And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us…
The words, literally, are as in the margin, a spirit of Python, or, as some MSS. give it, a Python spirit. The Python was the serpent worshipped at Delphi, as the symbol of wisdom, from which the Pythian priestesses and Apollo, as succeeding to the oracular power of the serpent, took their distinguishing appellative. The fact that St. Luke, who in his Gospel describes like phenomena as coming from daemonia, "evil spirits," "unclean spirits," should here use this exceptional description, seems to imply either that this was the way in which the people of Philippi spoke of the maiden, or else that he recognised in her state phenomena identical with those of the priestesses of Delphi, the wild distortions, the shrill cries, the madness of an evil inspiration. After the manner of sibyls, and sorceresses, and clairvoyants of other times, the girl, whom describes as a faemina ventriloqua — the phrase probably expressing the peculiar tones characteristic of hysteria — was looked on as having power to divine and predict ("soothsaying," as distinct from "prophesying," exactly expresses the force of the Greek verb), and her wild cries were caught up and received as oracles. ("de Defect. Orac.," p. 737) speaks of the name Python as being applied commonly, in his time, to "ventriloquists" of this type. As she was a slave, her masters traded on her supposed inspiration, and made the girl, whom prayer and quiet might have restored to sanity, give answers to those who sought for oracular guidance in the perplexities of their lives.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: