Dialogue on the Threshold

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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Psychê tetrigyia (3)

I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit (ἐν τῷ ἐγγαστριμύθῳ), and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. (Reg. I 28.8)

The prophet who possesses or is possessed by a familiar, usually an ancestral ghost, is often to be met with in the lower culture. Among the Jews, besides the power of summoning spirits enjoyed, for example, by the Witch of Endor, diviners might possess a familiar ghost who speaks through their lips. The words ’ōb and yidde ‘oni, which mean in the first instance the spirit of a deceased person, came to mean him or her that divines by such a spirit. Now the Septuagint translates sho’ēl ’ōb, one who consults an ’ōb, by the word ἐγγαστρίμυθος. The ἐγγαστρίμυθοι were apparently very common in antiquity. Clement refers to them as one of the principal types of pagan diviner (Protrept, i. 11). (...) So far as the nature of their familiar spirit is defined, it seems probable that it was supposed to be the ghost of a deceased person, though one would not look for clear definition or consistence of theory in this lowly branch of the art of divination. (...) In the Byzantine period diviners of this character appear to have retained their popularity, and they are said by Psellus, that expert in the ranks and categories of devils, to be possessed by the subterranean kinds of devil (De op. daem. (Gaulminus), GIII, p. 55)."

W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination. A Study of its Methods and Principles, Macmillan, London, 1913.

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