What's in a Belly? Your Authentic Voice
by Lisa Sarasohn
When you're speaking your gut truth, you're practicing the ancient art of ventriloquy. "Ventriloquy" means, literally, speaking from your belly, voicing the language of your venter: ventri-loquy. Venter is a word of Latin derivation meaning "belly," "womb," and "woman as birth-giver."
In current usage, a ventriloquist is an entertaining trickster, projecting the voice without moving the lips, producing the illusion that someone or something else is talking. Originally, ventriloquy was the practice of priestesses, women speaking from their bellies to deliver oracular wisdom, conveying the voice of the Sacred Feminine emerging from the Earth.
We can trace how the meaning of ventriloquism and related words has changed over time in a sampling of references cited in the Oxford English Dictionary:
The Bible's book of Isaiah makes reference to "a voice which whispers out of the ground like a familiar spirit." Conybeare and Howson, writing in St. Paul, claim that "It was usual for the prophetic spirit to make itself known by an internal muttering or ventriloquism."
As women honoring the Goddess came to be classified as witches, ventriloquism came to be associated with witchcraft. In his 1584 treatise on witchcraft, R. Scot describes a "wench, practising hir diabolicall witchcraft and ventriloquie." Similarly, in 1680 Glanvill wrote that "Ventriloquy, or speaking from the bottom of the Belly, 'tis a thing as strange as anything in Witchcraft." He characterized one who speaks from the depths of her belly as a Pythoness. In his usage, Pythoness meant "witch" in a derisive sense. But, appropriately, the term originally referred to soothsaying women such as the priestesses of Delphi, who expressed the oracular voice of the underground serpent, the current of primordial life force generating the world. The serpent-priestess also figures in Kingsley's 1855 exhortation to "discourse eloquence from thy central omphalos, like Pythoness ventriloquising."
The voice which emerged from the belly—what was once considered to be oracular wisdom—came to be feared as diabolical. In 1644 Digby warned that ventriloquists "do persuade ignorant people that the Diuell [Devil] speaketh from within them deepe in their belly," and in 1656 Blount defined a ventriloquist as "one that hath an evil spirit speaking in his belly."
By the early nineteenth century, ventriloquism had become a parlor trick and a theatrical entertainment. An 1815 issue of Stage, for example, reports that "A ventriloquist at Paris has attracted the attention of the whole metropolis." Speaking from the belly—first a practice of prophecy—became demonized and then trivialized in Western culture.
Japanese phrases that incorporate hara, the word meaning both "belly" and the belly's soulful power, reveal another culture's understanding of the body's center. The phrase translated as "belly voice," for example, denotes a voice that, in its volume and depth, expresses integrity and presence. "A person who talks while opening his abdomen" describes a person who speaks the truth.
As we honor the belly as our body's sacred center, we in Western culture can reclaim the original meaning of ventriloquy, taking courage—and encouraging each other—to voice our truth and express the wisdom already abiding within us.