Friday, September 16, 2016

Delphi, Sacred Places, and Listening to Apollo

Some places just have a vibe about them. You can feel it when you go there. It's in the air -- or something. There's just something special about the place, something perhaps a little other-wordly, something....

This is how "sacred places" become sacred.

Last month during our trip to Greece, we visited Delphi, site of the famous Oracle. Delphi has a vibe to it. It's been a sacred site since as far back as the 14th century BC, and you can feel it. The vibe is subtle, yet powerful. It can be (and probably often is) overpowered by the hustle and bustle of the modern world, by the diesel exhaust of the tour buses, by the buzz of hundreds of tourists flitting about snapping selfies and pictures of ancient ruins...

But if you can get alone for a few minutes and clear your mind, you can definitely feel the vibe. A vibe that's probably been there for thousands of years. A vibe that's probably why Delphi became a sacred site in the first place.

While we were at Delphi, I managed to shake off the tourist crowds for a few moments. Or, more accurately, the crowds went off in search of some other momentary pleasures, while I lingered almost alone at the ruined-yet-still-massive-and-impressive temple of Apollo. I tried to imagine what it might have been like 3,000 years ago: some people coming to offer tribute to the god, others coming to query the Oracle about some upcoming venture, perhaps some singers preparing to perform in the theater or athletes preparing to compete in the stadium.

I walked slowly around the temple and came to the spot where our tour guide had said the Oracle actually sat when she made her prophecies. I stopped, in contemplation. It was surprisingly quiet around me -- almost everyone else had gone away.

This was a sacred spot. In the quiet, I could feel it.

As I stood pondering, I began to experience a sense of insight -- almost as if an idea or feeling was being placed into my mind. It was a positive, calming feeling, which eventually translated into the words, "You're on the right path." This made me feel good in a very unique way: It provided reassurance that everything was going to be alright, while it also instilled in me the confidence that I'd be able to handle any challenge that might arise. I guess more than anything else, it helped to remove doubt.

But... where did this idea, these words, come from?

I decided they had come, through the Oracle, from Apollo himself.

As if as a sign, I suddenly noticed that the god had placed a small talisman in front of me, upon one of the stone platforms that in ancient times had led to the Oracle. I retrieved the talisman, held it for a minute, felt the vibes emanating from it. It would keep the god, his protection, and his power close to me. I felt grateful. I looked around. There was another talisman, which I retrieved for my wife. These were special objects from a special place.

As I began to look around for still another talisman, words came gently into my mind: "Don't be greedy." I sort of smiled to myself as I realized that, yes, I was beginning to get greedy. But I accepted the god's suggestion and decided to be satisfied with, and thankful for, the good fortune that was already mine.

As I began walking away, I realized that this apparently minor incident was actually having a rather profound effect on me. I can be a bit of a mystic, yes, but I'm not really one given to hearing voices. But here I was at a place where a god has been speaking for thousands of years, and simply by quieting my mind for a few moments, I could hear him, too.

Then, just a few days ago, I came across something rather astonishing.

I was reading about Delphi, and the article said that in ancient times there were two maxims carved into the entrance of Apollo's temple. One maxim said "Know thyself." The other said "Nothing in excess."

I did sort of a double-take as I realized immediately that "don't be greedy" is essentially "nothing in excess" in other words.

My experience at the temple was validated. I had no earthly clue that the phrase "nothing in excess" was an important factor in Delphic wisdom and ritual -- so important that it was actually carved into the entrance of the temple itself. Yet that is the exact concept that was given to me as I stood contemplating at the temple.

Not only is the site sacred, but it is consistent in its teachings.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Delphi and the Oracle of Apollo

The remains of the temple of Apollo at Dephi
Almost everyone has heard at least a little bit about the Oracle of Delphi. This ancient priestess who prophesied in the name of the Greek god Apollo is mentioned at least briefly in most history books. But the mentions in the history books don't do justice to the magnificent, sprawling temple complex, situated high on the side of a mountain, where the Oracle made her cryptic pronouncements. You simply have to be there to grasp its true grandeur and to feel its mystical vibration.

