The silence of the lightly falling snowflakes was a perfect backdrop for experiencing the Temple of Apollo and the Wisdom of the Sacred Oracle of Delfi. Most people associate Greece with the islands, warm temperatures, aqua seas and blue sunny skies. That snow would be our greatest gift was an unexpected pleasure. The best kind.
The site of Delfi has always been associated with the feminine. Originally, it was the site where Gaia, or Mother Earth was worshipped, presumably protected by the many snakes that inhabit this area in Central Greece about 2 hours drive northwest of Athens. When the Dorians invaded the area, the mythology changed to Zeus and Apollo, but the importance of the feminine remained in the form of the Oracle – a sibyl or fortune teller. The snakes remained too but in the more modern version, Apollo slew the Python that protected the area, throwing it into a chasm underneath the temple where it emitted intoxicating vapors. The Oracle sat on a tripod over the chasm, entranced by the venomous fumes, and channeled the Wisdom of Apollo.
Consult with the Oracle was only available to males, who were required to participate in a cleansing ritual before meeting with her. Wars were raged and relationships forged or broken based on the Oracle’s advice. Many leaders of the time consulted her including Hadrian and Alexander the Great.
The walk from our very modest hotel in the sleepy modern town of Delfi to the archeological site was about 20 minutes, overlooking the valley of the Plistos river and the back side of Mt. Parnassos - a very popular ski area in Greece. Epiphany - January 6 - is a national Greek holiday so the hotels were packed, as were the roads. Add in the ice and snow and it felt a lot more like Colorado than Greece! In the summer, Delfi is crowded and hot. Visitors are advised to go early or late to avoid the chaos - but our experience was almost eerily quiet. For much of our visit we had the entire area to ourselves with time to stop and breathe and listen.
History and Myth seem to crossover here in this magical place dedicated to Apollo - the God of Sun and Music. His temple has been built and rebuilt many times, but its essence remains one of positive energy and wisdom. Wisdom Seekers consulting the Oracle were expected to have their question prepared and ready. Answers were usually given in the form of a riddle or aphorism that sometimes took a lifetime to understand.
The most famous oracular aphorism is Know Thyself – which is inscribed on the walls of the forecourt to the temple of Apollo. Plato was influenced by this wisdom in his defense of Socrates and we also see it referenced in the work of Emerson, Hugo, and even Benjamin Franklin. In his famous poem, I Am Not I, Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jimenez observes “ I am not I. I am this one walking beside me whom I do not see. Whom at times I manage to visit and whom at other times I forget”. It seems that knowing ourselves is an age old challenge.
I can’t help but notice the similarity to the practice of Mindfulness. We think the answers lie outside of us – in possessions or relationships that we desire or societal expectations. But the Oracle knew that the true journey is the one to the center of each of our hearts. The practice of Mindfulness encourages us to notice what we think about, and where we get caught in judgment, isolation, and over-identification. When we open to compassion and non-judgment, we realize that we are more alike than we are different and remember that the wisdom of the ages lies within us when we are quiet enough to listen.
So that is what I did. As I stood in the aura of the Temple of Apollo, the sacred chasm of the Oracle filling quietly with snow, I quieted my mind with the rhythm of my breath. My personal questions were scrawled notes on a piece of scrap paper the hotel clerk had offered me along with a nice new Bic pen. As a writer, I always prefer time with pen and paper to collect my thoughts. In my head they often swirl around, The pen grounds my thoughts so I can see them more clearly.
Self care. Self confidence. Integrity. Community. Those 4 qualities kept arising out of my heart onto the small square scrap of paper on the table. How to weave together these 4 values in my life and work? The question seemed a bit non-specific. More like markers on a path that sometimes felt elusive or overwhelming. And so I stood, gazing into the chasm where the Oracle sat, my offering in place, listening.
Breathing in. Breathing out. Space between breathing in. Space between breathing out.
No clear answer arose, but I felt the inclusion of another word arising in my consciousness and that word was Abundance, with a capital A – of course.
Recognition of Abundance? Creation of Abundance? Lots of work? More specificity? In typical fashion, the Oracle didn’t give me too much. I waited a few more moments – gazing, listening, hoping. And then knew it was time to continue on my way. My time was over. And the journey begins again.
As I envisioned the Oracles – usually middle aged women with empty nests that chose to dedicate the rest of their lives to the Temple as vessels or mediums of Wisdom – I felt great gratitude for their sacrifice. None of the Oracles have been identified or deified. They are the nameless holders of the Wisdom of the Ages. Channels between the Gods and Humanity. Intuitive. And Humble.
I thank them – all of them – and those yet to come. Perhaps we are all Oracles, and that is why we sit and listen in meditation, hoping to learn from more from the silence than we could ever “figure out” using the organ of the brain.
Heed these words, You who wish to probe the depths of nature: If you do not find within yourself that which you seek, neither will you find it outside. In you is hidden the treasure of treasures. Know Thyself and you will know the Universe and the Gods.
~ Delfic Oracle