A Goddess Pilgrimage: Magical Santorini - Part 4

"To Journey without being changed is to be a nomad.To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim."

- Mark Nepo

It was 3 months ago that I returned to the United States from my 3 week goddess pilgrimage to Greece. It has taken me that long to assimilate it all, to let it seep into my skin, settle in my bones, and animate my dreams...

The last stop of the trip, after leaving Crete and the wonderful journey there to meet the Minoan goddesses with 19 sister pilgrims, was 3 days in Santorini. I didn't know much about Santorini except that I was told it was breathtakingly beautiful. My friend and traveling companion, Diane Marshall, and I were pretty beat from the two-week pilgrimage, jokingly referred to as "goddess bootcamp."  It takes a lot out of you to traverse an island, climb mountain tops, descend into caves, dance, sing, create altars and rituals, and navigate a different culture, language, and people in a group of 20. Diane and I made a few last minute changes to our itinerary so we could enjoy a full 3 days of resting in Santorini, and we were so glad we did.

We took a boat the 70 miles from Crete to Santorini and arrived at a small semi-circular island whose towering cliffs jutted out from the sea like a giant cake. The white buildings that covered the tops of the cliffs looked like drizzled icing. It wasn't until we went up the steep roads to our hotel, the Volcano View, and collapsed in chairs on the cliffside patio that we gasped in amazement at the beauty of our surroundings.

I knew Santorini was on a caldera, or cauldron, formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption, but I now saw that this little slip of an island was actually one part of the circular edge of the volcano. There were a few other smaller islands that peeked up from the sea across from it which I now realized formed the other edge of the volcanic ring.

Wow! It hit me that we were perched on the rim of a volcano that had last erupted in 1450 BCE, and was now surrounded by water. We had heard much about this volcanic eruption on Crete because it was one of the factors that contributed to the demise of the rich, goddess-loving Minoan culture. We were to learn more about its effects here, at its epicenter, when this land was known as Thera and thought by some to have been the lost continent of Atlantis.

Diane and I spent the first day relaxing at the beautiful hotel that overlooked the sea and took in the calming blue and white of the sea, sky, clouds, cliffs and white-washed churches with blue-painted domes. All of Santorini seemed to be blue and white, colors that seemed to both calm us and cleanse us of our weariness.

We learned that there are more than 250 churches on the little island which takes no more than an hour and a half to traverse lengthwise. Here, the Virgin Mary was venerated and considered to be a guardian goddess of the island, comprised mostly of Greek Orthodox and some Catholics. We were to learn that some of these churches were built on sites that were once sacred to the goddesses of old, including Hecate, Artemis, and Isis, the latter due to the shared cultures of the Greeks and Egyptians during ancient times. Mary has had to stand in for the goddesses that were once revered in Her many forms.

The second day there, we rented a car and set out to explore the island. We were eager to visit the ruins of Akrotiri, a Minoan town that flourished until the volcano blew in 1450 BCE, changing the course of civilization in this area. When the volcano erupted, it covered the town in a thick layer of volcanic ash, much like Pompeii, preserving a portion of the town and many of the artifacts of life during that time, as if placed in a time capsule. It is one of the few excavations we visited that was enclosed to prevent further damage from the elements. As we entered, we saw two and three-story buildings that opened onto small squares, remnants of doors and windows, stone-paved roads, sophisticated sewer systems, furniture, utensils and earthenware jars lined up in basement storage rooms. It left one with the feeling that life was suddenly interrupted, although it is speculated that the people who lived there probably had time to evacuate as many earthquakes presaged the volcano's eruption.

In the midst of this gray, ashen ghost town, some buildings exhibited beautifully-painted frescoes on the walls. One in particular thrilled me as it showed what women of the time looked like, how they dressed and wore their hair. I especially loved the painting of the young priestess who seemed to be in motion and the life-sized female figures portrayed in the "House of Women" who seemed so vibrant.




From there, we wandered from black volcanic beaches to white pumice beaches to red lava stone beaches until we found the old settlement of Thera, perched on a hillside. I read about the tiny church halfway up the hill that was built on the site of an ancient temple of the goddess, and wanted to see it. Once again, as Jean Shinoda Bolen points out in Crossing to Avalon, one way of "usurping goddess sites was by building chapels or cathedrals in honor of Mary on them. As a feminine expression of divinity, Mary is archetypally the mother goddess. In all but name, this is how she is worshipped... For regardless of discriminating points made by theologians, the man or woman who prays to Mary is speaking to the same compassionate goddess whose names were, among others, Demeter, Isis, Tara, or Kuan Yin, goddesses who, like Mary, understood suffering.... When Mary chapels are built on goddess sites, they are, in effect, reconsecrated and renamed, places where it can be said that the Goddess continues to be honored."

After a full day of exploring, we made our way to the north tip of the island to the town of Oia where we were told the sunsets were spectacular. There, we sat on a rooftop patio and sipped wine and watched the sun go down along with throngs of others lined along the walls of the cliffside city.










