Trophonios, a legendary Greek hero who was eventually
considered a god-like being, was credited with building the
original temple housing the Oracle at Delphi. At a later date,
the Oracle at Delphi is said to have ordered the building of an
oracle site to be established at Lebadea (known today as the
town of Livadia) dedicated to Trophonios. The site would become
one of the prominent oracular centers in ancient Greece,
and accounts of it survive in the writings of Pausanius.
Those who consulted the oracle at Labadea followed a pattern
common in the ancient world. They took up residence at
the center for several days, during which they offered sacrifices
of various animals. Following the sacrifices, soothsayers were
present to read the entrails of the animals (a practice termed
extispicy), specifically determining if Trophonios would receive
the inquirer graciously or not. The night before entering
the cave where the god dwelled, the person would receive a
bath and was anointed with olive oil. The priests then took him
to water springs where the water of forgetfulness (for the loss
of memory of all that was past) and the water of memory (to recall
all that would be seen) were consumed. It is believed that
these waters contained doses of hallucinogenic drugs.
The inquirer was taken to the entrance of the cave and supplied
with a ladder by which he went down into a room. In the
floor was a small opening through which the person entered
into the actual oracle space. Here the person had both visionary
experiences and encounters with the deity (possibly one of
the priests acting as a medium). Upon his return, the person
was seated on the Throne of Memory and questioned as to what
had been seen or heard.
The site of the Trophonion oracle is well known, though
modern explorers of the area have been unable to locate the
entrance to the caves used for divination in ancient times.
Some believe that a complex of interconnected caves exist in
the area.
Pausanius. Guide to Greece. Translated by Peter Levi. Harmondsworth,
UK Penguin, 1971.
Temple, Robert K. G. Conversations with Eternity Ancient
Man’s Attempt to Know the Future. London Rider, 1984.