Delphi, Oracle of

Delphi, Oracle of

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

One day, so the story goes, Zeus decided to find the exact center of the world. He released two eagles, one from the east and one from the west, and let them fly toward one another. Wherever they met would mark the location of the world's exact midpoint. They met at Delphi, which everyone expected was going to happen anyway.

Even before Zeus' time, Delphi was a holy place. Nestled in the skirts of Mount Parnassus in Greece, the cave at Delphi had, since ancient times, been the home of a serpent goddess with the gift of prophetic divination. When Apollo, Zeus' fairedhaired son, was still a young sun god, he killed the goddess, named Python, and took over her cave to build himself a temple, or oracle. (The term "oracle" can refer either to the shrine, the diviner who occupies it, or the prophesy itself.) Recognizing local tradition, he installed his own priestess, named Pythia.

But Greek gods have never been much for goddess worship, so he made sure a male priest attended her and translated all her prophecies. Sitting deep within the chamber at Delphi, the Pythia would enter a trancelike state that prepared her to be in touch with Apollo. She would then field questions put to her by the faithful, edited and interpreted by the priest. He would answer the questions in an enigmatic, metric, poetic form, perfecting the ancient art of political-speak—that is, being both obscure and ambiguous.

It was a great way to set Greek public policy, and the occasional individual received some answers, too. It worked for many, many years.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.