Pagan Gods and Goddess of the Oracle of Mopsus

Vortices Notes
High Priest of The Goddesses

There are two Pagan oracles called Mopsus [moschos (calf)]. The first Mopsus, was one of two seers who made up the 49 man and one woman (Atalanta) crew of the Argonauts, who sailed the Argo in the pre Troy epic to retrieve the Golden Fleece (from which the Jews get their story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac). The other Argonaut soothsayer was Idmon (knowing), the son of Apollo and Asteria or some say Cyrene.

"Mopsus prophesied
From lots and omens, and with gladsome heart
Bade them God-speed to sea,"

as Pindar said, Pythian Ode, 4: 169-171. But Mopsus also, "understood the speech of birds," and when the Argonauts were weather-bound at Arcton, a halcyon hovered over Jason's head, then perched on the prow of the Argo where it chirped a message which Mopsus understood. This Mopsus is said to have been a Lapithe, (Lapithae) from Thessalia (Thessaly) in northern Greece and king of Thrace at the time the Amazons crossed over to Europe from Asia Minor. His father was Ampycus but his mother was an unnamed Nymph. Mopsus with the help of Sipylus [the Scythian] defeated the Amazon invaders and killed Queen Myrine in single combat. However, this may have been a later invention by Apollonians who wanted to take authority away from the Thessalian priestesses and their male devotees, the Centaurs. So powerful were the priestesses of Thessalia that it is said that Orpheus was killed by the magic of Aglaonice, who became famous for drawing down the moon.

Whatever his actual origin and kingship, Mopsus was considered great enough to have participated in the Calydonian boar hunt (even though the hunt took place after the Argonauts' return) and was prominent in the battle between the Lapithae and the Centaurs. He was with the Argonauts on their return from Colchis when they were driven into the shoal waters of Syrtis in Libya. He died there after being bitten on the heel by one of the vipers that had grown out of the blood which had dropped from the head of Medusa (the Gorgon) when Perseus flew over the Libyan desert.

"As [Perseus] flew over
the Libyan sands, drops from the Gorgon's head
Fell bloody to the ground, and earth received them
Turning them into vipers. Metamorphoses iv 618- 621.

A thick mist spread over Mopsus' eyes, his hair fell out and he died in agony. This was at the salt Lake Tritonis, near the Spring of Heracles, which is near the Hesperides and the Atlas Mountain--inland from the Sytrian gulf of Libya. The Spring of Heracles was formed when he struck a rock and water sprang from the ground. It is from this myth that the Jews get their tale of Moses striking a rock to give water to the Israelites.

Homer calls the ship Argo, built by Argos, which is also the name Homer gives as Odysseus's dog who recognized his master after twenty years absence. (Odysseus XVII:300) But it is Pindar, the Greek poet of Thebes who (300 years after Homer) gives the heros and heris the name, Argonauts.

The oracle of Mopsus in Libya followed that of casting lots in which stones, marked by the participants, were placed in a helmet and bounced up and down until one of the lots jumped out, giving a "yes" or "no" answer. Omens were also practiced, and as a Hero of the Jason Epic, oracle was given at Mopsus' shrine (near the island on Lake Tritonis) after the aspirant had sacrificed a sheep and slept on the fleece overnight to received oracle--the power of oracle being derived from the authority of Jason who had gained it from the Golden Fleece.

However, there was another Mopsus, also a seer, who was the son of Apollo and Manto, the daughter of the blind Theban prophet, Teiresias. His shrine was at Mallus in the Asia Minor provence of Cilicia, while that of his namesake was in Libya. Mopsus fought with the Trojans at the battle of Troy and as a seer gave his prophesies with his eyes closed [in emulation of his grandfather, Teiresias]. The connection between Oracle and the demise of Zeus has two of its roots in two Mopsus'.

Calches (Calchas--brazen), the son of the Argonaut, Thestor, was the famous oracle for the Achaeans at Troy. Homer said he was the "most excellent of augurs, who knew of things that were and that should be and that had been before." (Iliad 1:68) He was a priest of Apollo, who sided with the Greeks--Apollo sided with the Trojans. Three important prophesies center around Calches. The first was the prophesy of Gaea (Mother Earth), at the beginning of time. Zeus, before he deposed of his father, Chronus (Saturn) was in love with, or at least having sex with the Oceanid, Metis (counsel), who advised him how to dethrone his father. After Zeus became the Supreme God, Gaea again prophesied that Metis was pregnant with a girl child, and that if the child were born, she would give birth to a son who would dethrone Zeus and rule in his stead. This was told to Zeus by Prometheus, who further warned Zeus, "the child of Metis will end to the worship of Zeus."

