Category Archives: Journey to Greece

greek light startles

My sister Patti’s cottage sits on a hillside thickly braided with pines and deciduous trees. It could be a fairy tale forest, but this is no time for tales. Sitting here on the deck we cannot see the sand shore, but gaze beyond the tops of trees to where Lake Huron shivers in silver light. It’s the Summer Solstice of 2014. If we look to our right up through the tallest branches, we see the sky blushing from soft blue to delicate pink, deepening to rose madder, mirroring our thoughts, fading with longest day into night.

But this is not where the story begins. Come back with me to early May, 2014, to Greece. Stand with me on stones that predate the Christian era in an open theatre-like space in Eleusis, twenty kilometres beyond Athens. The grey rocks around us sprout blood red poppies, fiercely alive, dancing in the cool breeze, nourished by no visible earth.

Our Greek guide, Calliope, tells us that this is where the initiates, who came here to take part in the annual religious rites known as the Eleusinian mysteries, would have gathered. Unlike us, they would have undergone a ritual cleansing in Athens before beginning the walk to Eleusis. Along the route, known as the Sacred Way, they would have paused to place offerings in tiny cavern-like openings in the rocky outcrops beside the road. Crowds would have gathered to watch their progress.

At Eleusis, there would have been a welcome, some explanation of the ritual that would follow, a telling, perhaps even a re-enactment, of the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter, corn goddess, giver of the earth’s abundance, weeps for her daughter, Persephone, who has been seized by Hades, god of the underworld. Her grief and rage at this loss are so terrible that she tells Zeus she will wither the earth’s food crops until he forces his brother god Hades to send Persephone back to her.

Only when the earth’s plants wither, threatening starvation, does Zeus give in. A truce is agreed upon: Hades will release Persephone for half of each year, but she must return again to the underworld. It is the myth of the seasons, of the maiden who returns after each barren winter bringing spring’s abundance.

Though the story has survived, the details of the ritual have never been discovered. The initiates who took part in what we know as the Eleusinian Mysteries were bound to secrecy under pain of death. The Mysteries began in Greece around the first millennium before Christ and continued, spreading into the Roman Empire, until the 4th Century of the Christian Era.

It is believed that the ritual, based on the Demeter /Persephone story, had a three-part theme: the descent (loss), the search and the ascent. 

Following their arrival in Eleusis, the initiates would have rested, spent a day of fasting to honour the grief of Demeter. The ritual would follow.

Calliope points to the earth beneath our feet, telling us that the initiates would descend underground for the ritual. Its focus was the overcoming of any fear of death, though how this was enacted is unknown. But as the ritual was drawing to a close, light would have begun to seep upwards from the underground. Soon after that, the initiates would emerge, radiant with their experience.

After Calliope’s introduction, we move further into the site to an ancient cave, its dark mouth appearing to us like an opening to the underworld.

Here members of our group have been invited to enact the story of Demeter and Persephone. Peg Rubin, an actor of immense power,  plays Demeter. 

The day before our journey to Eleusis, Jean Houston had prepared us for the experience by speaking of the Greek understanding of the need to “die before you die”. As we travelled by bus, Jean led us in a visualization/meditation. We were invited to imagine ourselves entering the underworld, being clothed in earth, masked by earth, resting in death….then asking, “What are the aspects of myself that no longer serve me, serve life?” These we name and allow to die….

We remove the mask of earth that covers face and body. We emerge, freed to live more fully, more joyously, set free from the burden of those behaviours, those needs, those fears, that have kept us captive. We rise: quiet, composed, centred, unafraid, ready to love.

Eleusis is the first of many journeys into the myths, the wisdom, the mysteries of ancient Greece. As the days unfold, I come to know the truth of words I found during a Canadian Authors’ poetry workshop in Ottawa before I travelled to Greece.

This poem was composed of lines chosen at random from several different books of poetry.

Greek light startles

the warm appreciation of one being for another

every life long or short is a pilgrimage

under the wide and starry sky

sea salt scouring my body

old skins shed

kindled by the tangelo sun 

ignite into life

On the long journeys across mainland Greece the poem unfolds for me like a prophecy, except for the “warm appreciation”…

As our bus moves with the surprising grace of a large elephant, skimming edges of cliffs that hover above olive groves and waters of an impossible turquoise, we pass the time creating poetry, reading it aloud to our companions over the microphone.

The young man with the young name, Josh, exudes the relaxed arrogance that only the young can carry off with charm. His poem is a mockery of the ancient archaeological sites, the stunning beauty, the fairy tale wonder that others have been praising.

I whisper to my companion: “That young man needs to be broken open!”

