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The Demonic Origins of Ventriloquism

When we think of ventriloquists, we think of Edgar Bergen, Shari Lewis, or Jeff Dunham, or those many folks who stage puppet shows for churches. “Throwing one’s voice” is a combination of speaking without appearing to, misdirection, and an eye-catching puppet or dummy.

But ventriloquism is not a modern art—it dates back to at least the classical Greece, when it really freaked people out.

Back then, ventriloquists were called “engastrimyths”. Writes Steven Connor in his book Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, this was a mashup of “en in, gaster the stomach, and mythos word or speech.” Basically, people believed engastrimyths had demons in their stomachs who belched words from their host’s mouths. Engastrimyths plied their trade for entertainment (what could be more thrilling than demonic tummy talk?) and as divination. Pioneering ventriloquist Valentine Vox writes in his book I Can See Your Lips Moving: The History and Art of Ventriloquism that the art’s roots lie in necromancy—the ancient art of allowing a dead person’s spirit to enter the necromancer and speak to the living.

The art of ventriloquism went through a lot of different stages on the way to modern times, and most of them had to do with the supernatural, all the up to recent horror movies. Read about the creepy history of ventriloquism at Atlas Obscura.

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