On Retreat with the Goddess
A feature in which pilgrims who have been on Goddess tours and retreats write about their experiences. This contribution is by Isabelle Weber about a trip made in 2009 to Delphi.
This retreat came as a vision during my time spent in Glastonbury connecting with my ancestral lineage of Priestesses. I felt called to explore the ancient practices of Oracling that was initiated in this very sacred place. The intention was to honour all the Priestesses that had given oracle at this place and connect with them through ceremony to bring healing, the truth and wisdom back into this world to hear the voice of Gaia or Ge as She was honoured in this place, so long ago. It was also to reclaim all the work that Kathy Jones, and all the Priestesses of Avalon had done to bring back the tradition of the Oracle into this world. It was a retreat for people who wanted to experience Delphi and discover the Oracle. As a group we went on a pilgrimage to find out for ourselves.
The Oracle at Delphi1 had an enormous influence on Greek civilization, and was the most famous oracular centre in the ancient world and retained its prestige and influence until the end of antiquity. There are many legends and stories of the Priestess Oracle traditions: the earliest known were those who spoke for Mother Earth, Gaia or Ge. They were described as the Thriai, winged maidens who prophesied by eating honey and worked with prophetic pebbles (thriai) used for divination. They were followed by female oracles that were alive during the classical period and they were known as the Pythia.
The name Pythia came from Python which was a female snake that Apollo killed to take the Oracle over from Gaia. In ancient literary sources the Pythia is rarely presented as an individual personality because she was not supposed to utter the oracles consciously: her personality was temporarily displaced by Apollo and she simply spoke of the god’s inspiration and in his name. The Pythia was originally a young maiden. The poet Theognis describes how on one occasion Echekrates of Thessaly fell in love with her, abducted her and raped her. After this the people of Delphi passed a law that no virgin was to assume the duties of the Pythia. She was henceforth a woman of over fifty years of age, but had to dress in white as a virgin in memory of the earlier young priestess.
Plutarch describes the procedures of the oracle lasting all day from dawn to dusk. At dawn, the Pythia prepared herself for the consultation by purifying herself by bathing in the Kastellian spring. Next the Pythia immersed herself in the smoke of laurel leaves and barley-flour burning on the sacred hearth. According to tradition, the Pythia drew her inspiration from chewing on laurel leaves and by drinking sacred water. She would enter a trance with the aid of mysterious vapours emanating from a chasm beneath the temple.
We also bathed ourselves in the Kastellian Spring and prepared for ceremony to reclaim the ancient Priestesses and we heard their call. They came to us in the wind whispering their words from long ago, they touched us with their silent breath and moved us deep in ways we are only beginning to understand. The power that lies beneath the earth here is strong and full of emotion. This place is surrounded by the giant mountains of Parnassus, these mountains resemble huge breasts of the great mother, we were nestled in her love, and we opened ourselves to receive what it is in our hearts that we came here to reclaim.
There have been many Priestesses that walked this land, and there was also Sibyl which comes (via Latin) from the Greek word Sibylla, meaning Prophetess. We met her as a Cat sitting on top of a huge stone that was where the Priestesses once stood to oracle. Pausanias claimed that the Sibyl was “born between man and goddess, daughter of sea monsters and an immortal nymph”. It is claimed that Sibyl received her powers from Gaia originally, who passed the oracle to Themis, who passed it to Phoebe. Gaia has had many daughters and her legends grow, she is very much present here in this land and each person that came felt her presence. Delphi in Greek also means dolphin womb, and this retreat was created to help each person that came to find their life purpose on earth and to take their innate personal power back and bring it into the world. When I called the Oracle into my life, I asked questions about my life and my journey as a seeker, and the answer that came was ‘to know oneself’. Delphi is a place that one can go deep within themselves and find the answers within.
The temple of Athena the great Goddess of wisdom is also here, and is a very sacred and beautiful place to visit just to simply sit, contemplate, and to breathe in the energy of the ancients and all the people that came to worship and honor the Goddess there.
Our group also travelled to the sacred site of Eleusis which was founded around 2000 BC. This place was known as a worship place to the Harvest Goddess Demeter, it is also where her daughter Persephone entered the underworld. Here the Eleusinian mysteries took place. The rites began with the initiates fasting for nine days, at the end of this time they purified themselves in the ocean and proceeded by foot from Athens to Eleusis, a walk that took most of the day. Once there, the initiates were covered with cloth and were brought into the temple. It was then that they passed through rituals; some believe they were blindfolded and led through maze-like passageways; where they were shown a sheaf of grain, which represented Persephone’s return from the underworld, as well as Demeter’s miraculous life-creating powers. When the initiates were led back to the world of light, they broke their fast with kykeon, a drink of water and mint thickened by meal.2
Laura Holdstock and I enacted out the role play of Demeter losing her daughter and the grief she went through, and then to find her again and how much happiness and joy she felt as she brought life back to the land representing the abundance of nourishment the gift of a Mother’s love. I invited the group to go through their own experience, and remember their time spent in the underworld. Later on together we all ate pomegranate seeds celebrating our rites of passage.
The whole tour was a very transformational journey and spending time in these sacred sites came with their own surprises from the Greek women who protected them. Many lessons were learnt and much experience gained. I felt this trip opened the gateways to reclaiming ancient Oracle practices that at the time were revered in the most sacred way. It was an opportunity for each participant to explore their own connection to mother earth, and to open up to her healing and hearing her voice at this time of great change. By honoring these ancient Priestesses I realised that their presence was still very much there, in the land and in the elements. All I had to do was to sit quietly in their sacred sites and remember.
1. Delphi by Anna Maranti [Attica 2008].
2. For full details of Eleusis and its Mysteries see the article by Sheila Bright in GA13 & her book The Eleusinian Mysteries: a modern pilgrimage [Available direct from GA! @ £5.00]
Kathy Jones and Georgina Sirett Hardie are leading a Goddess Pilgrimage to Athens, Eleusis and Delphi from Monday June 7th- Sunday June 13th 2010. Full details at: www.sunflowerhealing.co.uk, or www.kathyjones.co.uk.