Since I cannot travel right now (hello coronavirus pandemic!) I figured I can use my unplanned home time to travel back into my memories and catch up on long neglected blog posts. 🙂
If you don’t know that I am obsessed with UNESCO World Heritage Sites click on my list HERE of all the sites I have visited so far to get the low down. Basically I plan all my trips around seeing these sits and pieces from my college art history textbooks. I visited the sacred site of Delphi (of the famous oracle of Apollo) while chaperoning a spring break trip last year to Greece & the Aegean. It was our last day and I was hella car sick from the bus ride up the mountains, but the moment we got off and I realized we were up in the mountains all my sickness cleared. Gorgeous vistas & we even got to experience a religious event!
Here’s why the archeological site at Delphi is considered worthy enough to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
Delphi lies in the gorgeous mountains of Central Greece. This site contains the sanctuary of Apollo, visited by all those who shared Greek culture (called Pan-Hellenic). The first evidence of people at the site go back to the 2nd millennium BCE & it seems that development as a religious site began around the 8th century BCE. The site of Delphi was believed to be the center (navel) of the world; according to the Greek myth, Zerus released two eagles met up at this point. And at the site there are naturally occuring fault lines that may have assisted in creating hallucinogenic visions. Naturally the site developed into the famed oracle of Delphi where young priestesses would sit in the enclosed temple and see visions from the gods (for a price of course). The prophesying officially ended in the 4th century CE when it was outlawed by Christianity.
While we were there we saw something incredibly unique: a woman in what looked like a wedding dress and veil just standing there not moving. There was another adult women next to hear like a bodyguard and I overheard her speaking Italian to some teenagers. So I wandered over and asked her in Italian what was going on. She said they were an Italian school on a field trip about ancient religions and they arranged to get one of the now thousands of people who practice Ancient Greek religions to perform a ritual at the site (her words). I stood there for a long time and I didn’t see her move an inch. No idea what else was going on but it was a once in a lifetime convergence & I am so happy I was there to witness it.
I actually had a student my first year teaching that told me her mother had a statue of Hera in the home and they actively prayed to the Greek gods. This absolutely shocked me because I thought it was a “dead-religion” and it totally reshaped how I teach these historic cultures. For example, in my Humanities class I do not refer to myths vs Bible stories, I talk about all of them as “different religion’s stories.” Not because I want to downgrade Christianity, but because the words you use have impact and they matter. Why relegate Ancient Greek or Viking stories as simple “literature” or “fairytale myth” and not refer to Genesis in the same way? And I do explain that purpose to my students, right after I tell them I am a practicing Catholic. 🙂 I find that it creates an environment of opening, exploration, and learning.
P.S. I hate using the word pagan, but it is a useful word to describe polytheistic regional religions that predate Christianity (& were often stamped out by it). If I find a better, more neutral term, I will be jumping to that ASAP!