instructs us that Croesus consulted
multiple oracles (including the Oracle of Trophonius),
supposedly in order to test which one was superior to
the others. In my experience, when people ask more than
one oracle, it's more likely that they're searching for
an answer they like. However, it was reportedly Croesus
later on questioning an ambiguous
message of Oracle of Delphi that got him in hot water.
"After the loss of his son, Croesus remained in
deep sorrow for two years. After this time, the destruction
by Cyrus son of Cambyses of the sovereignty of Astyages
son of Cyaxares, and the growth of the power of the
Persians, distracted Croesus from his mourning; and
he determined, if he could, to forestall the increase
of the Persian power before they became great.
thus determined, he at once made inquiries of the Greek
and Libyan oracles, sending messengers separately to
Delphi, to Abae in Phocia, and to Dodona, while others
were despatched to Amphiaraus and Trophonius,
and others to Branchidae in the Milesian country.
are the Greek oracles to which Croesus sent for divination:
and he told others to go inquire of Ammon in Libya.
His intent in sending was to test the knowledge of the
oracles, so that, if they were found to know the truth,
he might send again and ask if he should undertake an
expedition against the Persians." Herodotus,
The Histories, with English translation by A. D. Godley.
Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920. (The Edward
Earle 1814 translation Available as a free downloadable
Where in the Heck is Pluto in All of This?
It's the much later Greek historian Strabo that finally
begins to clue us into the connection with the Roman god
Greek historian Strabo (64/63 BC – ca. AD 24) much
later wrote about a temple of Pluto and cave of Charon),
located between Tralles and Nyssa, (modern day Turkey),
that served as an underground incubatorium of healing.
to Strabo, the priests of Pluto's temple functioned as
dream interpreters that revealed the cause and cure of
Vision of Timarchus in the Trophonius Oracle as told
by Plutarch (46 – 120 AD):
it's the historian Plutarch (46-120 AD) that gives us
a picture of the type of vision that might occur in the
Oracle of Trophonius.
said that on descending into the oracular crypt his
first experience was of profound darkness; next, after
a prayer, he lay a long time not clearly aware whether
he was awake or dreaming.
did seem to him, however, that at the same moment he
heard a crash and was struck on the head, and that the
sutures parted and released his soul. As it withdrew
and mingled joyfully with air that was translucent and
pure, it felt in the first place that now, after long
being cramped, it had again found relief, and
was growing larger than before, spreading out like sail;
and next that it faintly caught the whir of something
revolving overhead with a pleasant sound.
he lifted his eyes the earth was nowhere to be seen;
but he saw islands illuminated by one another with soft
fire, taking on now one color, now another, like a dye,
as the light kept varying with their mutations.
appeared countless in number and huge in size, and though
not all equal, yet all alike round; and he fancied that
their circular movement made a musical whirring in the
aether, for the gentleness of the sound resulting from
the harmony of all the separate sounds corresponded
to the evenness of their motion."
Pausanias' much later 2nd Century AD Guide to Greece
completes the picture of what's known about the Oracle
Remember... we originally learned from Homer about the
two brothers, Trophonius and Agamedes, that were architects
and had designed and built Apollo's temple at the oracle
from Pausanias we learn that the two brothers, Trophonius
and Agamedes, also designed and built a treasure chamber
for King Hyprieus of Boeotia (Lebadea). Using a secret
entrance into the chamber that only they knew about, the
brothers then went about systematically stealing Hyprieus'
king was aware his treasure was disappearing, and so he
laid a snare for the unknown thief. Agamedes became trapped
in the snare; and Trophonius made an ill-fated, bad decision.
Trophonius cut off his brother's head so that his brother
could not be captured and then tortured; but also so that
he (Trophonius) would not be discovered by the king. (Here
are few, if any, perfect heros.) However, the earth then
opened and swallowed up Trophonius at what has become
known as the pit of Agamedes.
cave of Trophonius was not discovered again until the
Lebadaeans suffered a plague, and the Delphic Oracle advised
them that an unnamed hero was angry at being neglected,
and that they should find his grave and offer him worship.
The cavern was discovered, the plague ended, and the oracle
of Trophonius was born.
The oracle was then frequented by those seeking a visionary
experience. After a series of tests showing that the petitioner
would be kindly greeted by the oracle, the person seeking
the vision was lowered into the cave through a narrow
opening that was just large enough to squeeze a body through.
The person would then stay until receiving an answer.
visitors were paralyzed with terror upon coming up, and
therefore forgot what they'd seen. They would then be
seated upon a chair of Mnemosyne (memory), where the priests
of the shrine would record their ravings and then compose
an oracle out of them.
is said that none of the visitors who consulted the oracle
ever died in the experience, save one man who had secretly
gone with the purpose of pillaging the treasures of the
Sources for further reading:
Dream and Ritual: Ancient Incubation and Modern Psychotherapy
C. A. Meier
Dream and the Underworld by James Hillman
(very interesting Wikipedia article)