You are on page 1of 8

A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 1 of 8

A Greek Alphabet Oracle


*

Kata Stoikheion

Khrêsmoi
Ek Olumpou

In Litteras Digesta

Oracula
Ex Olympo

© 1995, Apollonius Sophistes

 Introduction
 References
 The Olympian Oracle
 Keywords and Images

Introduction
The following is an authentic ancient Greek alphabet oracle, which is from an inscription in
Olympos, a city in ancient Lycia. Although many modern Pagans are familiar with rune-casting and
similar systems, the divinatory use of the Greek alphabet is less well known. Each letter of the
alphabet has a corresponding oracle, and the first word of the oracle (in Greek) begins with that
letter. In the following translation, the Greek word (in its dictionary form) is enclosed in {curly
braces} and follows the corresponding English word or phrase. There are at least three methods of
consulting the alphabet oracle.

The first uses a set of 24 stones or potsherds (pottery fragments), each inscribed or painted with a
letter of the alphabet. Each stone should have one of the Greek letters (Α, Β, Γ, etc.), shown in the
alphabet chart below. You can easily make the stones yourself (but make sure you can tell Μ and Σ
apart) or buy them from a craftsperson. Keep the stones in a jug, box, or bag, and when you want to
consult the oracle, pick a stone without looking. (One ancient method was to shake the stones in a
bowl or frame drum until one jumped out.) This method is similar to the use of rune stones (and it’s
interesting that most systems of rune casting use 24 runes). Stones used in this way would be called
psêphoi (PSAY-foy) in Ancient Greek (calculi in Latin); inscribed or painted potsherds are ostraca
in Greek (testae in Latin).

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011


A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 2 of 8

(see alphabet chart)

Second, five astragaloi (knuckle bones, tali) may


be cast (or one astragalus five times). Look at the
picture of the knucklebones in the figure to the
right. Since each knucklebone has four “sides,”
traditionally given the values 1 (Monas), 3 (Trias),
4 (Tetras), and 6 (Hexas), there are 24 possible total
values from five knucklebones: 5 to 30, excepting 6
and 29 (which are impossible). Heinevetter (p. 36)
argues that the highest cast would be associated
with Alpha and the lowest with Omega (so Alpha =
30, Beta = 28, Gamma = 27, …, Psi = 7, Omega = 5). The astragalos-values are given in the
parentheses following the letter by the number after the hyphen. The knucklebone-values are given
in the alphabet chart after the dash. For example, if you throw 6-5-3-6-6, which adds to 26, your
oracle is Delta (∆). (See also the photo of astragali.)

Third, five dice (cuboi, tesserae) may be cast, with 26 possible total values, 5 through 30, which are
associated in decreasing order (Heinevetter, p. 36) with the Greek letters, including the archaic
Digamma (Wau) and Qoppa (so Alpha = 30, Beta = 29, Gamma = 28, …, Psi = 6, Omega = 5). The
Olympian table does not give oracles for Digamma and Qoppa, however, and so the corresponding
casts (25 and 13) are uninterpretable by it. (The practical solution is to recast.) The dice-values are
listed before each hyphen. For example, if you throw 2-1-1-4-1, which add to 9, your oracle is
Upsilon (Υ).

Interestingly, both 13 and 25 are uncanny numbers, associated with transgression of cycles or
transcendence over them (e.g. 12 months, 24 hours). They are often associated with sacrificed and
resurrected Gods (e.g., Dionysos was the Thirteenth Olympian). The wholly negative interpretation
of 13 is no older than the Middle Ages, and 25 always has been accompanied by connotations of
perfection (since it is the square of 5). (A. Schimmel, Mys. Num. pp. 203–8, 237)

The third number in the alphabet chart, following the semicolon in the parentheses following the
letter, is the traditional numerical value of the Greek letter, which may be used in isopsêphia (Greek
gematria); it is included for convenience. For example, by isopsephia, my name, Apollônios, is 1341.

The Olympian Oracle can be compared with the original I Ching, which was just a set of figures and
corresponding oracle phrases. Over the centuries this austere divinatory system was extended with
the commentary of the Ten Wings. In the same way I have supplemented the original Olympian
oracle with interpretive aids. First, since oracles are characteristically ambiguous, my literal
translation of the oracle (in quotes) is followed by alternative translations of significant words; a
Greek reader would be aware of these additional meanings, but they are not otherwise apparent from
the translation. All the foregoing is reasonably objective, but I have also added my own
interpretations of the oracles, which I hope will aid their application in various circumstances. Of
course, my commentary should not be considered final or definitive; use your own intuition.

The following invocation is adapted from a similar alphabet oracle found on the top of a mountain at
Adada in Pisidia (Heinevetter, pp. 33–4):

Apollo, Lord, and Hermes, lead the way!


