32. The Temple of Delphi, Apollonian Science,
Theory of Divination, The Pythoness Theoclea

From the plain of Phocis one traversed the smiling meadows which border the banks of Plistios, to descend between high mountains into a winding valley. At each step the way became narrower and the country more impressive and more desolate. One finally reached a circle of rugged mountains topped with sharp peaks, a veritable vortex for electricity, overhung with frequent storms. Suddenly at the end of the dark gorge, the city of Delphi appeared like an eagle's nest on a rock, surrounded with precipices and overhung by the two crests of Parnassus. From afar one saw gleaming bronze Victories, brass horses, innumerable gold statues placed along the sacred way, arranged like a guard of heroes and gods around the Dorian temple of Phoebus Apollo.

This was the holiest place in Greece. There Pythia prophesied, there the Amphictions met, there all the Greeks had erected chapels around the sanctuary enclosing treasures and offerings. There processions of men, women and children coming from afar, ascended the sacred way to greet the god of light. From time immemorial religion had dedicated Delphi to the veneration of peoples. Its central location in Hellas, its rock, sheltered from surprise attacks and easily defended, had helped. The god was made to strike the imagination; a uniqueness gave him his prestige. In a cavern behind the temple a fissure opened, from which came cold vapors which induced, it was said, inspiration and ecstasy. Plutarch relates that in very ancient times a shepherd, having sat down at the edge of the crevice, began to prophesy. At first he was thought insane, but when his predictions came true, people paid attention to the phenomenon. Priests took possession of the place and dedicated it to the god. From this came the institution of Pythia, whom they had sit over the fissure upon a tripod. The vapors rising from the abyss gave her convulsions, strange attacks and provoked in her that second sight which is experienced by unusual somnambulists. Aeschylus, whose statements carry weight, for he was son of a priest of Eleusis and himself an initiate, tells us in the Eumenides through the mouth of Pythia that Delphi first had been dedicated to Earth, then to Themis (Justice), then to Phoebe (mediatory Moon) and finally to Apollo, the solar god. Each of these names represents long periods in the symbolism of the temples and embraces centuries. But the fame of Delphi dates from Apollo. Jupiter, said the poets, desiring to know the center of the earth, caused two eagles to fly simultaneously from the east and the west; they met at Delphi. Where does this prestige come from, -- this universal and uncontested authority, which made Apollo the Greek god par excellence?

History teaches us nothing about this important point. Question the orators, poets, philosophers; they give only superficial explanations. The real answer to this question remained the secret of the temple. Let us try to fathom it.

According to Orphic thought, Dionysus and Apollo were two different revelations of the same divinity. Dionysus represented esoteric truth, the heart and interior of things -- accessible to the initiates alone. He held the mysteries of life, of past and future incarnations, of the relationships between soul and body, the heaven and earth. Apollo personified the same truth applied to terrestrial life and the social order. Inspirer of poetry, medicine, and law, he represented science through divination, beauty through art, the peace of peoples through justice and the harmony of soul and body through purification. In a word, for the initiate, Dionysus meant nothing less than the evolving divine spirit in the universe, and Apollo his manifestation to earthly man. The priests caused the people to understand this by means of a legend. They told them that in Orpheus' time, Bacchus and Apollo had fought for the tripod of Delphi. Bacchus had willingly yielded it to his brother and had withdrawn to one of the summits of Parnassus where Thebian women celebrated his Mysteries. In reality, the two great sons of Jupiter divided the world empire. One reigned over the mysterious Beyond, the other, over the living.

Therefore we find in Apollo the Solar Word, the Universal Word, the Great Mediator, the Vishnu of the Hindus, the Mithras of the Persians, the Horus of the Egyptians. But in the Greek legend of Apollo, the old ideas of Asiatic esoterism were adorned with a plastic beauty, an incisive splendor, which caused them to penetrate more deeply into human consciousness like the arrows of a god. "White winged serpents, shot from his golden bow," Aeschylus called them.

