The Greeks think of Delphi as the centre of the world, due to the myth that the two eagles that Zeus himself released in two opposite direction (east and west), would later meet again at Delphi. Delphi was also regarded as the sanctuary of Apollo, due to the fact that Apollo himself defeated Python, the serpent that guarded Delphi.
Both the believes that Delphi was the centre of the world alongside with how Apollo had take possession of Delphi by defeating Python were marked by a “dome shaped stone” located outside the Apollo’s temple.
HOW DOES RELIGION AFFECT THE CULTURE AND WAY OF LIFE IN THE CITY OF DELPHI?
1. ORACLE IN DELPHI
During the 14 – 11th centuries B.C.E, when small populations first occupied Delphi, the settlers were devoted to the deity of Mother Earth, Gaea. After which, the worship of Apollo began between the 11th and 9th B.C.E.. Apollo was celebrated not only as the god of order, harmony and light, but also the god of prophecy. The latter lead to Delphi becoming so well-known for the Oracular powers of Pythia; the priestess, that was believed to be possessed by the spirit of Apollo himself. Pythia would sit on a tripod and visitors from all over the world would come to Delphi to ask her for answers and guidance regarding their future. Due to the popularity of the Oracle and her prophecy, the number of Pythia increased until up to three women can served as Pythia at one period (Gnostic Visions: Uncovering the Greatest Secret of the Ancient World, "Visions and the Hellenistic Mysteries", pg.23).
Before giving prophecies, Pythia would undergo a ceremony that is usually carried out only for every nine warmest months out of the year with the entire practice that usually lasts one whole day. To begin with, Pythia would carry out several forms of purification. Some examples would include burning laurel leaves, washing in the Castalian Spring and drinking holy water. Next, there would be a ritual of animal sacrifice. Typically, a goat was sacrificed. Finally, a pelanos, a type of pie, must be offered by the visitors before they are permitted to enter the temple. Inside the inner chamber of the temple, Pythia gave her proclamations while in a ceremonial of trance. She would mumble words that humans cannot comprehend and the priests of the sanctuary would interpret her oracles and convey them to those who seek her help. Undeniably, the oracles were effective and accurate in predicting events.
2. PYTHIAN GAMES
As we have mentioned before, the city of Delphi were often regarded as the centre of Greece by the ancient Greeks. This was further shown by how it became the host of the Pythian games, that was ranked second in terms of importance among the four major games in ancient Greece (also called the panhellenic games). The four games included: Olympian, Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian. Pythian Games originated from a music competition that was meant to pay homage to their favoured god Apollo, the god of music. Subsequently, athletic events were added into it.
The Pythian Games lasted about five days each time. The first two were religious dedications towards Apollo; the first day included animal sacrifice to Apollo and the re-enactment of Apollo’s battle with Python and the second day was dedicated to the feasting of the sacrificed animals. The third day was a music competition featuring the kithara (lyre: a symbol of Apollo) and the aulos (flute).
The fourth day encompassed the athletic events such as foot races and wrestling. The fifth day was specially reserved for chariot races. Finally, the prize for the Pythian games were the laurel wreath, a symbol of Apollo, again signifying the importance of religion in the city of Delphi and how it shaped its culture.
Sadly, the sanctuary of Delphi could not last. In 191 B.C., it fell into the hands of the Romans and in order to support and fund his siege of Athens, General Sulla took its treasures. Several years later, Thracian Maedi destroyed the Delphi. Even though the Romans tried to recover some building, the Oracle of Delphi lost its spiritual power as it was taken over by Christianity. As by the Pythian Games, it continued to be held in the Roman Empire until at least 424 AD.