Fumes and vapors and interpretations

The oracle at Delphi and the wooden wall.

The oracle at Delphi and the wooden wall.

I’ve come to listen to my muse and trust that whenever a message comes through I should pay attention. Since the times of Greeks running around in bedsheets, the muse was considered to be an ethereal spirit, an honest-to-god being that threw ideas and desires at some mortal hoping the recipient would get the message and move on it. I love this wonderfully romantic notion, but I believe that the call is actually coming from inside the house. It’s the subconscious mind at work. When these inspirations and stray musings present themselves they aren’t always clear, so it’s up to my conscious mind, my logic lobe, to sift through potential meanings. But when my muse whispers, I listen.

For a good long while I have repeatedly been given this nugget to ponder: the wooden walls. It just keeps randomly popping up, apropos to nothing. I mean, I know that it refers to the story of the people of Athens and the looming forces of the Persian King, Xerxes. More specifically, it refers to the prophecies sought by the Athenians.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Xerxes, King of Persia is hell-bent on conquering Greece and burning down the city of Athens. Not knowing what to do, the Athenians consulted the oracle of Delphi. The oracle allegedly spoke for Apollo and tended to communicate in a vague prose, leaving the meaning of the message up to the recipients. Her prophecies were complicated but there were two main pieces of info imparted; flee the village and this line, “Safe shall the wooden wall continue for thee and thy children.”

 As much as Greek mythology is awesome, the Star Wars of its time, it’s not the point of this post. It’s what the Athenians did with that line that is of interest.

 There was a lot of debate about the meaning of the wooden wall, it could have been interpreted in a myriad of ways: an actual wooden barricade, a line of archers and spears, hiding in a forest, a pile of burning furniture, bombarding the enemy with lawsuits, or who the hell knows? However, one prominent citizen came forth and argued the fine points of the prophecy stating that the wooden wall represented a line of ships to face the invasion at its weakest point, the sea. The interpretation essentially went to the guy who had the most clout.

So, that’s what they did. And you know how that turned out*.

The reason I think this thing keeps popping up on my radar is that it is perpetually relevant to the human condition, specifically, how we perceive and interpret information. Take the Bible for example, it’s been a fairly consistent collection of stories and prophecies, at least for the last few hundred years, and people continue to find new ways to interpret the information to fit their own bias or agenda. How many end-times predictions have there been? How many divisions of the main branch of Christianity are there? And rarely do they see eye to eye on the messages presented in the good book.

 Of course, there are plenty of examples of mixed interpretations in the world:

Seemingly hard facts are either accepted or flatly refuted depending on who is looking at them.

 A photo of a pyramid-like shape on the moon or on Mars gets the alien theorists all abuzz, clearly it must mean something. A more pragmatic mind would just say, “It’s only a shadow.”

 Prominent political figures are both reviled and revered at the same time, and not just one or two, every single one.

 And, so it is with creative pursuits. 10 people can look at the same piece of art and it will be interpreted/received in 10 different ways. Love it, gorgeous, like it, Meh, piece of crap, WTF? This is why judging an art show is so very difficult, someone always disagrees with the outcome.

 Understanding this bit of human nature makes a few things more tolerable:

 For an artist who is brave enough to put themselves in the position of being judged, whether the efforts are approved of or dismissed by others is irrelevant. What is important is that the work satisfies the creators intent. If someone has a real problem with something you have done, it’s their problem. Even the artist can be confused about the meaning or level of accomplishment of his or her own work. I have many times created something and found that it isn’t until some time has passed that I can effectively assess its merit or meaning because there are so many ways to view something.

 If you are creating something with a very specific message in mind (like the oracle) you need to consider how it could be interpreted by someone else. Be as clear as possible. I don’t get the point of issuing prophecy if you aren’t going to be spot on. Why tell someone that they are going to cross a large body of water, everyone crosses large bodies of water.

 Just because someone believes you are flat wrong on something doesn’t make them right.

 If you are having your palms read or your tea leaves divined, always get a second opinion.

 If you are lucky enough to have a visit from your muse, listen and then act on it. But, be aware that your interpretation of the message will depend on your state of mind at the moment.

 A lot of life altering decisions have come about because somebody had a weird dream or vision. Maybe the moral here is never follow the visions of someone who ate spaghetti and pickles the night before. Or is currently vaping Sativa oil.


 I wrote this post recently on a flight out to Idaho, just something that’s been rolling around upstairs for a long while. On the way back I opened up my phone looking for a book to read, I chose “The courage to create” by Rollo May. I’ve had it for some time but to my memory I hadn’t read the whole thing. Three-quarters of the way through it I found a section on the oracle of Delphi, a different angle but still. Was my muse’s inspiration based on a forgotten memory of that section or was this a coincidence? I’d love to think it’s a case of great minds thinking alike, synchronicity, but it’s probably the former.

 That’s is a good topic for another post.

 One last thing, the art of the oracle at Delphi used in this post is public domain, at least the black and white part. I added on to it in order to further the concept, which you can do with public domain art. But, not to anything currently copyrighted.


*I didn’t know either, I went to Wikipedia. The Athenians turned the dominant forces of Xerxes away, never to be seen again. You’re welcome.







larry moore