Knowing Prometheus to always be correct, Zeus convinced Metis to make love with him one more time, and quickly devoured her when she was racked in orgasm. Later, when Zeus was walking by Lake Tritonis in Libya, he was seized upon with a great headache and called upon Prometheus to deliver him from his pain. Prometheus warned Zeus, "the pain you suffer is exquisite compared to the numbness which will come from relief." Zeus, not understanding the portend of what Prometheus said, had him split open his head with a three-man beetle and wedge. Out sprang Athena, full grown and fully armored. Athena was also called Tritonis, and had male priests instead of priestesses. And while Athena was loved by Zeus and the Greeks, it was she, the daughter of Metis, who set the stage for the demise of Zeus.

In later generations, the Cretan prince, Scamander, immigrated to Phrygia during a famine. There his wife, the Nymph, Idaea, gave birth to Teucer, who founded Troy. Scamander later fell into the River Xanthus, who was a God--son of Oceanus and Tethys, and the river was thereafter called Scamander. Teucer's daughter, Batia, married Dardanus, the son of Zeus and the Pleiade, Electra, who built a city near Mount Ida, which he named Dardania. Dardanus introduced the worship of Athena by giving the Phrygians the Palladium (a statue of Athena). Dardania would later became part of the city of Troy. When Agamemnon first devised war against Troy--ten years after Helen had been taken by Paris--he called for the Phrygian seer, Calches, who advised him in all of his important decisions, three of which are relevant here. First, he foretold that the war against Troy could not be won except with the help of Achilles. Then, when the Achaeans were stranded at Aulus by unfavorable winds, he foretold that the Argives would not be able to go to Troy unless Agamemnon first offered one of his three virgin daughters as a sacrifice to Artemis, in propitiation for Agamemnon having killed her favorite stag.

The daughter offered was Iphigenia. And while the romanticists would have Iphigenia being replaced by a stag at the time the murderous blow was struck and carried away to Tauris on the Black Sea, Iphigenia was in fact killed as a sacrifice to Artemis. This set the stage for the third prophesy of Calches which played a part in the dethronement of Zeus.

After Achilles had killed Hector, and himself had been killed by Paris (Apollo first shot Achilles in the heel), Calches foretold that Troy could not fall unless a virgin was offered as sacrifice. Sinon, the son a Sisyphus, and a loyal friend of Odysseus, entered into the intrigue which was the cause of the fall of Troy. He was bound as a false sacrifice, and left by the Achaeans along with the Wooden Horse. The Trojans found Sinon and brought him before King Priam who questioned him as to why he was bound and left behind. Sinon--having learned from Odysseus how to stretch the truth, told him that the Greeks had departed because he had been the virgin selected by the Greeks as a sacrifice. When he escaped, the Achaeans became disheartened and left for home. This of course was a lie, as the Achaeans were nearby on the Isle of Tenos, and it was Sinon who, that night, would let the Achaeans out of the Wooden Horse so they could attack the city from within.

After the fall of Troy, the Achaeans were again stranded by unfavorable winds, and the prophesy of Calches that a virgin must be sacrificed, came to pass. This time, Achilles appeared in a dream to his son Neoptolemus and announced that Polyxena (the daughter of King Priam and Hecuba) must be sacrificed to him.

Helenus, the brother of Polyxena and twin of Cassandra, had fortold the fall of Troy and that Troy would not fall unless a bone of Pelop was brought to the Achean camp, Pyrrhus (later called Neoptolemus), the twelve year old son of Achilles and Deidamia, must join the fight in his father's place, and the Palladium which protected Troy, must be stolen. All of which took place

When Polyxena was led to the sacrificial pyre, Neoptolemus was to act as executioner-priest. However Neoptolemus hesitated, and Polyxena, who had been fated with a long life and status as a queen, threw open her garment, and raised her head, offering either her heart to be pierced or throat to be cut.

The Goddess, Destiny, had come to Polyxena the night before and begged her to relinquish the pattern the Fates had woven, in order to bring about the destruction of those who had killed her father and brothers and destroyed her nation. Polyxena willingly released Destiny from Her promise of long life and queenship, and when offered as a sacrifice, grabbed the faltering hand of Neoptolemus and held his blade to her throat. When he again hesitated, she chided him for being a coward.

