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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Europe’s last Blairite: Can Manuel Valls win the French presidency?

He first made a name for himself protesting against halal supermarkets. Now, he could be the man to take down François Hollande.

The election of François Hollande as the president of France in 2012 coincided with the high-water mark of Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party. That year, Labour posted its best local election results in 17 years, gaining 823 councillors and winning control of 32 councils in a performance that has not yet been surpassed or equalled.

Gazing across the Channel, the Milibandites were given hope. Hollande showed that a wonkish career politician could triumph over a charismatic centre-right incumbent.

The UK’s shattered Blairites looked to a different star rising in French politics: Manuel Valls. At the time of Hollande’s victory, Valls was the mayor of Évry, a small suburb of Paris, where he made a name for himself by campaigning against halal supermarkets.

His father, Xavier, was a Spanish painter and his mother, Luisangela, was Swiss-Italian. They met and married in Paris, and Valls was born in Barcelona while the couple were on holiday.

In 2009 Valls urged the Parti Socialiste (PS) to drop the adjective “socialist” from its name, and he ran for the presidential nomination two years later on what he described as a Blairiste platform. This included scrapping the 35-hour working week, which hardly applies outside of big business and the public sector but carries symbolic weight for the French left. Valls’s programme found few supporters and he came fifth in a field of six, with just 6 per cent of the vote.

Yet this was enough to earn him the post of interior minister under Hollande. While Valls’s boss quickly fell from favour – within six months Hollande’s approval ratings had dropped to 36 per cent, thanks to a budget that combined tax rises with deep spending cuts – his own popularity soared.

He may have run as an heir to Blair but his popularity in France benefited from a series of remarks that were closer in tone to Ukip’s Nigel Farage. When he said that most Romany gypsies should be sent “back to the borders”, he was condemned by both his activists and Amnesty International. Yet it also boosted his approval ratings.

One of the facets of French politics that reliably confuse outsiders is how anti-Islamic sentiment is common across the left-right divide. Direct comparisons with the ideological terrain of Westminster politics are often unhelpful. For instance, Valls supported the attempt to ban the burkini, saying in August, “Marianne [the French symbol] has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!”

By the spring of 2014, he was still frequently topping the charts – at least in terms of personal appeal. A survey for French Elle found that 20 per cent of women would like to have “a torrid affair” with the lantern-jawed minister, something that pleased his second wife, Anne Gravoin, who pronounced herself “delighted” with the poll. (She married Valls in 2010. He also has four children by his first wife, Nathalie Soulié.)

Yet it was a chilly time for the French left, which was sharply repudiated in municipal elections, losing 155 towns. Hollande sacked his incumbent prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and appointed Valls in his place. He hoped, perhaps, that some of Valls’s popularity would rub off on to him.

And perhaps Valls, a student of “Third Way” politics, hoped that he could emulate the success of Bill Clinton, who turned sharply to the right following Democratic losses in the US 1994 midterm elections and won a great victory in 1996. Under Valls’s premiership, Hollande’s administration swung right, implementing tough policies on law and order and pursuing supply-side reforms in an attempt to revive the French economy. Neither the economic recovery, nor the great victory, emerged.

With the date of the next presidential election set for 2017, Hollande was in trouble. His approval ratings were terrible and he faced a challenge from his former minister Arnaud Montebourg, who resigned from the government over its rightward turn in 2014.

Then, on 27 November, Prime Minister Valls suggested in an interview that he would challenge the incumbent president in the PS primary. After this, Hollande knew that his chances of victory were almost non-existent.

On 1 December, Hollande became the first incumbent French president ever to announce that he would not run for a second term, leaving Valls free to announce his bid. He duly stood down as prime minister on 5 December.

Under the French system, unless a single candidate can secure more than half of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, the top two candidates face a run-off. The current polls rate Marine Le Pen of the Front National as the favourite to win the first round, but she is expected to lose the second.

Few expect a PS candidate to make the run-off. So Hollande’s decision to drop out of his party’s primary turns that contest into an internal struggle for dominance rather than a choice of potential leader for France. The deeper question is: who will rebuild the party from the wreckage?

So although Valls has the highest international profile of the left’s candidates, no one should rule out a repeat of his crushing defeat in 2011.

He once hoped to strike a Blairite bargain with the left: victory in exchange for heresy. Because of the wasting effect of his years in Hollande’s government, however, he now offers only heresy. It would not be a surprise if the Socialists preferred the purity of Arnaud Montebourg. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump