The Greek Holon Journey: Eight
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 because it 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”.
The Greek Holon Journey Seven: "The Wizard of Oz" Continues
Under an Ancient Tree on Mount Pelion, listening to Jean 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.
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 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.
Return with Elixir
You begin to embody the deep happiness that is your birthright. You heed the call to live the WHY at the centre of your life.
And so Dorothy returns home, changed by her adventures, companioned within by those whom she met and loved in Oz :
“Home” is that land to which one returns in a deepened condition after the trials and adventures of initiation. It is now a realm that was perceived in Oz, but can be felt in the here and now as the deepened and extended land. You have brought back with you now mindfulness, heartfulness and courage….You have gone home to Kansas, but not before you have grown up in Oz….
You have returned a mythic being, and, like Dorothy, you now have the chance to green the wasteland of your own particular “Kansas” with your newfound knowings. (Jean Houston The Power of Myth and Living Mythically pp. 210-1)
We sit beneath the great plane tree and ask ourselves:
Which part of the journey am I now experiencing?
What do I need to do at this stage?
What do I now understand?
What happens next?
The Greek Holon Journey Six: Beneath the Ancient Plane Tree
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 in The Power of Myth and Living Mythically 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 Holon Journey Five: Awakening on Mount Pelion
( The Universe is 96% dark matter )
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! "
The Greek Holon Journey Part Four: Mount Pelion
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 Tolkein’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…
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 bring a 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 Journey: Part Two: the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
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?
hen I was beginning my work in spiritual teaching, I discovered that the ancient stories held wisdom and symbols that shed light on our relationship with the Holy. One story that stirred me deeply was the Inuit tale of Bone Woman.
She had somehow displeased her father. In a rage, he hurled her over a cliff into the sea below. There she lay for millennia, resting on the sea bed while the fish ate her flesh, crustaceans covered her ivory teeth, sea creatures filled her eye sockets.
One day a fisherman ventures into the bay, not knowing the locals consider it to be haunted. He baits his line with fish gut, lowers it and withdraws … a woman made of bone!
In terror, he paddles his kayak all the way back to his home area. There he leaps ashore, secures his boat, runs to his snow house, pulling his fishing line with him, unaware that bone woman, completely entangled in his fishing line, is bumping along behind him.
In breathless gratitude, he hurls himself through the low door of his snow house, lights his seal oil lamp. Only then does he see her, slumped across from him, a mess of bones still entangled with his fishing line.
His heart suddenly changes, filling with compassion. He moves to where she sits. With immense tenderness he untangles her from the fishing line, all the while singing a lullaby.
Exhausted, he falls into a deep sleep. When a tear escapes his closed eye, Bone Woman slithers across to him, drinks the tear until it becomes a fountain slaking her deep thirst, reaches into his chest to withdraw his heart. She drums upon it, creating flesh, hair, eyes for her body, all that a woman needs to be whole. She returns his heart to his chest, lies down beside him. They waken at dawn in a holy entanglement, a love that will last all their lives.
There was a time when I thought that any story must and ought and should be understood in the light of the Jesus story, the Paschal Mystery of his life, death and resurrection.
In this story, I saw myself in Skeleton Woman, in her bones, in her thirst, in her desire for love. I cast in the role of the fisherman the tender, compassionate, untangling Jesus.
For years I worked with the story in this way, inviting people to see how Jesus comes into our lives to untangle us, to give us new life through his heart of flesh.
One evening I was with a group in a Southern Ontario parish. They were reflecting on the story of Bone Woman in small groups, using the guiding questions I’d given them. Though they had been less than enthusiastic earlier, on this third evening, I noticed a different energy: hands gesticulating, heads shaking, nodding, the volume of voices rising, especially in one group.
I was elated. This is good, I thought. Now they are really connecting with the story. I invited their comments, their responses, asking my usual question, Who is God in this story?
Well, the speaker from one group began, I guess God is the fisherman. He went on to say why, prompted by my leading questions.
No, said a woman’s voice. As she stood, I saw with alarm the fire of debate in her eyes. God cannot be the fisherman in this story. God would never run from us in fear.
It was her group that had been engaging in fierce discussion. I saw their heads nodding now in agreement as she spoke.
Then something wonderful happened inside me. I understood!
You are right, I told her. For you have tested the story’s teaching against the truth of your own experience. And your experience tells you that the Holy One would never run from us. So, where is God in this story? I felt as though I’d just leapt from a plane, my parachute not yet open. I had no idea what the answer might be….
The Holy One is Bone Woman, she said. She enters our life, invites our engagement with her, drinks our tears, takes her very flesh from our beating hearts, finally becomes one with us, body to body, flesh to flesh, heart to heart, spirit to spirit.
That woman, I learned later, was a feminist theologian.
It was my first close encounter with a member of the species.
Since that night, I have studied the writings of feminist theologians. On a few rare occasions, I have heard them teach, or give public lectures. I have grown in awe and appreciation of these women who, beginning in the last third of the twentieth century, applied their brilliant, trained intellects, their powerful intelligence, their embodied knowing, to the pursuit of God.
As the woman who spoke that night did, the feminist theologians use their own experience as the fish gut to seek out the Holy, waiting, watching, in the deep waters of their own lives, as well as in the waters of Scripture and Tradition. They do not merely travel the sea of theology in a kayak. They plumb its depths. With fierce intelligence, with skills honed through years of work, they separate out the crustaceans that have clung to the ivory teeth of truth; they sort through the imbalances, untangling the errors that have accumulated over centuries of masculine-only embellishments, masculine-only experience, masculine-only perceptions.
They have taught me that the feminine aspect of the Holy had been hurled from the cliffs of patriarchy, had been left abandoned at the bottom of the sea. Now, in the fullness of time, She is being fished out by our need of Her, our hunger for Her, for all that She represents.
I learned that Sophia, the personification of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures, is the feminine principle of God. More startlingly, I learned that Jesus may himself be the masculine embodiment of that feminine principle.
When you take the story of Bone Woman into your heart, notice how it resonates with your own experience: where are you in the story now? who is loving you? calling you into fullness of life?
One more ancient structure catches our eye. It is an empty grotto-like space. It is very like the grottos created throughout the Christian world 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. Yet still present.
The Greek Journey Part One: Athena
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 our “Fires of September” gathering at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph on September 20th 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, the Communion of Creative Fire, through this imaginal journey, revisiting the sacred sites and processes, the teachings and experiences, the beauty, wonder and depth of the Holon Journey which Jean Houston led through Greece from September 22 - October 9, 2015.
Part One: 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. (from The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Greece)
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)
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 Communion’s many weeks of reflection 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.