Apollo bursts forth out of the deep night at Delos; all the goddesses greet his birth. He walks, he seizes his bow and lyre, his arrows whirr through the air, his quiver rattles on his shoulder. The sea throbs, and all the island shines in a flood of flame and gold. He is the epiphany of divine light, who by his august presence creates order, splendor and harmony of which poetry is the marvelous echo. The god goes to Delphi and with his arrows pierces a monstrous serpent which had been laying waste the country. By this deed he makes the land safe and establishes the temple. Picture the victory of this divine light over darkness and evil! In the ancient religions the serpent symbolized both the fateful circle of life and the evil resulting from the latter. Nevertheless, from this endangered and vanquished life comes knowledge. Apollo, destroyer of the serpent, is the symbol of the initiate who pierces nature with science, subdues it to his will and, breaking the cycle of flesh, ascends in splendor of spirit while the broken fragments of human animality writhe in the dust. This is why Apollo is the master of expiations, of purifications of soul and body. Sprinkled with the blood of the monster, he expiated, purified himself in an exile of eight years, under the bitter laurels of the valley of Tempe. Apollo, teacher of men, likes to sojourn among them; he enjoys himself in their cities among male youth, in the contests of poetry and the palestra, but he lives there only temporarily. In autumn he returns to his homeland, to the country of the Hyperboreans. The latter are the mysterious people of luminous, transparent souls who live in an eternal aurora of perfect happiness. His true priests and beloved priestesses are there. He lives with them in an intimate, deep community and when he wishes to make a royal gift to men, from the land of the Hyperboreans he sends one of those great, luminous souls, causing it to incarnate upon earth in order to teach and delight mortals.

Apollo returns to Delphi every spring when peans and hymns are sung. He arrives, visible only to the initiates, in his Hyperborean brightness, drawn in a chariot by melodious swans. He returns to live in the sanctuary where Pythia transmits his oracles, where the wise men and poets listen. Then the nightingales sing, the Fountain of Castalia bubbles with silver wavelets, the living echoes of a blinding light and celestial music penetrate the heart of men and women, even moving through the veins of nature.

In this legend of the Hyperboreans the esoteric essence of the myth of Apollo sheds its brilliant rays. The country of the Hyperboreans is the after-life, the empyrean of victorious souls whose astral auroras lighten the multicolored regions. Apollo himself personifies immaterial and intelligible light, of which the sun is but the physical reflection, and whence flows all truth. The wondrous swans which draw him are the poets, the divine genii, messengers of his great solar soul, leaving in their wake tremors of light and melody. Hyperborean Apollo therefore personifies the descent from heaven to earth, the incarnation of spiritual beauty in flesh and blood, the afflux of transcendent truth through inspiration and divination.

But now we must lift the golden veil from the legends and penetrate into the temple itself. How was divination practiced? Here we touch upon the arcana of Apollonian science and the mysteries of Delphi.

In antiquity a strong tie united divination with the solar cults. The cult of the sun is the golden key to all Mysteries referred to as "magic."

From the beginning of civilization the worship of Aryan man was directed to the sun as the source of light, warmth and life. But when the thought of the wise men rose from phenomenon to cause, they perceived behind this sensitive fire and visible light a non-material fire and an intelligible light. They identified the first with the male principle, with creative spirit, the intellectual essence of the universe, and the second with its female principle, its formative soul, its plastic substance. This intuition traces back to an unknown time. The concept of which I speak is mixed with the oldest mythologies. It flows in the Vedic hymns under the form of Agni, the universal fire, which penetrates everything. It unfolds in the religion of Zoroaster, of which the cult of Mithras represents the esoteric part. Mithras is the male fire and Mitra the female light. Zoroaster formally says that by means of the Living Word the Eternal created celestial Light, seed of Ormuzd, principle of material light and material fire. For the initiate of Mithras, the sun is but a crude reflection of this Light. In his hidden grotto, the vault of which is painted with stars, he invokes the Sun of mercy, the Fire of Love, Conqueror of evil, Reconcilor of Ormuzd and Ahriman, Purifier and Mediator who inhabits the soul of the holy prophets. In the crypts of Egypt the initiates look for this same Sun under the name Osiris. When Hermes asks to view the origin of things, first he feels plunged into the ethereal waves of a delightful Light where all living forms move. Then, thrust into the darkness of dense matter, he hears a voice and recognizes the Voice of Light. At the same time a fire bursts forth from the depths; immediately, order and light result from chaos. In the Book of the Dead of the Egyptians, souls painfully sail toward this light in Isis' boat. Moses completely adopted this doctrine in Genesis: "Elohim said, Let there be light, and there was light." But the creation of this light precedes that of the sun and stars. This means that in the order of the elements and of cosmogony, intelligible Light precedes material light. The Greeks who cast the most abstract ideas into human form and dramatized them, expressed this same teaching in the myth of the Hyperborean Apollo.