And thou, who wanders, this to thee we say:
Be still; enjoy the oracle’s excellence,
for Phoebus Apollo has given it to us,

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011


A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 3 of 8

this Art of Divination from our ancestors.

References
The Greek text of the Olympian oracle (from Heinevetter) is available as a PNG file. A copy of the
inscription of the similar Adadan oracle is also available (PNG) along with a transcription as
ordinary Greek text (PNG). This will illustrate what the original oracle looked like.

F. Heinevetter, Würfel- und Buchstabenorakel in Griechenland und Kleinasien, Breslau: 1912, p. 35.
The source of the Olympian oracle (there incorrectly said to be from Limyra).

B. F. Cook, Greek Inscriptions (“Reading the Past” series), Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 1987,
pp. 8, 12. Source for archaic Greek alphabet and Greek numerals.

T. Curnow, The Oracles of the Ancient World: A Comprehensive Guide, Duckworth, 2004. A survey
of oracle sites in the ancient Mediterranean world, including alphabet and dice oracles.

W. R. Halliday, Greek Divination: A Study of its Methods and Principles, Chicago: Argonaut, 1967,
pp. 215–6. A brief description of Greek alphabet oracles.

H. G. Liddell, R. Scott & H. S. Jones, Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed., Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1968. The source for ancient Greek meanings.

J. Nolle, Mit den Augen der Götter, Zabern, 2005. An up-to-date treatment of dice and alphabet
oracles.

R. Ritsema & S. Karcher (trs.), I Ching: The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change, Rockport: Element,
1994, pp. 11–14. Source for history of the I Ching.

The Olympian Oracle with Interpretations


Select a letter to go directly to interpretation: letter (astragaloi-dice; isopsephia)

 Alpha (30-30; 1)
 Beta (29-28; 2)
 Gamma (28-27; 3)
 Delta (27-26; 4)
 Epsilon (26-25; 5)
 Zeta (24-24; 7)
 Eta (23-23; 8)
 Theta (22-22; 9)
 Iota (21-21; 10)
 Kappa (20-20; 20)
 Lambda (19-19; 30)
 Mu (18-18; 40)
 Nu (17-17; 50)
 Xi (16-16; 60)
 Omicron (15-15; 70)
 Pi (14-14; 80)

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011


A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 4 of 8

 Rho (12-13; 100)


 Sigma (12-12; 200)
 Tau (10-11; 300)
 Upsilon (9-10; 400)
 Phi (8-9; 500)
 Khi (7-8; 600)
 Psi (6-7; 700)
 Omega (5-5; 800)

D A
Greek i s Iso-
Letter c t pse. Oracle
e r
“The God [Apollo] says you will do everything {Hapanta}
successfully.”
Do: achieve, bring about, effect, accomplish, make, manage, negotiate,
transact, practice, fare; successfully: prosperously, luckily, with good
Α Alpha 30 30 1
fortune.
Your entire project will turn out well and you will meet all your goals.
You will have good luck in all your activities, or prosperous business
transactions and negotiations.
“With the help of Tychê [Fortune], you will have an assistant
{Boêthos}, the Pythian [Apollo].”
Assistant: helper, auxiliary, one who hastens (theo) to the battle cry or
other call for help (boê).
You are at a critical point, but if you are fortunate, Apollo the Far-
Β Beta 29 28 2
shooter will help you if you call on Him. Even with luck, the God will
only assist; ultimate responsibility is yours. “Pythian” refers to Apollo as
the God at Delphi (which was in Pytho), one of the most important
oracular sites. Therefore the help to be expected might be of a prophetic
nature.
“Gaia [the Earth] {Gê} will give you the ripe fruit of your labors.”
Ripe: complete, final; fruits: produce, returns, profits, results.
Γ Gamma 28 27 3 You will have a successful harvest, or you will reap all your profits from
the Earth. The Mother of All will bring your labors to a fruitful
conclusion. Gaia will give you your just deserts.
“In customs inopportune strength {Dunamis} is weak.”
Customs: rules, laws, allotments; inopportune: ill-timed, unreasonable,
importunate, undue, not kairos (fit, in due measure, exact, at the
appropriate or critical time, etc.); strength: power, ability, authority.
∆ Delta 27 26 4 Ill-timed force will be ineffective; act with precision; timing is
everything. Knowing where and when to strike is more important than
strength; misapplied ability is disability. Blind conformity to customs is
spineless; overly strict adherence to rules is self-defeating. Unreasonable
or undue force will defeat itself; a tyrant must fall.
“You desire {Eraô} to see the offspring of righteous marriages.”
Desire: love, are in love with; offspring: seed, sowing; righteous: fitting,
well-balanced.
This is a statement of fact, not a command or prediction. The obvious
meaning is that the querant wants children or grandchildren from
suitable marriages. However, it can also mean he or she is in love with

