In the Alters’ World (and the series of books found here), creatures of legend reveal themselves to the world. Born through genetic abnormalities, defects and mutations, the Alters have lived for centuries as outcasts of human society, hiding their true nature from the world while colorful stories have been written by many to describe what they’ve seen. How are these creatures different from what was described in the stories? What relationship do they have with humanity? Every entry of the Alterpedia will delve into a new creature from around the world. This week we cover:
Priestesses of the gods, the Oracles were seen as direct connections between the world of mortals and the beyond. As a result, they were one of the great authorities in the otherwise patriarchal Greek society and several others who would have otherwise ignored the advice of women. Considered practically infallible, their words carried weight with people from all walks of life. They were consulted by everyone from common citizens to even kings as they dispensed wisdom and advice thought to have been supernatural in origin. And, while being genuinely documented in the historical Greek civilization of antiquity and several others, their powers have often been up for question.
Did they truly speak to the gods? Were they simply skilled at reading people and telling them what they wanted to hear? Or was there something else happening that no one could understand at the time?
Let’s look deeper…
Delivering advice, prophecy, and insight – the Oracles practiced an incredibly powerful form of divination beyond those of others. They were not the only ones to be consulted for such divination but while Seers were known to look for signs and symbols the Oracles were seen as literal portals to the next world. Speaking through them, the gods would use these Oracles to guide mortals with an uncanny accuracy. This generally went beyond simple wisdom, as the Oracles were said to know things that people could have no means of knowing. This could range from knowledge of the future to knowledge of distant events.
It wasn’t believed that the Oracles’ advice was absolute, however, as the messages could be seen as being beyond the understanding of the mortal mind. The gods, being a greater form of being, were beyond the ability of mortals to truly understand even with an avatar to act in their place. As such, the Greeks saw this advice as always right but not always understood. Warnings, advice, and insights were to be interpreted incredibly carefully and deemed as signposts rather than direct instruction. This unknowable nature of the divine meant that many times the true meaning of an Oracle’s words were not understood until long after it was too late.
Though the truth was that their faults lie mostly in the way they came about these predictions. Rather than genuinely speaking for the gods, the Oracles are a class of Alter with spectacular mental abilities nearly unmatched even in the Alter world. Holding an amazingly high IQ and enhanced senses, these Oracles presented a parapsychic ability to use stimuli in their environment to make incredible predictions. These calculations, using the most minute of details available to them at any given time, were generally made intuitively and gave the Oracles a sense of possible outcomes to any number of events. These outcomes were rarely well defined even to the Oracle, but the greater the degree of stimuli available, the more accurate their predictions would generally be.
Through this ability, Oracles could use pattern recognition and intuitive understanding of their environment to determine not only possible futures but the emotions of those around them and distant events. Most advice given from that point was generally due to experience and education, an older Oracle being able to understand patterns in individuals and the environment to determine when similar events would come to pass. Most personal advice, generally related to their reading of the person on site, was actually psychological – a reading of the person’s needs and desires and providing the advice they needed most. However, because many of these required cooperation of the people they dealt with, there were times this advice would fall on deaf ears.
Their ability to sense distant events such as weather patterns or disasters was somewhat more of a mystery, however. For a great deal of time these abilities were thought to be genuine mystical power due to what was perceived to be a complete lack of stimuli. As Alter scholars researched into just how accurate their senses were, it was found that even within traditional sensory deprivation the Oracles were still able to perceive things which they should have had no means of knowing. Advances in science eventually revealed that Oracles were not only sensitive to traditional stimuli but also emissions on the EM spectrum – able to detect electricity, magnetism, light outside of the visible spectrum. This, combined with a keen understanding of patterns and possibilities, seemed to explain how the Oracles could make predictions even in complete isolation, but a problem presented itself later in the research.
Oracles, generally overwhelmed by the bombardment of information they receive from the world around them, have traditionally had difficulty sleeping or remaining calm. Because of this, Alter researchers worked on perfecting sensory deprivation not only to pin down what these individuals were seeing but also to provide them some form of relief. Beginning with traditional sensory deprivation tanks (which were invented specifically for this research), the researchers continued to find means of closing off different stimuli as more were discovered. Adding shielding against EM, seismic vibrations, and many other stimuli existing outside normal human perception, the researchers believed they had successfully patched all of the holes in their deprivation experiments only to find that the Oracles were still somehow having visions.
It was a considerable time later that Alter researchers came to understand how this was possible. After research into Quantum Mechanics revealed that there may be many more than the traditionally viewed 3 dimensions of space-time, Alter scholars soon made the connection. Though deprived of all stimuli available within conventional 3 dimensional space-time, Oracles were apparently sensitive to even stimuli from higher dimensions outside any human perceptions. Further research into this proved to show that they were not the only ones, revealing varying sensitivities in all Alters with parapsychic abilities including Witches, Succubi, and Empyreals (who proved to have further abilities related to this).
