Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Discovered Heritage

Here she is. A terracotta Neolithic Snake Goddess from circa 4,500 BCE. She's just under six inches high and protected in a glass case at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete.

To me, she is a symbol of the millennia during which women were honored and society was more egalitarian and peaceful.

For more than 1,500 years, Crete thrived without invasion, evolving from a Neolithic society to a Bronze Age civilization (the Minoan) that managed to retain its belief in the unity of life -- and the sacredness of this planet.

It inherited the Neolithic culture of Old Europe which established these patterns as early as 7000 BCE.

I met the Snake Goddess on the first full day of the Goddess Tour of Crete led by Dr. Carol Christ ( She, amid all the treasures in the museum, was the item that bowled me over.

Later, in one of the shops across the highway from the ruins of the Knossis Palace (or sacred center) I bought a reproduction. I carried her around to all the sacred places we visited. Often, we would have ceremonies during which we honored our individual goddesses with libations.  I poured honey over mine so she is, even after several washings, a bit sticky.

Nonetheless, I honor her. I found a spot on the east side of my house where she now sits under a glass tree sculpture next to my twig from the sacred myrtle tree at the Paliani Convent.

I still have not absorbed her import.  Intellectually, I know that human civilization moved on. After more than 5,000 years of matrilineal communities, we took another 3,000  years to develop great literature and perpetual war on each other and the Earth.

As I sift through my memories and emotions, she remains -- serene and silent in my living room. Waiting, I think, for me to figure it out.

Or perhaps for all of us to figure it out.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cat Encounters in Crete

Cats were one of the first things I noticed in Crete. In Chania, our first stop, there were lots of cats. They seemed well fed. They were not intrusive, just ubiquitous. And every little store with postcards and souvenirs carried images of cats.

I only took a picture of one. This one lived at the Paliani Convent which is built around a Holy Myrtle tree.

I never managed to photograph the cats with whom I had a special connection. I was on a goddess tour ( Led by Dr. Carol Christ – scholar, author, and theologian -- we honored the sacred at each site that had been sacred to the Minoan people and their descendants.

At the convent, we sat on a stone bench curving around the ancient tree and sang a response as each of us tied a piece of ribbon on the branches with a prayer. There, a little black cat hopped onto my lap to comfort me.

I don’t remember now whether it was at Phaistos or Malia – two of the ancient Minoan sacred centers we visited – but a little white and brown cat followed me, jumped on a bench when I asked it to (how did it know English?) then gave me a good-bye head bump as I was leaving.

There were other cats – a tri-colored kitten in Mochlos, a beautiful little fishing village, and the cat I fed French fries in the Anoglia tavern. But the most amazing was the little black cat who guided us around the Minoan ruins in the town of Tylissos.

We had had a wonderful visit to the home of Marie and Stella who shared refreshments and stories before we moved to the ruins of a Minoan village around the corner. As we entered the complex, the little cat trotted up and walked with us as we walked and sat with us when we sat.

[Actually I do have sort of picture of him, climbing onto Mikai’s shoulder.]

As we were leaving the complex, a family was just entering. The cat abandoned us and trotted up in front of the new group. Evidently, he was the official guide.

Who could ask for more?

Sacred Places

One of the things that made my recent tour of Crete ( so powerful was the fact that at each place held sacred by the ancient Minoan culture, we performed a ceremony or ritual acknowledging the sacredness.

Many of the sacred places were in caves (most of which I was physically unable to navigate). The one cave I managed was Elitheia outside Amnisos. A rock formation at the mouth of the cave looks like a woman giving birth. Further back in the cave, stalactites and stalagmites evoked images of maternity. As we entered, someone placed an egg in the ‘navel’ and each of us poured libations on the formation before proceeding further into this homage to womanhood – accompanying each stop with poetry. I could not help but note that others had been there before us. Fresh flowers surrounded the birth rock.

Later, we went to Gournia, a completely excavated Minoan town.

  Like all Minoan settlements, it had a sacred center, a stone in a courtyard where the holy was acknowledged. There, we placed fruits on the perimeter of the sacred stone and, after readings, fed the fruit to each other.

On another day our bus stopped outside the Aphrodite Tavern in Kato Symi. It could not take us the rest of the way up the mountain. We transferred into two pickups and went vertically to a mountain peak shrine where a sacred spring watered a magnificent tree (and goats literally gamboled on the surrounding rocks). We gathered in a circle, taking turns reading Saphho poetry. It was magic. Then we clambered back into the pickups and descended. The afternoon was crowned by a feast at the tavern.

Each site, each ceremony connected me with a civilization that honored women and the earth. And with the rich heritage each human holds within her DNA and psyche.