"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."