The Tradition of Oracles

In ancient times and throughout history, an oracle is a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinion. It may also be a revealed prediction or precognition of the future from deities, that is spoken through another object or life-form (e.g.: augury and auspice).

In the ancient world, many sites gained a reputation for the dispensing of oracular wisdom: they too became known as “oracles,” and the oracular utterances, called khre-smoi in Greek, were often referred to under the same name — a name derived from the Latin verb o-ra-re, to speak.

Tibet

In Tibet, oracles have played, and continue to play, an important part in religion and government. The word “oracle” is used by Tibetans to refer to the spirit that enters those men and women who act as media between the natural and the spiritual realms. The media are, therefore, known as kuten, which literally means, “the physical basis”.

The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in northern India, still consults an oracle known as the Nechung Oracle, which is considered the official state oracle of the government of Tibet. The Dalai Lama has, according to a custom that has endured for centuries, consulted the Nechung Oracle during the new year festivities of Losar. Before fleeing from Tibet however, he consulted the oracle of Dorje Shugden.

Another oracle he consults is the Tenma oracle, for which a young Tibetan woman is the medium for the goddess. The Dalai Lama gives a complete description of the process of trance and spirit possession in his book Freedom in Exile.

China

Oracles were common in many civilizations of antiquity. In China, the use of oracle bones dates as far back as the Shang Dynasty, (1600–1046 BC). The I Ching, or “Book of Changes”, is a collection of linear signs used as oracles that are from that period. Although divination with the I Ching is thought to have originated prior to the Shang Dynasty, it was not until King Wu of Zhou (1046–1043 BC) that it took its present form.

In addition to its oracular power, the I Ching has had a major influence on the philosophy, literature and statecraft of China from the time of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC – AD 256).

Egypt

The earliest known oracle was in the renowned temple of Per-Wadjet. This was an important site in the Pre-dynastic era of Ancient Egypt, which includes the cultural developments of ten thousand years from the Paleolithic to 3100 BC.

The temple was dedicated to the worship of Wadjet and may have been the source for the oracular tradition that spread to Ancient Greece from Egypt. The Per-Wadjet tradition continued through the entire history of the Ancient Egyptian culture. The later Greeks called both the goddess and the city, Buto.

The remains of the oracle temple of “Amun” at Siwa Oasis.

Another oracle of note lay in Egypt during the Eighteenth dynasty (1550–1292 BC), is a temple dedicated to Amun, a god who rose to importance during that time. The Greeks associated him with Zeus. Alexander the Great once visited it, and although no record of his query remains, the oracle is thought to have hailed him as Amun’s son, influencing his conceptions of his own divinity.

Greece

The earliest tradition of oracular practice in Hellenic culture is from the archaic period shortly after arrival of the Hellenes in their current place of settlement c. 1300 BC. The oracle was associated with the cults of deities derived from the great goddess of nature and fertility, the pre-eminent ancient oracle — the Delphic Oracle — who operated at the temple of Delphi.

Oracles were thought to be portals through which the gods spoke to man. In this sense they were different from seers (manteis in Greek) who merely interpreted signs sent by the gods through bird signs, animal entrails and other various methods.

The Pythia, the oracle at Delphi, only gave prophecies the seventh day of each month out of a nine-month working period; thus, Delphi was not the major source of divination for the ancient Greeks. Many wealthy individuals attempted to bypass the hordes of people attempting a consultation by making additional animal sacrifices to please the oracle lest their request go unanswered. As a result, seers were the main source of everyday divination.

The temple was changed to a center for the worship of Apollo during the classical period of Greece, and priests were added to the temple organization — although the tradition regarding prophecy remained unchanged. The apparently always-female priestess continued to provide the services of the oracle exclusively. It is from this institution that the English word, oracle, is derived.

The Delphic Oracle exerted considerable influence throughout Hellenic culture. The Greeks consulted her prior to all major undertakings, wars, the founding of colonies, and so forth.

The semi-Hellenic countries around the Greece world, such as Lydia, Caria, and even Egypt also respected her and came to Delphi as supplicants. Croesus of Lydia consulted Delphi before attacking Persia, and according to Herodotus was told, “If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed.” Believing the response favorable, Croesus attacked, but it was his own empire that ultimately was destroyed by the Persians.

She allegedly also proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest man in Greece, to which Socrates said that, if so, this was because he alone was aware of his own ignorance. After this confrontation, Socrates dedicated his life to a search for knowledge that was one of the founding events of western philosophy. This oracle’s last recorded response was given in 393 AD, when the emperor Theodosius I ordered pagan temples to cease operation.

Dodona is another oracle devoted to the Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but is here called Dione. The shrine of Dodona was the oldest Hellenic oracle, according to the fifth-century historian Herodotus and, in fact, dates to pre-Hellenic times, perhaps as early as the second millennium BC when the tradition spread from Egypt. It became the second most important oracle in ancient Greece, which later was dedicated to Zeus and to Heracles during the classical period of Greece.

During the period, in Crete lay another important oracle, sacred to Apollo. It ranked as one of the most accurate oracles in Greece.

