This has been a busy time for me.
The semester is ending at Goddard College, where I teach writing for the Master of Fine Arts program. I'm putting together an art show (including some pictures that even though I drew them I keep thinking, wow, where did that come from?) for the Omega Institute, where Mary Greer and I will be teaching our annual week of Tarot, June 11-18 (a highlight of the year, we've been doing this for something like 16 years). And I'm finishing a book of short stories (more about that in a future entry).
In the midst of all this excitement–not to mention the blooming of the rhodendron tree just outside my window–I am starting to get very excited about going back to Greece. Information on the trip has finally gone up on my web site (with many thanks to the wondrous Mark Powell), and Nicki Scully and I are putting the finishing touches on our itinerary. Recently I met Nicki for the first time when she was on her way home from leading a group to Egypt. She had a day between flights and I took the train to New York where we spent a few hours that could easily have been days. One of those kind of meetings, like lost sisters.
This trip has been a dream of mine for over fifteen years, and I am so happy it is finally coming together. My love of sacred places, of the Goddess in the landscape and in myth, in the meeting place between nature and story, has infomed so much of my work. My book The Body of the Goddess is about sacred journeys and mysteries, but these subjects also infuse the whole Shining Tribe Tarot deck, and they appear in my novels, especially Godmother Night, a book based on fairy tales.
It's funny, I cannot say exactly when the Greek Goddesses (and some Gods, especially Hermes) became so important to me. Perhaps it was when I discovered their ancient roots beyond the kind of sitcom images that have come down to us in the standard books of mythology we read as children. Artemis, for example. In the stories commonly read she appears as a sort of tomboy Moon Goddess, wandering the woods with her bow and arrow, a minor figure in the Greek pantheon compared to her brother Apollo or Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, and protector of Athens. Yet Artemis is very old, so old no one really knows the origin of her name. Though she spurns men, and certainly marriage, she is the protector of women in childbirth. And she can be seen in the landscape. There is a kind of mountain formation known as Winged Artemis, for like the Egyptian Isis, or the Babylonian Ishtar, or the Hebrew Shekhinah, Artemis was often pictured as having outstretched wings. The landscape form is simple, it is two mountain peaks with a third mountain, or simply a hill, in the middle (often in front of the other two), so that the two peaks look like unfurled wings. Once you see this, and really bring it into yourself, really feel the physical presence of the Goddess in the landscape, you can see it, feel it, so clearly in so many places. Almost the best example I know occurs when you take the train down the Hudson River to New York. There is a place south of the city of Beacon where you can look across the river at the Catskills, and see mountains that look like wings unfolding in a series of steps.
To be in Greece, where the figures of myth emerged thousands of years ago, where they still seem a living presence, produces a sense of opening and transformation.
This trip will be about "The Earth, the Temples, and the Gods," to quote the title of the book by Vincent Scully that first made me aware of the sacred power of the landscape.
But it also will be about a particular story and a nine day ritual that was the most important spiritual event of the ancient world for thousands of years. The story is that of the Goddess Persephone, who as an innocent maiden is kidnapped by Death to be his bride, and yet returns not as a victim but as the great and powerful Queen of the Dead, giver of new life to her initiates. The event is the celebration of that new life, the Greater Mysteries.
To follow this ritual, to become modern Mystai (the word for those who took part in the nine day ceremony), we will follow the story from Athens (where the Mystai set out, under the cry "Mystai! To the sea!") to Delphi, magnificent site of the world's most famous oracle, to Epidaurus, stunning temple of healing and dreams, to Eleusis, site of the Mysteries themselves, and then to Crete, site of a civilization older than the Greeks, and quite probably the origin of the rites. There was a saying in the ancient world about the Mysteries: what is done secretly in Eleusis was done in the open in Crete.
Obviously I could say a lot more about this trip, and what the Greek Goddesses and Gods mean to me personally. At some point, I want to answer that tricky question "What's a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a myth like this?"
But for now I'll end with a Tarot card, pulled at random from the Shining Tribe, the deck that is so connected to the Mysteries. The card I got was the Eight of Rivers. Fittingly (my students tell me that whatever card I get I always respond "Oh! Perfect!") this picture shows a group of people in ritual costumes, dancing together. Like the Mystai traveling from Athens to Eleusis, they have left something behind, an old life perhaps, an old way of being, or simply, for a time, their normal consciousness, to enter the world of myth, to travel physically into the landscape of stories.
Mystai! To the sea!