It is afternoon of the day when we wakened early to watch the eclipse of the Blood Moon. The magic still lingers. The eclipse had looked like great branches of light, inviting us, as Jean had said, into the next level of our human becoming, activating our essential humanness as it moves to its next possibility.
Now we are about to explore our lives, to see them as heroic journeys, to discover that next level of our human becoming, that next possibility that awaits.
Massive branches hover protectively above us as we gather beneath the ancient plane tree in the courtyard of St. Paraskevi Church on Mount Pelion. The tree is older than the story we are about to hear, older than the storyteller, older than the listeners.
Jean is going to take us through the story of “The Wizard of Oz” to illustrate the stages of the heroic journey, using the framework created by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The first stage is the CALL.
In the film version of the story we see Dorothy in a dying wasteland, living on a farm in a dust bowl with an aunt and uncle as grey as their home, so focused on counting their chickens that they cannot hear Dorothy’s cries for help. The only life in the scene is Toto and when he is threatened by Miss Gulch, Dorothy becomes desperate, longing for a new place, a place of safety and happiness, “somewhere over the rainbow”.
Miss Gulch arrives and takes Toto away. When the little dog escapes, Dorothy determines they must run away. They don’t get far. Professor Marvel receives them with kindness and understanding, then urges Dorothy to return home as her Aunt Em is sick with worry over her. That might have been the end of Dorothy’s search for a new life… the end of longing, the refusal of a call that feels impossible….
But then comes the twister, the twist of fate that knocks her on the head, picks up the house and carries it with Dorothy and Toto inside, to Oz.
So this is where our journey begins: the call to leave a way of life that we have outgrown, followed by a refusal… because we can’t find our way or we don’t feel ready or we must put it off until we have placated Aunt Em….
Then fate steps in and, ready or not, we are on our way!
What emotional or psychological twisters have you brought on yourself in order to get away from Kansas?….Taking on a twister is what human beings often do to get from here to there. And sometimes twisters just arrive on their own steam. (Jean Houston in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically pp.183-4)
What call allures us now?
What are our reasons for refusing?
Meeting the Guide, Crossing the Threshold
In the heroic journey, following the hearing and refusal of the call, Joseph Campbell found that the hero(ine) was given a guide, a supernatural helper to assist in crossing the threshold, which was guarded by a fierce presence.
Arriving in Oz, Dorothy meets Glinda, the wise friend who can guide her steps in this wondrous strange land.
Glinda is the archetype of the benign protector, a figure who appears in all myths. It is a figure that lives in everyone. In fact, look inside now and ask for your Protector to come forward. You may feel or sense their presence in many ways….You can even begin by imagining a radiant bubble of light coming toward you, and then opening up to reveal…who? (Jean Houston p.187)
Glinda will be Dorothy’s protector. The ferocious Witch of the West is determined to punish the girl who killed her sister by dropping a house upon the Witch of the East.
In addition to Glinda, Dorothy will gather three more allies: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion who will assist her in what has become her quest: to find her way home, even as she will assist each of them in his quest. ( to be continued)
What is it about early January and especially the Feast of the Epiphany that sends us into the heart of our lives with questions? What is my deepest desire for this New Year? What star am I to follow? How can I, like Brigid of Kildare, FOCUS on what matters most? And this year a new question rises with urgency: While the Corona Virus continues to bring suffering and death, how may my life offer compassion and light to others in the midst of planetary darkness?
Even in lockdown, even in these times when we are limited in our contacts, the primary commitments of our lives remain. Yet that are as well so many paths opening for our engagement: a multitude of ZOOM courses, summits, gatherings, many with a spiritual focus…If you find it bewildering, you are not alone.
When the snowfall on New Year’s night finally created a white wonderland around my home, I paced out a snow labyrinth, rudimentary, with three intersecting spirals. I walked it, holding my confusion, asking, “What am I to do? How am I to choose among so many activities? Where shall I focus my energy? What is most important in my life?
When I reached the heart centre of the labyrinth, I stood listening, still unsure, but as I walked out an answer arose, so simple I might have dismissed it… the labyrinth itself showed me. Choose from your heart centre. What do you love most?
Suddenly it was easy. Inside, I drew a labyrinth with three spirals: in each one I printed one of the tasks of my life that I do out of love.
These three involvements will shape my days, have already begun to do so.
And so we take up our task once more. We sit down at our looms and choose the coloured yarns for the weaving of a spirituality for our time. We know what we are about, our hands are strong, supple, as we select the shades, the textures, the combinations that harmonize best. We include the dark threads as well as the golden, the soft fibres as well as the tough. We know this weaving requires it all… the warm rose madder of love, that stretches across the universe for three trillion miles in a NASA photograph… the gold of wisdom, polished to glowing through times of suffering and loss… the deep purple threads that remind us that 96% of the universe , including ourselves, dwells in darkness… invisible threads of beauty wind themselves into the spaces between the weaving: music, song, dance, poetry, stories, the threads of the relationships that give meaning to our lives… and our weaver’s shuttle moves with ease between ancient wisdom, and the edges of mystic knowings of today’s physicists.