As in the great temples of Egypt, the divination practised at Delphi was composed of an art and a science. The art consisted in penetrating the past and future through clairvoyance or prophetic ecstasy; its science consisted in calculating the future according to the laws of universal evolution. Art and science controlled each other. It is known that clairvoyance and prophecy were practised at Delphi through the intermediary of young and old women called the Pythia or Pythonesses, and who played the passive role of somnambulists. The priests interpreted, translated and arranged their often confusing oracles according to their own points of view. Modern historians have seen in the institution of Delphi merely the exploitation of superstition by intelligent charlatanism. But in addition to the assent by all philosophical antiquity to the divining science at Delphi, several oracles reported by Herodotus, such as those concerning Croesus and the Battle of Salamis, speak in its favor. Doubtless this art had its inception, its flowering and its decadence. Charlatanism and corruption eventually became mixed with it -- witness King Cleomenes who bribed the high priestess of Delphi in order to deprive Demaratus of his throne. Plutarch wrote a treatise inquiring into the reason for the extinction of the oracles, and this degeneracy was regarded by all the ancient world as a great misfortune. During the preceding era, divination was cultivated with a religious sincerity and a scientific thoroughness which raised it to the height of a true priesthood. Above the entrance to the temple one read the inscription, "Know thyself," as well as, "Let no one without clean hands come near." These words warned everyone that earthly passions, lies and hypocrisies were not to pass over the threshold of the sanctuary, and that within its portals, divine truth reigned with fearful solemnity.

Pythagoras came to Delphi only after having visited all the temples of Greece. He had spoken with Epimonides in the sanctuary of Jupiter Idaean; he had attended the Olympic Games; he had been present at the Mysteries of Eleusis, where the hierophant had given up his place to him. Everywhere he had been received as a teacher. He was awaited at Delphi. There the divining art had declined, and Pythagoras wished to restore it to its former profundity, strength and prestige. Therefore he came to Delphi less to consult Apollo than to enlighten his interpreters, rekindle their enthusiasm and awaken their energies. His deeds for them would act in turn upon the soul of Greece and prepare it for its future.

Fortunately in the temple he found a marvelous instrument which a providential plan seemed to have reserved for him.

Young Theoclea belonged to the school of priestesses of Apollo. She came from one of those families in which the priestly dignity is hereditary. The great impressions of the sanctuary, the ceremonies of the cult, the paeans, the festivals of Pythian and Hyperborean Apollo had nourished her in childhood. One can imagine her as one of those young girls who have an inborn and instinctive aversion for the things which attract others. They do not like Ceres at all, and fear Venus, for the heavy terrestrial atmosphere disturbs them and physical love, dimly seen, seems to them a rape of the soul, a pollution of their undefiled, virginal being. On the other hand, they are strangely sensitive to mysterious currents, to astral influences. When the moon shone in the dark groves of the Fountain of Castalia, Theoclea saw white forms gliding there. In broad daylight she heard voices. When she exposed herself to the rays of the rising sun, their vibration plunged her into a kind of ecstasy in which she heard invisible choirs. Nevertheless, she was completely insensitive to superstitions and to the popular idolatries of the cult. Statues meant nothing to her, and she had a horror of animal sacrifices. She did not speak to anyone of the appearances which disturbed her sleep. She felt instinctively that the priests of Apollo did not possess the supreme Light which she needed. On the other hand, they hoped to be able to convince her to become a Pythoness, but she felt herself drawn by a higher world, whose key she did not possess. Who were these gods who seized her with inspirations and tremors? She wished to know them before surrendering herself to them. For great souls need to see clearly, even in giving themselves to divine powers.

