Delphi was, however, a sacred place as far back as the 2nd millennium BC, dedicated to the Earth Goddess (Gaia or Ge/Yi, which means 'Earth') and her daughter Themis (one of the Titans) who expressed themselves in the sound of earth tremors, rustling of leaves and the gurgling of water from rocks faults, the goddess hidden below, guarded by her son, the snake Python.
Female oracles, known as sybils interpreted these 'utterances'. Bronze Age shrines and figurines have firmly established that the Mother Goddess worship and oracular activity prevailed here, as well as finds at the Korykeion Cave on Mt Parnassos.
Sybils were found all over the Mediterranean and usually associated with sacred rocks and springs. From 1500-1100 BC Delphi was a Mycenean village. The structures of the Apollonian and Athenian sanctuaries which followed (around 1000BC) were built on top of the older Earth Goddess ones.
There are various theories as to the origins of the cult of Apollo, including Dorian Crete, Thessaly, Siberia, and to the Hittite tradition, where he was known as Apulunas, god of the gates. In any case, the shift from the feminine to masculine image of prophetic power paralleled the shift from nomadic to settled culture, with public decisions requiring spiritual counsel and approval. The first Apollonian temples were of mud-brick and the first sybils usually peasant girls who seemed to have intuitive capacities. The worship of Dionysos accompanied that of Apollo, presenting a balance of rational and 'irrational' elements-the latter representing the forces of nature in this place of frequent earthquakes and tremors, which had also been the center of Earth Goddess worship in earlier times.
During the Archaic period (roughly 8th to 5th centuries BC), a council was formed from twelve families to adminster the shrine of Delphi, and was called the Amphiktyonic Council. It met twice a year and established policy, a festival calendar, and organized the Pythian Games. Various city-states and larger regional powers exerted control over the shrine during the ensuing centuries: Sparta, Phokia, Athens, Macedonia. A series of Roman emporers built monuments and stoas there in a revival that followed a long lull in activity, but it was also sacked by Roman emporers such as Sulla and Nero. By the 4th century AD the voices of prophecy had been stilled.
Apollo along with his father Zeus, and his sister Athena, is one of the three most influential gods in the Greek pantheon. He was worshipped not only in mainland Greece but throughout the Aegean. He represents the principle of Light, pure intellect, spiritual knowledge and prophecy, form, moderation, order, morality , justice, poetry and music, sacred geometry and architecture. Father of Asklipios, he is also the god of healing.
It is not really so strange (though sometimes thought so) that he is also the god of plagues, since these were seen in ancient times as punishments for immortality (pollution of the spirit), and hence connected with his attribute of justice). His beauty is an ideal beauty. It was his province to establish temples sacrifices, as well as purification rites. His instrument was the seven-stringed lyre, which he perfected after receiving it as a gift from its inventor, Hermes. There were contests between the lyre (which represented all of the 'spiritual' qualities listed above that were associated with Apollo), and the flute (Pan-pipes really), which represented all that went with the Dionysian (excess of passion primarily). The slaying of the Python and musical victories of the lyre over the pipes is symbolic of the supercession of the new city (polis) based civilization over the 'primitive', nomadic life (and, simultaneously), the control of the 'lower' emotions by the 'higher' mind).