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011


A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 5 of 8

seeing this, that is, obsessed by the idea. The “rightness” of the marriage
admits many interpretations; it could be a terrible marriage if that was
fitting and righteous (i.e. deserved). The oracle may also refer to seeds,
Ε Epsilon 26 25 5
other than children, sown by the marriage (e.g. family alliances,
marrying into wealth or influence). Finally, marriage may be taken
metaphorically to refer to any alliance or union.
“Flee the very great storm {Zalê}, lest you be disabled in some way.”
Storm: surge, distress; disabled: hindered.
Don’t make a sea-voyage in bad weather. It is futile to fight the force of
Ζ Zeta 24 24 7
the ocean; likewise, bucking the inevitable will weaken you and hinder
your progress. Avoid raging storms of any kind; save your energy for
when it can be effective. Sometimes flight is wiser than fight.
“Bright Helios [Sun] {Hêlios}, who watches everything, watches
you.”
Η Eta 23 23 8
The life-giving Sun will care for you. Helios is an enforcer of oaths and
promises, and He knows the deceit in your heart.
“You have the helping Gods {Theoi} of this path.”
Helping: propitious, defending; path: road, course, way.
The “way” may be a concrete road, a plan of action, a spiritual path, a
Θ Theta 22 22 9
way of life, etc. In any case, the Gods who oversee this way will help
and defend you, so you may go forward with confidence; you are under
divine care because you are following your destiny.
“There is sweat {Hidrôs}; it excels more than everything.”
Sweat: gum, exudation of trees; excels: is superior to, outlives, remains
in hand, is a result, is around.
Ι Iota 21 21 10
There will always be hard work; work is never done. Hard work is the
surest means of success. When you have lost all other possessions, you
still have your labor as an asset. The oracle recommends elbow-grease.
“To fight with the waves {Kuma} is difficult; endure, friend.”
Waves: swells, floods; difficult: hard to bear, do, or deal with, painful,
grievous, dangerous; endure: delay.
In time, the force of ocean waves can grind down anything; they can be
Κ Kappa 20 20 20
a metaphor for repetitive, unstoppable processes. It is difficult,
dangerous, and painful to try to resist them; the sensible thing to do is to
wait until they abate, or if that is impossible, then to endure the
inevitable with courage.
“The one passing on the left {Laios} bodes well for everything.”
Passing: going through; bodes: shows, indicates, gives a sign, signifies,
declares; well: rightly, happily, fortunately.
Since the left is traditionally the sinister side, the oracle may mean that
Λ Lambda 19 19 30
an apparently sinister thing or event may be a blessing in disguise. The
left is also associated with the unconscious, lunar mind, and so
unconscious processes or intuition may signal a favorable outcome. A
promising sign comes from an unpromising quarter.
“It is necessary to labor {Mokhtheô}, but the change will be
admirable.”
Labor: be weary, distressed; change: exchange; admirable: fair,
Μ Mu 18 18 40
beautiful, good, noble.
Through toil and distress a change will be made for the better. Hard
work will result in a good return.

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011


A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 6 of 8

“The strife-bearing {Neikêphoros} gift fulfils the oracle.”


Strife-: quarrel-, abuse-; gift: anything given; fulfils: confirms, perfects,
brings to an end.
Something will be given (to you, by you, or from one to another) that
Ν Nu 17 17 50
brings strife with it; this will discharge the force of the oracle. The
import seems to be that this gift will be the answer to the question asked
of the oracle. So, for example, if the querant asked when something will
happen, the gift is the sign that it’s immanent.
“There is no fruit to take from a withered {Xêros} shoot.”
Fruit: produce, return, profit, result; withered: lean, harsh.
There is no good to be gained from an angry young man or woman. The
Ξ Xi 16 16 60
frayed end of a good line. Harshness and stinginess will achieve nothing.
You can’t get blood from a turnip; you can’t get water from a stone.
Don’t polish a turd.
“There are no {Ou} crops to be reaped that were not sown.”
Crops: fruit-trees, corn-fields, crop-lands; reap: mow, cut off; sown:
Ο Omicron 15 15 70 engendered, begotten, scattered.
What we spread about, comes back to us. What goes around comes
around. You must plan ahead in order to achieve anything.
“Completing many {Polus} contests, you will seize the crown.”
Contests: struggles, trials, dangers; crown: wreath, garland.
Π Pi 14 14 80
If you persist in your struggles, after many trials you will succeed.
Perseverance through adversity.
“You will go on more easily {Rhaion} if you wait a short time.”
Go on: live, continue; easily: willingly, recklessly, thoughtlessly; wait:
stand fast, remain, stay.
If you will hold your ground for only a short time, you will be able to
Ρ Rho 12 13 100
proceed (more easily or with greater cooperation). You will go faster by
waiting than by going now; on the other hand, delaying too long may
provoke reckless action. By standing fast you live recklessly. By
remaining where you are, you live life thoughtlessly.
“Phoibos [Apollo] speaks plainly {Saphôs}, ‘Stay, friend.’”
Plainly: distinctly, certainly; stay: wait, stand fast, remain.
Σ Sigma 12 12 200 Neither advance nor retreat; wait or hold your ground, as appropriate;
the best action is inaction. “Phoibos” refers to Apollo as Bright and
Pure, which also characterizes His advice in this oracle.
“You will have a parting from the {Tôn} companions now around
you.”
Parting: release, deliverance; companions: those accompanying.
Τ Tau 10 11 300 This may be an unwelcome parting from friends or a welcome release
from enemies; in either case they are now around you. This may also
mean a growing apart or forced separation of a person from his or her
family, peers or fellow travelers on the path.

