Monday, October 27, 2014

Goddesses in the Dust: Hecate and Halloween

An archaeologist unearths the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...

One of the things that fascinates me about ancient Greek mythology is that it embraces all aspects of life, and it does not shy away from the more "Plutonian" sensibilities that get shoved under and buried in our culture. Concepts of death and renewal are difficult to embrace and understandably bring fear. Because we have trouble understanding these deeper, regenerative aspects in our cyclical lives, the fear they produce often gets pushed down, becoming the shadow side of both people and culture. Mass shootings, war and all types of violence are examples of Pluto manifesting in our world. Pluto is the Roman counterpart of Hades, known as the god of the underworld. 

So it is with interest that I share with you the story of Hecate. Part of the goddess group of Persephone and Demeter, she completes the trio of maiden, mother and crone. We are mostly familiar with Persephone and Demeter; the daughter who is abducted into the underworld by Hades and her mother Demeter, who lets nothing grow until her daughter is released. But we hear very little about the third part of this threesome, the goddess Hecate, the wise-woman, or the crone. 

Old women are sometimes referred to as hags. According to Wallis Budge, the root of the word is from the Egyptian 'heq', which refers to a matriarchal ruler who understood deeper powers and was thought to have access to magical realms; the Greeks called her Hecate. This awareness of consciousness that lies under the surface was an integral part of life during the early agrarian chthonic cultures. These were people who lived close to the earth, and understood that cycles of nature, including aging, death and regeneration, were a necessary and vital part of life. With the dawn of the early Christian period, the church fathers began to see all these cycles of life as falling under its dominion, and an unfortunate result was the demonizing of the wise old crone and her powers. Her cauldron was originally a container in which life itself was constantly churned and renewed, but she was turned into the witch archetype and her cauldron a device in which evil spells are cast upon others. 

Halloween itself is rooted in pre Christian, agrarian culture. October 31 falls at the solstice period in which crops were gathered and stored and people readied for the long winter ahead. These intervals between key points in the seasons are crossroads and periods when the veil between the worlds of the living and those who have passed is thinner. The ancient Celts believed communication was more possible during these periods and honored their ancestors as such. 

Hecate is the goddess of the crossroads and rules all intersections. Perhaps this Halloween you can look a little differently at the archetype of the witch and her cauldron. And take a moment to stand at the crossroads of this season to ponder your ancestors and light a candle in their memory. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Postcards from the Underworld: Beware the Evil Eye

I couldn't resist this spectacle of evil eye amulets, displayed on a shop wall in the Plaka district of Athens. 

The evil eye has a very old history. In ancient Greece and Rome it was a way to ward off the recipient from too much attention, fame or glory. It is written that when a conquering hero or Roman Emperor entered the city after a great victorious battle, a slave was hired to whisper in his ear, "Memento mori," which means, "remember death," or "remember that you are mortal." 

In that same fashion, the evil eye today continues the tradition of reminding one to not get too swollen with pride lest one would bring about one's own downfall or doom. At celebrations of great happiness in Greek culture, such as baptisms and weddings, guests routinely "spit" on the bride and newborn (this involves a form of faux spitting in the air above their heads) as a gesture to ward off the evil eye from such a happy occasion. 

While superstition itself probably does not bring a great deal of happiness to people by playing upon the fears of human beings, the larger lesson of the evil eye is a solid one to ponder. It remind us to be grateful for the good things in our life and not spend our precious energy focused on what we don't have. In other words, as in the Icarus legend, don't fly so high towards the sun that your wings melt:  keep yourself grounded. In the end, it's better to want what you have, then to have what you want. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Goddesses in the Dust: Selfie with a Greek Island

An archaeologist unearths the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...

"Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself." 
(Thanks to Michelle at It's a Small Town Life)

I like to think of the Greek island of Ithaka as feminine. She has many curves and hidden places, and like a wise older woman, she has lived a long life and learned many lessons. As I was leaving the island this time, I shot a picture of myself with her in the distance. Most people take selfies with friends, and this is no different. Ithaka has been a comforting, loving companion over many decades. She has taught me a lot, but as is the case with the best of friends, the lessons they teach are not about themselves, but you. 

So to me, Ithaka is a goddess, a mentor and a sanctuary. And as in the poem by Constantine Cavafy, I always try to remember:

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm - Seen on a Greek Menu

I'm always taken aback when I see this on a menu in Greece. The English call meatballs faggots, and the Greeks serve this dish, which they call soutzoukakia, in a tomato sauce. But Lamp in Lemon Sauce (lamb, obviously), Kiddling (baby goat) cooked in "gastra" (an earthenware pot) and a whole section devoted to Oily (veggies cooked in olive oil)?  

Yet in spite of how it's stated on the menu, the food is good, and so is the view

Yup, that's octopus...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Goddesses in the Dust: Girls Sparring at a Museum - Then and Now

An archaeologist unearths the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...

As I was wandering through the galleries of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, I stopped to admire this fresco of children boxing. It was excavated on the island of Santorini at the settlement at Akrotiri, a site buried in ash from a volcanic eruption of ca. 1600 B.C., preserving these exquisite paintings. The gender of the children is often described as male, because the prevailing sentiment is that girls don't spar, right? In all honesty no one really knows and it's equally possible the children depicted could be girls... you can imagine my surprise that as I walked outside the gallery almost immediately I saw this:

Without a video, it's hard to portray the action - but these two girls were actually engaged in a game involving vigorous hand slaps and punches that looked to me like pattycake meets boxing. I couldn't figure out if they were bored after being dragged through endless galleries of Greek art by their parents, or if they had found inspiration in the painting right around the corner. 

Either way, it's proof that girls like to play at sparring, just like boys, and it seems not much has changed in 3600 years...