With what deep anticipation, with what mysterious foreboding must Theoclea's soul have been stirred when she saw Pythagoras for the first time, when she heard his eloquent voice resound within the Apollonian sanctuary! She felt the presence of the initiator for whom she was waiting; she recognized her teacher. She wanted to know; through him she would know, and this inner world, this world which she bore within her, -- he would make it speak! For his part, the certainty and penetration of his gaze must have recognized in her the living, vibrant soul he was seeking, the one who would become the interpreter of his thought in the temple, who would infuse the latter with a new spirit. From the first glances they exchanged, from the first word spoken, an invisible chain bound the sage of Samos to the young priestess who listened to him silently, drinking in his words with her large, attentive eyes. Someone has said that the poet and the lyre knew each other by the profound vibration which came about when they were in each other's presence. In this manner Pythagoras and Theoclea recognized each other.

At sunrise Pythagoras had long conversations with the priests of Apollo, ordained saints and prophets. He asked that the young priestess be admitted in order that he might initiate her into his secret teaching and prepare her for her task. Therefore she was allowed to attend the lessons which the master gave every day in the sanctuary. At this time Pythagoras was in the prime of life. He wore a white robe folded in Egyptian style; a band of velvet was wrapped around his broad forehead. When he spoke, his slow, serious eyes rested upon his hearer, enveloping him with a warm light. The very air about him seemed to become lighter and completely filled with intelligence.

The conversations between the sage of Samos and the highest representatives of Greek religion were of the utmost importance. It was not only a question of divination and inspiration, but of the future of Greece and the destiny of the entire world. The knowledge, titles and powers he had acquired in the temples of Memphis and Babylon gave him the highest authority. To those who inspired Hellas he had the right to speak as a superior and guide. He did this with the eloquence of his genius, with the enthusiasm of his mission. To enlighten them, he began by telling of his youth, his battles and his Egyptian initiation. He spoke to them of Egypt, the mother of Greece, old as the world, unchangeable as a mummy covered with hieroglyphs in the depths of its pyramids, but possessing in its tomb the secret of peoples, of languages and of religions. Before their eyes he unfolded the Mysteries of the great earthly and heavenly Isis, mother of gods and men; and, passing them through his trials, he plunged with them into the Light of Osiris. Next he enabled them to experience the Babylon of the Chaldean Magi, their secret sciences, and those deep massive temples where they evoked the living fire in which demons and gods move.

Listening to Pythagoras, Theoclea experienced surprising sensations. All that he said engraved itself in her mind in characters of fire. These things seemed both wonderful and familiar to her. While learning it was as though she actually was remembering. The words of the master enabled her to turn the pages of the universe like a book. She no longer saw the gods in their human likenesses, but in their actual natures, as they formed objects and spirits. With the gods she penetrated, ascended and descended through space. Sometimes she had the illusion of no longer feeling the limits of her body, and of being dispersed into infinity. Thus, little by little her imagination entered the invisible world, and the former impressions of it which she found in her own soul told her that this world was real, was the only reality, and that the outer world was only semblance. She felt that soon her inner eyes would open, and that she would see the spiritual world directly.

