carol-christOne of the inspirations for the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete was the spiritual power and energy I felt at the monastery of Paliani with its Sacred Myrtle Tree.  The Panagia, She Who Is All Holy, is said to live in the tree, and the nuns who tend the tree follow customs far older than Christianity.  When I first visited Paliani, I asked Her to heal my broken heart and help me find my true love.

panagia palianiOver the years, I have offered many other prayers:  for my books and tours, for health, for citizenship that would enable me to stay in Greece.   I tell other pilgrims that the Panagia of Paliani has performed many miracles and repeat the story of the doctors who desperately wanted to have a child, who had tried everything, and who had a son a year to the day after making a prayer at Paliani. I point to the many “tamas,” including gifts of precious jewelry, crutches and body braces that have been given in honor of the power of the Panagia of Paliani.

In the fall of 2012 one of our members prayed that a heavy flow of menstrual blood that often lasted for more than half of every month be stopped so that she would have the strength to participate fully in the pilgrimage. She had been bleeding for 5 weeks when she came on the tour, and her bleeding stopped the moment she touched the tree.  A few weeks after the tour, a series of coincidences led her a doctor who performed minor surgery for free, that relieved her excessive flow.

When this friend spoke to me of the “miracle” that occurred at the tree, she said she understood she needed to “give a gift” in thanks. She asked if she had “done the right thing” when at another monastery dedicated to a Sacred Myrtle Tree, she left money “for the poor.” I could not shake the feeling that this was not “the right” offering.

I told my friend she needed to give something at Paliani because it was “the place” where she was healed. I added with an ironic smile that I had never had to make such an offering because “She did not answer my prayer to help me find my true love.” My friend responded, “She may not have given you that, but don’t you think you need to thank Her for all the things She has given you?” I was taken aback.

In the ensuing conversation we spoke about the reasons we did not want to give gold jewelry to an icon or a tree:  it will go to the church in the end, so what is the point; I don’t wear gold (my friend); I don’t want to give expensive jewelry (me).

Before I left for Crete, my friend gave me a small packet that included a knotted pink bracelet made at Paliani that she had been wearing for a year, and 100 euros “for the nuns.” I still didn’t feel this was “the right” offering. I decided that if I found “the right” gift, I would spend part of the 100 euros on it.

I could not stop wondering if I had failed to make an offering to the Panagia of Paliani for the things that She had given me. I got out my jewelry box. I rejected most of the pieces I don’t wear (was it right to give something I didn’t want any more?) and was unwilling to part with the ones I do wear (was this ungenerous?). I picked up a small gold pendant of the Phaistos disk stamped with an undeciphered script which I had worn for many years “for luck with writing.” I added it to a necklace I was wearing, sensing I would know if it was the right gift.

160In Crete, I looked for “the right” offerings.  I wanted to give a heart, but rejected the gold pendants as too small or too expensive. Finally the jeweler pulled out a tray of silver pendants. A small silver heart with “diamonds and sapphires” would be my offering. A heart with a vulva shape in its center was perfect for my friend.

I emailed my friend a photo of the hearts, and she thanked me for knowing what to do.

At Paliani, nothing went as planned. My friend the Mother Superior was ill with flu, and the nuns had forgotten we were coming. I felt flustered. Finding an unfamiliar nun in the church, I handed her the offerings.

While reading a story from Odyssey with the Goddess about Paliani, I started to cry when I came to the words stating that the pain I brought to the tree had closed the wellspring of my creativity and stopped my writing. I understood that I needed to offer the Phaistos disk too.

When I left Paliani that day, I was unsettled. I am still pondering what it means to be generous to She Who Is All Holy.

What I know is that I have been healed, not once but many times, by the Panagia of Paliani, the Sacred Myrtle Tree, and the nuns who serve Her.

singing to the myrtle tree

Paliani tree in leaf

Carol P. Christ  has just come back from the fall Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she led through Ariadne Institute.  It is not too early to sign up for the spring or fall pilgrimages for 2014.  Carol can be heard on a WATER Teleconference.  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.

Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women.

14 thoughts on “GIVING BACK TO THE MOTHER by Carol P. Christ”

  1. Blessing to you and your healings. You and your friend did indeed find the right gifts. I sometimes wonder if we can give anything to the Goddess who gives us everything. Maybe holding Her in our hearts as we go about our work in the world, which includes our writing, is what we can return to Her.


  2. Yes Barbara I sometimes think that our whole lives are our gift to her, but I am also interested in the ancient Cretan offerings and libations and the modern Cretan offerings of tamas, which suggest a more physical way of giving back is also appropriate. Food offerings are shared in community and one of the purpose of tamas is to alert others that healing is possible and has occurred to many others here in this place. As I said in the piece, I don’t know how this fits into my theology–exactly–but I have experienced healing in specific places where healing has occurred for others and I have seen the gifts of others and given my own.


  3. For myself I always make my thanks by donating to an appropriate charity: so when my friend was not diagnosed with cancer after tests, I gave money to cancer research. You can extend this idea by, donating to any charity which is appropriate to the need for which you pray – ie the charity which would literally answer your prayers were you in need of their service.


  4. Thank you for this, Carol. I have wanted to give a gift to La Grotte de Marie Madeleine in France. Have not been back there in person. