Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday reflection on Crete

Like adolescents who, after they turn 30, are amazed by their parents’ wisdom, I continue to be astounded by my ancestors – our ancestors. I’ve done of lot of reading. Every year it seems archeologists, anthropologists, even paleontologists are discovering how sophisticated the ancients were – how much they knew about how the planet works, how the stars turn, and how to live with one another.

None of my reading prepared me for Crete. Part of me didn’t really believe there had ever been a civilization in which women’s values were paramount. Where generosity, nurturing and compassion were the standards by which women and men lived and breathed and had their being. I wanted to believe it but, like you, all I had to do was look at the headlines to know that humans are a nasty lot, tirelessly striving to dominate one another.

Or perhaps not.

Anthropologist Marija Gimbutas traced thousands of years when, in what she called ‘old Europe,’ people lived in peaceful, egalitarian societies.

One of the last of these societies was on Crete. People settled on the island somewhere around 7,000 BCE. These settlers were Neolithic – early farmers. For more than 1,500 years, Crete thrived without invasion, evolving from a Neolithic to a Bronze Age civilization (the Minoan) that managed to retain its belief in the unity of life and the sacredness of this planet.

Sometime around 1,450 BCE, the Minoans were wiped out as a result of a one-two punch involving a volcanic eruption, tsunami and invading Myceneans. But their heritage is still alive – in the caves, and trees, and springs, and ruins of ceremonial complexes that you can still touch today . . . and in their great art, which you cannot touch, in various archeological museums.

Like most of the world, Crete is now as patriarchal as we are. But there are still Minoan traces – Cretans are a generous, friendly people.

With Sally Henry, I toured Crete last fall. Our tour was designed to experience the past in the present. From our first gathering circle, we formed a community. Every morning, we repeated a blessing which ended with “As this day dawns in beauty, we pledge ourselves to repair the web.” In the evenings, when we shared our stories, we repeated the mantra: I am here, I am whole, I am [our names].

Ritual is powerful. Things repeated on a regular basis can work their way into our psyches. Circles are powerful. Often, when we gather looking into each others’ faces, we glimpse each others’ hearts. On the tour, whoever needed help got it. Whoever needed time alone, or comfort, or cash until we reached the next ATM, got it.

At every site once sacred to the Minoans, we paused before entering to be led in rituals acknowledging their significance. We took turns reading scripted rituals and, at most sites, poured libations over our individual goddess images. Often, we would sing songs or chants that seemed to echo across millennia.

Eventually, I began to believe that there really was a civilization that held the values of motherhood – nurturing and generosity – as paramount virtues. A society in which dignity was part of being human. It was more than the fact that the stone outlines of Minoan dwellings were all about the same size; it was the sense of community that vibrated up through the ruins even after 5,000 years.

We live in a culture of dominance. It’s not working very well.

What if we lived in a culture woven out of connection and relationship, built with authenticity, trust, and acknowledged interdependence? What if decisions were made by allowing responses to emerge from genuine dialogue? What if we honored the divine – in ourselves, in each other, and in all the components of Planet Earth?

We need new ways of doing things. The culture of dominance has permeated the air we breathe for so long we think it is the only way. It is not. Other ways exist. In Minoan Crete, they existed for nearly two thousand years. They are, finally, emerging again. With them -- with empathy, generosity, compassion and respect – we may indeed be able to restore the interdependent web of all existence.

Our Minoan ancestors got it right.