Category Archives: Journey to Greece

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.

Greece Blood Moon 2015 069
“Isn’t it glorious? One of the most beautiful skies I’ve ever seen…. And so it is”’

The Greek Journey: Mount Pelion

Our bus climbs a narrow road that spirals 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…

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In places where the trees part, we look outwards across the vista. Best not to look downwards, for the road may vanish, the bus appear 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 of the suggestion made by writer Mary Renault 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 our own magical forest, our own mysterious fog, our own longings for healing and wholing. What are these inner enchantments? Which serve our life, 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.

P1000660 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. But we feel her guidance not to grapple with these, but rather to focus on the magic of now, to be with our companions, rather than being absorbed with our own story.

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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 setting sun, or down at a perfect pink cyclamen growing, it seems, straight out of a rock.

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We pick up small herbs, chew on fresh mint, ask the names of small blue and red berries on bushes beside the path, notice chestnuts…
Suddenly the path opens above a striking view of the distant Aegean far below us.

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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…P1000658