Delphi is probably the most famous oracle in the world. It’s awe-inspiring. Sublime. Superhuman. Intoxicating. These are only a few of the adjectives that immediately come to mind when, after a long climb, you reach its perch on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. You do feel superhuman, standing above the world: behind you the temple of Apollo; in front, the world of ancient Greece emerging from the unfolding landscape like a forgotten idyll.
There are two legends about how the oracle functioned. One comes from the deep recesses of the archaic Earth Goddess religion; the other belongs to the epoch of the male-based world-view, when the sun god Apollo slew the serpent Python, the son of the goddess, and usurped the shrine. (Serpents and dragons are symbols of energy currents that glide in serpentine fashion through the earth’s crust, hence they are symbols of ancient Mother Goddess traditions.)
A prerequisite for an oracle is the existence of a cavern, a crack, a fissure—any kind of opening in the earth that brings to the surface the influences of the Earth Goddess, usually through vapors that seep through the opening. In ancient Greek, delfos means “womb” or “vagina.” In Delphi, there was one such cleft rock near the Castalian Spring, from which oozed intoxicating vapors. The officiating priestess crouched over those vapors that would affect her psyche so that she became a conduit through which the oracle “spoke.”
When Apollo killed the Python and took over the oracle, he also diverted the prophetic influence from this cleft rock to the omphalos stone (also known as “the navel of the world”) where his temple was subsequently built. Over the entrance were carved the famous maxims: “Man, Know Thyself” and “Nothing in Excess.”
And above the temple is located the theater, where the famous Pythian Games were held—as if in the clouds. Everything that is extraordinary about Delphi seems to gather here, where the charioteers run their steeds, delineated, superhuman, against the violet sky.