Ever-confident, Josh takes the mike the following day to chide us for our comments on his frequent cigarette breaks. Yes, he knows we care about him, but he’s serving notice that our advice will only deepen his determination to continue smoking.

When, on the third morning, Josh again takes the mike, I’m fuming without the help of cigarettes.

“I had a dream last night,” he begins. “A friend came into my dream, talking really fast. He was really excited, with something important he needed to tell me. I couldn’t make out what he was saying.

” When I woke up there was a text message. My friend had died overnight in an accident. Then I understood what he’d been trying to tell me: It’s so much easier on this side. All the pain, all the suffering is only while we are alive. But afterwards, everything is good.”

Greek. Light. Startles.

Later that morning, as we’re walking down the stony hillside path towards the ruins of the Temple of Athena, I encounter Josh. No words come to me as our eyes meet, so I reach out to hug him. He holds me with a gentle strength, as though I were the one needing comfort.

 “It’s OK,” he says. “Really. I’m OK with this. It’s a gift.”

It’s not a text message but a phone call that wakens me in my home in the Ottawa Valley, the day following my return from Greece. My sister, my beloved Patti, has had a return of cancer. There is no medical hope. She has perhaps three months to live.

So that’s why I’m here with her on the deck of her cottage, her holy sacred place, on the Summer Solstice. Why we are caught up in the beauty of the sunset. Why we have so few words.

Patti speaks quietly.” I’m afraid. What is death like?”

I say, “Let me tell you about Josh, the young man I met on our Greece Tour.”

The Greek Journey: Nine “The wizard of Oz” pt. 2

Under an ancient tee on Mount Pelion, listening to Jean Houston retell the story of “The Wizard of Oz”, we have each begun to revisit our life as a heroic journey. Finding where we are now in the story will give us fresh insight about where we must go, what we must do, what needs to happen next.

The Road of Trials, the Belly of the Whale

Dorothy is offered Guidance, but not a map. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” What in the Hero’s journey is a road of trials, often for the heroine includes a time of what Joseph Campbell calls being in the “belly of the whale”. In “The Wizard of Oz”, this is symbolized by the poppy fields where Dorothy and her three companions suddenly fall deeply asleep under the spell of the Wicked Witch.

asleep in the poppy fields

The Belly of the Whale takes us by surprise, for just when we know what we must do, just when we manage to fool the guardian and pass the gate, we find ourselves blindsided… by a depression, an ingression, a call to the depths of being. Though we are clear about our mission, we are not yet prepared.

The Belly of the Whale gives us preparatory time, time for deep inner work. We enter our own depths, the source place for all endeavours. Find your form for this inner work: drawing or dance or journaling or music or drumming or nature or working with an archetype.  “You may not know what your archetypal guidance is, but your archetypal guidance knows who you are.” (Jean Houston)  When you discover who your archetype is, you have guidance. You are put on the path.

Live in the Temple of Inner Abundance where you are  in the womb of your new becoming. Choose your daily practice and be faithful.

Assisted by her friends, Dorothy wakens and all four approach the Emerald City.

Once again they face a guardian at the gate who will not allow them to see the Wizard. Dorothy’s tears as she speaks of her longing to see her Aunt Em break down his resistance. Yet the Wizard, when they at last meet him, refuses to grant their request until they fulfill an impossible task: “Bring me the broomstick of the Witch of the West!”

The challenge here is to discover the task that you never believed you could do, but the Wizard of the inner sanctum of yourself always knew you could, and if you did, would change the nature of your belief about yourself….Your inner Wizard…the Friend, stands before you and asks you to recall the “impossible things” you have done….

Now the Friend-Wizard asks you to consider what “impossible things” you have yet to do in the near future. The Friend-Wizard also asks you to imagine as vividly as you can actually doing it, with all the difficulties and acts of courage that it may require. Remember that you have allies, a Protector and the Friend to help and accompany you. (Jean Houston in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically p.202)

Emergence with Amplified Power

You discover now that your expectations become magnets, drawing to you what you need for your task, your life work. You have entered the path of wisdom, and with her come all good things. You experience the grace of ABBONDANZA. You are moving into the fullness of life.

Your entelechy holds the seed of what you truly are and draws you into the magic and mystery of being “a local outcropping of the Godself in time”. (JH)

The life force of Toto (“Run, Toto, Run), the support and cleverness of her three friends, and finally the life force of water accomplish the impossible. Dorothy and her companions return to the Wizard in triumph.

          Returning Home

Returning home to a Kansas that may not have changed, Dorothy discovers that the real change is within herself. She has met and integrated her intelligence, her compassionate heart and her courage.