As the ancient weavers worked at their looms, they created and shared stories that wove meaning through their lives. The fragments of these tales that still remain reveal their ways of knowing… their understandings of love, of wisdom, of darkness, of suffering. Listening to these tales while we do our own weaving lends enchantment, as well as clarity.
Here is an old Scottish tale: “The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh.” It is a story that never fails to inspire me anew to commit my life to what matters most.
By the fireside of an ancient gypsy woman, there sits a young woman, barely twenty. Exhaustion and grief have bowed her, stolen light from her lovely sea-green eyes. For weeks, she has been wandering the moors, knocking on every croft door, walking through towns, seeking everywhere for her small son. His father is dead. The little boy is all she has left in the world and she loves him desperately. This gypsy woman, known for her deep wisdom, is her last hope.
The old woman stands, takes a handful of dried herbs from a cauldron at her side, throws them on the fire. After studying the dim patterns of smoke, she reaches for the young woman’s hand, and holding it between her two gnarled ones, she speaks gently: “Prepare yourself for great sorrow. Your child has been taken by the Sidh, the fairy folk of Ireland, into their Sidhean. What goes into the Sidhean seldom emerges.”
The young woman begins to weep. “I may as well die, for without my child, I have nothing to live for.”
“Do not despair. I see one hope. The Sidh have a great love of beautiful things; yet, for all their cleverness, they are unable to create anything, so must either steal or bargain for what they desire. If you could find an object of immense beauty, you might be able to bargain with them to regain your son.”
“But how shall I get inside their Sidhean?” the woman asked.
“Ah,” said the gypsy. “You shall need a second thing of great beauty to bargain your way inside.”
Then the gypsy woman gave her directions to find the Sidhean, blessing her with a protection against harm by fire, air, water and earth. The young woman slept deeply that night. When she wakened, the old Gypsy woman and all her people were gone, and the place of encampment was an empty field.
The young woman drank water from a sweet stream, ate some bread given her by the gypsies. Then she lay in the grass and wept. How could she do this impossible thing that was asked of her? After a time, the flow of tears dried, and a light wakened within her. She thought: “ I shall need not one but two things of incomparable beauty.” She set her mind to remembering all the lovely things she had heard about. Of all, she chose two: the white cloak of Nechtan, and the golden harp of Wrad.
With sudden clarity, she knew what she must do. She stood, began walking towards the sea.
She clambered among the rocks at the shore, gathering the down left by the ducks. And the blessing of the gypsy protected her from harm by the waves, the wind, the sun’s fire and the sharp rocks.
She sat on a large stone to weave the down into a cloak. She cut a strand of her her hair with a sharp rock. With it she wove a pattern of fruits, flowers and vines through the hem. The cloak was so beautiful it might have been a white cloud fallen from the sky. She hid the cloak behind a gorse bush, then walked the shoreline until she found a frame for her harp, a fish bone just the right size and and shape. With strands of her hair, she made the strings fast to the frame, then tightened and tuned them. The sound of the melody she played was so lovely that the birds of the air paused in mid-flight to listen.
She placed the cloak around her, and carrying her harp, set out for the Sidhean.
A Sidh woman, arriving late, rushing towards the opening in the hill, saw her. Mouth agape, eyes burning with greed, the fairy gazed at the cloak. A bargain was struck. The fairy woman allowed her to enter in exchange for the cloak. The other Sidh folk were so enthralled by the cloak the fairy woman wore that they did not notice as the young woman walked into the throne room and began to play her harp before the King. The king’s eyes grew wide in amazement, then narrow in greed.
“I have many harps ,” said the King, pretending disinterest, “but I have a mind to add that to my collection. What will you take in exchange for it? ”
The young woman said “Give me the human child you have here.”
The King whispered to his servants who brought a great caulron of jewels, which they poured at her feet. But she would not look. “Only the child,” she said. The servants came a second time with a cauldron of gold pieces. Again she did not look, but played on her harp a tune of such love and longing that the King was overcome.
The servants were sent out and returned carrying the child. When he saw his mother, he gurgled with delight, and stretched out his arms to her. Letting the harp be taken from her, she lifted her arms to receive him. Then she walked with him out of the Sidhean.
How does this story speak to your own life? What is for you the one thing for which you would give all?
The woman created what she needed, two things of incomparable beauty, using what the seashore offered, and even her own hair… how do we create what is needed from the substance of our lives?
On our last morning on Paros, in the time before the ferry departed, I was walking in the town, disappointed to find that the shops were not yet open… on one narrow street I saw a small building with an open doorway.
I walked inside, found a tiny darkened chapel with lighted red lamps near Icons. On the right wall an Icon of Mary drew me.
I stood spellbound. I felt invited to rededicate my life to the Sacred Feminine…..I recited Rilke’s poem that seems to be spoken by Her:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Still, I could not go. I kept gazing at the Icon. Then I saw the Child in Mary’s arms.
Suddenly the “Sealskin, Soulskin” story in C.P. Estes’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves came to me.
I recalled the teaching that when a woman has found her soul, it is her spirit (her son) that she sends to do her work in the world.
I recalled the words that the Sealwoman spoke to her son as she placed him on the shore in the moonlight, “Only touch what I have touched and I shall breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.”
I felt that the Sacred Feminine was promising me the same, as well as inviting me to send my spirit – my work — into the world.
In the five years since that encounter, my understanding about what my work is has grown and deepened within the small circle that encompasses my life. The Year 2020 has called me beyond that space.
With you, I have come to see the expanded reality where so much more is being asked of us. Now, fifteen years after I first heard Jean Houston describe the calling of our time, I understand this is not about some future urgency. It’s now.
Here are Jean’s words:
Throughout history and all over the world, people have felt a yearning to be more, a longing to push the membrane of the possible. Never so much more as those living today. People feel called to a life of new being. Much of the urgency that you may have felt these last years, moving between stress and distress, the sense of living in an outmoded condition, the exhilaration before what is not yet, the dread of leaving the womb of the old era – comes from the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.
Birth is a journey. Second birth is as great a journey. In the womb of new becoming it means laying down new pathways in the body and in the senses to take in the news of this remarkable world. It means extending the field of your psychology so that there is more of you to do so much of this. It demands that you choose a richer, juicier story, even a new myth, by which to comprehend your life and that you begin to live out of it. And, most important of all, it asks that you be sourced and re-sourced in God, spirit, the cosmic mind, the quantum field, – the love that moves the sun and all of the stars. (Jean Houston)
For this new story, this new myth, we may look to Mary, Mother of Jesus, as an Archetype. Mary will guide us into this entirely new time. Mary, called from a quiet life in a small village to become the mother of a child who would change history by rebirthing all we understand of Love.
That is our calling: to birth, to rebirth life on our planet, to be willing, as Mary was willing, to endure the birth pangs of a human and social evolution that is upon us.
Once more, I turn to John O’Donohue to guide our entry into Mary’s experience. Here is his poem, “Nativity”:
No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.
Even the moon leaves her when she opens
Deeper into the ripple in her womb
That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.
Someone is coming ashore inside her.
A face deciphers itself from water
And she curves around the gathering wave,
Opening to offer the life it craves.
In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,
She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.
A red wire of pain feeds through every vein
Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.
Outside each other now, she sees him first.
Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.
John O’Donohue (from Connemara Blues Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000)
On the Greek island of Paros, we come upon a magnificent Church, built by the Roman Emperor Constantine to fufill a promise made by his mother Helena. The Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani (Our Lady of a Hundred Doors) is the oldest remaining Byzantine church in Greece.
Calliope (“Kapi”), our Greek guide, tells us of the Church:
In 326, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, sailed for the Holy Land to find the True Cross. Stopping on Paros, she had a vision of success and vowed to build a church there. She founded it but died before it was built. Her son built the church in 328 as a wooden-roof basilica. Two centuries later, Justinian the Great, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, had the church splendidly rebuilt with a dome. The emperor appointed Isidorus, one of the two architects of Constantinople’s famed Hagia Sophia, to design it.
Inside, two large, luminous icons of Mary greet us. Affixed to the lower frame of the icons we see images made of gold and silver in shapes depicting eyes, legs, arms….. Our guide, Calliope, tells us that these are offerings given in thanksgiving for a healing.
Kapi reminds us that we saw something similar in the Museum: plaster representations of an arm or a leg that was healed, offered in thanksgiving to the healer god Asclepius.
silver image of an eye
The dogmas change; the traditions go on, Kapi comments, revealing yet another way in which Greek spirituality is part of a continuum from ancient days. Where once the Greeks sought healing from Asclepius, they now turn to Mary in their need.
On this beautiful island in the Aegean, the mystery of Mary of Nazareth confronts us. A woman wrapped in silence, the one who waits in the shadow for the great birthing, who “ponders in her heart” the wonders that follow upon the coming of her child.
As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus, the One whose coming brings Light at the darkest time of the year,
Mary is a companion, a guide, a friend who walks with us in the darkness.
Mary has left us no written word. The little we know of her from the Gospels is sketchy at best, her appearances brief, her words cryptic. Yet her influence on Christian spirituality is staggering in its power.
Who is this woman, and how has she risen from a quiet life in the outposts of the Roman Empire to become, as the Church proclaims her, “Queen of Heaven and Earth”?
When we first meet Mary in the Gospels, she is being offered an invitation. The Irish poet John O’Donohue imagines the scene:
Cast from afar before the stones were born And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour, The words have waited for the hunger in her To become the silence where they could form.
The day’s last light frames her by the window, A young woman with distance in her gaze, She could never imagine the surprise That is hovering over her life now.
The sentence awakens like a raven, Fluttering and dark, opening her heart To nest the voice that first whispered the earth From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.
She offers to mother the shadow’s child; Her untouched life becoming wild inside.
Where does our story touch Mary’s? Where are the meeting points? What are the words waiting for the hunger in us “to become the silence where they could form”? This might be a question to ask in our daily contemplative time… when our hearts open, will they also become a nest for a new birthing of the Holy?
From Jean Houston, we have learned that this is no time to modestly refuse any call that smacks of greatness.
The urgent needs of our time require a “yes” to the conception, followed by the birthing, of newness.
Here are Jean’s words, reflecting upon the call of Mary, the call of each of us:
Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you, which you have probably disowned over and over again becauseit wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe, because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),because it didn’t fit conventional reality, because… because… because….
What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen. (Jean Houston in Godseed p. 38)
But nonetheless it is our call.
