Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Preparation for the Journey.

The pilgrimage stations down the valley at Ladyewell.

The mouth of the well.

Pausanias, the second century physician who took a couple of decades out to travel Greece, writes in volume one of his 'Guide to Greece' about the oracle at Trophonios, in Boiotia. He describes the consultation of the oracle (which seems to be a mental, rather than a physical presence) as being preceded with much preparation. It was necessary to spend a few days in a building consecrated to the 'good spirit' and bathing in the Herkyna river, eating an abundance of meat from sacrifices which also have their entrails checked for signs of good or bad fortune. These signs are worthless, however, unless they are positive and then on the last night, the sacrifice of a ram to Agamedes shows correlatively positive omens. He will then be anointed with oil and washed by two young boys, who have to be children of a particular bloodline. The priests then take him and the boys to springs of water, where he will drink of the waters of 'forgetfulness' and 'memory'. Holy things are shown to him which are never usually shown and then he prays before being dressed in a linen tunic, tied with ribbon. He is led through the sacred wood to a mountainside, where the oracle is approached by steps running through the rock. There run to bronze rails, with chains running between them, through these lie a chasm, into which the man climbs down a ladder brought for the occasion. He then wriggles his curious way through a sacred 'mouth' in the rock bearing honeyed buns, feet first. He then receives in some way the gift of the oracle, of seeing somehow a future event. He then wriggles out, presumably without buns. The priests then sit him in a special seat, ask him what he saw or heard and then let him go. His friends take him home where he, apparently in great shock, recovers, until, eventually, he 'can laugh again'.
Now this is a fine story, but why am I relating it here? Well, apart from the symbolism borrowed by the Christian Church in the anointing with oil, sacred waters, praying by relics and vesting of catacheumens in linen tunics, this strikes me as symbolically similar to our own pilgrimage. The line which I most like is the end, when the protagonist can 'laugh again'. We spend our lives on a journey to the oracle and back again, like one of those things children hold, which consist of a wooden circle with string at the centre, which go up and down, I'm sure there is a name for them. To and from the source of Grace we go, from Mass to Mass, reading of scripture to barren weeks when we believe we can go without, even, for those of us tied to a more regular devotional life, from morning to night. Barren lands can creep into the smallest gap in our life if we allow them to.
We are wont to be anxious at the moment. Anxious about the future, as though God who created the world cannot be served except through strife. That God cannot be served in war as in peace, in harmony as in disharmony. We would do well, as I reminded our group last Thursday, to follow the advice of St Augustine and to 'sing Alleluia and keep on walking', though all around us may seem to crumble, it is as dust and grass being swept away in the breeze compared to the might of God who created us, knowing our condition and seeing even before the oracles, how we would be. We have daily cause for rejoicing and for laughter so maybe we can all learn to laugh again and to rejoice in the world which almighty God created for us and placed us in. As the person seeking the oracles help was prepared, so we are prepared for the world and the afterlife by the rites of the Church, which speak to us of joy, forgiveness of sin, the presence of Christ and the love of God. We will continue decrying the numbers of people in Church and the 'way of the world' until we emanate some of that joy and levity in the way we present ourselves to others, as the people of God and as the Easter People, singing Alleluia and keeping on walking, joyfully, to the Kingdom of God, for that is the truth of the one great oracle, documented in the sacred scriptures and present in our tabernacles.