Monday, November 24, 2014

Goddesses in the Dust: Walking the Labyrinth

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

The word labyrinth comes from the ancient word labryswhich means double axe. The double edged axe was a sign of royal power and is associated with the royal palace of King Minos on Crete, which was referred to as the "house of the double axes." This was the classic labyrinth that housed the famous Minotaur, which the hero Theseus went in to kill. He escaped thanks to Minos' daughter, Ariadne, who had given him a ball of thread to find his way out. 

Labyrinths differ from mazes. Both are defined by a series of complex pathways, but mazes are multicursal in that they offer multiple choices of direction, whereas labyrinths are unicursal. In a labyrinth, there is only one path, and it leads to the center. 

Aside from Ariadne's, one of the world's most famous labyrinths exists at Chartres Cathedral. To walk a labyrinth is said to help a person gain access to their soul and develop spiritual insight, so it's not surprising that is has become a prominent motif in Christianity. The labyrinth at Chartes Cathdral is known as the Rose Labyrinth. Laid into the floor of the structure in 1360, it was commissioned by a bishop for a celebration of Easter. In keeping with the majesty of the Cathedral's size, the Rose Labyrinth measures over 42 feet in diameter and completely fills the width of the nave. 

Recently, I read about a labyrinth that was laid into the grass of a church near my neighborhood. Having lived in the same place for 27 years, I was amazed (pardon the pun!) to have never known that a labyrinth existed almost in my own back yard. A close friend lives right across the street and I spent years picking up kids for morning carpool, passing it by. Some afternoons I take a break from my work and walk over to the church yard. High on a hill, it isn't visible to the street below, so you have to climb up to get perspective. I have found a sense of peace in tracing the meandering patterns around and around until I reach the center. Sometimes I stand, sometimes I sit there for a while, and let the sense of peace envelop me. As an archaeologist, it doesn't escape me how lovely it is that at the most unexpected moments, we find treasures sitting right under our feet. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Postcards from the Underworld: Loutrophoros

The word loutrophoros means, "to bring a bath." This tall, slender vessel with an egg like body was used both in wedding and funerary rites. Most vessels of this type were made of clay and in antiquity were used on the wedding day to bring a bath to the bride. Others, such as the one shown above, were made of marble and used a grave markers for those who died unmarried. This exquisitely carved example is in the Kerameikos cemetery of Athens. The buildings of the city and the peak of the hill called Lykavittos can be seen in the distance. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Goddesses in the Dust: The Wind is Talking on Ithaka

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

I've always thought the wind spoke. It would seem all the winds in Greece are named for male gods: Boreas, the god of the north wind and winter, Eurus, the god of the east wind, Notus, god of the south and Zephyrus, god of the west wind. But the breezes are feminine. The Aurai, known as nymphs, were also daughters of the god Anemos, which means wind. 

Whether it be male or female, after many years of visiting the Greek island of Ithaka, I can safely say that the wind does a lot of talking here. Along the harbor where ships dock side by side, it threads its way through the masts, knocking them against one another and whistling its mysterious and eerie sound as it rattles the halyards. Walking along the pier in the town of Kioni, this glass globe filled with oil caught my eye. As I gazed at the sun reflecting in the amber liquid the wind started to talk. 

Instead of answering its mournful call, I just listened

Monday, November 3, 2014

Question on an Athenian Wall

Graffiti. Athens, Greece

Ever wonder about that?
What is mind......and more importantly, where is it? The neuroscientist Candace Pert states that we don't just think or feel emotions with our brain. She says, "it could be said that intelligence is located not only in the brain but in cells that are distributed throughout the body, and that the traditional separation of mental processes, including emotions, from the body is no longer valid." Our whole body is wise and our whole body is conscious. In fact, Pert states that memories are stored in the body and that the body 
is the unconscious mind.

The ancient Greeks were very good at coming up with new ways of seeing our world, through architecture, mathematics, philosophy and theatre. In all the years I've been traveling to Greece I wonder if the landscape of this mysterious country continues to be so compelling to me because of something out there, or due to something inside of me...

....or is it because of some unfathomable, alchemical relationship between them both? 

Ithaka, View of Bay of Vathy from the road to the monastery, late afternoon

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. MARCEL PROUST

Thanks to Robert at The Solitary Walker

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.