Mary’s story gives us the courage to say “yes” without knowing where that “yes” may lead.
It is enough to know that our own life, like Mary’s, is about to become “wild inside”.
On the morning following our Nature Walk among the trees, bushes, healing plants and flowers of Mount Pelion, we find our way to the dining room where large windows overlook the mountainside. Gazing at the view, we enjoy Greek yogurt, honey, fresh bread and fruit. After breakfast, Jean gathers us into a small sitting room where we each find a space on a cushion, a chair, a couch or the floor.
“We are all connected with the deep ecology of the universe,” Jean says, drawing us into the theme for her morning’s teaching, which is to be based on Duane Elgin’s book, The Living Universe. As Elgin’s mentor, Jean had assisted him with the book’s development.
“Natural settings like Mount Pelion give us potent awareness of this.” The universe, Jean tells us, is being continuously recreated and we ourselves are part of this rebirthing, capable of working with the realities of space and time, capable of changing realities.
Just as the universe is 96 % dark matter so too with us: our own possibilities are hidden. Yet we are part of a vast support system. In deep relationship with spiritual power, we partake with the universe in a process of interdependent co-arising. We experience what Jesus knew when he said, “The Father and I are one.”
Physicist David Bohm described the universe as “an undivided wholeness in flowing movement”, a single symphony of expression being regenerated at each moment. We are limited only by our consciousness, by our awareness.
“Your identity is equal to your consciousness of it,” Jean tells us.
We live in the clear light of mother universe, an ocean of luminosity, presenting itself to us as transparent. The nature of reality is more akin to music than to machine. A vast “Indra’s Net”, reality resonates with each bead that rings. Every bonded particle is in resonance with every other particle. We are present to the farthest star. Listen to it all, for our ears have the capacity for infinite dimensionality.
How our consciousness grows determines the harmonious structure of probability: the intended music of our consciousness structures what happens in our life. Our thought is a request for mirroring. Our physical bodies are anchors for light. Our life can change in an instant through awakening.
This IS the time of the great awakening: our own reflective human consciousness allows the planet to advance itself through us as we awaken. That’s why everything of the older order is breaking down.
In the Axial Age, around 600 BC (within an era stretching from 900 to 200 BC), the great religions rose to set the direction of spirituality for millennia. In a time of extreme violence and warfare, religions responded by putting Compassion at the centre.
Now we have lost the story and need a new one in response to looming conflicts related to the scarcity of resources. We need the GREAT AWAKENING in this time of huge collapse and Re-Creation. We respond by radical transformation, discovering the reality of our universe.
Material deprivation leads to spiritual abundance. Our species has been in adolescence. Now we are maturing into the promise of a hopeful future as we grow into awareness of our responsibility. Pope Francis is speaking as “the first adult”.
We need to hold an image of ourselves as pioneers of a new way, in an unprecedented rite of passage, building a new relationship with the earth after millennia of separation from nature. Our powers are now so great that they threaten life on this planet.
We begin to make our way back to a harmonious relationship with the earth. We are a witnessing species now transparent to each other.
We are a cosmic species, children of a living cosmos, with purpose to our lives.
The sense of connection awakens as we see ourselves as part of the living universe: the offspring.
Humanity is on a heroic journey into awakening, living within a living universe. There is a mutuality of knowing between the universe and ourselves, a sense of belonging. We need only the social will to claim the connection.
PAY ATTENTION, Jean tells us, as decisions of monumental importance for our future are made.
It is still full darkness the following morning when I waken with sudden knowing. 5:20 am. Time of the eclipse. Full moon. Blood moon.
I pull on a warm robe over pajamas, push my feet into sandals, hurry outside.
Some of my companions are walking around the perimeter of the hotel trying to locate the moon in this blackened cloud-shrouded sky.
I see a bright light just above the hotel’s front entrance. I stand here, a solitary watcher gazing at the sky. This may be part of the eclipse. Yes, it must be. I wait, gazing.
I hear Jean’s voice behind me: “That’s not the moon. That’s the Morning Star.”
A wind separates the clouds. We follow the light further along the road. Darkness. Light. The clouds part to reveal a reddish tinge.
The Blood Moon. The eclipse. We watch, wrapt in silence….
a reddiish tinge: Blood Moon
No teacher on the planet could wish for a better illustration of her teaching.
Nor could any teacher make better magic of the moment, noting the emergence: “The next level of your human becoming,” Jean says into the radiant darkness. “Feel it. Look out at the great branching of light….it looks like an angelic light, permeating through the sky, this sky of your own becoming, in this magnificent cosmic visual display. Great angelic forms. Just look at this phenomenal reality: potent and bright.
“an angelic light, permeating…this sky of your own becoming”
“The great branching out. As within, so without; as without, so within. Feel this branching, this activation of your essential humanness as it moves to its next possibility….the branching that is happening so powerfully now.