As a result, Oracles, regardless of how much shielding they may receive, are incapable of not receiving some information on the outside world. And, due to their nature, while true telepathy does not exist, Oracles have been shown to be able to create some limited influence on the higher dimensions themselves – “broadcasting” signals to others. It was due to these abilities that the Republic of Argyre began to consider a working relationship between Oracles and their burgeoning law enforcement agencies. With the combination of their natural talents and modern technology, these agencies have found Oracles to be incredibly efficient dispatchers and analysts which now form the backbone of Alter-related law enforcement.
Virgin priestesses of the temple of the gods, the Oracles lived in the temples they were attached to and operated on a routine dictated by the needs of that temple. Though open to all questions asked of them and giving counsel for even trivial things, the Oracle was not available at all times. In general, most Oracles only provided divination on specific days – often those associated directly with their gods – or during conditions that reflected the nature of their gods. This would make their connection with the god greater and opened the lines of communication before they would answer any questions asked of them. And, because of this, finding an Oracle’s schedule open could be difficult for those of lesser status. For instance the Oracle of Delphi, also known as The Pythia, was dedicated to the god Apollo and would only provide divination on one day every month.
As a result, many Oracles exerted a great influence on the day to day lives of the people. Being consulted primarily by those of great power and influence themselves, the Oracles were generally consulted by people who could, in turn, change the lives of everyone else in the country. Politicians, scholars, and generals would take up much of the Oracle’s available time. The Pythia, in particular, was at one time considered the most influential person in the known world due to her relationship with key political figures. And, while this made her indirectly powerful, it also made her position and the position of other Oracles like her somewhat precarious.
The relationship Oracles had with these powerful figures was not only beneficial to them but at times dangerous. Though generally believed to be the products of an unknowable divine, the idea of a divination being considered wrong or misleading was risky with those of higher status. As such, many Oracles went out of their way to attempt to be vague or indecipherable as to avoid any potential backlash from those in power. In some cases this even resulted in stories that they would speak in riddles or in incoherent gibberish, thought at the time to be due to powerful potions or incenses, which would be impossible for someone to understand without interpretation. This, while bringing their value into question, would mean any consequence of misinterpretation was purely on the shoulders of those who listened.
In truth, much of this restriction on their interactions with people was an act of self-preservation. Contact with people, while beneficial to the temple, put Oracles in a state of distress as the interactions overwhelmed them with new stimulus. As a result, many genuine Oracles would restrict these interactions to a single day every month and they would very rarely leave the temple grounds which they used to isolate themselves. With enough contact, Oracles were even known to become physically or mentally ill from the bombardment of information. An Oracle who had become overwhelmed by their senses could become disheveled, irritable, and irrational. This also made it unlikely that any Oracle would have intimate relations with others, making their known abstinence a necessity except under incredibly controlled circumstances – the majority of Oracles born to non-Oracle parents.
Stories of taking potions or inhaling smoke were quite accurate, but these were actually less to open the lines of communication and more to dull the senses. Appropriately intoxicated, an Oracle could tolerate people much more effectively and proved to be more lucid and even stoic in this state. Their manner of speaking, often methodical and stoic, was entirely due to trying to cover how sedated they needed to be in order to cope with people. Only those within the Oracle’s closest inner circles were allowed to know of these issues, as it was easy for someone to use such things as leverage against them.
Leverage and politics were often a problem for the ancient Oracles. Though their words carried weight, it was often that someone would use their predictions as justification for action. Most higher political powers would know what they wished to do long before consulting the Oracles, and generally a skilled Oracle would simply tell them what they wanted to hear in such cases. Even if the information they gave was not what the Oracle actually wished to say, this was easier than coming into conflict with the powers that be.
Protecting themselves became more important over time as several instances of attempted kidnappings or assaults were carried out by those who believed themselves untouchable. The Pythia, in particular, began to be a title given to older Oracles as they were less likely to be taken forcefully as wives. Even so, the influence they held began to be controlled by others as it became clear the Oracles were not actually protected by divine will. The temples eventually became more akin to a prison for many, unable to leave due to their condition but forced to deal with unsavory people in order to stay. When the temples finally lost influence and began to fall from power the only option left open to them anymore was to simply live in exile – a choice preferable to seeking sanctuary with those who would use their insights.
In the time since antiquity the lives of Oracles have changed in many ways. Alter researchers, recognizing their problem, put great deals of effort into developing ways for Oracles to cope while trying to understand the origin of their abilities. Modern Oracles now hold a symbiotic relationship with the organizations that began this work, providing information in exchange for favorable living conditions and medical care which allows them to maintain their health and sanity. Many modern Oracles now divide their time between sensory deprivation tanks, networking rooms for Alter law-enforcement, and comfortable homes located in remote areas such as private islands or deep in the mountains. All of these are currently provided by the Republic of Argyre and have been maintained for generations.
While the arrangement isn’t always ideal, it proves favorable to the Oracles more often than not. Providing security and necessary resources, the symbiotic relationship with Argyre allows the Oracles some degree of control over their lives that they may not have had in previous arrangements. Though no longer as influential as they once may have been, it is well known within the Oracle community that the ones holding the power in ancient times…
May not have necessarily been them.