Arise, Pythias!

First published in Moondance, September, 2008 – December, 2008

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be the Pythia, the ancient Greek priestess who gazed into a libation bowl at Delphi and prophesied. It was in her power to guide the course of wars and empires as well as influence everyday matters such as marriage and birth. In the Pythia’s time, prophecy may have meant giving voice to the omniscient wisdom of the Earth rather than merely using her own intuitive abilities to see what would and should be. The Oracle was originally dedicated to Gaia, Mother Earth. The Pythia breathed deeply of the Earth’s intoxicating fumes before speaking. Now all our official prophetesses are silent, but sometimes I, and maybe other women, yearn to remember this lost art, practicing it as best we can.

In fact, I just returned from what could be called my oracle place, a lake in northern Michigan where I have vacationed almost every summer of my life. I love to sit by this giant bowl of reflecting water and contemplate who I will be, what I will do, and what my life should be like when I return to my everyday world. I made many transforming decisions about my life path including marriage, children, and career by that lake. Most women I know also have a similar sanctuary, whether it is a mountain, river, forest, childhood haunt, or even a city block.

Still, sometimes I feel that when our society stopped honoring women for formally practicing this kind of prophecy, when the water spilled out of our libation bowls, we gave up truly seeing the future and envisioning what it should be. When I listen to women talk about changing relationships or jobs or homes, I so often hear underneath these transitions the same question: “Will this make life what I wish it to be?” During discussions with my female friends, we talk about wanting a more peaceful, compassionate, ecologically sustainable world. However, we lack a concrete, detailed image of what that world would be like and how we would live our daily lives in it. If we could only “see” the future we are looking toward, we could progress there much more easily and surely.

The Pythia made prophecies only one day per month. Perhaps we need a Pythian holiday for ourselves, a time where we can—as individuals, families, communities, and the planet—dream of what we seek. We have so many holidays honoring the past, where are the parades and speeches celebrating the future?

Early fall is the perfect time for this new kind of future-celebrating holiday; the Earth and its creatures are just beginning to go into hibernation to prepare for the next year. I think that this year I will find one day to form my own personal vision of how I would like to live my best future. Most likely, my future daily life would start with writing something wild, graceful, and poetic, because I wish to live in a world where freedom and creativity are deeply valued as worthwhile pursuits. Then in the afternoons, I will harvest some herbs that I hope will be growing in a clean, abundant Earth. Finally, before night, I will spend time gleaning ideas through books, sharing through cyberspace while having conversations with others all over the world, because I wish that in the future, we ours will be a true global community.

What if everyone did these same things, clarified what is important to them by thinking about how they would spend a perfect future day? Then, what if, on another day, everyone described the essence of his or her future day and we melded these together to form a concrete vision of where we are going? Maybe we could create an achievable vision of the future. Such a vision would not be of a world where all act, believe, and live the same way, but of how we could all live out such universal values as compassion, respect, tolerance, and justice.

If finding a global common vision is more than we can contemplate, perhaps we could start by celebrating this holiday in our own oracle places that already mean much to us. In the nearly half a century that I have visited my special place, one challenge after another has threatened the water quality and land at the lake. Loggers, developers, and hunters have tried to take over the few remaining acres of forest for their own greed and pleasure. If I were to speak at a “future celebration” about my dream for the lake, I would wish that its beauty and wildness were valued through conservation; that its environment could be sustained indefinitely with ecologically sound practices; and that it could be a gathering place for those who are inspired by its natural beauty.

Even if these smaller versions of this new holiday never happen, maybe we at least can begin to honor and celebrate our women’s ability to prophesy. We could bring “women’s wisdom”—so demeaned and disregarded over the centuries—back into our daily lives. We could add prophecy to our daily “to do list” by inviting it into our conversations about the weather, politics, and religion while discovering what others wish for a future world. We can think about how our daily tasks not only could accomplish what needs to be done, but also how they could bring our values and dreams into being.

I wonder if maybe the final prediction of the Pythia was that women’s prophecy would be silenced for thousands of years. Let me then make a new prophecy to supersede that one. I hereby prophesy that, when it is most needed, women will be able to see inside their own souls and again guide the future.

Connelly, Joan Breton. Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Monaghan, Patricia. The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.

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