The Sacrifice of Delphyne and the Tears of Amber

Lately I have been wearing an amber teardrop pendant that I fell in love with that my mother looped around my neck after I admired it. Amber, for me, is such a sacred substance, contact with it is like merging into the very heart of the deity from which the substance came regardless if you are speaking of Heathen tradition in which amber is linked to Freyja in her grief of loosing her husband, or that of the Lithuanian mermaid goddess who grieves at loosing her spouse, or, as more relevant to my wearing of it, the substance coming from Apollon in his own grief as he flies into self exile at the death of the dragoness Delphyne. I have argued for some time that there is a deeper mystic relationship going on here than what the myth directly spells out. We do in fact see Delphyne, much like the mother of Apollon who herself is a chthonic underworld goddess, a chthonic being that is equally fearsome as she can be awe inspiring. The very sacredness of Delphyne highlighted in her sacrifice at the hand of Apollon and her continued presence specifically as a daemon of Delphi is a very important lens in regards to how local populations perceived of her. Even her Echidnae-like appearance suggests a certain higher quality than a monstrous serpent as we see her extend her hand to the god on the vase as he is seated on the Omphalos stone with his bow lax.

The relationship of Delphyne to Apollon is a very particular one as it is not really one of victor over monster. Certainly we do not see a mystic program of this kind when it comes to such mythic scenarios in which the dragoness dies, the god is crowned, the god flees tearfully into his own self imposed exile, and then gives offerings as one would to ancestors and heroes to Delphyne upon his return at the grave of the dragon. The close connections that have been made between Koios and the heavenly dragon, and that of Pheobe and Delphyne has suggested that there may be a maternal hereditary relationship between the dragoness and Apollon. That he flees to the homeland of his mother, Hyperborea, directly afterwards in this given version of the myth is quite telling to me (in others that are not connected to Hyperborea he and his sister seek purification but I think that this has to do with a confusion of two myths that are celebrated simultaneously at Delphi at the Stepteria in which there is a male “python” figure, a son of Ge which is connected to the mystic program at Delphi from what vague historical accounts suggests may have been connected to Tityos, who is specifically mentioned in Apollon’s Orphic hymn which he and his twin slaid when attacking their mother). With the shedding of his tears in his grief for the dragoness we see an emotional connection evident that belies any typical arrangement of deity conquest. That Hera entrusted her son Typhon to be reared by Delphyne also suggests a kind of divine status, even if the boy would prove to be a challenge to the authority of the gods it doesn’t negate the original gesture.

It is possible then that the dragoness is linked to his family and may even have represented a member of Apollon’s divine family. I have thought in the past that perhaps it was Pheobe and yet the allusions to her fairness and brightness don’t really seem to add up to the chthonic nature of the dragon. Yet it is possible given that nature of her daughter Leto, and the alternate myth of Delphi in which it speaks of the inheritance of Delphi passing from Ge to Themis (the lawmaker), to Pheobe and then Apollon, suggests a very earthly tied of inheritance. This earthly tie too would in part explain much not only of Cretan myth in which Apollon is originally the child of the dragon like Corybas who fought over the rule with Zeus, but also the general hostility of the Erinyes towards Apollon poetically attributed in the work of Aeschylus. In a way for a destroyer god of truth and justice to for all intensive purpose appear to divorce himself from his earlier role could be taken as a kind of betrayal in which he becomes a heavenly usurper. In other regions of Hellas this connection remains where he is addressed as being of Ge. At Delphi though when he comes to rule Delphi, we see an upset between Ge and Apollon in myth, not only in struggle over oracular function but in a version of the myth of Delphyne in which Ge rather than her father hears her pleas, but rather than transform her into a tree, the earth swallows her and a tree sprouts as a kind of graveyard marker which associates Delphyne herself with the honored dead who is present via the living plant that continued on in her place. Likewise Delphyne continued in presence as a kind of daemon of the place in a similar manner. All of this hints as a transformation of Apollon’s own cult which in earlier periods had a stronger presence in agrarian terms in his association with crops and herds as both a protector and destroyer. The traveling of the god via the boy representing him to the kingdom of Admetus in myth during the Stepteria is further invocative of this early function as we know that Apollon served him for a time as a slave. I would even suggest that a more modern confusion between the Hyperborea myth and the myth of his slavery to Admetus (and the tears being in this confusion linked to the death of his son, whereas the slavery itself is attributed both to his retaliation for the death of his son as it was originally and later confused to also be attributed to the slaying of Delphyne) may have something to do with this character of the god and the natural link of these myths on a very symbolic level.

The tears of Apollon are connected to this transition of his cult, it keeps him rooted in the chthonic world, even as the amber tears of the sisters of Phaeton link them to their everlasting earthly presence as poplar trees (a tree which has a suggested earlier cult presence in association with Apollon than even the laurel and I have argued may have been the originator of the black upright stone as representation of the god as a more permanent representation of this tree), even as he takes his place in more heavenly spheres. He is tied to everything here, as much as he is one of few divinities to have really tasted human experience and loss (the other would be Dionysos which says a lot about their link) as a slave to Admetus and through this experience tries once what no other deity tries to do but to circumvent the fates  and spare death, he who is the natural destroying force of death (which has a nice confrontation between Apollon and Thanatos in the play Alcestis. Even his pleas on part of the human race to not be destroyed by Zeus is invocative of his closer connection to that world than what other heavenly deities directly experience. In a way he is very much a bridge between the worlds, which is appropriate as gatekeeper not only of the home but also of the state of apotheosis itself. He is a freer of mortal bonds even as he is a freer of slaves, all of which makes him an important and often overlooked for subtleness of his presence, in the mystic cults of Persephone and Dionysos.  In many ways the association of Freyja with valkeries who choose among the departed whom to bring to Valhalla to feast with the gods and her connection with amber is a serving as a very similar bridge between states of being if I understand correctly. Or even with Siva and his rudraska which serves a mirroring role in his own myths as his own tears and him being the greatest guru himself, and a guru being one who helps lead one to higher levels of being.

Therefore the sacrifice of Delphyne has to be viewed in the context of a very personal one for Apollon’s cult that is tied to his own divinity and his own divine family. It becomes a part of his own personal sacrifice for which the sacred substance is shed as he departs as he grieves and for which is honored continuously. Amber represents these connections and his divine connection to us as much as to the higher planes, and for one who is devoted to Apollon can represent a unity and transcendence by wearing in his worship and devotion. To wear in honor of him as a reminder….especially during this season which is associated with his presence in Hyperborea, his sacred garden to which his favored ascended that we too desire union with him amid his sacred garden. In this way amber becomes a most holy and sacred thing in his devotion beyond all others with the possible exception of laurel and frankincense (neither of which is permanently wearable, although I have seen gold laurel leaves from leaves dipped in metal). Amber is a link to him as the link between the chthonic and heavenly, which plays on a lot of similarities he has with Poseidon as well as the seas have often been viewed as such a link and Apollon himself is a god of seafarers and harbors and good weather on the seas rather than directly with the seas themselves but serving a very similar purpose dealing with purposefully traversing this expanse from one destination to the other.


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