You’ve got to love how the King James Version rendered Acts 16:16:
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.
However, the Catholic Douay-Rheims is more literal, and actually even more stunning:
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain girl, having a pythonical spirit, met us, who brought to her masters much gain by divining.
We might notice that the Douay-Rheims speaks of the girl having a “pythonical spirit”. This translation actually follows the Greek, which states that she had a πνεῦμα πύθωνα or pneuma pythona (“python spirit”).
What’s a pythonical spirit?
It goes back to a tradition that the Greek shrine at Delphi was once guarded by a terrible snake or dragon – Pytho. When I visited Delphi a number of years ago, I visited some ancient ruins that seem to have been the cultic site for the worship of this feminine snake deity.
According to Greek tradition, the god Apollo came to Delphi and wanted to settle there. However, it was already inhabited by the Pytho. Thus, Apollo slew Pytho and gained her name as a title for himself.
This may actually be an etiological story of how a male god (Apollo) suppressed the cult of female goddess (Pytho) in the region of Delphi. The fact that Delphi was considered the “belly button of the earth” or “center of the earth” would indicate that this site was originally a shrine to Mother Gaia or Mother Earth. Snakes are associated with her because they are so close to the earth and live in holes in the earth.
A woman as the “Pythia” or fortune-teller officiated at the Delphic oracle. The Pythia spoke with a foreign voice and divined the future.
Saint Luke is identifying the demonic presence in the young girl with the legend of the pythian serpent at Delphi. The serpent imagery dovetails with the image of Satan as a serpent or dragon.