Oct 102012
 

As for Orpheus’ head: after being attacked by a jealous Lemnian serpent (which Apollo at once changed into a stone) it was laid to rest in a cave at Antissa, sacred to Dionysus.

There it prophesised day and night until Apollo, finding that his oracles at Delphi, Gryneium and Clarus where deserted, came and stood over the head crying: ‘Cease from interference in my business; I have borne long enough with you and your singing!’ Thereupon the head fell silent.

Orpheus’ lyre had likewise drifted to Lesbos and been laid up in a temple of Apollo, at whose intercession, and that of the Muses, the Lyre was placed in Heaven as a constellation.

Some gave a wholly different account of how Orpheus died: they say that Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt for divulging divine secrets. He had, indeed, instituted the Mysteries of Apollo in Thrace; those of Hecate in Aegina; and those of Subterrene Demeter at Sparta.

Orpheus’ singing head recalls that of the decapitated Alder-god Bran which, according to the Mabinogion, sang sweetly on the rock at Harlech in North Wales; a fable, perhaps, of the funerary pipes made from alder-bark. Thus the name Orpheus, if it stands for ophruoeis, ‘on the river bank’, may be a title of Bran’s Greek counterpart, Phoroneus, or Cronus, and refer to the alders ‘growing on the banks of’ the Peneius and other rivers.

The name of Orpheus’ father, Oeagrus (‘of the wold sorb’ apple’), points to the same cult, since the sorb-apple (French = alisier) and the alder (Spanish = aliso) both bear the name of the pre-Hellenic River-goddess Halys, or Alys, or Elis, Queen of the Elysian Islands, where Phoroneus, Cronus and Orpheus went after death. Aornum is Avernus, an Italic variant of the Celtic Avalon (‘apple-tree island’)

Orpheus is said by Diodorus of Siculus to have used the old thirteen-consonant alphabet; and the legend is that he made the trees move and charmed wild beasts apparently refers to its sequence of seasonal trees and symbolic animals. As sacred king he was struck by a thunderbolt – that is, killed with a double-axe – in an oak grove at the summer solstice, and then dismembered by the Maenads of the bull cult, like Zagreus’ or of the stag cult, like Actaeon; the Maenads, in fact, represented the Muses.

In Classical Greece the practice of tattooing was confined to Thracians, and in a vase-painting of Orpheus’ murder a Maenad has a small stag tattooed on her forearm. This Orpheus did not come in conflict with the cult of Dionysus; he was Dionysus, and he played the rude alderpipe, not the civilised lyre. Thus Proclus writes: ‘Orpheus,  because he was the principal in the Dionysian rites, is said to have suffered the same fate as the god’ and Apollodorus credits him with having invented the Mysteries of Dionysus.

The Greek Myths, Robert Graves

 

Jul 232011
 

It was the last day of  the Sacred War when I first lay eyes upon the Tagos. I learned that he had come with many horsemen under his command and – together with the hoplites of Cleisthenes – finally razed Crisa to rubble on the Earth. As the cursed polis burned, however, a band of the rebels somehow escaped and stormed up the winding road to Delphi, where they set about slaughtering the saints in their beds.

I was thirteen years old. The saint Timocrates, who escaped the fate of the others while he was tending the holy lantern in the Corycian Cave, snatched me from my chamber and took me for hiding to the secret place of dedication. I saw the fear in his eyes as he spoke. “I must protect the temple. You will remain here, still and silent as a statue, and pray that the God stays with us.”

Then he was gone, leaving me to cower like a new-born goat in the cold, dark place, my only comfort God’s eternal flame as I listened to the sounds of death and destruction crashing like cymbals on the ground above. I do not know how long I was there, only that I moved neither lip nor limb as instructed and hoped the God would protect us, seeing as all else had failed.

