I’m back from Greece, filled with a kind of quiet awe at all we experienced. It’s often said of the Mysteries that the things people saw were not simply secret in the sense of being forbidden to tell, but secret because they are impossible to tell.
In our own way this was what we found on our journey, through the ceremonies and meditations. I could describe what we did and saw, but I know that while it will be interesting, it will not really convey the experience. Still, there is much to tell, and I hope to share some of it here, in the next few weeks.
I begin with with the ceremony I called The Opening to Apollo. Readers of this blog may remember that I wrote an entry before I left called Getting Right With The Boys, about the need to find a deeper relationship with some of the male dieties, in particular Apollo. In my book, The Body of the Goddess I tended to see Apollo as a villain, the detached Sky God who conquers the female powers of the Earth.
And indeed, the myth tells us how the great oracular site of Delphi was originally sacred to Gaia, the Earth Goddess, with the oracle being focused on a great snake, called the Python. Apollo supposedly sailed in, accompanied by dolphins (the name Delphi derives from Greek words for dolphin and–very tellingly–womb).
Apollo killed the snake, a being from the Goddess powers of the land, with the cry “Now rot here upon the soil that feeds man!” Even so, the oracles were always women, and they bore the title Pythia.
It’s no wonder that many feminist writers have denounced Apollo as the emblem of the patriarchal takeover of ancient Goddess powers. For the Greeks, however, Apollo represented civilization, and light, and beauty. And classicist Peter Kingsley has written of Apollo as originally a God of shamanic death and rebirth journeys.
In Greece I came across another aspect of Apollo, one that definitely undercuts his aggressive male image.
To put it simply, Apollo is very feminine, represented almost as a cross-dresser. In at least two places we saw representations of what looked like beautiful Goddesses, in flowing dresses with done-up hair, only to find that they were Apollo. Near one of these images (where Apollo actually was sitting in a row of Goddesses, and was the softest and prettiest of them) we saw his sister, Artemis, looking tough and fierce, in a short tunic, with wild hair. I remembered how Leto, their mother, was criticized in some myth for having “a manly daughter and a womanly son.” More about this in a future entry.
Before these issues, however, came the sense that if we wanted to eperience the power of Apollo, or Delphi, we needed to open ourselves to the light of the God. I came up with a ceremony I called The Opening To Apollo.
At first we planned to do it at the temple itself. Our guide knew of a small groundlevel entrance where the Pythia, the oracle herself, used to enter into her chamber, and it was out of the way of the usual tourist run. So we went there, and the guide stood at the edge of our circle to try and ward off both curiosity seekers and the guards, and we all set up our altar with various things we had brought, and one of our group, Pat, climbed into the chamber and out again.
Before we could get to the ceremony, however, we got word that a group of French tourists had complained, and the guard was coming, so Nicki Scully, my brilliant co-leader, swooped up our altar and we all made like good tourists, gawking and taking pictures.
That afternoon we went to the Temple of Athena Pronaia, a marvelous site at the bottom of the hill from Delphi, just far enough that many tourists on day trips from Athens don’t stop there. While Delphi itself is set against the spectacular rock face of the Phaedriades, or Shining Ones, two high plates of stone on Mt. Parnassus, Athena Pronaia is in a softer setting against the side of the hill. As well as a range of archtectural features it contains a huge boulder that powerfully evokes the presence of Gaia.
Nicki and I scouted around for an out of the way place to do our ceremony, and found a small double row of stones (most likely broken pillars) with a perfect altar stone at the end, between the two rows.
There was a couple nearby, a man and woman in their 20s, and we went and told them we were planning a quiet ceremony and hoped we would not bother them. They whispered something together, and then the woman laughed, and said since the man was the official guard for the site he would make sure we were not disturbed.
The ceremony was simple. We set up our altar, and then we all did a breathing meditation to enter into a sacred framework. Then Nicki led each person to me in turn and I invoked for them the power of the serpent of Gaia, for part of our purpose was in our small way to heal the ancient split of Earth powers and Sky powers, the dark snake and the light of the Sun God.
Then I used one of my magical tools, a Tuareg dagger I found years ago in Paris. I had been on my way to a conference on magic in the south, and discovered first that my hotel was across the street from La Musee de l’Histoire de Magie (Museum of the History of Magic), and two doors down from an African store where I found the dagger. It has a decorated handle, with a downward pointing golden triangle (symbol of the Goddess since the Stone Age), just above the blade.
I drew the knife down in the air in front of the person, as if to cut an opening in the fabric of reality. This symbolized their willingness for Apollo’s light to enter them. Then I touched the very tip to their forehead, their lips, and their heart, to inspire the mind, expression, and feeling.
What I said was slightly different for each person, but here is a text I later put together as a poem.
THE OPENING TO APOLLO
Welcome, bright one,
to the place of opening.
Feel the serpent of Gaia
rise through your body,
in and out and around your spine,
and through the top of your head,
and into the sky
where Athena shields and protects you.
Hermes and Persephone
guard you and guide you.
Accept the opening to Apollo!
May his glory enter you.
Open your mind with brilliance.
Open your lips with beauty.
Open your heart with radiance.
and may all your footsteps
the Earth and the Sky.