The Art of Ventriloquism

With roots in history reaching back to ancient times, modern ventriloquists, practicing the entertaining art of vocal deception by “throwing” or dissociating the voice, evokes a sense of mystery and wonder in audiences creating a link to the enigmatic beginnings of ventriloquism. Despite modern ventriloquism being generally a comedic form of entertainment, there remains an underlying sense of mystery, as the audience’s perception of reality is set slightly ajar.

The earliest archeological record of throwing the voice appears in ancient temples where tubes have been discovered that allowed one hidden man to project his voice throughout the temple, invoking the voice of the gods or messengers from other dimensions. These hidden pipelines have been found in sanctuaries from ancient Greek and Roman times. In other cultures, the practice continued until almost recent days, as simple tube systems were used to convey a mysterious voice prophesying the future and invoking awe in the beholder.

Intimately linked to religious practices for centuries, the word ventriloquism has a Latin root meaning to speak from the stomach. These belly speakers, who were no longer hidden in another place projecting their voices through a network of pipes, were believed to have the spirits of the dead inside their stomachs. The utterances coming from their mouths were believed to be those of the unliving, allowing communication with the dead. The Greek term, gastromancy, was used in ancient classical times to describe this form of necromantic ventriloquism, used by prophets and oracles.

As with all forms of divination and prophesying, the Christian church attempted to ban the practices and by the Middle Ages had equated ventriloquism with witchcraft. Women who “spoke from their bellies” were executed as witches. Long before the rise of Christianity, Mosaic Law forbade the practice with punishment by death for those who dabbled in it.

Despite the views of the Church and the persecution of ventriloquists, the practice somehow continued until the tides began to turn towards the end of the 1500s, and ventriloquism started to emerge as a form of entertainment, shedding most its centuries-old link with the occult. Once this change occurred, the Church became more lenient, permitting it as a form of amusement. Continue reading “The Art of Ventriloquism”