| As tradition goes, a visitor to the oracle first sacrificed an
animal. The omens were noted as to whether it was a good day to ask
the oracle and then the visitor waited in the room outside the Adyton.
Only the priestess could enter the Adyton. The day's order of questions
was determined by random lot. Questions, written on leaden tablets,
were then passed in to the Pythia, or priestess. This position was
originally filled by a young woman but over time, older women became
Pythia. At the height of Delphic fame, there were three Pythiae at
The Pythia would cleanse herself in the Kastalian Spring and then
seat herself on a tripod which was located over a chasm in the Adyton.
An omphalos and a spring called the Kassiotis were also supposed to
be located in this room. Some say that she chewed laurel leaves (the
tree sacred to Apollo) and inhaled exhalations, or gas, which issued
from the chasm. The overall effect was that the Pythia entered a trance-like
state in which she spoke incoherently. A priest or poet nearby would
then interpret these noises into verse. Often, the Pythia's answers
were esoteric and carried double meanings, misleading visitors more
than if they had ever asked.
However, this traditional version is by no means accepted by all scholars.
Some, like Joseph Fontenrose, point out that no concrete evidence
of a true chasm or gases has ever been found. Classical sources mentioning
the trance and exhalations are vague and can be interpreted in many
ways. Fontenrose also argues that the historical, trustworthy accounts
of the Pythia usually depict her as calm, sane, speaking face to face
with her visitor, and giving oracles which are simple and clear. The
more fantastic a story becomes, such as mythological heroes or word
of mouth accounts, the more devious and vague the Pythia becomes.
Little of the actual proceedings in the oracle were recorded and there
are many mysteries left to be solved.