She lies there, a sleeping beauty stretched out across the peaks of Mount Parnassus in northern Greece. The locals call her The Delphic Goddess. At sunset, she shines like a jewel in the most spellbinding colour of red ochre. In winter she is the only part of the mountains covered by pristine snow, shining like a white diamond towards the bright blue sky. Even the surrounding mountains seems to adore her. One can only wonder what mysteries her great beauty holds. Further down the mountain, hidden away in a valley, lies an almost forgotten treasure. It is the legacy of a culture where women were once the voice of Gaia and Great Seers of Destiny.
Today she is known only as The Oracle of Delphi: nicknamed The Human Mistress of the God Apollo (the god of prophecy), or simply, Women high on gases talking in madness. These women, and their precious culture, became nothing but objects of power used by the priests of Apollo, and as a source of ridicule in modern documentaries. Within the last century of her existence, the Oracle lost her voice, her power and her clarity of wisdom. At that time, only the priests of Apollo were allowed to interpret the messages of the Oracle. Last year I went to visit this truly special place and was stunned by what I saw.
Magnificent clay figurines have been found on the site where the Oracle once lived. These figurines show women in positions of embracing and embodying the Divine Spirit of Life. The archaeological museum at Delphi gives almost no information about these precious figurines, such as where they were found, or if other broken figurines had been found. Nobody at the museum seemed to find them important. I was shocked. Passing through the site where the ancient Greek Temples are located, I discovered something else. Where was the Oracle? I mean, the fame of this place belongs solely to the presence of the Oracle – and yet she wasn’t obvious. Amongst all the sophisticated signs informing us about the different temples and places, not one existed about the Oracle! My husband and I managed to track down a couple of archaeologists and guards who were working on the site. Oracle who? Her chair? At first I thought they had difficulty understanding my English, but no, as they could tell us a lot about Apollo and all the kings and rulers who had travelled long distances hoping to meet this Oracle. But hey, there she was, the reason all these important people came here and yet the Oracle herself, was as invisible as the eastern winds! So was the Gaia worshipping culture that had existed for many thousands of years before the ancient Greeks. They acted as if they had no idea what I was talking about.
My husband and I were flabbergasted. We then went through stages of anger and feelings of injustice. Then we finally decided to find her ourselves. After walking around the Apollo temple for a while, my husband finally recognized the stone whereupon the tripod, the seat of the oracle, had once stood. Etched into the large stone the marks of the tripod were clearly visible. In front of these marks was the large hole where the intoxicating gases came up for the Oracle to inhale. The stone was located at a very obvious spot, adjacent to the Apollo temple, but there was no sign or information on it. As such, it looked just like another anonymous temple stone.
We believe that the Oracle sat and prophesised in what today is known as Apollo’s Temple. However, the Oracles weren’t just women getting high. They were priestesses, devoted to their calling, and they had lived in Delphi for thousands of years before Apollo appeared. From the clay figurines found, we know that in this culture the priestesses were in fact worshippers of Gaia. They were women who devoted their entire lives to the special talents they were born with; to see beyond the visible, beyond time and space, and to speak of what they saw, possibly without the aid of hallucinogenic gases. To be able to hear and see as clearly as possible, these women removed themselves from the noise and chaos of society to live a simple and quiet life in the mountains.
Again and again I have wondered: how can a culture that has existed for so long disappear in the shadow of patriarchial priests who would have been nothing without the Oracle. I asked one of the archaeologists at the museum, but received only a dismissive look in return. I didn’t give up though. It is so well documented how (male) scholars have, up until recent times, neglected the significant findings of female figurines. Simply because of their gender, they were considered unimportant? I asked the archaeologist this very question, almost giving him a heart attack, followed by some angry words I didn’t understand. He then turned on his heel and walked away. I couldn’t help but smile. He had just proven my point.
Delphi, and its exceptional legacy of priestesses – priestesses whose talents were so extraordinary they became world famous – have today become nothing but a stone without a plaque, a laugh to those who do not know what it took to become what these priestesses were. A joke, because women once lived their full spiritual authority in this place.
But when you walk the mountains of Delphi and glance over the shiny turquoise-coloured sea you can feel her presence. She is still alive, pulsating and breathing, waiting for us to remember. Inviting us once again to embrace her clarity and wisdom and hear the voice of her heartbeat. Visit Delphi and its museum. Experience it all. Walk in the mountains, and drive along the coast until you can look back towards Delphi. That’s when you’ll see her. Resting across the mountain peaks as a true queen and gate keeper. Waiting. Listening.
Article and photographs are copyright ©Louise Sommer