The third day was spent just walking up and down the cobblestone streets of the quaint town of Fira, relaxing, shopping, always eating magnificent food and taking in the beauty around us.

It was hard to leave this magical isle. We wanted the days of keeping our gaze on the deep blue sea, sipping wine, and letting the warm wind blow through our hair until the sun dropped beneath the horizon to never end. But as all good things must, this journey, too, came to a glorious end in Santorini.

The pilgrimage to Greece to encounter the goddess was one that will always be a part of me, and that did indeed, transform me as I felt the presence of the goddess both within and without. For She is there. Wherever you seek Her, you will find Her. And I came to know, as did Morgaine, the last priestess of the goddess in The Mists of Avalon, who followed a young girl into a chapel at the end of the story "...even if they think otherwise... these women know the power of the Immortal. Exile her as they may, she will prevail. The Goddess will never withdraw herself from mankind."


Death Mother/Creation Mother

"The Creation Mother is always also the Death Mother and vice versa. Because of this dual nature or double-tasking, the great work before us is to learn to understand what is around and about us and what within us must live, and what must die. Our work is to apprehend the timing of both; to allow what must die to die, and what must live to live." - Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

This is what I love about studying the goddesses. I love seeing all that primal stuff just laid out there for us. For every young, beautiful maiden and light goddess there is an ugly, old one, a dark goddess, saying, "Don't get too caught up in all that loveliness, Sister, there's more to the story. Life ain't no bed of roses all the time. You better smell the flowers while you can, cuz there's some decay a comin'."

And at the same time, just when you think life is a big, steaming pile of shit, the goddess of love and life comes waltzin' in saying, "Hey, that ain't all there is, Sister. Get your head out of your ass and start living cuz there's beauty all around you. Life's too short. And what is it you want to be doing anyway? Get to it! You better be loving yourself. Look in the mirror, Sister. You got it going on!

For every Persephone, there's a Hecate. For every Bast, there's a Sekhmet. For every Athena, there's a Medusa. For every Kali, a Lakshmi; for Rhiannon, there's Cerridwyn; Cinderella/wicked stepmother; Snow White/Dark Queen, Vasilisa/Baba Yaga. You get it: Birth and Death. The endless cycle. Two sides of the same coin.

But, wait! The wisdom of the divine feminine is that it's not just black and white, either/or, crazy-ass, patriarchal dualistic thinking. There's a triple goddess to be found here. She is life, itself. She is the in-between. She is the one who travels the bridge to both worlds: the conscious and the unconscious, the upper and the lower, the internal and external, masculine and feminine, and understands that it's not one or the other, it's both/and. She knows the third way that moves betwixt the worlds and doesn't get stuck in the extremes. She is the wisdom that comes from living and knowing that birth follows death and death follows birth, but in between there is a life to be lived.

So don't be fooled by those old hags, or that stone cold evil eye of the Medusa. She contains the beautiful, wise goddess Athena. And don't be thinking that little girl don't know nothing. She's hiding the wise old hag within her very bones. Remember to live, Sisters, live it all. Remember to cherish the dark days as much as the glory days for they portend something else is coming. Nothing stays the same. And we can either wallow in the shit, complaining about the stink, or we can stand up and walk through it until we get to the other side, smelling like roses again.

And in case you forget, just walk outside and look up into the night sky. And there she is. Shining a little or a lot, for all to see. The Death Mother becomes the Creation Mother becomes the Death Mother becomes the Creation Mother and everything in between.

The Goddess Temple e-course on the Alchemical Goddesses starts in one month. We will be exploring the Death Mother when we meet Kali and the Creation Mother when we meet Yemaya and Aphrodite, that Great Mother Goddess of Love and Beauty, will be leading the way. What are you waiting for, Sister? Don't miss the boat. Life's too short.

Hecate and the Threefold Path

If you see an old woman walking down the road one dark moonless night, take heed, because that may be the "Distant One" who has words of wisdom for you. Be kind to the woman who stands at the crossroads for that is said to be the threshold to the underworld, the realm of Hecate and the maiden-turned-queen, Persephone.

And if you come upon such a crossroads, leave an offering for Hecate's supper.

If you honor her, she will honor you by showing up whenever you need help, whenever you stand at a crossroads and need to make an important decision, a choice about which direction to take.

She is the one who will stand beside you and help you summon the courage to step into your power, to listen to that inner voice that knows what is the right decision for you in that moment.

She is the one who will help you hear the answers that your ancestors have to give you if you will but ask and listen.

She is the one who protects you in remote places, when you have lost your bearings, when you feel trapped, hemmed in, without a safety net.

She is the one who is the Dark Mother, who will hold you in the blackness until the first streams of light illuminate your path.

She is the one who midwifes you through your own birth, death, and rebirth and who helps lost souls pass over.

