|Crypt of Necromanteion of Epirus|
Near Parga in NW Greece in the early 1980’s we were conducted round an ancient temple of necromancy, the Necromanteion of Epirus. Nekromanteion means oracle of death, or of the dead, and people went there to talk with their ancestors.
This temple of necromancy was devoted to Hades and Persephone. I remember our tour guide leading us up the river Styx. We actually waded up it and she maintained it really was the Styx and she showed us the entrance to Hades. At the time I believed her. Having looked into, I now realise we were probably wading in the River Acheron (marked Aheron on my tourist map). Acheron translates as the "river of woe" and it was believed to be a branch of the underworld river Styx over which in ancient Greek mythology Charon ferried the newly dead souls across into Hades. So I was nearly right. Here's the webpage I've consulted.
When we got to the Necromanteion our tour guide described for us how supplicants would come to the oracle to speak to the dead. The whole business, it seems, used to involve a lot of sleep- and food-deprivation, drugs, ranting and raving in the darkness and general terror. Some of this applied to the priestess and some to the supplicants and some to both so far as I can remember. Standing there in the cave it was easy to imagine how this must have been a very effective way of convincing people that they were getting important messages from the dead, or the gods. Doubtless not inconsiderable sums of money changed hands in the process.
But I ought to avoid cheap jibes when discussing these things as I'm sure genuine spiritual experiences took place here. I can imagine the Delphic Oracle was a similar sort of place and I'm eagerly awaiting next week’s In Our Time (30th Sept) on this subject.
In mythology, the Delphic Oracle used to wrap her predictions up in such a tricky way that they were invariably misunderstood. And whenever the Delphic Oracle predicted something bad, and people tried to avoid whatever bad thing the oracle had predicted, all they succeeded in doing was to tragically bring upon themselves the very bad thing they were seeking to avoid.
The supreme Delphic Oracle story concerns King Oedipus. His father was Laius king of Thebes. Laius consulted the Delphic Oracle, where the priestess told him he would be murdered by his son, should he ever have one. Not only that, but the boy would go on to marry his own mother, that is to say Laius’s queen, Jocasta.
So when Oedipus was born, in a vain effort to thwart the oracle, Laius and Jocasta exposed the baby on the hillside to die.
Despite this Oedipus survived and grew up in neighbouring Corinth. He in turn consulted the oracle, and in turn attempted to thwart its terrible prediction that he would kill his father and marry his mother. But the very attempt to thwart it by running away from Corinth, led him to Thebes where the oracle came to pass.
I'm halfway through writing up the story of Oedipus for my putative book of “ten stories your child should know”. But I'm stuck. It’s hard, a lot of messengers coming and going and names to remember. I still don’t know if it will work.