Echoes of Childhood
Reclaiming Ritual

As a child I spent an inordinate amount of time entrenched in the world of Greek Mythology and my friends and I had elaborate rituals that provided the parameters for our play. This page honours the child whose play was filled with ritual and ceremony.

The Task

The task is to restore a ritual tradition, to restore a festival.

Rituals may be separated into two categories: Life-cycle rituals- baptisms, weddings, etc. Calendric rituals Calendric rituals are celebrated as festivals. They are occasions of community-wide participation and are characterized by merriment and a sense of social renewal In pre-industrial societies, festivals often marked the transitions in annual agricultural and pastoral cycles. They celebrated the human relationship with nature in terms of the bounty that nature, transformed by culture, provides.

The Pythian Games were a Calendric festival

Restoring the Pythian Games and the Eleusinian Mysteries

Ever since we crawled out of the primordial swamp we have spent a lot of time praising some deity we constructed and the rest of that time living in fear of Him. The Sumerians, Chinese, Indus Valley, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Incaís and Aztecs centred their entire social and cultural interactions to the benefits of the Rulers who were considered to be either Gods, descendants of, or their representatives.

Anthropologists have traced back the practice to Cro-Magnon man some 20,000 years B.C.E? You donít have to look to far a field to see we havenít evolved much since. Ritual isnít what most people think it is. It can be seen as formal (ceremonies) or informal (conditioned habits).

A considerable amount of documented or formal ritual pertains to such religious actions. However there are daily rituals that people are unaware of. Getting out of bed the same time every morning, brushing your teeth, going to your place of work, eating you dinner in front of the 6 oíclock news are just some of the mundane routines that the general population engage in. Indeed, it is extraordinary how ritualized our daily lives have become Ė have always been.

What is ritual? Ritual is elaborate and meaningful practices which goes beyond the explicit function of its action. It is anything that follows a pattern of action, a sequence. It can be driving your car to work at the same time every workday, always following the same route. Rituals as full-blown, symbolically-charged events can be the means by which attitudes and values are reinforced or, importantly, changed on the most fundamental, experiential level. It is the intent of most ritual ceremonies to make you feel like you belong.

History of the Pythian Games

The word music itself is derived from the Muses, the legendary goddesses of Delphi. Greek mythology is rich in stories related to music. One of the most well known myths concerns Orpheus, the son of the Thracian King, Oeagrus and Calliope, one of the nine Muses.

Mythology tells us that Apollo presented him with a lyre and the Muses taught him to use it so that he not only enchanted wild beast, but made trees and rocks move from their places to follow the sound of his music. At Zone in Thrace a number of ancient mountain oaks are still standing in the pattern of one of his dances, just as he left them.

After a visit to Egypt, Orpheus joined the Argonauts, with whom he sailed to Colchis, his music helping them to overcome many difficulties. There are many accounts of how he died. One says that Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt for divulging divine secrets. Whatever, the Muses tearfully gathered his remains and buried them at the foot of Mount Olympus where the nightingales now sing sweeter than any where else in the world.

The Muses delighted in feasts and the pleasure of song. At one such contest the daughters of Pierus defied the Muses in a contest of song and, having been defeated, were turned into magpies, greenfinches, ducks and other birds. Likewise, the Sirens, who were daughters of one of the Muses competed with them and lost. The Muses proceeded to pluck out their feathers and made crowns out of them for themselves.

The Muses discovered letters and the combination of these we call poetry. These letters were used to celebrate victory. Polymnia is so named because by her great praises she brings distinction to writer's whose works have won for them immortal fame. Perhaps it was Polymnia who crowned the Poet Laureate at the Pythian Games which took place at Delphi every four years.

The festival not only involved athletic contests but included musical competitions and drama. Unlike our society which had turned sports figures into icons, in ancient Greece there was no divorce between intellect and muscle. Each was viewed to be a necessary quality of the perfect man.

Pindar, a Boeotian poet made it his professional business to celebrate the athletic contests in music and song. When a city was victorious it rejoiced in poem and song. Thus these games furnished poets, musicians and authors the best opportunities to present their productions to the public, and the fame of the victors was diffused far and wide.

Homer was clearly present at a number of games and his reports provide us with the most accurate account of what happened during this time. There was a contest in which the fight between the god and the monster was represented; the prize a garland of laurel, which was Apollo's tree. The story goes that Apollo had fallen passionately in love with Daphne, the mountain nymph, a priestess of Mother Earth, the daughter of the river Peneius in Thessaly. He pursued her all over the countryside but just as he was about to overtake her Daphne cried out to Mother Earth who, in the nick of time spirited her away to Crete, where she became known as Pasiphae. Mother Earth left a laurel-tree in her place, and from its leaves Apollo made a wreath to console himself. It is this wreath that is placed on the heads of the victorious.

After defeating the Python Apollo took over from Themis the neighbouring oracle of Delphi, which was in historical times the most famous oracle in the Greek world. It was after this that Apollo instituted the Pythian games, which took place at Delphi and involved a reenactment of the slaying of the Python.

The Pythian games fire my imagination because they permit me to participate. As someone who has neither the coordination or the body to engage in physical exercises I have never been able to conceive of a time when I might be able to enter myself in any sporting events. I am prepared to move mountains to do whatever is required for me to enter the writing events. The Greeks insisted that poetry was a form of craft, of practiced skill. To prepare for the Pythian games we need to practice our skill and become deft wordsmiths. Let the training begin: Use the Pythian Games forum to participate and contribute your entry.

Join the Pythian Games Forum
Add your entries here.

Earn a Laurel Crown Award

Drink from the Castalian Waters
Create an invocation of spiritual dimension.
Commit to training on a daily basis.
Make a sacrifice to the Muse.
Write about giving up something or giving something away.

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December Solstice