First, though, pronunciation. Many of us have gone through our lives pronouncing the location as "delf-eye." The Greeks, however, pronounce it as "delf-ee." Hearing this caused us to change our pronunciation to the way the Greeks pronounce it. They should know, after all -- it's their language. (You may, of course, pronounce the word however you like. This is just for your information.)

The ancient temple complex at Delphi has existed as a religious center in one form or another since as early as the 14th century BC. The heyday of the site, and of the Oracle, was from around 800 BC through around 400 AD -- over 1,000 years. The Oracle herself was not a single person, but instead a series of women who held the position as priestess/prophet/oracle in the temple of Apollo.

Looking down the mountainside from Delphi
The complex itself sits nearly 2,000 feet up the side of Mt. Parnassus in the southern part of Greece, about a 2-1/2 hour drive from Athens. The site is spread over many different levels, following the slope of the mountain. You will need to be in fairly decent physical shape to visit, as there is a lot of climbing involved. Indeed, as you stand among the ruins and look down the mountainside, you wonder how the ancient people actually got there, especially those coming from a great distance. The roads were not what they are today, of course, and the mountainside is rough and steep. It could not have been an easy journey, and those people must have really wanted to consult the Oracle to go through it.

We visited Delphi in August, 2016, so we had summer heat to deal with as well -- the midday temperature was in the 90s. The air-conditioned tour bus only drops you at the entrance. After that, you trek up the slope on your own. The walking paths are good, but it can still be some work.

The centerpiece of the complex is what remains of the once-great temple of Apollo. Little more than a ruin today, with only a few columns still left standing, the temple remains impressive nonetheless, with a scale that reflects the grandeur of the god.

Getting water from the "Fountain of Youth" at Delphi
In addition to the temple, the site contains numerous "treasury houses" (buildings where offerings to the god were stored), an outdoor theater, a large stadium, and numerous other features. There is also what our tour guide referred to as a "fountain of youth" -- an ancient spring which since antiquity has been said to provide magical waters. You can fill your water bottles from the spring so that you, too, can reap its benefits. A more-modern addition at Delphi is a museum containing many artifacts from the site.

The location where the Delphic Oracle sat
to deliver her prophecies
It is at the side of Apollo's temple, over a crevice in the earth, that the Oracle sat when she delivered her messages as the mouthpiece of the god. Even today, this location feels mystically "charged." When the crowd of tourists wanders off and you stand quietly beside the stone platforms alone, you can sense the presence of higher powers and perhaps gain insight into some greater wisdom. Apollo, via the Oracle, may even speak to you, provided you are open to hearing what he has to say.

Our tour guide, Anastasia, was quite knowledgeable about Delphi and its history. But she pooh-poohed the mystical background and vibration of the site. Indeed, she went so far as to say that the entire complex was constructed as a massive con game concocted by the temple priests for the sole purpose of separating the pilgrims to Delphi from their money!

This seems to be a rather extreme interpretation. Even if you yourself don't believe in the ancient Greek gods and the mystic powers of the Oracle, most people would concede that the Oracle, the temple priests, and those asking for advice all actually did believe in these powers. To cynically claim that it was all just a con game and that not even the priests believed it is... well, a bit much, it seems.

For our part, we did feel and connect with the mystic vibration of the site. Apollo speaks, if you are open to listen. And the two maxims which were carved into the temple in ancient times -- "Know thyself" and "Nothing in excess" -- are still worth pondering and following.

Here are some interesting tours of Delphi from

More photos from our trip to Delphi:


The remaining columns are at what was the main entrance to the temple

Closeup of the temple entrance

The Omphalos of Delphi. In ancient times, Delphi was considered to the center
or "navel" of the world. The Omphalus was a stone thrown by Zeus to
mark the spot.

Another Omphalos from Delphi, this one on exhibit in the museum.

Looking down at one of the treasury houses

The theater