Pythia and Altered States of Consciousness: A Cognitive Perspective



Year of publication 2015
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description This paper attempts to evaluate possible contribution of cognitive psychology to our understanding of Pythia's role in divinatory procedures taking place in the Delphic Oracle. In previous scholarship there was a deep-rooted tendency to search for a natural substance whose digestion/inhalation should cause changes in Pythia's mental state. These efforts have recently been revived in the form of much advertised "Ethylene hypothesis", purportedly harmonizing information of ancient sources with scientific knowledge of modern geology and chemistry. It will be argued, however, that the actual merit of these "retrospective diagnoses" remains problematic, because it is often founded on a simplistic or one-sided interpretation of complex historical sources which reduces their scientific value. On the other hand, based on the a research done in the field of cognitive psychology, it will be proposed that Pythia's mental state can be classified as an instance of Patterned Dissociative Identity, which is very often emicly understood as a possession of human mind by spiritual beings. This new approach can, if carefully undertaken, produce some valuable insights about the working of the Delphic Oracle and possibly supplement missing pieces in our historiographical sources.
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