To understand the mystery, religious significance and political intrigue associated with the Oracle of Delphi and the priests and priestesses who served the Sacred Site, please take a moment to watch a wonderful Discovery Channel video on Delphi. The video starts automatically: http://www.olympia-greece.org/delphi.html
Delphi is a modern village and a breathtaking ancient archaeological site nestled in the shadow of Mount Parnassus above the sparkling blue of the Gulf of Corinth. Greek myth says that to locate the exact center of the world, Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth. The eagles crossed paths at Delphi and Zeus marked the spot with a large, egg-shaped stone called the omphalos, or navel. Thereafter, Delphi was considered to be the very center of creation.
According to myth, the first Oracle at Delphi was founded by the Earth Goddess Gaia who, Hesiod says, was the foundation of the ever-lasting gods of Mt. Olympos. Gaia was mother of Uranus, the starry sky, Pontus, the fruit-less depths of the sea, Oceanus, the world ocean, and all the Titans including Kronos, Zeus’ father.
Gaia set a drakon, a serpent, to guard her oracle. According to the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, Apollo killed the monstrous snake and claimed the oracle for himself. He was forced to purify himself in the waters of the Pineiós River in the Vale of Tempe after killing the serpent. It was the act of killing the serpent that gave the god and the representative of his oracle the title of Pythian, which some consider to be etymologically related to the verb pytho, “I rot.”
Many scholars have speculated about a transitional period wherein people stopped worshipping mother goddesses and turned toward a male-dominated belief system. THE ORACLES OF DELPHI imagines that conflict played out among the remnant of Gaia worshippers who still practice an oracular tradition in Delphi and the powerful priests who control the prominent Oracle of Apollo and the Sacred Precinct that arose around it.
With the rise of Christianity, and, some scientists speculate, with the reduced flow or elimination of the narcotic, trance-inducing gas issuing from the bedrock, the Oracle of Delphi fell out of favor. In fact, the historian Plutarch (c. 46-120 AD), who served as the senior of the two priests of Apollon in Delphi, described the smell of the sacred pneuma as sweet and speculated that the weakening influence of the oracle in his time was caused by the pneuma’s sporadic and weak emissions. In 393 AD, when Roman emperor Julian the Apostate tried to revive elements of classical Greek culture, he consulted Delphi’s famed Oracle and in response, the last Pythia issued this statement.
Tell the King:
The fair wrought house has fallen.
No shelter has Apollon,
nor sacred laurel leaves;
The fountains are now silent;
the voice is stilled.
It is finished.