The Oracle of Delphi and how it has reached us
The Oracle of Delphi made her predictions and gave her advise in the temple of Apollo, located in Delphi, Greece, 100 miles northwest from Athens. Major decisions were taken based on what the oracle said. This was probably the most influential of the oracles of the classical times.
The mount Parnassus area, where Delphi was to exist, was the sacred place of the earth goddess Gaia. Zeus had declared the place as the center of the world. Her daughter, the serpent Python, guarded the place. Apollo, the son of Zeus, decided that he would kill Python so as to claim the center of the world for him. When Apollo arrived to Mount Parnassus, the serpent found refuge in the sanctuary of Earth Mother. Apollo killed her anyway and claimed the site. Later, he repented of his crime, looked for purification and asked Pan, the god of evocative music, to reveal him the art of prophecy. Apollo then erected his own temple dedicated to prophecy and an “omphalos” (center) stone was set on the ground. The site, originally known as Pytho, became Delphi (dolphin) in honor of Apollo. The dolphin is an animal associated with the son of Zeus. The Oracle of Delphi was always a woman and was called a pythia (pythoness) as a reminder of the serpent.
The site that we mentioned was occupied by Mycenean people from 1500-1100 BCE. In those times there was an oracular cult of the Earth Goddess. Around 1000 BCE, invading tribes, which could be the Dorians from the north brought the cult of Apollo, but continued its prophesying characteristic.
The last recorded oracle was performed in 362 CE. This institution, which existed for more than 1000 years as part of the cultural heritage of the ancient Greeks, was proscribed by the advancing Christian religion, a religion that was unable to tolerate dissent or choice (the word heresy means choice or the ability to choose in ancient Greek).
This is why pythoness and prophetess are synonymous words. Whenever we employ that term, we evocate the old Greeks and their rich culture. A culture that refuses to die and that will follow with us for millennia.