Hecate is one of the oldest manifestations of the triple goddess and her power is in threes:  

She embodies the three faces of the goddess: maiden, mother and crone. Sometimes she is depicted as having three animal heads: lion, snake and dog or at other times the dog, horse, and bear.

She travels with three black hounds or some say the three-headed dog, Cerebrus.

She stands at the crossroads where three roads meet. From there, she can see into the dimensions of past, present and future.

She is the moon in its three phases of waxing, waning, and full.

She walks between the three realms of earth, sky, and the underworld, where she presides over the passages of birth, life, and death or of birth, death and rebirth, a reflection of the moon's phases.

She represents the three stages of the mysteries of agriculture: the green corn (Kore, the young maiden), the ripe ear (Persephone, the queen) and the harvested corn, symbolized by Hecate, herself.

She is a goddess of magic and transformation and carries three sacred objects: a key, a rope and a dagger. Use these symbols to help you unlock the wisdom of the ancient mysteries.

The key is the way into the underworld, where we must go to transmute fear into love and bring unconscious stirrings into the conscious light of day.

The rope is the umbilical cord that when cut allows us to experience rebirth, renewal and enter a new cycle.

The dagger, like Kali's sword, cuts through the illusion of control and duality and allows us to see things in greater dimension, no longer in black and white, either/or possibilities. She helps us give up control when its needed to allow magical transformation to occur.

Hecate represents our medial nature, our ability to see beyond the ordinary, and thus she can help bring magic and mystery into our lives.

Hecate, daughter of Nyx or Ancient Night, is with us now, during the dark, new moon and especially on Samhain, October 31.

It is on October 31 that the veil between the worlds is said to be most transparent, and a good time to converse with the ancestors, leave offerings, and discard what no longer serves us into the fire. What do you need to release? Halloween is a good night to name it and cast it into the fire.

Hecate stirs the cauldron of creativity. What is brewing in your cauldron tonight? The new moon is a good time to start a new project or claim a path you want to take and step onto the road with Hecate at your side.

Winter Solstice & The Goddess Hecate

Triple Goddess of the Crossroads I have emerged from hibernation--yes, I started early. Hibernation for me took place during the fall -- I moved to a new home in September. It's a wonderful farm house on 5 acres that feels like country -- we are surrounded by horses, cows, deer in abundance, and a few coyotes (newcomers to this neighborhood) -- yet we are only five minutes from town (Carrboro). During these past few months I have taken a much-needed break from external demands and allowed myself time to settle into our new home and new life, just one year after moving to North Carolina. It takes time to reassemble, I have had to remind myself. Now I feel the wheel turning...

It seems fitting to return to Owl and Crow at the time of the winter solstice, coming up on December 21, just one month from my birthday in January. (Crow has been very irritated with me for my absence, pecking at my brain, telling me to get back to writing and expressing myself. Owl doesn't want to be bothered and would just as soon sit in silence, preening and pondering, or read a good book.) But I tend to come alive in the winter, a sort of rebirth as I approach the place on the wheel of my sun sign, Aquarius.

The Solstice, from the Latin sol stetit, meaning "sun stands still," is the time when the sun seems to rise and set at the same point on the horizon for about a week. It is considered the turning point of time, when people of old celebrated the return of the light. The winter solstice signifies the moment of new beginnings, the point that divides the year in half, a time of mystery when the gates between the two worlds stand open for a moment.

Celtic Queen of Winter

It is also the time of the crone, the third aspect of the Triple Goddess. In Celtic tradition, the Cailleach, Queen of Winter, or "The Old Woman Who Never Dies," walked upon the earth toting boulders in her apron and a great feather pillow over her shoulder. She was a creatrix from the beginning of time, who created the mountains when she dropped a boulder. She brought the cold, bitter winds with her as she trod upon the earth, as well as the frost and snow when the feathers spilled from her pillow.

In the Greek tradition, it is the triple goddess, Hecate, who stands at the crossroads, or threefold path, guiding us on our journey to the unknown. She is a lover of solitude, often depicted with three black hounds, and other times as having three animal heads (the horse, the snake and the bear), which allow her to see the past, present and future. She may visit us while we sleep (as nightmarish, shadowy creatures, the dark feminine, the black Madonna), and awaken us to new insights. She can guide us to see things differently and help us find greater understanding of our selves and others.

Although her name means "The Distant One," Hecate is always close at hand in times of need, helping us to release the old, familiar ways and find new ways of being. As protector of women during childbirth, she can help us give birth to new aspects of ourselves. But it's important to remember that the birth process is not easy and it can feel scary, uncomfortable, and lonely as we find our way in the darkness before emerging into the light of new awareness. Be gentle with yourself during these times and call on Hecate for guidance, nurturing, and protection.

As the New Year approaches, you may notice you are at a crossroads pondering which direction to take or groping in the dark a bit. It may be time to let the old die so the new can be born. How can Hecate help you transform?