I am sharing the following story, that with a few recent alterations, I wrote as a university paper last year in a course on Ancient Religions. It is significant for me presently because it is a year almost to the day that I embarked on Carol Christ’s Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Seeds of transformation were planted on Greece, therefore naturally I have been reflecting and reminiscing not only on my Odyssey, but also on the full circle I have come since.
Today, from my hometown of Delphi, I will make pilgrimage to the Temple of Apollo. I will make this journey alone for I seek answers to questions of a personal nature. I have waited patiently through the cold and barren days of winter, even coming summer and autumn past, failing to see the Pythia with each visit, for during these times of uncertainty the Temple has been busy with representatives from many cities. All recognise the importance of Apollo as a mediator of disputes and a champion of law and stability. Everyday concerns like mine are least important compared to those matters of war and men. I come however, not seeking answers from Apollo, but rather from our great mother Gaia, for all know that it is she who has resided here since the beginning. I feel it in my heart that I will be heard today, for spring has arrived, and concerns over battle have been put aside for the festival ‘Theophania’, a celebration of Apollo’s return. The countryside is bursting with new life, the sky is clear and the womb of the great mother is abundant; I sense blessings for a brighter future.
I rose before the sun and made my way up Mount Parnassus towards the Temple. The path was busy with people eager to be heard by the priestess and those who were here to join the celebrations. The walk was steep and rugged, as the sun made its appearance over the valley the day warmed considerably. I stopped at the Castalian spring not far from the top and splashed my face with cool water and filled my waterskin. Many other pilgrims had also stopped to refresh so I made a hasty departure determined to reach the oracle first. As I approached the Temple from the East, my breath was labored and my heart beat rapid, due not only to the arduous journey, but also from a bursting sense of anticipation. I was pleased to see that I was one of the first pilgrims to arrive.
To avoid polluting and compromising the space I purified (katharos) myself with spring water from the perirhanteria at the entrance to the sanctuary. I entered and continued to follow the sacred way in a zigzag fashion before reaching the high stone altar that stood in front of the temple. To fulfil my obligations to the gods and to the great mother Gaia, I attended with the mageiros the sacrificing of a goat. The animal behaved accordingly, with the nod of his head, I knew that a response from the oracle would be certain.
Once inside the porch of the great temple I was reminded of the Delphic precepts; ‘know thyself’, ‘nothing in excess’, ‘make a pledge and mischief is nigh’. I made my way to the back of the temple and descended into Apollo’s adyton, it is here the purified Pythia awaited. She sat atop a bronze tripod, in front of a gold image of Apollo and the omphalos. It is believed that the Chthonic Python, a child of Gaia, conquered by Apollo is buried under this omphalos. It is also believed that the shrine dedicated to Apollo was at first a shrine to Gaia. I believe this to be so, for her presence is palpable.
The priestess was not like what I had envisaged. She was not wild and uncombed like the townsfolk rumoured, nor was she in another state of mind. Rather, she was plain and defeated, I intuited deep loneliness. If each line on her aged face were a story, she would have many to tell. I could see however, that there was a day when her beauty and wisdom would have held anyone captive. I approached her and out of respect offered an invocation to Apollo and added another to Gaia. I reminded the divine presences of my faithful worship to the gods and goddesses and further to my family and town of birth. I proceeded to ask my question; is it senseless of me to contemplate training in the sacred ways of the priestess of the oracle? I wish to dedicate myself to service of the great mother Gaia and to the god Apollo that followed. Will I be received?
The prophetess was quiet, listening with her eyes closed. I wondered for a moment if she was even awake. These thoughts escaped me as she suddenly waved her hand and grunted, a priest swiftly made his way to us. He was robed in white and had an air of authority about him. He handed her a small metal jar. The Pythia unhurriedly retrieved the response from out of the jar. The suspense was leaving me faint. In a slow, raspy manner she spoke, “you will be accepted, for it is your destiny to join the priestesses and tend to Hestia’s flame. Already you hold within sacred knowledge and wisdom, it will be your job to reveal the past, present and future; but you must always remember to have faith in the unknown, for it is within the unknown that you will find the known”.
I rose, thanked the Pythia, divine Apollo and the great Mother. To show my gratification I presented a gift of jewellery, a pair of spiral shell earrings that had been handed down from my family’s mother line. As I scaled my way back down the hill to the township of Delphi I was overcome with joy. As I looked to the sky that was now turning pink on the horizon, two eagles flew overhead. The almighty Zeus had also sent his approval. With my new green dress hitched up around my waist I ran the rest of the way, I am sure I heard my name whispered on the wind that rustled the trees as I flew by…Aristonike… Aristonike… Aristonike…
My latest painting of my Legendary Self, “She who reveals the past and has faith in the unknown” has also been influenced by my reflections and is echoed in this story. She represents the future vision of myself – the self that desires to weave academic research in Ancient Herstory, Myth and Religion with painting and writing. I placed the protective eye over her throat chakra to symbolise clear communication, and the aspiration as a visionary woman to be seen and heard. I am holding up the eye in a heart, roots descending into my own archetypal priestess body. I set out to give her a Renaissance inspired appearance, symbolic of my re-birth. Above the moon sits a part replication of the Phaistos disc, which is written in a hieroglyphic language. This disc was discovered on Crete and the text is yet to be deciphered, representing the paradox of the known and unknown. Her wings, link her to the many bird goddesses found from the Neolithic period and the gold leafed pomegranates symbolic of rich abundance. My Legendary Self was quite talkative while I painted her, but her simple message for all of us is “to keep faith,” and that ultimately, if we listen close enough, the oracle is within.
Jassy Watson, who lives on the sub-tropical coast of Queensland Australia, is a mother of four, a passionate organic gardener, an artist, and a student of ancient history and religion at Macquarie University, Sydney. She runs a small business Goddesses Garden and Studio to keep women’s sacred circles, art, music and gardening practices alive.
Bowden, H 2005, ‘How did the Delphic Oracle work? Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle: divination and democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 12-39.
Cole, GS 2007, ‘Greek religion’, in JR Hinnells (ed.) A handbook of ancient religions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 266-317.
Connelly, JB 2007, ‘Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece’, Princeton University Press, pp. 10-15.