House Criamon's Delphic Oracle

I was once again looking for fun things to do with everyone's favorite mystics and thought the Pythia in the Theban Tribunal would be an interesting place to start. The Sundered Eagle explains that a maga of House Criamon now fills the role (which had been defunct for centuries of course):

The oracle was once consulted by kings, emperors, despots, and philosophers alike in matters of politics, war, and religion, and was famed for the veracity of her answers, although they were often cryptic or bore hidden meaning.The oracle is now under the stewardship of the Theban Tribunal and the Order of Hermes. A lone Criamon maga resides here and serves as the oracle; she takes the name Pythia ÔÇö the ceremonial name of the ancient oracle ÔÇö and, in the fullness of time, chooses her successor (often her filia). After being initiated into the oracleÔÇÖs Mysteries, that successor assumes the name and role without any announcement. Thus, although many magae have served as Pythia, she is regarded as a single enduring entity.

This is cool because the traditional understanding of the oracular practices associated with Delphi seem to bear a number of resemblances to the famously cryptic wisdom teachings of House Criamon. That traditional understanding of the Pythia, however, has been found to be rather flawed by modern scholarship. Fontenrose's seminal book The Delphic Oracle: Its Responses and Operations with a Catalogue of Responses, after explaining the criteria used by researchers to separate historical, quasi-historical, legendary, and fictional Delphic responses, summarizes the current findings as follows:

Historical responses [from the oracle] are commonplace pronouncements, mostly clear commands and sanctions on religious ´╗┐ matters, occasionally on public or private affairs. None has the spectacular ´╗┐quality of Legendary responses, among which one finds extraordinary ´╗┐ predictions, warnings, and commands, often ambiguously expressed. ´╗┐When the Quasi-Historical responses are analysed in the same manner, ´╗┐ many of them turn out to have the characteristics of Legendary responses....Prophecies of narrative, at first anonymous or spoken by a seer, ´╗┐became attributed to the Delphic Oracle either occasionally or consistently´╗┐ in the course of oral or written transmission... A number of famous responses, quoted by Herodotos and later writers and usually considered authentic, prove on examination in chapter 4 to be unauthentic or dubious.

The Pythia does not seem to have historically followed the verse traditions later ascribed to her either:

Few genuine Delphic ´╗┐responses are expressed in verse; most of these belong to the early Chris´╗┐tian centuries and [even then] do not conform to the conventions of traditional verse ´╗┐oracles.

Many of the more "mysterious" elements of the Pythia's process and responses also are later additions:

A close study of all reliable evidence for Delphic mantic procedures ´╗┐ reveals no chasm or vapors, no frenzy of the Pythia, no incoherent cries ´╗┐interpreted by priests. The Pythia spoke clearly, coherently, and directly´╗┐ to the consultant in response to his question. As conventionally pictured the Delphic Oracle has no resemblance ´╗┐to any real Oracle, ancient or modern.

So where does that leave us? Well, the obvious response is that the Criamonic Pythia is simply built on those later traditions - sure, the original Delphic oracle may not have been very similar to what the Criamon revived, but it is similar to what medieval scholars would think the Delphic oracle is like. This is true and a fine enough answer on its own, but I think there's room to incorporate authentic ancient Pythian practice into the revived Criamonic Pythia

What initially attracted me to House Criamon's stewardship of the Pythia is that I thought it could provide a cool rite of passage for young Criamon apprentices. The Riddle of the Magus, while not actually a Gauntlet in the conventional sense, does act like one for observers from the rest of the Order. My idea was that Theban Criamon might have a tradition of sending their students to the Pythia, a member of House Criamon herself, to ask her guidance in answering their Riddle of the Magus. An authentic representation of the Pythia, one that speaks "clearly, coherently, and directly´╗┐ to the consultant", might not seem very Criamonlike but that may very well be the point. Pythia might act in the ways others expect the Delphic oracle to act for other members of the Order or mundanes, but use the authentically ancient approach when answering the questions of the Criamon.

The young Criamon apprentices (although the word only sort of applies to the way Criamon teach new magi), who spend a good deal of their time involved in working out meanings within meanings, might be honestly confused by a forthright answer and seek hidden intricacy where there is none - especially when the answer is coming from a fellow member of the House. It could serve as a good natured way for Theban Criamon masters to teach their students a last lesson about the nature of perceptions (as the legends of the Delphic oracle and the traditions of the House both combine to create an expectation of ambiguity and mysteriousness that could led to apprentices "reading into" answers) before they are officially seen by the rest of the Order as fully fledged magi.

8 Likes