“Know thyself” is an Ancient Greek aphorism that means “know thy measure”. According to the Greek writer Pausanias, it was the first of three Delphic maxims inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_thyself
What is an oracle?
- (especially in ancient Greece) an utterance, often ambiguous or obscure, given by a priest or priestess at a shrine as the response of a god to an inquiry.
- the agency or medium giving such responses.
- a shrine or place at which such responses were given:
- the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
- a person who delivers authoritative, wise, or highly regarded and influential pronouncements.
On the Oracle at Delphi
In ancient Greece, the city of Delphi was home to one of the most important and well-known oracles. This oracle was also known as the Pythia. It was located in the sanctuary of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, which is situated on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in the center of Greece. From the eighth century BCE until its decline in the late Roman period, the Oracle was an important part of Greek religion, politics, and decision-making.
Pythia was a priestess who was in charge of speaking for Apollo. According to legend, vapors rising up from a chasm beneath the temple would cause her to enter a trance or state of ecstasy. In this altered state, the Pythia would communicate the guidance of the god to individuals and city-states that sought advice by answering questions and offering prophecies.
People went to the Oracle of Delphi for advice on a wide range of things, from personal problems to questions about the direction of state policy and strategy. Pythia’s responses were not always clear and left much room for interpretation, which resulted in both successes and failures for those who sought her advice. Famous prophecies include the advice that was given to King Croesus of Lydia, which led to his downfall, and the warning that was given to the Athenians during the Persian Wars, which helped them win in the end.
Modern day oracles
I personally am familiar with several methods of getting my oracle on; my favorites are the I Ching and tarot/oracle decks.
Today you might find a whole range of thoughts about the idea of an oracle. Skeptics might say that it’s bunk and some Christians might say it’s “of the Devil.” I know people who associate divination with pagan gods and/or psychic abilities.
Personally, I find divination with tarot cards, oracle decks, runes, or the I Ching to be a mental thing, and I considered it a form of self-administered therapy. Similar perhaps to a Rorschach test, we are presented with images that we can interpret for ourselves contextually in ways that might help us see things we didn’t previously see, or thing about things in new ways. While I don’t rule out universal mysteries like synchronicity or psychic powers, I find that my simple non-metaphysical way of looking at divination is useful to me.
Of course, “know thyself” is all the more important when it comes to self-reading with a divination tool; the better one knows oneself, and the more honest one is with themselves, the better their results are likely to be. Self-reading can be a bit like meditation and it seems to work best when approached from a meditator’s mindset: one of quiet focus and a contemplative attitude.
Over time, the prestige and power of the Oracle at Delphi started to decrease. This was especially true as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. The safe haven was eventually left to deteriorate and was deserted when it reached that point. In modern times, the archaeological site at Delphi has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a well-liked vacation spot for people who are interested in the history and culture of ancient Greece.
Was the Oracle at Delphi a product of sincere belief in the god Apollo and his human spokesperson or just a great way to make money? I wasn’t there, so I can’t say… maybe a little bit of both; humans will be humans, after all.
I sometimes wonder if “know thyself” wasn’t an inside joke on the behalf of the ancient Greeks… sort of a wink/nod to the reality that the best person to determine your future is you. No one is capable of knowing you better than you can know yourself, but getting to really know yourself takes time, commitment, and a willingness to face things that will sometimes feel uncomfortable.
Being generally skeptical, I doubt I’d have ever discovered the use of oracle tools had I not also developed an interest in neopaganism and the pre-Christian ways of my ancestors. As with so many of the twists and turns of the life of a polymath, this one came with unexpected benefits.
The bottom line
Self-reading with a divination tool is a form of self-administered therapy, and the better one knows oneself, the better their results are likely to be. It takes time, commitment, and a willingness to face things that will sometimes feel uncomfortable.