Are there any other "Delphic Temple"-like sites in the world?

I recently read that, in 2001, scientists studying the Temple were able to detect ethylene gas being burped from up beneath Mt Parnassus in southern Greece. Ethylene had a brief history as anesthesia in Western medicine, in about the 1920s. However, the gas was good at knocking-out patients, but not so good for their health, it being a volatile gas. Ethylene emissions from the earth's interior seems to at least partially explain the ‘divining stupors’ of the Pythia -– the female oracle -– whom acted as Apollo’s mouthpiece.

Ethylene is sweet-smelling and “produces a narcotic effect described as a floating or disembodied euphoria.” In addition, it can cause anesthetic properties. Similar to nitrous oxide but ethylene is flammable and made up of carbon and hydrogen.

“According to traditional explanations, the Pythia derived her prophecies in a small, enclosed chamber in the basement of the temple. De Boer said that if the Pythia went to the chamber once a month, as tradition says, she could have been exposed to concentrations of the narcotic gas that were strong enough to induce a trance-like state.”

My question is, are there any other known examples of 'Vapor Cults' being based around a source of naturally emitted gases, either for shamanic/divining purposes, or just for plain narcotic reasons?

Thanks! ~Dan



For anesthetic effects of ethylene, see: Trout, 1926. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1399426/?page=1

  • I saw a documentary on this some time ago - too long ago, unfortunately, to remember the title of it. Feb 12, 2018 at 23:56
  • There were lots of other Apollo oracles doing the same thing in different places, and not sniffing stuff. See Sybiline oracles for information. Notably, though Delphi goes back to pre Dorian times. That is why it is call Pythia, from Greek, to rot. It's not a nice name to have.
    – John Dee
    Feb 13, 2018 at 2:36
  • I'm assuming that aesthetic purposes don't count.
    – John Dee
    Feb 13, 2018 at 3:35
  • The Cumaean Sibyl may be a candidate, given the proximity to volcanic emissions. (Stumbled over the wikipedia article while reading about Cumae)
    – bgwiehle
    Feb 15, 2018 at 23:51

1 Answer 1


There is another ancient Greek religious site which meets the criteria of what you're describing. The Ploutonion at Hierapolis, a temple dedicate to Pluto/Hades, was build upon the entrance to a cave which emitted naturally occurring carbon dioxide. The local hellenes who built and maintained the temple thought the cave to be an entrance to the underworld. Priests of the temple are also believed to have conducted animal sacrifices by leading bulls into the cave beneath the temple (source).

Additionally there is some evidence that some of the 'Fire temples' built by Zoroastrians in Central and South Asia used naturally occurring combustible gas to maintain their "eternal flames". These fire temples with eternal flames turned into pilgrimage sites for Zoroastrians from all over Greater Persia. Examples 1, 2.

I'll update this if I find more examples of religious buildings being built in response to a naturally occuring gas source.

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