Now she is ready for her great task of greening the wasteland. 

The Greek journey: Eight “the wizard of oz” part One

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)

The Greek journey: seven

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.

Icon of Mary in a Chapel on Paros Island , Greece

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

Embody me

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)

The Greek Journey: SIX

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)

Eccentric. Inconvenient.

Perhaps.

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”.

The Greek Journey Part Three: The Amphiareion

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.

Greece: A Mythic Journey

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.

Athena

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

Travelling with Sophia

Even to think about (Wisdom) is understanding fully grown;
be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her
and graciously shows herself to them as they go,
in every thought of theirs coming to meet them.

(Wisdom 6: 15-16 Jerusalem Bible)

Poring over notes from the Greece Journey, I seek a place of re-entry, so that I might invite you back inside the deep teachings, the healing processes, the beautiful sights, sounds, stories of our travels in that blessed land. Once again my memories turn to Sophia, the Greek name for Wisdom. Icons of Mary, such as the ones I showed you from the Church of the Hundred Doors on Paros Island, abound in Greece.

For the Greeks, Sophia is a loving presence, close, active, supportive, loving, healing, often seemingly conflated with Mary. I turn again to last week’s posting for Epiphany, find the quote from Chapter 6 of the Book of Wisdom (see above). And then I decide to share a deeply personal experience.

In Holy Week of 2015, I was taking some retreat days here in my riverside home in the woods. As happens when the mind is quiet, dreams came. In one, I found myself in a darkened room, where my teacher Jean Houston was showing me framed depictions of the work I have begun in recent years: a promo for my Irish play, “The Wooing of the Soul”, my book Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind, the retreats I facilitate…

Further into the room, the darkness was deeper. I understood I must go there alone in order to encounter the Sacred Feminine, the Presence of Sophia. The dream ended there, but stayed inside my heart like an unfinished story. A few weeks afterwards, as I was wondering whether I should consider the Greece Journey, I remembered that dream. Would I find there the presence that awaited me?

On our last morning on Paros Island, before departure time for our ferry, I was walking through the streets of the town, hoping to find the shops open. They were shut tight, but on a narrow side street, I chanced upon a tiny white building whose door stood invitingly open. Inside, I found a small darkened chapel. On two walls were Icons, glowing in the fiery red light of lamps.

The Icon on the wall to my right was of Mary/Sophia. I gazed at her calm lovely face. It seemed that she gazed back. I stood there, unable to move, drawn to rededicate my life to her. Still I could not go. Then I noticed the child she held. At once I recalled the Inuit tale of the Sealwoman who set her son (her spirit) on the shore in the moonlight for his task was to become a drummer, a singer, a storyteller. She promises him, ” I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs.”

I understood that I must do the same: send my recovered spirit out to tell the stories, trusting that she, Wisdom-Sophia, would “breathe into (my) lungs a wind for the singing of (my) songs”… I was filled with joy and gratitude. I took this photo before I left the small chapel.

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It was only later, on the ferry back to mainland Greece, that I remembered my dream of the darkened room and the Sacred Feminine Presence who awaited me there.

Truly Wisdom-Sophia  herself walks about looking for (us) and graciously shows herself to (us) as (we) go, in every thought of (ours) coming to meet (us).

Here is a poem by Jan Richardson to give heart to us in all our journeys:

For Those Who Have Far to Travel

A Blessing for Epiphany

If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
undertake it,
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping,
step by
single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go,
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions,
beyond fatigue,
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

There are vows
that only you
will know:
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again;
each promise becomes
part of the path,
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.

Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace
– See more at: http://paintedprayerbook.com/2016/01/02/epiphany-for-those-who-have-far-to-travel/#sthash.jTkLHSWC.dpuf

The Greek Journey Six: Our Story

It is afternoon on the day when we wakened early to watch the eclipse of the Blood Moon on Mount Pelion in Greece. 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. The tree is older than the story we are about to hear, older than the storyteller, older than the listeners.

P1000660Jean 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”.

But 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 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 it, 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 in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically p.187)

Glinda will be Dorothy’s protector from the ferocious witch who is determined to punish the girl who killed her sister by dropping a house upon her. 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 Dorothy offers to assist each of them in his quest.

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The Greece Journey Five: Awakening on Mount Pelion

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 The Universe : 96% dark matter

On the morning following our Nature Walk among the trees, bushes, healing plants and flowers of Mount Pelion, we awaken. 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. “Sacred 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 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 already 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.” Oh….
A wind separates the clouds so we can 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….

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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.

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“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.

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“Isn’t it glorious? One of the most beautiful skies I’ve ever seen…. And so it is”’