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
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.