I love the works of Edward Burne-Jones and this portrayal of the oracle at Delphi evokes strong emotions in this blogger’s heart. It’s a place I yearn to visit, in fact have visited in dreams. The hope is that some of my cremated remains will eventually find a resting place in that hallowed place. The other places are the Ganges and the site of Ptah’s temple in Egypt. One might say that the influence of these three great civilisations have run through my life like veins of gold in rock, precious and incorruptible. The Soul answers to many calls and why not? Our travels through this Universe can be likened to pilgrimages, with the pilgrim carrying much in the form of hopes, dreams and longings. What they take away may be renewed faith and vision of something greater in the here and now and beyond.
What of the Oracle at Delphi and this interpretation of the priestess at work? She’s holding bay leaves, the Bay (Laurus nobilis) being a native of the Mediterranean area and much esteemed for its medicinal uses. In fact it was dedicated to the Greek god Apollo and his son, Aesculapius, the god of medicine and healing. The planetary ruler of the plant is the Sun and it corresponds to the element of Fire, ruling sign being Leo.
In addition to its healing properties the Bay had associations with wisdom, glory and academic achievement. In folklore it’s said to protect against witchcraft and lightning and planted near the home to protect the occupants against sickness. Regarding its herbal uses, used externally it has many uses including in cooking (to be used sparingly as an overdose can cause increased heart rate, high blood pressure and vomiting). It is not to be taken internally for purposes other than in cooking. When Bay is distilled in an essential oil it can used as a remedy for the following purposes:
- A decongestant and expectorant, for treating congested lungs and sinuses.
- As a sedative, to promote a restful night’s sleep.
- As an analgesic, to relieve sore muscles and ease headaches.
- Enhancing a state of well-being, enabling you to be courageous and face life’s challenges.
It’s recommended that the oil is well diluted (less than 0.5%) in a carrier oil and not be used on very sensitive skins and children under the age of seven.
Regarding the magical associations and uses of Bay, the priestesses of Apollo were thought to chew the leaves to induce visions and prophetic states. The oil from the leaves has narcotic properties. As the plant was dedicated to Apollo, a Sun god, it’s thought to be infused with his solar energies. Accordingly Bay is used to invoke the deity and his gifts of healing, divination and protection. The leaves can be placed under your pillow to bring prophetic dreams and when burned, to enhance clairvoyance. It also has its uses in rituals of protection and purification and worn as an amulet to ward off negativity and evil. A multi-talented herb it has to be said!
Apollo had his positive attributes but like the other Greek gods could be contrary. A famous myth illustrates the darker side of the relationship between god and human and the tragedy that ensues in the wake of rejection. Cassandra, one of the daughters of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy rejects Apollo’s overtures of love, resulting in the god placing a curse upon her. He’d blessed Cassandra with the gift of prophecy but withdrew it ensuring no one believed her utterings. This played a significant part in the destruction of Troy. Cassandra was eventually captured by Ajax and taken as a concubine for Agamemnon. She died in Mycenae, murdered. What a tragedy!
Oracular pronouncements are couched in language that’s unclear, paradoxical and seemingly mysterious. If they gave us what we wanted to hear then our existence and purpose would have less meaning. Our fate would be sealed, no prospect of any deviation, any mutation. Stasis would eventually ossify the Self. What free will we had would be hobbled. Only my perception you understand. The priestesses at Delphi appear to me to perform a most sacred and terrible duty. To come face to face with divinity isn’t an easy experience, much less be a channel for their pronouncements. Such things may manifest in either dreams or visions, the experience shrouded in symbols and sparse but indelible words. Words that burn into the depths of one’s being. Words that leave you perplexed and a little unsure. Are we enlightened by our experience in the depths of the god’s sanctuary? Do we leave it changed forever?