“Isn’t it glorious? One of the most beautiful skies I’ve ever seen…. And so it is! “
Our bus climbs a narrow road, spiralling upwards, criss-crossing the forested flanks of Mount Pelion. The fog that envelops us, seemingly emanating from the trees, adds mystery to the magic. On either side, gigantic trees hover: verdant pines, flourishing plane trees, oak, beech and chestnut, conifer and deciduous, inviting the imagination to conjure stories of enchanted woods. We think of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, of Tolkien’s Lothlorien…
In places where the trees part, we look outwards across the vista. Best not to look downwards, for the road may vanish, the bus appearing to hover in mid-air above chasms. Such a journey requires a trustworthy driver and we breathe our thanks for Panagiotis.
Mount Pelion lies halfway between Athens and Thessalonica, taking us into the storied life of Asclepius, believed to have been born in Thessalonica (520 km north of Athens) before the Trojan War (1250 BCE). As a child, Asclepius was sent to be taught by the Centaur physician Chiron, who trained him in the arts of healing. This mountain whose heights we are ascending may have been the place where Asclepius climbed to meet his teacher.
Continuous with the knowledge of the most ancient ones, filled with their reverence and knowledge of the natural order, Asclepius became the greatest healer in Greece, his vast knowledge matched only by the depth of his compassion. He could apparently heal almost any ill of mind or body, sometimes using herbs and medicines or surgical procedures, but more often than not healing through spiritual and psychological means, attuning his patients to their capacity for health and wholeness. (Jean Houston, The Search for the Beloved p.9)
In this same book, Jean Houston tells us that the centaurs, the “ancient ones” whose knowledge was passed on to Asclepius, may not have been half-man, half-horse as legend portrays them. They may have been the remnants of Neanderthals who did not entirely disappear from the planet 25,000 years ago, but instead “removed themselves to remote and hilly country where they were often seen riding shaggy ponies, their hairy bodies indistinguishable from their mounts” They passed on to selected students, who included priests, princes and physicians-in-training, their “botanical knowledge and natural philosophy of a hundred thousand years or more”. (p. 8)
Mount Pelion was known as a “healing mountain” because of the medicinal and healing plants that flourish on its slopes, and the crystal clear water of its streams. Homeopathic, herbal, flower essences and even poisonous remedies were distilled from the herbs of Mount Pelion: meadow saffron, hemlock, henbane, nightshade, mandrake, St. John’s wort, mullein and yarrow.
Still today these plants and herbs are gathered and sold in village markets throughout the region.
As we continue our ascent of Mount Pelion, we are invited into a time of silence. We each carry within us our own magical forest, our own mysterious fog, our own longings for healing and wholing. What are these inner enchantments? Which ones serve our life, and our work of healing and wholing for our own time? Which ones do we want to let go because they hinder our work, our journey?
What is the healing we seek on this sacred mountain?
We come to the village of Tsagarada where the turquoise Aegean Sea fills our eastward gaze, while the wooded slopes of Mount Pelion dominate the westward view. Once we have settled into our rooms, caught our breath, and donned good walking shoes, Panagiotis takes us to one of the village’s four courtyards, each one named for its church. In the courtyard of St Paraskevi there stands a plane tree that is 1100 years old, with a circumference of 46 feet.
The tiny chapel is open, inviting us to enter, to gaze at a lovely Icon of Mary with large lustrous eyes, her hand resting on her heart. Her presence draws forth the questions that arose in us during the silence of our bus journey. We sense her guidance not to grapple with these, rather to focus on the magic of now, being with our companions, rather than being absorbed with our stories.
Our guide for a walk along the pathways of Pelion is Nikolas, who greets us with an armful of walking sticks. For the next two hours we make our careful way along the ancient footpaths, stopping to gaze out at the wooded heights touched by the mountain mist….
or down at a perfect pink cyclamen growing, it seems,
straight out of a rock.
We pick up small herbs, chew on fresh mint, ask the names of blue and red berries on bushes beside the path, notice chestnuts…
Suddenly the path opens above a striking view of the distant Aegean far far below us.
Still, with the persistence of a soundtrack, our personal questions hum within us.
We smile to see a road sign that may point the way for us. It is, of course, in Greek…
Our Journey to Greece was inspired by a great healer named Asclepius who lived in Ancient Greece over 3000 years ago. His wholistic approach to healing included drama and dreams, laughter and song, dance, spirituality ….
“Asclepius,” writes Jean Houston, “demonstrated how full well-being can be created by energizing and balancing the body, heart, intuition, dreams, faith and spirit of a person.”
Today we set out from Athens, travelling 22 miles northeast to visit a sanctuary and oracular healing center.
Founded in the 5th century BCE and flourishing until the 4th century CE, the site was dedicated to the god-hero Amphiaraus. Healing at the Amphiareion came through dreams and their interpretation.
The Greek travel writer Pausanias described the process in the 2nd century CE:…the first thing is to purify oneself, when someone comes to consult Amphiaraus, and the purification ritual is to sacrifice to the god, and people sacrifice to him and to all those whose names are on ( the altar), and — when these things are finished—they sacrifice a ram and spreading out its skin under themselves, lie down waiting for the revelation of a dream.
We approach the Amphiareion as pilgrims, as well as time travellers, for we have come to an ancient ruin seeking a spiritual power that lingers. Nestled in a plain among mountains, here there were once baths, a theatre, the god’s temple, staff residences, shops, inns, the agora and a water clock. Today there are only stone remnants of pedestals and sleeping benches.
Yet the peace of this place envelops us with its natural beauty, its quiet strength.