I occupied myself with continual prayers to the beloved Deity, King of Light, until I was deep in his hypnotic embrace and did not even notice that the sounds of death progressively ceased, though I knew from the changing light that the sun had risen. When, with an immense clattering of noise – blood splattered but gleaming – a great warrior entered into that sacred space, the first thought to enter my sleep-stilled head was that Apollo himself had come to claim me. So it was that I ran with outstretched palms and tears of joy, right into the arms of the Tagos, my hair flowing like golden rain behind me.

The saints who tutored me were not like this man, who came to me clothed with the sun. He was handsome as only the God could be, that I recall clearly. When I recognised his costume and saw the insignia of Apollo upon his breast I fell into a trance, as if I were already the high priestess. I do not remember if he said a word then, only that he looked at me with a strange light in his eyes as he carried me up to greet the new Dawn.

Apr 232011
 

‘‘Then the maidens – those with honour –
Artemis in love, Selene,
Keep thee near the world as Moon Queen,
Govern tides and turn. Athena

‘You shall take the name, Minerva,
Teach the legions with your learning;
Help the Romans conquer Hellas,
Thereby, still be known as Pallas.

‘Hestia, keep your honoured status,
May the Earth exalt your greatness.
You, Demeter, shall be Ceres
Governing over every season.

Zeus who radiates with lightening,
Thunderbolts so freely striking,
Then be Jove with circles binding –
Halos – rings of dust surrounding.

Though I shan’t recall the priestess,
She who kept the gold-leaf mystery,
Shroud the oracle of Delphi
With the endless veil of history.

Aug 082010
 

It was at some stage during the Sacred War, when I was 13 years old, that a renegade party of Crissan soldiers fled from the carnage on their shores towards Delphi, where they set about slaughtering the saints in their beds.

I was already in hiding at that moment, alone in the most secret of secret places.

While I devoted myself to private prayer in this deep underground chamber, by their screams and the quickening of my heart I knew that a band of furies was raging above me.  I pulled my veil close about me to ward off the chill of that cold, dark grotto, my only comfort God’s eternal flame.

I counted sincerely on his protection, seeing as all else had failed, and as the night passed I fell deeper and deeper into his hypnotic embrace. Silence fell in stages.

*

It was the gradual appearance of light – awareness of the sun rising  – that brought about my return to consciousness. This and some previously unheard noise.

The noise grew much louder until – with a clanging of metal, blood splattered but gleaming – a great warrior revealed himself at the entrance of the cave.

I turned around quickly, startled and more than a little afraid. He had his sword drawn and the scent of the battle was strong, but I at once saw the insignia of God upon his breast. A glimmer of hope alighted on me like gold dust and grew with miraculous speed; in the blink of an eye I knew that my prayers had been answered and Apollo had come to my aid.

I arose and turned to face him, with palms outstretched in supplication, reciting a prayer of thanks for deliverance against the enemy.

He pointed the sword in the direction of my heart and addressed me in a cool voice. “Are you a Cretan maid?”

I shook my head and a look of what appeared to be relief crossed his face. As I stepped closer it was replaced by one of wonder and his eyes twinkled like stars in the half-light. Softly, he said: “Where are you from then child?”

I lifted my veil. “The Temple of the Sun, my Lord.”

He crouched down on one knee and scrutinized me with an air of fascination. Gently taking the weight of my hair in his hands, he spread his arms to measure the golden sections and then opened his fingers so it fell like skeins of silk around my shoulders.

My eyes rolled upwards of their own accord, and a split second before I fainted, he breathed between the parting of my lips.

Jun 082010
 

Now, since the god inspires me,
I follow where he leads, to open Delphi,
The very heavens, bring you revelation
Of mysteries, great matters never traced
By any mind before, and matters lost
Or hidden and forgotten, these I sing.
There is no greater wonder than to range
The starry heights, to leave the earth’s dull regions,
To ride the clouds, to stand on Atlas’ shoulders,
And see, far off, far down, the little figures
Wandering here and there, devoid of reason,
Anxious, in fear of death, and so advise them,
And so make fate an open book.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 15, on The Teachings of Pythagoras