Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The rule of Delphi

I talk about Delphi a lot; the place speaks to my imagination and every time I pull out my Tarot cards for a session, or ask Apollon to grand me a divinatory dream, my mind flashes back to it. I have written about how a session with the Pythia would go. I have also talked a lot about the Delphic Maxims, and some about the site of Delphi. What I haven't talked about a lot is its history...and its future. This is what I will do today.

As legend goes, a shepherd herded his flock up the side of Mount Parnassus. The sheep came upon a chasm and seemed to lose their minds. They started jumping around, and darting about. When the shepherd went to inspect the chasm, he fell under the influence of gasses that welled up from it. He lost all his worries and cared not about the time. He simply wished to remain there and gleam the knowledge he felt at the edges of his mind.

When he did not return, his family went to look for him. They took him home and put him to bed. Everyone was worried by his strange behavior, but he seemed to be calmer when the morning came. Yet, the shepherd's behavior had not returned to normal. He was able to foretell the future. Soon, word of the shepherd's ability, and the chasm, spread. People came from far away to either talk to the man or go to the source. Yet, those who visited the chasm lost their minds as well, and sometimes even jumped in the chasm.

A decision was made: this chasm, which must send up messages from Gaea, needed to be managed so no one would get hurt. A woman was chosen and introduced to the vapors, and given servants to keep her safe and healthy. She spoke with the voice of Gaea, and spoke her prophecies for anyone who would visit. It is said that the chasm was protected by a serpent, Python (Πύθωνος), who was put there by Gaea to protect the chasm.

The chasm was seen as the center of the known world, as Zeus himself had once let two eagles fly at the far reaches of the world, and they met over the chasm. It was Gaea's sacred site, but it didn't remain that way for long. Apollon was born, and he soon moved to find the perfect site for His temple. In the Homeric hymn to Pythian Apollon, we find His arrival at the site of Gaea's oracle, and an account of His battle with the serpent:

"In this place I am minded to build a glorious temple to be an oracle for men, and here they will always bring perfect hecatombs, both they who dwell in rich Peloponnesus and the men of Europe and from all the wave-washed isles, coming to question me. And I will deliver to them all counsel that cannot fail, answering them in my rich temple."

"...Whosoever met the dragoness, the day of doom would sweep him away, until the lord Apollo, who deals death from afar, shot a strong arrow at her. Then she, rent with bitter pangs, lay drawing great gasps for breath and rolling about that place. An awful noise swelled up unspeakable as she writhed continually this way and that amid the wood: and so she left her life, breathing it forth in blood. Then Phoebus Apollo boasted over her:

"Now rot here upon the soil that feeds man! You at least shall live no more to be a fell bane to men who eat the fruit of the all-nourishing earth, and who will bring hither perfect hecatombs. Against cruel death neither Typhoeus shall avail you nor ill-famed Chimera, but here shall the Earth and shining Hyperion make you rot."

Thus said Phoebus, exulting over her: and darkness covered her eyes. And the holy strength of Helios made her rot away there; wherefore the place is now called Pytho, and men call the lord Apollo by another name, Pythian; because on that spot the power of piercing Helios made the monster rot away."

And so, the site became sacred to Apollon. At first, young virgins spoke the word of the Lord Apollon, but later on, it was decreed that the oracle--called the Pythia--had to be over fifty years of age. The site was at the epicenter of important travel routes; the road leading from northeastern and eastern Hellas to the plain of Amfissa--where it met the road joining northern Hellas with Naupactus--passed through Delphi. From the beach of Itea, it was easy to pass to nearby Peloponnesus. This not only made Delphi an important religious site, but a commercial one, and it was one of the major keys to its success.

Delphi is no more. The entire site is in ruins. While you can still walk a large part of the grounds, there is no longer an oracle who breaths in the vapors and gives prophesy. Hellenists lost that line to the Theoi.

Most of us know how to work a divinatory tool; we come from other Neo-Pagan paths that encourage it, or developed systems of our own. Some of us are just naturally gifted. I feel the Hellenistic community--when it becomes larger and more standardized and organized--could greatly benefit from another Oracle; someone whom we trust to speak the words of the Theoi and whom we pay for their efforts. A new Pythia, dedicated to the Hellenistic community, who is supported by said community. I honestly hope we get there some day. Delphi is not gone; it lives on in each of us. It's legacy drives us forward as a religion. One day, we may have it again.

Image credit: map


Swift Rabbit said...

Your post is inspiring. I would like to see a return of prophets, oracles, and holy sites too. I love the ancient myths as to how some sites became holy places where the God decided to speak to humankind and choose an ambassador to speak through and I'm very curious to see how this would translate in a modern world. The pagan faiths are all so new and scattered right now, it's exciting to think about what we could be organizing towards or growing into.

I think biggest our challenges beyond being a cohesive community is our conflicted relationship with land and space. On one side pagans and pagan gods are very much a people and religion of physical place. Our gods often have defined boundaries or specific places of strongest power. On the other side, our communities are scattered and best organized online in "virtual space". We have strong holds and we often have local communities, but not at the same level one would think our land connected faith would bring us to. Navigating this tension between an online presence that has lead to the most spread of our faiths and the actual physical place connection many of our faiths and myths imply will be interesting to watch and take part in, especially when it comes to creating teachers and oracles.

Elani Temperance said...

One day, I will be brave enough to post the vision I have for the development of Hellenismos in it's entirety, and not just bits like this ;)

You are absolutely right in saying that our greatest tool right now--the internet--will eventually start holding us back from practicing like we are meant to; together, at the temples of the ancients. Yet, temples can me build, and community can form. Thankfully, that's happening in Greece already. In my post about standardizing Hellenismos, I talk about this a bit as well.

It's hard to form community when its members are so spread out. Yet, we will find a way. It may involve travel, we may just see each other once a year at best, but we will see each other. Eventually; when there are places to go to. Oracles, temples, gatherings. This is where our focus should be.

lykeiaofapollon said...

The serpent Delphinia (aka Python after her slaying) is perhaps one of my favorite myths to explore and think about and in fact I am dedicating one of the booklets I am writing to just this in exploring some of the symbolic things going on in the myth. From this myth I have drawn some interesting links with Apollon as a rotting god and cultic functions he has had as a god linked with cemetaries and with laws under which Thanatos operates.
As for oracles, I am of a differing opinion. There are alot of diviners throughout the Hellenic community which functions well for those who seek some kind of clarification, but I honestly do not see a need for an oracle. As I have posted in my own blog I see oracles more as sacred places (such as how Delphi arose) rather than people. The oracle as the person is just whoever is at the time serving at the place. I do not think that the situation at Delphi can be replicated, nor that at Didyma or Dodona, not any time in the near future anyway.
We are indeed a spread out lot, but even if we created local community this doesn't necessarily mean that it will breed oracles. Maybe a few prophets/seers, but I don't see this as the same thing as an oracle.

Elani Temperance said...

As Apollo is a Theos I have difficulties connecting with, I am quite sure you are far more versed in His mythology than I will ever be. I have read your post on Apollo as a rotting God, and found it very enlightening.

I do agree that an oracle is simply a person chosen to host divinity at a sacred place, yet, I feel these sacred places are exactly what we are missing. With our numbers being as they are, I don't see this happen any time soon, but I feel that it may be our next step, perhaps twenty years from now.

Of course, having a dedicated oracle does not mean others may never divine for the Hellenistic community--there were lots of diviners in ancient Hellas who were not bound to a specific location--but I honestly feel it would be a good step towards reconstruction.

It's also wishful thinking ;)