A blackboard epiphany in Ancient Delphi

How a schoolteacher's epiphany at Delphi led him to worship Apollo

A little over 18 years I first came to Ancient Delphi, and I have to admit that I only came on this first occasion for a "day trip" as any tourist does.

However, on that first visit I had this strange kind of religious or spiritual awakening; a sudden realization that there were other ways of looking at things from the way I had been used to in England.

I had never been a religious or spiritual person in my younger life and had always had a fairly scientific and practical outlook on life, as perhaps a maths teacher in a London comprehensive school tends to.

Nevertheless, when I came to Delphi, I felt for the first time that I was somewhere sacred and needed to spend more time in this special place.

Subsequently I have spent more than 12 years living here on and off over the last 18 years.

Most readers will already know that Apollo is the God of the sciences, not just medicine, but mathematics and all the other sciences.

He is the God of all the arts, music, and the God of prophecy - the mantic art. In other words, Apollo is the God of the "higher conscience" of humankind, our higher human spirit, and this is why he is also known as the God of Light.

This is not the light we get from a lantern, but the inner light and spirit in our hearts and minds.

Apollo for me is a divine force that guides us towards goodness and virtue, and away from darkness and badness in our thoughts and actions.

He has always been around I believe, all over the world, helping human kind in all sorts of ways with things such as scientific and artistic development. The Renaissance of intellectual, artistic and spiritual thought in the 16th century was to a large part in my opinion driven by the God Apollo.

He is sometimes referred to as the God who helps us from "afar" and we may think he has deserted us. The truth is I believe that he has always been there for us and often still helps us from "afar" today.

For me Apollo is not purely a "Greek" God but a God for us all. Many people will be surprised to know that the ancient Greeks had a big esteem for the "Ethiopians" - the word the ancients used for all black people and not just the small part of Africa called Ethiopia today.

We know the ancient Ethiopians worshipped Apollo, Poseidon and the other Gods from Homer and other sources. Apollo's mythical son Esclipius who became the God of medicine was a black man, and some believers today like me think it likely that if Apollo slept with a black woman he would take the form of a handsome black man in order to put her at ease.

This history of the Ethiopians which all black people both in Africa and the United States today can be proud of irrespective of their faith, has prompted the creation of an embryonic cultural movement in the inner cities of the United States called Black Apollon.

This movement is not religious but cultural, giving inner city younsters a range of cultural and work training opportunities and offering them "hope" for a better and richer life in a cultural sense. Apollo for me is not a white God - but a God above ethnicity.

At this moment of human existence there is much darkness in the world which takes many forms; from greed and selfishness causing things like poverty and global warming, to a complete absence of positive role models for many young people causing a prolifiration of drug taking, depression and suicide rates.

In my view this is partly the reason that Apollo is again making himself known in all sorts of ways to many people around the world, and that there is a sudden revival in the numbers of people who are beginning to worship and listen to him either consciously or sub-consciously.

The human race is at a critical threshhold at the moment, unparallelled in its history with real threats to its existence like global warming and nuclear polution. I think Apollo is also making himself more known again so that he can help us overcome our difficulties as individual people, nation states, and as a global community.

He is showing us a better way of solving global problems. For example, while President Bush is asking Congress for 200 billion dollars to fight the war in Iraq, the United Nations is going to give North Korea 5 billion dollars in oil each year to end its nuclear program.

The politicians must decide what is the most sensible way of dealing with these important issues and how to deal with similar situations in the future. They must consider urgently whether there are important lessons to be learnt on how the global community should deal with Iran's nuclear program.

I choose to follow and worship Apollo essentially because it gives me a deep and inner happines. When I say happy, I do not mean the quick and temporary happiness that some people get from getting drunk, or many young people find in taking drugs. I mean a deep inner happiness and contentment that my life has some worth and purpose even if there are difficulties along the way.

I do not suffer from the diseases of consumerism, financial greed, power seeking or other dark afflictions. I am free from these, or rather I try to be with Apollo's help and guidance. I am trying to build a temple for Apollo; not a temple of mere bricks and mortar, but an inner temple in my heart for him and the hearts of other people who wish to do the same.

These are the temples which I truly believe are the most important to Apollo. To try and do this I am based in Ancient Delphi for most of the year where I offer spiritual guidance and help to pilgrims who come here to visit this sacred place. I feel "called" as it were to do this work for the God since I first came to Delphi 18 years ago.

When Apollo first touches us or begins to reveal himself to us it can be very confusing as I know from my own personal experience, and so I try to be available as much as I can to talk about these and other matters with these pilgrims. Apollo is the top of my priority list these days, and if I can serve him in some small way like this it is a great pleasure for me.

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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.