Oracles

The famous oracle at Dodona was the sacred OAK there - Zeus lived in the tree, and the rustling of the leaves, according to one source, was his voice. Homer knew the oracle, which was probably the most ancient in Greece. The attendants of the oracles were priestesses of Dione, the earth goddess, with Selli, priests of Zeus (Flaceliere). From the context in the Odyssey, the implication is that the will of Zeus was audible from the Dodona oak itself, and that it was the tree itself that spoke (not the rustling of the leaves, nor birds in the tree). See the Homeric story of the Argo: when it was being built, Athena took a timber from the Dodona oak and fitted it into the keel, with the result that the Argo itself could speak, and so guide or warn the Argonauts at critical moments (Parke). On Greek coins and other works of art, Zeus is frequently shown crowned with oak leaves, or sitting or standing beside an oak tree.

BAY was the important ingredient at the Delphi oracle, Apollo's own sanctuary. The bay staff of a reciting poet was assumed to assist his inspiration, just as the bay rod in the hand of the prophet and diviner was assumed to help him to see hidden things. That is why the use of bay played an essential part in the oracular ceremony at Delphi (Philpot). The priests carefully observed the smoke of incense, and the crackling of bay wood and barley in the fire (Flaceliere).

There is a legend of a speaking tree in India. When Alexander the Great reached "the furthest forests of India" the inhabitants led him to an oracular tree which could answer questions in the language of anyone who addressed it. The trunk was made of snakes, animal heads sprouted from the boughs, and it bore fruit like beautiful women. Apparently, the tree warned Alexander of the futility of invading India in order to dominate it. It is known as the Waq-waq Tree in Islamic tradition, and was often shown on four thousand year old Harappan seals. The association of India with oracular trees derives from tales of the tree-worship which has flourished there since very early times. European maps of India Ultima from the 12th century and later show the Speaking Tree (Lannoy).

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