"What craven hand now stays that Fate,
when unwavering it did thrust clean through my brother, who in gasps
of death shrank before his father's eyes
in the hollowed chamber of my home.
Then you did shout your curse aloud,
`Out, out, thou strumpet, Fate!
All you gods, in general synod,
take away her power; break
all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
and bowl the round nave down the hill
of heaven, as low as to the fiends!'
Behold now, this one who recants his curse,
ashamed of life and fearful of Death's
darkened halls where none here shall escape
because of my blood.
Strike you coward, shrinking vine,
or return to the woman's quarters where your sire,
Issa, once did hide in fear of life and fate.
Here, I'll uplift my breast
if you should choose to give my heart
your cold blades depth,
and send me quickly to my doom.
Or here, with uplifted head,
take my throat that you may stop
the words which condemn you and your host
to the depth of Tartarus' pit,
where pusillanimous souls like yours
do dwell forever..."

In anger Neoptolemus drew the blade across her throat, stopping her word in mid sentence. Polyxena lunged forward, her crimson blood flowing over the hand and arm of Neoptolemus who dropped the short sword next to her dying body.

The soul of Polyxena was taken by Hermes directly to the House of Hades where Polyxena was established as a foster daughter of Persephone, along with Iphigenia. Neither death was ever atoned, and in time the Achaean all but forgot Polyxena.

Neoptolemus was later killed at Delphi, by a man who argued with him over the sacrifice made at Apollo's alter there. The death of Polyxena was never atoned, and no Achaean may progress in metempsychosis until Polyxena has been born again and lives her new life according to her original fate.

The human sacrifices of the Achaeans would later be denounced and even denied by the Greeks, but their fate was cast. Fifteen hundred years later, the worship of Zeus came to an end, just as Prometheus had foretold. As for Calches, he foretold that he would not die until he met a seer greater than himself.

When he arrived at Colophon, he met Mopsus, whom he wished to show up as an inept upstart. Calches asked the rival seer how many figs a certain wild fig tree would bear, to which Mopsus closed his eyes and answered, "First ten thousand figs, then a Aeginetan bushel of figs, carefully weighted--yes, and a single fig left over." Mopsus was correct and asked Calches, "To descend from thousands to lesser quantities, dear colleague, how may piglings, would you say, repose in the paunch of that pregnant sow and how many of each sex will she farrow; and when?" Calches answered that there would be eight piglets, all male, and they would be born in nine days. Mopsus again closed his eyes and said. "I am of a different opinion. My estimate is three piglings, only one of them a boar; an the time of their birth will be midday tomorrow, not a minute earlier or later." Again Mopsus correct and Calches died a broken man. He had no oracle dedicated to his name

Both sacred shrines of the two Mopsus' were built so lay people (non priests) could receive their own oracle. At the shrine of Amphilochus and Mopsus in Asia Minor, aspirants wrote their questions on wax tablets and slept overnight on a sheep's fleece in the shrine and dreamed the answer to their questions.

The shrine had a duel name because Amphilochus (double ambush) was also a soothsayer and an Epigoni (a son of one of the Seven Against Thebes). He and Mopsus ruled jointly at Mallus, but when Amphilochus went to Greece for a year, Mopsus usurped the throne and on Amphilochus' return the two killed each other in a duel over kingship. Their funeral pyres were placed so as to keep the souls of the two separate, but their smoke intertwined and the two being thus united anyway, agreed to give joint oracle as dreams from the dead.

Demetrius, one of the participants in Plutarch's dialogue On Why Oracles Failed 45, had visited the oracle Amphilochus and Mopsus and tell this story:

"The ruler of Cilicia was once divided in his mind on religious matters. He was weakly skeptical, I think, and on every subject arrogant and flippant. He had about him some Epicurean who reasonably enough had learned from their natural science to be contemptuous , and they themselves admitted, of things like oracles. And he sent a freedman to Mopsus' oracle like a spy into the enemy's country, providing him with a sealed tablet inside which he had written a question. No one else knew what it was.

"The fellow spent the night, as the custom is, in the sacred enclosure and slept, and in the morning reported the following dream. He thought a beautiful man stood beside him and uttered one word, `Black,' and no more, and at once was gone. It seemed a strange story and left everyone much perplexed, but the ruler on hearing it, was amazed and prostrated himself in worship. Then he opened the tablet and showed the question he had written there: `Shall I sacrifice to you a white bull or a black?' So the Epicurean were confounded an the ruler himself offered the sacrifice and ever after was reverential to Mopsus."

