Purification of Pythia, ancient Greece
From about 1400 BCE, the shrine at Delphi, Greece, was sacred, probably to Gaia, the mother earth goddess, or to a snake goddess. So important was it as a sacred site, it came to be described as Omphalos, the 'navel', or centre of the world. Later, it became sanctified to Apollo (son of Zeus, and god of the sun, light, youth, beauty, and prophecy), perhaps signifying a shift from matriarchal to patriarchal society, though this is uncertain and still a matter of academic enquiry and debate.
Delphi gained its name from the dolphin, and Apollo was said to have visited the place as one of those sea mammals that barely survive today’s polluted Ionian sea. Snakes were part of Delphic lore until c. 800 BCE when Apollo was said to have slain the serpent that guarded the sanctuary, establishing the oracle anew. (Thus, Apollo became one of the many dragon-slayers of mythology: St George, St Martha and Hercules among them.)
The serpent’s name was Python, and had been made from mud and slime by Gaia. At first the oracle priestess (sometimes two in shifts) could only be consulted on one day a year. She might have become entranced, by a drug perhaps; she answered questions in hexameter verse.
The priestess, Pythia (Sybil), seated on a tripod above a crack in the earth, went into a trance while chewing laurel leaves. The temple priests formulated the oracle from the glossolalia ('speaking in tongues', as it is sometimes known in the Christian tradition) which the priestess spoke in her ecstasy. Every four years (the third of each Olympiad), the Pythian Games were held in honour of the priestess, the winners receiving a laurel wreath from the city of Tempe; Apollo himself had instituted these games so the world would never forget his great feat in slaying Python.
The leaders of ancient Greece relied on the Delphic oracle for her prognostications and clairvoyance. King Croesus once simultaneously asked seven oracles "What is the King of Lydia doing now?" Only the Delphic oracle answered correctly that he was cooking a tortoise and a lamb in a pot of bronze.
Jelle Zeilinga De Boer, a geologist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, USA, reported in Geology, August, 2001, that ethylene, rising up through fissures in the rock beneath the shrine, was probably the sweet-smelling vapour that put the priestess in her trance ...
Categories: ancient-greece, mythology, deity, legend, greek-mythology