From these heights the master suddenly led her back to earth by describing the misfortunes of Egypt. After speaking of the greatness of Egyptian wisdom, he told of its drowning beneath the waves of the Persian invasion. He painted the horrors of Cambyses, the pillaged temples, the sacred books destroyed in a holocaust, the priests of Osiris murdered or exiled, the monster of Persian despotism assembling under his iron hand all the old Asiatic barbarism, the wandering half-savage races of central Asia and the borders of India, now waiting only for the opportunity to fall upon Europe. Indeed, this gathering cyclone would break over Greece as surely as lightning must come from a cloud which gathers itself in the sky. Was divided Greece prepared to resist this terrible onslaught? The master was certain that it was not. Peoples do not escape their destinies, and if they do not watch unceasingly, the gods will even hasten the day of reckoning. Had not Egypt, wise nation of Hermes, crumbled after six thousand years of prosperity? Alas! Greece, beautiful Iona, would pass away even more quickly! A time will come when the solar god will abandon this temple, foreigners will overturn its stones and shepherds will lead their herds to graze upon the site of ruined Delphi. . .
At these sinister prophecies, the face of Theoclea was transformed with terror. She sank to the ground, and, embracing a column with her arms, her eyes staring, sunk in thought, she resembled the genius of Grief weeping over the sepulchre of Greece.

"But," continued Pythagoras, "these are secrets which must be buried in the depths of the temples. The initiate attracts death or repels it at will. By forming a magic chain of wills, the initiates can also prolong the life of peoples. It is for you to postpone the fatal hour. It is for you to cause Greece to shine; it is your task to cause the Word of Apollo to radiate in her. Peoples reflect what their gods do, but the gods reveal themselves only to those who call upon them. Who is Apollo? He is the Word of the One God Who is eternally manifest in the world. Truth is the Soul of God, His Body and His Light. The sages, seers, prophets alone see this; men see only its shadow. The glorified spirits whom we call heroes and demi-gods inhabit this Light by legions, in infinite spheres. This is the true glory of Apollo, Sun of the initiates; without its rays nothing great is accomplished upon earth. As the magnet attracts iron, so by our thoughts, our prayers, our actions, we attract divine inspiration. It is for you to transmit to Greece the Word of Apollo, and Greece will shine with an immortal light!"

Through words like this Pythagoras succeeded in giving the priests of Delphi an awareness of their mission. Theoclea absorbed them with a silent, intense passion. Under the thought and will of the master she became transformed. Standing in the midst of the astonished elders, she undid her black hair, shaking it out as though she felt a fire running through it. Already her eyes, opened wide, transfigured, seemed to contemplate the solar and planetary Genii in their luminous orbits, with their powerful radiations.

One day she fell into a deep, clear sleep. The five prophets surrounded her, but she remained insensible to their voices as well as to their touch. Pythagoras approached her and said, "Arise, and go where my thought sends you! For now you are a Pythoness!"

At the voice of the teacher, a tremor ran through her whole body and lifted her in a long vibration. Her physical eyes were closed; she was seeing with the inner eye.

"Where are you?" asked Pythagoras.

"I am climbing . . . I continue climbing."

"And now?"

"I am bathing in the Light of Orpheus .

"What do you see in the future?"

"Great wars . . . mighty men . . . victories . . . Apollo returns to inhabit his sanctuary, and I shall be his voice! But you, his messenger, Alas! Alas! You are about to leave me . . . and you will carry his Light into Italy!"

With eyes closed the seeress spoke for a long time in her musical, pulsing, rhythmic voice; then, suddenly with a sob, she fell as though dead.

Thus Pythagoras poured his pure teachings into Theoclea's heart and tuned her like a lyre for the breath of the gods. Once exalted to this height of inspiration, she became a torch for him, by which he could fathom his own destiny, penetrate the possible future and move into the shoreless reaches of the Invisible. This living counter-proof of the truths he taught filled the priests with admiration, awakened their enthusiasm and revived their faith. The temple now had an inspired Pythoness, as well as priests initiated in divine wisdom and art. Again Delphi could become a center of life and activity.

Pythagoras remained there for a whole year. Only after instructing the priests in all the secrets of his teaching, and preparing Theoclea for her ministry did he depart for Greater Greece.


33a. The Order and the Teaching Part 1

The Great Initiates