The sheepskin (fleece) upon which the aspirants of oracle slept were derived from the Golden Fleece which was not, as the ignorant believe, a metaphor for seeking gold in the area of the Black Sea. It is unlikely that any Greek (Danae) ever mined or smelted gold. It was far easier to pillage and steal than work for it. Nor was the Golden Fleece a parchment (sheep skin) upon which was written the secret of alchemy for changing base metals to gold as the even more ignorant claim. The Golden Fleece was the key, the authority of men to receive oracle which was previously held exclusive by women; and originally the fleece was not golden, but purple--most likely a black fleece which had been bleached out by the sun or in some other manner.

The true purpose of the Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece was to bring the soul of Phrixus back from Colchis (which was an Egyptian colony at the eastern tip of the Black Sea now located in modern Georgia) to Greece. Phrixus along with his sister, Helle, according to Greek myth, had been ordered killed by Ino, but were rescued from death and flown from Greece on the back of a Golden Ram. Helle fell into the Sea as they reached Asia Minor for which the Hellesport is named in her honor. Troy was built near the Hellesport in the next generation. But Phrixus was taken safely to the Egyptian colony of Colchis, where he sacrificed the Ram. Phrixus married Chalciope [King Aeetes' daughter] by whom he had four children. When Phrixus died his body was wrapped in an animal hide and set out for vultures to eat. Only women were buried in Colchis, after the manner of the Egyptians, while the dead men were offered to the Mother - Mut, which in Egyptian signifies both Vulture and Mother. The Greeks did not consider this to be an appropriate burial, and the soul of Phrixus still haunted his relatives back in Greece. In retrieving the Golden Fleece, Jason brought the soul of Phrixus back to Greece, giving the Greeks authority over the Cretan oracles. Yet despite the Greek vilification of Ino, it was She who was represented as one of the legs of the tripod upon which the Pythoness sat at Delphi. It was the Golden Fleece of Jason, however, that embodied the key for opening the door to commune with the dead.

Virgil, in Aeneid vii 81-96 relates the use of the sheep-skin by King Latinus:

"Vexed by such portents, to the oracle
Of Faunus (Pan), his prophetic sire, the king
Betakes him, and consults the grove 'neath high
Albunea, that, of woods the mightiest,
Rings with her haunted well, and through the gloom
Breathes forth a deadly vapor. Hence the tribes
Of Italy and all the Oenotrian land
In doubt seek answers. Hither when the priest
His gifts hath borne, on fleeces of slain sheep
Stretched him 'neath hush of night, and sought repose,
Full many a phantom flitting he discerns
In wondrous wise, and divers voices hears,
Enjoys communion with the Gods, and holds
Converse with Acheron' in Avernus' depth.
Here King Latinus, too, then suing himself
For answers, with a hundred wooly sheep
Did sacrifice, and propped up their hides
And outspread fells was lying, when suddenly
A voice utterance from the forest-depth."

This oracle was specific to where Albunea (Albuna) the Nymph with the gift of prophesy, once gave Her oracle. This sacrifice of 100 sheep was a Hecatomb, which originally required the sacrifice of 100 cattle. Menelaus, who was Mycenaean, when he was in Egypt and could not offer 100 cattle, sacrificed two Egyptian children as his Hecatomb and was driven from Egypt. Priestesses did not sacrifice animals in order to receive oracle. That was the duty of Priest, and under the new patriarchy [and Jason's possession of the Golden Fleece] a male priest received a sacrifice of a sheep "stretched him 'neath hush of night" (sleep) and received his oracle from the spirits of the dead who have not yet crossed Acheron, (one of the five rivers of Hades) which Chiron, the Centaur- ferryman, ferries the souls of the dead. Avernus, was the earthly lake which was at the gateway (cave) to descend to Hades.

The problem with dreams from the underworld is found in Virgil's passage, Aeneid VI, 892-897:

"There are twin gates of Sleep, whereof the one

Of horn is rumored, and real spirits thereby

Win easy outlet; and one finished fair

Of gleaming ivory, by which dreams of night are from thence

Sent by the Manes, which are by light of day are false."

Manes are the spirits of the dead in the house of Hades. But false oracles by dreams, like false dreams were all too common, and it was the living oracles like those at Delphi, Dodona and Cumae which were more revered. However the Oracle of Amphilochus and Mopsus was revered to be equal to any living oracle.

Copyright 1986, 1990, 1997, 2012, 2015 by Sabrina Aset. All rights reserved.