First we purify ourselves, washing our hands in a bowl that holds water infused with herbs. We have been asked to bringa non-physical sacrifice, something in our lives we are ready to release….I have been wondering what this might be.
Inviting us to find places to sit among the tumbled stones, Jean speaks: “Sacrifice is about making holy. “What aspect of your life do you wish to make holy?”
We ponder this in silence. What rises for me is an old fear, one that emerges now and then with renewed ferocity. It is about home, about belonging: where do I belong? with whom? I feel drawn to sacrifice this fear,handing it over to the Sacred Presence to whom my life is dedicated, trusting Love to care for me…
I sit looking into a grove of trees, then across to the distant mountains, breathing in peace and trust.
After a time, Jean calls us back together. Now her invitation to us is to close our eyes, to imagine ourselves back to the 5th century BCE. Within our minds the Amphiareion reappears as a glimmer of white marble buildings, with throngs of hope-filled seekers, moving gracefully in their draped line garments, speaking, gesturing, laughing, even singing…the scene moves in our imaginations like a documentary film.
“Now, open your eyes,” Jean invites. “What do you see?”
There are people who have a gift for seeing with open eyes something long vanished. It does not happen here, today. Yet, for a while longer, we move back and forth in time in our imagination.
My eyes are still closed, so this is no vision. But I do sense a presence. A tall man in the flowing white robes of Ancient Greece is standing, facing me. He looks directly at me with wisdom and kindness in his expression:
“Why have you come? What healing do you seek?” I hear him speak in the silence of my heart.
Startled, I show him my questions, though I form no words.
He grasps at once what is in my heart, then he speaks to me:
“You have your home within you.”
I believe I have encountered an oracular healer, one who heals with words from the Sacred Presence.
Later, we walk the grounds, eat fresh figs straight from the trees, climb the steep stone steps that lead to the ruins of the ancient theatre. There some of our companions speak to us, sing to us.
Aingeal proclaims the call of our time crying out “Now is the time to banish fear from our lives”, the call to each to live that fullness of life that will be our gift to the evolution so needed, so longed for.
Dick sings an “Alleluia” moving Leonard Cohen’s words into a celebration of newness of life.
What have we experienced? Something more than an archaeological site, more than a history lesson.It is a wrinkle in time; it is a taste of healing power that nourishes each of us in our own way, in our own need.
We board our bus, re-enter the crowded, vibrant, noisy, streets of 21st century Athens.
We pass a car dealership. It offers to us its own version of “oracular healing”, loudly proclaiming in a huge red-lettered sign: FIND NEW ROADS.
We begin our climb upwards from the Tholos of Athena towards the Temple of Apollo. The way is winding, a graduated path, smooth, making only gentle demands on our knees so recently godded, strengthened by Hermes and Artemis. We have breath enough as we climb to engage in conversation with our companions, to share our thoughts, our experiences while we were gathered around the Tholos.
Above, and across the road lies the Kastalian Spring. Here, where the great cliffs form a chasm, both pilgrims and the priesthood gathered to purify themselves in preparation for entering the great temple. (The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Greece)
These Kastalian waters were said to confer inspiration and were connected with the Muses. In late Roman times the Muses were named and assigned this way:
Calliope (fair face) Epic song Clio (proclaimer) History Euterpe (gentle rejoicing or delight) Lyric song Thalia (festive) Comedy Melpomene (honey-sweet song) Tragedy Terpsichore (rejoicing or delighting in the dance) Dance Erato (passionate) Erotic poetry Polyhymnia (rich in hymns) Sacred songs Urania (the starry heavens) Astronomy
We continue upwards along the Sacred Way, its flights of stone steps challenging even for godded knees. The Sanctuary of Apollo once contained temples, rich treasures brought here as gifts from many cities and individuals, hundreds of statues. Today we pass ruins, weathered stone, holding only the memory of wealth.
The Temple of Apollo was composed of an outer and inner chamber. On the outer walls were inscribed sayings of the Seven Sages, intended to inspire those who came seeking answers, to prepare themselves for their meeting with the Pythia. For the prophetess awaited them in the inner sanctum. Here the Pythia sat beside a stone known as the omphalos, the center of the world. She held an umbilicus tied to the omphalos. She was seated on a tripod placed over a chasm in the earth from which vapors arose. She waved a branch of laurel and entered into an altered state – enthousiasmos – in which she uttered prophecies.
place where the Pythia sat
The priests who attended her recorded and “translated” her words into Homeric verse. This formal procedure for the functioning of the oracle acquired its final form in the 6th century BCE and remained unchanged until the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.
If we feel some regret, some sadness, that we are nearly two millennia late for the experience, we have not yet understood the Quantum Powers of the Universe, nor learned what Jean Houston has been teaching us on this journey about the way these powers are available to us, bringing us the gift of time, past/present/future, in each sacred moment.
For here in this sacred place of the Pythia, Jean invites us to find places to sit on the fallen stones. We breathe deeply, close our eyes, come to stillness. We call upon the presence of the prophetess, trusting that her spirit is still available to us.
Jean invites us to present our questions to the Pythia. What guidance does she offer for our time? How may we move towards a planet of peace? Responses arise from within our hearts. Voices speak within our circle:
Peace will come as we open our third eye, the eye of wisdom, to recognize and honour the beauty, the light of the sacred presence, in one another. This seeing will lead us along the path to peace.
