Campaign of the Month: June 2012
Oracle of Meridimnus
Around 2200 years before before the establishment of the Western Calendar (YS), a goat herder noticed his sheep were acting strange after peering into a particular chasm on Mount Artemisus. He looked in and found himself “agitated like one frantic”. At least that is how the legend goes on the humble beginnings of the Oracle at Meridimnus.
The effects of the brain altering vapors were ultimately attributed to a divine source. Other people began inhaling the vapors so that they could prophesy. But the gas was so disorienting some fell into the cavern and were lost. So a tripod was built and an individual was appointed to sit over the chasm and prophesy.
A booming industry grew up around the Oracle. Temples were built and rebuilt, priests were trained, rituals evolved and sacrifices were performed. Priests interpret the incoherent utterances of the Pythia. Presents are brought to both placate the deity and in the hope of influencing a positive prophesy. The Meridimnic temple itself has become one of the largest “banks” in the world. Meridimnus is a center for banking and commerce.
The divine nature and associated deity has changed a few times over the course of several centuries. When the profits of the Oracle began to decline it was declared that Poseidon was speaking through her. Later this changed to the goddess Themis and, finally, Apollo has been determined to be presiding over Meridimnus.
For over a millennia, people have come from all over Io and beyond to have their questions about the future answered by the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. And her answers, usually cryptic, could determine the course of everything from when a farmer planted his seedlings, to when an empire declared war.
The priests’ interpretations may have been more coherent than the Pythoness but they generally remained cryptic and ambiguous. Croesus for example donated a fortune to the oracle to find out if he should invade a neighboring country. He was told “If you go to war you will cause the destruction of a great empire”. He went to war and not only was defeated but was captured. He sent word to the Oracle asking why he was misled. The word came back that he wasn’t misled, he had been told that there would be the destruction of a great empire and there was — his.
Arguments over the correct interpretation of an oracle are common, but the oracle is always happy to give another prophecy if more gold is provided. A good example is the famous incident before the Battle of Saramis when the Pythia first predicted doom and later predicted that a ‘wooden wall’ (interpreted by the Athenopolians to mean their ships) would save them.
The Oracle of Meridimnus is likely the most important shrine in all Io, and in theory all Ionians respect its independence. Built around a sacred spring, Meridimnus is considered to be the omphalos – the center (literally navel) of the world.
The lack of a strict religious dogma associated with the worship of the Ionian gods also encourages scholars to congregate at Meridimnus, and it has become a focal point for intellectual enquiry, as well as an occasional meeting place where rivals might negotiate.
At the Oracle of Meridimnus, the priestesses are called the Sacred Sisters of Meridimnus. The name Meridimnoi is connected with meros or “to share or partition” and dimidiare which means “to halve”. The word Meridimnoi may have been connected to the Earth Goddess at the site previous to it. It is likely that the naming has bearing on the two gods, Apollo and Dionysus, sharing the temple at Meridimnus. It is also a factor bearing on the oracular rituals, where the one given the visions is always female, yet the one who interprets them is always male, a division or partition of the total oracular powers.
The first oracle of Meridimnus was known, as Sibyl and that became the title of whichever priestess manned the oracle at the time. The priestesses are intoxicated by vapors in the earth before they give their answers. This sacred temple is a favorite site for political leaders, rulers, rich merchants and others of wealth and prominence.
Any Divine Being may use an oracle at any time in order to give instruction to a group who is gathered there.
The Sacred Sisters take a “vow” to be in pure mind and body at any time of the day or night. They are trained and attuned to listen to the God-Voice within.