What is the Oracle of Delphi?

Ancient Greek ruins

The history of psychics reaches nearly as far back as the dawn of recorded time, and ancient civilizations across the globe speak of individuals who had the power to prophesy the future. The Delphic Oracle is one of the most famous examples of these influential soothsayers.

According to historians, the Oracle of Delphi maintained a continuous presence at the Temple of Apollo from 1,400 B.C. through 381 A.D. The site of the sacred temple, located on present day Mount Parnassus, is where, according to mythology, the Greek god Apollo reputedly slew a giant python.

Strictly speaking, the Delphic Oracle was not one person, but rather, a series of individual priestesses who took over the role upon her predecessor’s demise. These oracles, or “Pythia” (whose name was an homage to the aforementioned giant python Apollo exterminated), were regarded as human vessels through which the wishes and wisdom of the gods were channeled.

In ancient times, such individuals wielded great power. Their visions were sought out by rulers and conquering generals, and heeded as a guiding force that helped shape the destiny not only of individuals, but of armies, nations, and great dynasties. And interestingly, since the Priestesses of Pythia were held in such high esteem, they enjoyed privileges that few women did back in the day. Many came from noble families, and were well educated, and as members of their chosen profession, were gifted with state-sanctioned salaries, housing, and tax breaks, as well as the almost unheard of rights to own property and . . . *gasp* . . . appear in public.

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Fame and Literature

They also appeared elsewhere–in the works of Greek authors, poets, and playwrights. Since the Delphic Oracle enjoyed the reputation of being able to correctly divine the future, they quickly became the plot device of choice for the creators of Greek literature. While the Oracle’s participation was generally limited, the predictions she offered often launched the action and eventual outcome of the narrative arc for a series of epic poems, plays, and assorted prose.

The list of notable authors who invoked the presence of the Pythia in their works reads like a veritable “Who’s Who” of ancient Greek poetry and prose, and includes Aristotle, Diogenes, Euripides, Aeschylus, Herodotus, Julian, Justin, Livy, Ovid, Pindar, Plato, Plutarch, Thucydides, and Xenophon. But perhaps the most notable nod to the Pythian Priestesses came from the pen of famed playwright Sophocles, who featured them as a pivotal force of rising action for his seminal study of the dysfunctional family, The Oedipus Trilogy.

In the first installment of the trilogy, Oedipus the King, Laius, King of Thebes and the father of the protagonist, is told by the Oracle he is doomed to die by the hand of his son, Oedipus. Laius attempts to forestall the inevitable by leaving the infant Oedipus out as buzzard bait, but not only is the baby’s life spared, he’s whisked away to safety, and actually installed as the heir apparent to the heretofore childless King and Queen of Corinth.

Fast-forward a few years, and like many adoptive children, Oedipus can’t shake the feeling he doesn’t really fit in at home, so what does he do? Following in his biological father’s ill-fated footsteps, he goes off to consult with the Delphic Oracle, who foresees a grim future in which he mates with his mother and murders his father. (Unfortunately, the Oracle neglects to mention that his adoptive parents are just that—adoptive.)

In an attempt to escape his fate, Oedipus hits the road, but whom does he meet? His birth parents, of course, and the rest, as they say, is tragedy. As prophesied, he offs his dad, weds his mom (who then bears his children), before everyone comes to the excruciatingly bad end previously foretold by…you guessed it, the Delphic Oracle.

Fate isn’t much kinder to the cast of AeschylusAgamemnon. Long story short: Dad (King Agamemnon) comes home from the Trojan War, only to be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra’s lover, Aegisthus–but not before bringing back his paramour, the famed seer Cassandra, who has already borne him two offspring, and, in addition to being the daughter of the Trojan King Priam, also happens to be . . . a Priestess of Apollo. Unlike other Pythian Priestesses who serve as the catalyzing force that incites others to react, Cassandra is actually directly involved the action of the play.

Fairly early on, she goes into one of her prophetic trances and predicts pretty much the entire ensuing bloodbath, but unfortunately for all concerned, in her current role of concubine, rather than bona fide Oracle, no one pays any attention to her prognostications. Had they heeded her warnings, calamity could have been avoided. While being killed was the result, Cassandra’s real tragedy was not being heard.

A Tradition of Prophecy

Off the stage and back in the real world, the Oracle at Delphi was held in such high regard that the honor of meeting with her evolved into a major undertaking. Pilgrims who journeyed to Delphi seeking guidance first had to pass muster during an interview by the attending priests. If they made it past the gatekeepers, and were deemed sincere, the supplicants were read the rules and disclaimers, and passed onto the next phase, in which they presented gifts to the Oracle, and, bearing the laurel leaves Apollo favored, trod “the Sacred Way” to the temple, to receive enlightenment.

The Oracle would regale each follower in turn with actionable steps they could implement to ameliorate the future. After their tête-à-tête, the supplicants exited the temple. During the recessional march, they were admonished to reflect on the newfound knowledge the Oracle had supplied.

Even with a stellar track record for accurate predictions, the advent of Christianity signaled an end to the worship of Greek gods, and effectively put the Oracle at Delphi out of business. However, the tradition of powerful seers who could channel energies and messages from the cosmos to glimpse into the future endured, although at a cost.

Those who did not conform to the new religious dictates were often in peril for their lives, so practicing psychics, rather than being revered, had to learn to fly under the radar. But that did not stop people in need from seeking out their counsel, nor did it prevent them from giving it. The practice continued to evolve over time, and eventually, found favor with the public again. Today, capable psychics remain valuable guides to helping us to better understand our destinies.

Would you like to channel the historic tradition of the Delphic Oracle? Why not let a KEEN advisor help you tap into knowledge and insight emanating from that higher plane?

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