India

In ancient India, the oracle was known as Akashwani, literally meaning “voice from the sky” and was related to the message of God. Oracles played key roles in many of the major incidents of the epics Mahabharat and Ramayana. An example is that Kamsa, the evil uncle of lord Krishna, was informed by an oracle that the eighth son of his sister Devaki would kill him.

Mesoamerica

In the migration myth of the Mexitin, i.e., the early Aztecs, a mummy-bundle (perhaps an effigy) carried by four priests directed the trek away from the cave of origins by giving oracles.

An oracle led to the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. The Yucatec Mayas knew oracle priests or chilanes, literally ‘mouthpieces’ of the deity. Their written repositories of traditional knowledge, the Books of Chilam Balam, were all ascribed to one famous oracle priest who correctly had predicted the coming of the Spaniards and its associated disasters.

Nigeria

The Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria in Africa have a long tradition of using oracles. In Igbo villages, oracles were usually female priestesses to a particular deity, usually dwelling in a cave or other secluded location away from urban areas, and, much like the oracles of ancient Greece, would deliver prophecies in an ecstatic state to visitors seeking advice. Though the vast majority of Igbos today are Christian, many in Nigeria today still use oracles.

In Igboland of present-day Nigeria, many different oracles were regularly consulted. Two of these became especially famous: the Agbala Oracle at Awka and the Chukwu Oracle at Arochukwu.

Scandinavia

In Norse mythology, Odin took the severed head of the mythical god Mimir to Asgard for consultation as an oracle. The Havamal and other sources relate the sacrifice of Odin for the oracular Runes whereby he lost an eye (external sight) and won wisdom (internal sight; insight).

Source: Wikipedia

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  1. The word “oracle” comes from Latin “oraculum” which is derived from the Greek “orare” (to request). In many cultures the practice of using oracles to solve problems and to seek advice for future actions is still very popular. But most of the oracles are minor gods or spirits. In Tibetan Buddhism, however, many of the oracles are enlightened beings who are relied upon, not only by lay people, but also by high lamas in their work to benefit others.

  2. The tradition of Oracles is firmly embedded in the lineage practices of such Tibetan lineages as the Gelugpa and the Nyingma lineages. Nonetheless, the main lineage teachings of all Tibetan lineages, including the above two, are still definitely focused on “Mind Transformation, coupled with Annuttara tantra of generation and completion stages” (quoted from TK’s Comments, Posted on Article – ‘The Validity of Oracles’). These practices ensure “the real protection from everything in Samsara”.

    The main practices of great Lamas like Pabongka Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche and Zong Rinpoche, who all believed in oracles, are still the Lamrim and the Lojong. Yet they still consulted oracles all their lives and, at the same time, they taught and realized the Lamrim and the Lojong in their mindstreams.

    One very important reason for these highly attained and realized masters to have oracles is to benefit beings who have “desperate situations” and for whom “Lojong has not been established in their mindstreams yet”.

    Thus may the oracle system live long and may Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden’s oracles continue for the benefit of sentient beings.

  3. Even for highly attained Masters, the Tibetan tradition of Oracles was, and still is, heavily depended upon, and for very good reasons. The following example will illustrate this point very clearly.
    According to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche (the illustrious junior tutor and Root Guru to HH Dalai Lama), in his autobiography, the escape of The Dalai Lama from Tibet to India was actually ‘orchestrated’ by the Enlightened Dharma Protector , Dorje Shugden, through His oracle. It was Dorje Shugden, who, through His oracle, urged the Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche and their entourage to leave Tibet immediately. Dorje Shugden even dictated the direction and the route they were to take in their escape. Dorje Shugden guaranteed that no harm would come to Dalai Lama and his Entourage. They were to go “raising the sword( a specific sword which the oracle medium was holding ) in His name at the head of the column”.
    Thus it was that the Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche and entourage escaped and arrived safely in India, bringing with them precious teachings, including the Gaden Lineage teachings, to be spread to the four corners of the world.May the tradition of oracles, including The Supramundane Dharmapala, Dorje Shugden’s oracles, live on forever to benefit all beings.

  4. Using Oracles is still very popular in some countries who are still practicing the traditional methods of communicating with the gods and deities. Especially in countries like Tibet, China, Greece etc. In Tibet there are two types of spirits which can enter the Oracle. They are the enlightened and non enlightened spirits. The mediums or Oracles called Kuten in Tibetan are also used even today by the present Dalai Lama to solve the problems of the Tibetan Government. Dalai Lama used an Oracle to get advise from Dorje Shugden through an Oracle on how to escape Tibet when China invaded the country. And thus Dalai Lama was saved by Dorje Shugden through an Oracle.

  5. The use of oracles is a very common thing between many countries. Through this it would help many people understand what might have been advised to them through the oracles. It would also help others relate better when they understand that in Buddhism, there are oracles that take trances of both enlightened and unenlightened beings to guide us and help us.

    This article has allowed me to know that it is not only in the Tibetan Buddhism culture that people would use oracles, but instead there are many cultures that uses oracles to help them in their day to day life.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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