The Pythia invites us to take time each day for deep listening to her voice, the voice of Wisdom…she will speak in and through us, offering guidance.
You who are reading this in the sacred space of your own home may also find yourselves seated imaginally among the fallen stones of the Temple of Apollo, near the earth’s omphalos.
Here, you may breathe deeply, focus your heart, and call upon the wisdom that once spoke through the Pythia.
What questions do you bring to her? What responses do you hear?
After our encounter with the Pythia, we start the downward climb, passing an opening in the stones wall, a grotto. Throughout the Christian world such places were chosen or constructed to honour Mary, often holding a statue of her. Once again, with a shiver of recognition, we see the continuation of the presence of the Sacred Feminine honoured through ages lost in memory, vanished before memory.
In Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, Bilbo rushed out the front door of his hobbit-hole towards adventure without even stopping to pick up a “pocket handkerchief”. I, too, rushed away from a gathering at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario without even stopping for lunch. Racing along the 401 highway towards the “Park ‘n Fly” at the Toronto Airport, heart in mouth, I thought only of arriving in time to catch my flight to Athens. An hour later, moving through the press of travellers seeking the flight desk, I was startled by a heavily-accented voice that rose above the din: “This way to Athena. This way to Athena.”
Athena. Already the realm of the mythic is opening. The goddess herself will guide our journey. May she also guide us through this imaginal journey, revisiting the sacred sites and processes, the teachings and experiences, the beauty, wonder and depth of the journey which Jean Houston led through Greece from September 22 – October 9, 2015.
As we travel one hundred miles northwest from Athens towards Delphi, our faithful driver Panagiotis (whose name means “holy one”) guides our elephantine bus along cliff edges with the confidence of a boy skirting puddles. The massive ancient mountain of Parnassus, more than a million years old, looms to our right, its rounded limestone bulk worn smooth by eons of weather. Looking downwards left across the valley that leads to the Gulf of Corinth, we see the great olive grove of more than a million trees.
The olive tree was Athena’s gift to the people who named their city in her honour.
We are about to walk the Sacred Way, becoming one with the pilgrims who, for thousands of years, climbed to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.
As was the case in most approaches to temples in Greece, the Sacred Way delivered the pilgrim to the gate of…sacred experience as though through a labyrinth, in this case a labyrinth which began down in the depths of the valley and wound upward through the Gate of Athena at Marmaria, through the underworld of the Kastalian Spring, and then into the sculpted and golden world of manifest divinity. ( “The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Greece”)
ancient site of the Kastalian Spring
Like those earlier pilgrims who approached from Athens, we arrive first at the Tholos of Athena, a reminder that before Apollo took over this site, it was the holy place of the Earth Mother, Gaia.
The position of the sanctuary symbolizes Athena’s role as the protector of the place…but also serves to restore certain aspects of the old Goddess’ power to the sacred landscape, to mitigate the change wrought by the violence of the Olympian assault. Athena’s power is symbolized by the snake, thus repairing at least part of Gaia’s power snatched by Apollo. (from “Sanctuaries of the Goddess”)
Tholos of Athena
The late September sunlight sends a fiery blessing on us as we walk into the area of the Tholos, sacred to Athena.We see three great pillars supporting the massive stone ruin of the archway, the circle of fallen stones that are all that remain of her temple.
At Jean’s invitation we find places to sit on the ancient rocks, seeking for some hint of shade. We settle into the realm of Athena, whom Homer praised as “the glorious goddess, bright-eyed, inventive, unbending of heart…”
As Jean’s guiding archetype, the “ever near” Athena adopted Jean to develop the goddess’ own qualities as the One who shapes civilizations, companioning those who take on the task of co-creating with the Sacred.
We recall Jean’s words from her book, “The Hero and the Goddess” :
The realm of myth exists beyond time and space and daily reality. It is a symbolic world that dwells within us at levels deeper than our normal consciousness. And yet, it can be openly and vividly engaged in ways that expand the possibilities of every aspect of our lives. But to reach these depths and heights, we must pledge our commitment, our theatricality, our excitement. We must not bore the gods – or ourselves….
When we energetically and dramatically encounter this mythic realm and the beings who dwell there, we begin to understand that our individual lives – our personal stories – echo the events and truths of their lives and stories. We reflect these mythic beings and they reflect us. Experiencing this mutual recognition gives us access to more vigor and energy, a greater sense of joy and release, and an even deeper commitment to the unfolding planetary story. We begin living with the doors and windows of ordinary life wide open to the depth world.
(Jean Houston from the Preface to “The Hero and the Goddess”Quest Books, Wheaton, IL 1992, 2009)
Now we begin to engage this mythic realm and the beings who dwell there as Jean leads us in a meditation where the godded beings of the Greek pantheon offer their powers through each of the Chakras of our bodies.
Following the meditation we shall begin our climb towards the sanctuary of Apollo on Delphi, where we may encounter the spirit of the Oracle herself, the Pythias.
We are leaving Athena’s Tholos when a sudden question sends me hurrying to catch up to our Greek guide, Calliope.
