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.

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.