The esteemed Oracle of Greek history, the Pythia of Delphi, was well known for speaking prophecies such that they could be interpreted many different ways. They were not delivered in everyday language. Now why would she do this?
Perhaps the visions she received in answer to a question were very dreamlike. And maybe for some reason she did not or could not translate those visions into everyday, direct answers. Maybe it’s as simple as that. Whatever the case, there was always the very real danger of misinterpretation on the part of the receiver. In fact, there are many famous instances of this.
For example, it is written:
Nero was not worried when he heard
the prophecy of the Delphic Oracle.
“Let him fear the seventy three years.”
He still had ample time to enjoy himself.
He is thirty. More than sufficient
is the term the god allots him
to prepare for future perils.
Now he will return to Rome slightly tired,
but delightfully tired from this journey,
full of days of enjoyment —
at the theaters, the gardens, the gymnasia…
evenings at cities of Achaia…
Ah the delight of nude bodies, above all…
Thus fared Nero. And in Spain, Galba
secretly assembles and drills his army,
the old man of seventy three.
– – Nero’s Term, by Constantine Cavafy (1863 – 1933)
So what can be the value in receiving such a puzzle, when asking a question of an oracle in earnest?
Oracular messages or other signs and symbols received from mysterious realms are rarely given in the language of this, our known realm. Their origin is not ours, their delivery not ours.
And as humans, our perilous lot is to translate these enigmatic offerings into something which becomes of use for our ordinary lives. Alas! Much the same as receiving an image for contemplation in a dream, oracular messages confound. So this begs the question: is it possible that herein lies their power?
Could the contemplation of such conundrums, much like the Zen koan, potentially lead one to a state of awareness beyond the confines of the worldly mind? In other words, is it possible they can provide a potential tool for personal evolution? If this is the case, then the ability to confound is absolutely required.
And could the prospect of personal evolution in fact be of more value to our total self than the prediction of events for mortal calculations? Or at least of more interest to whoever or whatever it is that inhabits the realms where prophecies arise?
“In order to translate the metaphor, poetry and intuition imparted by an oracle or dream into everyday, practical understanding, we must somehow jump the gap between the feminine and the masculine parts of ourselves.”
But perhaps we should not be so quick to write off the value of tangible application for these phenomena. For true evolution encompasses the whole of the individual, and our day-to-day life cannot be left standing out in the cold. So let us look back for a moment at our example of the Delphic Oracle. It is interesting to me that in this tradition, for example, the oracles were strictly female. Prophecy historically has been greatly considered a feminine art. And this is perhaps because of the feminine affinity with the right side of the brain: the part associated with metaphor, poetry, and intuition.
But here’s where things get provocative. In order to translate the metaphor, poetry, and intuition imparted by an oracle or dream into everyday, practical understanding, we must somehow jump the gap between the feminine and the masculine parts of ourselves. We must literally traverse the uncertain canyon between the right and left sides of our own brain. And in this extraordinary effort, we are summoned by the ultimate shiny object: the prospect of wholeness.
In exploring known precepts for this undertaking, let us look to another tradition: that of the Iroquois Indian. The Iroquois of the ancient world gave great credence to the dream life of the individual, and based their dream practices on the belief that dreams were the language of the soul, and that through dreams the wishes of the soul were made known. As such, dreams required action in waking life. Action was the means of honoring the dream. Repeated failure to heed what the soul was telling a person through dreams could result in that person’s soul abandoning it’s mortal counterpart.
As the Jesuit priest, Father Paul Ragueneau who lived among the descendants of the Iroquois, wrote in the winter of 1647-8, “Most of the Hurons are very careful to note their dreams, and to provide the soul with what it has pictured to them during their sleep. If, for instance, they have seen a javelin in a dream, they try to get it; if they have dreamed that they gave a feast, they will give one on awakening, if they have the wherewithal; and so on with other things. They call this Ondinnonk, a secret desire of the soul manifested by a dream.”*
“By “providing the soul with what it has pictured to them during their sleep,” the Iroquois created a powerful meeting place for two distinct opposites: concrete action and the shadow knowing of the dream.”
Notably, some of the actions of the historical Iroquois mentioned may seem simplistic or crude in regard to complex metaphors of which dreams are capable. And certainly some dreams intrinsically have more meaning or significance for the individual than others, but to focus on these aspects of the conversation is to miss the point. The core of this historical practice, the gem, is the tethering that is occurring here. By “providing the soul with what it has pictured to them during their sleep,” the Iroquois created a powerful meeting place for two distinct opposites: concrete action and the shadow knowing of the dream. These are the male and female aspects within the individual. And by this meeting, that which is received in oracular sanctuary finds expression in the day-to-day world.
And so, it is critical to not judge the efforts of our own inner male to act out the knowing of our own inner female. The important thing is but to act. For to not act, in at least some way, is the only perilous course, much as Nero, who enjoyed the pleasures of Rome whilst his enemy prepared for his demise.
To conclude, the female cannot remain an island of femininity and enjoy the fruits of her full power. She must be able to find and activate a part of herself that is male in nature. And likewise. The male, adrift within a world of cogs and machinery does not have access to his full power. In order to enjoy his creative potential he must become receptive to the female knowing within him.
In this movement, a bridge is erected within ourselves, wherein the male and female have access to each other’s resources. And this structure is one that is forged by intentional effort. And the male and female become not as they were before this forging, but join to become a kind of singular, exceptional force. The two have become one. And in this there is much to be known.
* Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, vol. XXXIII, by Paul Ragueneau, page 191. Edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Published in Cleveland, OH, by The Burrows Brothers.