“Kapi, you have told us that the Greek people of today honour above all the Sophia, Holy Wisdom. Do they see a connection between her and the goddess Athena?” I ask.
“Of course,” Kapi responds. “They see a continuation.”
At once our reflections on the Sophia become a river flowing from an ancient source,an unstoppable flow of wisdom and love, a promise fresh and ever-flowering, the Sophia, the “ever near” presence for which we long.
Icon of Sophia purchased from the Greek Ministry of Antiquities
In my grandmother’s tiny front parlour, next to her Victrola, sat a huge heavy hard-bound book containing all of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. In the summers of my childhood, after a magical overnight train journey, we stayed with my grandmother. I remember my eagerness to open that book on each visit, turning always to the same story: “The Travelling Companion”. It had all the delights a child could want: terror and sadness, mystery and secret journeys to a hidden cave in a mountain, an ogre and a bloodthirsty princess who beheaded her suitors when they could not answer her questions… but most of all I loved the main character, John.
Andersen begins, “Poor John was very sad, for his father was ill and would not recover.” After a loving farewell, promising that John would be cared for by providence, the father dies, leaving the young man all alone in the world. After the funeral, John sets out into the wide world, carrying his inheritance of fifty gold marks. That night he seeks shelter in a Church where an open coffin sits awaiting a funeral the next day. Wicked men, to whom the dead man owed money, come to seek revenge. They plan to seize the man’s body and hurl it into the woods. But John approaches them, offering his fifty gold marks if they will promise not to dishonour the dead man. They agree….
Next morning, as John continues on his way, a stranger with a wise and kind countenance asks if he might travel with John as a companion. Well, you can guess the rest…. This was no ordinary mortal, but a magical being who helps John to win the love of the fierce princess with whom he has fallen deeply in love. When John and his new bride, now a loving woman, freed from the ogre’s power, begin their new life together, the companion bids John farewell, revealing himself as the spirit of the dead man whose body John saved from dishonor….
This story has been rising in my memory over these recent weeks as we have been exploring together the concept of Archetypes. For, after all, is not an archetype in our life truly a “travelling companion”, offering not only company but powerful assistance in achieving the tasks of our lives, the desires of our heart?
I’ve been reflecting on my life, calling to mind and heart Archetypes that came to me for a time, others that remain: Arwen Undomiel, daughter of the Elf Lord Elrond in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” For years, Arwen was my Archetype, for her name means “Evening Star of her People”, something I longed to be.
Later, I recognized in Julian of Norwich, an Archetypal Presence, drawn to a life of solitude, where she reflected, prayed and wrote her book, ”Revelations of Divine Love.” One day I realized that as Julian spent time each morning at her window which opened out to a busy street in 14th century Norwich, listening to and responding to those who came to her, I too had such a “Window” where I might listen and respond on my computer.
On a ZOOM call in March, 2019, Jean Houston offered insights from her own decades-long study of archetypes. Here are some highlights from that experience:
At the base/root of our relationship with an Archetypal presence is LOVE, the Beloved Friend, the Companion of our lives.
Archetypes are our connection to the wider reality, the “hooks and eyes” that assist us in accessing the “Implicate order” as David Bohm calls it. We are the explicate order, limited in our reality. Archetypes bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strengths to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capabilities.
Einstein believed imagination was the key to understanding. As we learn to extend our imagination, it takes us into the imaginal field where so much potential lies, where we encounter the Archetypes. Rumi wrote that for each garden that he sees around him, there are a thousand magnificent gardens within his soul…
Who is the Archetype you chose or were chosen by in your life? He or she may be a real person living now, or someone who once lived (Julian of Norwich, Hildegard, Brigid of Kildare, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene) or someone in the imaginal realm, such as the Greek Goddesses, or Brigid, the ancient goddess of the Irish, or Isis of Egypt. We are called to grow the Archetypes if they are of the past, to engage with them as co-creative partners, to assist in their rebirth for our times.
Jean suggests we think of a time when we called upon an Archetypal presence to assist us with some task or challenge. Now imagine how our lives might change if we were to live more consciously, continuously aware of being partnered by the Archetypal presence in our daily tasks, our relationships, decisions, challenges… Jean suggests we begin with our strongest senses to engage the Archetype, whether that be through dance, music, art, or perhaps writing a dialogue where we ask the Archetype a question, then write the answer that rises in us…
During the Zoom Call Jean invited us into the following process:
Breathe deeply, and sense you are drawing in with each breath the presence of your Archetype; draw in her/his seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, knowing, loving… In the practice what do you see, hear, touch, feel, experience in the presence of the Archetype? (When I offered this process to a group of friends, some experienced the scent of sandalwood, of roses; felt a sense of wholeness; heard the song, “Love Changes Everything”, had an inspiration related to a workshop being planned…)
Raise your hands, palms outward, towards where you imagine your Archetype standing, facing you. Feel the energy that may tingle on your palms. Know yourself deeply loved, known, encouraged and understood by this presence, the part of yourself that links you to the sacred, the LOVE in the Universe.
As Jean assures us, a relationship with an Archetypal presence is not unlike other relationships in our lives: it will grow, deepen, expand over time as we journey with our travelling companion.
awakening to the sacred feminine presence in our lives