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 decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era