Originally, ventriloquism was a religious practice. The name comes from the Latin for to speak from the stomach, i.e. venter (belly) and loqui (speak). The Greeks called this gastromancy (Greek: εγγαστριμυθία). The noises produced by the stomach were thought to be the voices of the unliving, who took up residence in the stomach of the ventriloquist. The ventriloquist would then interpret the sounds, as they were thought to be able to speak to the dead, as well as foretell the future. One of the earliest recorded group of prophets to use this technique was the Pythia, the priestess at the temple of Apollo in Delphi, who acted as the conduit for the Delphic Oracle.
The earliest ventriloquists were probably ancient Greeks who "threw" their voices to simulate the pronouncements of oracles or give new life to dead bodies. ... Latin word ventriloquus, meaning "belly speaker"—was regarded as a dark art, a devil in the midsection. One of the most successful early gastromancers was Eurykles, a prophet at Athens; gastromancers came to be referred to as Euryklides in his honour.
The ancient ventriloquist often had no puppet to use, so he spoke with ghosts or the spirits ... A person who can talk to the dead (anecromancer) or foresee the future: in ancient times, it was believed that chosen prophets could communicate with spirits of the dead by means of ventriloquism. By producing sounds ... Hence the name “ventriloquist”, which literally means “belly speaker” in Latin. Traces of the art are found in Egyptian and Hebrew archaeology. Eurykles of Athens was the most celebrated of Greek ventriloquists, who were called after him Euryklides, and also Engastrimanteis (belly-prophets).
It is not impossible that the priests of ancient times were masters of this art, and that to it may be ascribed such miracles as the speaking statues of the Egyptians, the Greek oracles, and the stone in the river Pactolus, the sound of which put robbers to flight. Many indigenous tribes know ventriloquism, as the Zulus, the Maoris and the Eskimos. It is well known in Hindustan and China, where it is practiced by traveling magicians.
Action, Agency, & Voice Dislocation
Archaeological evidence found in Egypt offers proof that ventriloquism dates back to 2000 B.C. The use of the art probably goes back to the beginning of intelligible language itself. The very early ventriloquists did not have wooden friends and hand puppets, but used their abilities to "throw their voices" for more arcane reasons. Mysterious occurrences that gave rise to superstitions may now be possibly explained as ventriloquism. For example, many people have believed in spirits "talking to them from the other side." More likely, the familiar spirit was a ventriloquist at work.
The temple built at Delphi in the sixth century B.C. had Greek oracles who spoke the words of Apollo through his priestess Pythia. The words came from the sky or out of a sacred stone. The Oracles were obviously ventriloquists. The oracles stood there, words came forth, and their lips did not move. They were practicing gastromancy, a form of ventriloquism. The early Greeks called these belly-talkers "Eurykliden" (named after Euryklides, who produced the sounds of birds and small animals without moving their lips).
In the Middle Ages, it was thought to be similar to witchcraft. As Spiritualism led to stage magic and escapology, so ventriloquism became more of a performance art as, starting around the 19th century, it shed its mystical trappings.