In the mid-4th Century BCE The Temple of Apollo at Delphi was one of the most awe inspiring places in the ancient world. It’s combination of art, religion, and money made it equivalent to the Swiss Bank, the religious power of the Vatican, the advertising potential of the world cup or superbowl, and the connectivity of Instagram and Facebook!
The Oracle of Apollo at Delphi was the center, the omphalos, the belly button of the ancient world according to the Greeks. The Sacred Way (the path leading up to the Temple) also led to the theatre above the temple and the stadium (for athletic contests). Delphi also contained settlements and cemeteries, which were built outside and around the two sanctuaries.
Above the Temple was the inscription, “Know thyself and thou shalt know the universe and the gods!”
According to legend, there is a direct connection between Delphi and Apollo, to whom Zeus had given the power of prophecy.
The central and most important part of Delphi was the Temple of Apollo, where the Pythia delivered her prophetic words in the adyton, a separate, restricted room at the rear. The temple of Apollo sat atop a large terrace supported by a polygonal wall.
Delphi became a powerful location, with rulers and common folk alike seeking consultation with the Pythia, who only operated over a limited number of days over 9 months of the year. These pilgrims expressed their gratitude with lavish gifts and offerings; what’s more, because of the high demand for the services of the oracle, affluent individuals would pay great sums to skip to the front of the line (History.com Editors; https://www.history.com/.amp/topics/ancient-greece/delphi).
The Oracle of Delphi was consulted on both private matters and affairs of state. City-state rulers would even seek the oracle before launching wars or founding new Greek colonies.
For these consultations, the Pythia would enter the adyton and then sit on a tripod chair, possibly behind a curtain. After Priests of Apollo relayed questions submitted by petitioners, the Pythia would inhale light hydrocarbon gasses that escaped from a chasm in the ground, falling into a type of trance. She would then speak her prophetic words, sometimes clearly, other times in a low voice that sounded like muttering to the petitioners.
Despite the picture above and numerous artistic depictions of the Pythia wearing red and being a young girl, she wore black to better blend into the dimly lit adyton. She was also almost always an older woman, since this was a lifetime Calling and demanded a vow of chastity.
Considering the number of prominent rulers in both Greece and later Rome consulted the Oracle at Delphi, we could look at ancient history as pivoting on the words of the Oracle.
The Greeks believed the Oracle existed since the dawn of time and accurately predicted various historical events, including the Argonaut’s expedition and the Trojan War (History.com Editors; https://www.history.com/.amp/topics/ancient-greece/delphi).
As modern mystics, we owe much to this prophetic powerhouse of the ancient world.