Apollo, God of Divination

“Let him magnify the truth, it will magnify him. Let him strengthen truth, it will strengthen him.” —Leabhar na Nuachonghbala (Book of Leinster), 95-117 AD


Fulfilling a destiny is a common theme in the mythological journey of a hero or heroine. In conducting research for my novel, APOLLO’S RAVEN, I was intrigued by the various rituals used by the Greek, Roman and Celtic civilizations to acquire knowledge of the future or to seek divine advice about a current problem.

Ancient Rome and Greece

In ancient Rome and Greece, established temples offered divinatory services through rituals, most of which belonged to Apollo. One prescribed method was a client met directly with the god or goddess in a dream. After a specific ritual or drug had prepared the person for contact with the divinity, he or she would spend a night in the sanctuary, often called the sleeping room. In the morning, a temple priest or priestess would help to interpret the dream. This method, called “incubation” after the Latin for “to sleep” incubare, was widely practiced in the healing sanctuaries of Apollo’s son, Asceipius.

Private consultation could also be made through a medium possessed by the divinity. These seers inspected entrails, especially the livers, of sacrificed animals, interpreted the flight of birds, and performed divination with a bowl of water or a mirror. Commanders of armies and rulers sought out these inspired soothsayers to interpret their dreams and to acquire divine advice from the gods and goddesses.

Ancient Celts

Spirit-possession as a way of communicating to the supernatural world was a global phenomenon, although the specific ceremonies varied from culture to culture. The Celtic seers, known as druids (female: druidesses), practiced auguries that could foretell the future and interpret nature by searching for omens in the death throes of human sacrifices, in the entrails of sacrificial animals, and in the behavior of birds. In both Irish and Welsh mythology and legends, the craft of foretelling was an essential part of the story. Often, in the attempt to thwart their fate prophesied by the Druids, the heroes or heroines undertook adventures which inevitably led them to the fate they sought to prevent.


Graff, Fritz, 2009. Apollo. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Berresford Ellis, Peter, 1994. The Druids. Published in the USA 1995; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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