“The affair holds a noble undertaking {Huposkhesis}.”


Affair: deed, act, issue; holds: involves, implies, gives cause for, holds
fast, hinders, guides, steers; noble: high-born, high-minded, excellent,
Υ Upsilon 9 10 400 notable; undertaking: engagement, promise, profession.
There is some issue to be resolved, or some deed is under consideration;
it involves high-mindedness, either in commitment, deed, or professional
pursuit. The oracle may tell us that the affair is admirable due to this
noble element, or that the situation may guide us to seek the appropriate

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011


A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 7 of 8

noble undertaking or profession. The hero’s quest. On the other hand,


the oracle may mean that the situation hinders this fine undertaking.
Thus you should try to understand the situation: does it demand an
excellent undertaking or impede it?
“Having done something carelessly {Phaulos}, you will thereafter
blame the Gods.”
Done: caused, accomplished, made, managed, negotiated, transacted,
practiced, fared; carelessly: thoughtlessly, indifferently.
Φ Phi 8 9 500
Take responsibility for your actions (or inactions); don't blame the Gods
(or the universe, or fate, or society, or nature) for your own failings. The
ancient Greeks said, “Hermes will help you get your wagon unstuck, but
only if you push on it.”
“Succeeding, friend, you will fulfill a golden {Khruseos} oracle.”
Succeeding: gaining your end, hitting the mark, meeting someone; fulfill:
bring to pass, cause, accomplish.
Χ Khi 7 8 600
“Golden” may be a metaphor for rich, noble, excellent, etc. This
admirable oracle will be fulfilled by you attaining your ends, or a mere
chance meeting could constitute the golden event.
“You have this righteous judgment {Psêphos} from the Gods.”
Righteous: just, fitting, meet, fair; judgment: resolve, decree.
Literally, a psêphos (Lat. calculus) is a stone used for divination, voting,
counting, and similar purposes, so this oracle refers to collective
Ψ Psi 6 7 700
judgment rather than individual judgment. This implies that the majority
of the Gods concur in this judgment, and that this judgment is
appropriate, fair, and righteous, though there is no implication that the
result is that desired by the querant.
“You will have a difficult {Ômos} harvest season, not a useful one.”
Difficult: cruel, rough, untimely, unripe; harvest season: fruit-time,
autumn, summer bloom, bloom of youth; useful: suitable, apt.
Concretely, there will be a poor harvest, or autumn will be difficult; the
Ω Omega 5 5 800 harvest will be too early, before the fruit is ripe. More abstractly, too
early grasping of the fruits of your labor (whether voluntary or
necessary) will yield a poor return; the rewards will not be suitable for
their purpose. Your youth will be rough; you will have to grow up
before your time.

Keywords and Images


Alpha Everything {Hapanta}
Beta Assistant {Boêthos}
Gamma Gaia [the Earth] {Gê}
Delta Strength {Dunamis}
Epsilon Desire {Erôs}
Zeta Storm {Zalê}
Eta Helios [Sun] {Hêlios}
Theta Gods {Theoi}
Iota Sweat {Hidrôs}

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011


A Greek Alphabet Oracle Page 8 of 8

Kappa Waves {Kuma}


Lambda Left {Laios}
Mu Labor {Mokhthos}
Nu Strife/bearing {Neikêphoros}
Xi Withered {Xêros}
Omicron There is Not {Ouk esti}
Pi Many {Polla}
Rho Easily {Rhaion}
Sigma Plainly {Saphôs}
Tau From the Companions {Tôn Parousôn}
Upsilon Undertaking {Huposkhesis}
Phi Carelessly {Phaulos}
Khi Golden {Khruseos}
Psi Judgement {Psêphos}
Omega Difficult {Ômos}

Return to Biblioteca Arcana page

Send comments about this page

This page is omphalos.org/BA/GAO.html


Last updated: 2005/05/17.

file://C:\Biblioteca\Greek Oracle\A Greek Alphabet Oracle.htm 23/4/2011