Mother Earth and Apollo

Orestes at Delphi. Python (as painter) Paestan red-figured bell-krater, ca. 330 BC. Trendall, Red-figured vases of Paestum, no. 2/244, pl. 91 US public domain vis wikimedia
Orestes at Delphi. Python (as painter) Paestan red-figured bell-krater, ca. 330 BC. Trendall, Red-figured vases of Paestum, no. 2/244, pl. 91 US public domain vis wikimedia

A few hundred years before the birth of Christ, devotes to the heavenly god Apollo took over the temple of the Delphi, once dedicated to the Earth Mother, Gaia (Fortenrose,1959). Before this, the Pythia had their say.

The image above is from a vase c. 330 BC. On the vase, we see the Orestes at Delphi, Athena and Pylades, as well as a Pythia behind the tripod.

Within the Delphi temple, the Pythia would mount a tripod so as to straddled a chasm. It is said that from this deep chasm the breath, the pneuma, of the earth arose. The Pythia would sit above a deep chasm, peering into the it, and being to speak the language of tongues, as language of the mother Goddess.

Some said that the Pythia spoke gibberish. This is simply not the case. All those who work with psychic life know that the depths have their own language. The earth mother, mother of the deep, mother of chasms, speaks a poetic language of symbols. She as much unsays as says, she unspeaks and speaks. Leading her children to worlds beyond words.

It has been said that Delphi was one of the “most important religious center in the ancient Greek world” (Taylor, 2005, p.467) The Pythia were a sisterhood of spiritual women, chosen “based on their aptitude for spiritual experience” (ibid).

The Pythia were the divine daughters of Gaia, the Goddess of the Mother Earth: “According to Greek tradition, the Delphic Oracle was founded by Ge or Earth herself, the mother of all things” (ibid). There is evidence dating back to 1600 BCE of reverence for this Earth Mother.

“A small town existed at Delphi as early as the Middle Bronze Age, roughly 1600 B.C.E. The importance of religious cults in this first settlement is shown by finds of terracotta figurines of female deities or priestesses (some seated on three-legged chairs or thrones), and a fine ceremonial rhyton in the form of a lioness’ head” (ibid).

The time of Apollo brought with it a transition. The old temple of Mother Earth were taken over by Apollo.

“The Pythia derived her title from the ancient name of the site, “Pytho,” as did the legendary serpent or dragoness “Python” that the young Apollo had killed there with his bow and arrow. The Python had guarded a crevice on the mountainside from which Ge pronounced her oracles to humans. By killing the beast, Apollo was able to claim the oracle as his own, though he continued the tradition of speaking through the mouths of women” (ibid).

Apollo was the god of light and sun, killer of the mighty serpent. His light was seen as a path to truth, and his warmth as a path to healing. As a sun god, Apollo is an image of the creative force. Very much equated with Helios/Sol.

In the Aeneid, there is a passage which shows the cleaving between two paths: one path leads to transcendent heights of the gods and the other leads to realm of soul, the early realm of Tartarus (inner realms, under the earth).

“Night speeds by, And we, Aeneas, lose it in lamenting. Here comes the place where cleaves our way in twain. Thy road, the right, toward Pluto’s dwelling goes, And leads us to Elysium. But the left Speeds sinful souls to doom, and is their path To Tartarus th’ accurst” (Virgil, Aeneid, 6.539).

The soul is sinful, the body is sinful, doomed to the inner caverns of Tartarus. In Theogony, the primordial deities were the first deities, all arising from Chaos, (the void or abyss). First came Gaia (Earth), then Tartarus (inner realms, under the earth) and Eros (desire). The souls who do not transcend early life are bound to dwell in the realms of Tartarus.

“Mother Earth, in many places took the place of Gaia in religious cult, and thereby entered into closer connexion with the realm of the souls below the earth” (Erwin Rohde, 1925, p. 161).

Not too long after this, the Christian God took the place of the sun god. The mother’s voice was silenced by the wave of Christianity that overtook the mother religions. The mother Goddess and her children (the Pythia) went silent:

“In about the year 362, the Pythia at Delphi received a visit from envoys sent by Julian the Apostate, the last pagan ruler of the Roman Empire. Julian was attempting to combat the tidal wave of Christianity that was sweeping away the old pagan cults, and he asked the Pythia to prophecy once more in order to show the continuing power of the old gods. The woman replied, “Tell the king the fair-built hall has fallen. Apollo no longer has a shrine here, nor a prophetic laurel tree, nor a talking spring. The water of speech is silent” (ibid).


  1. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)
  2. Linnaeus: The Compleat Naturalist by Blunt, Page 116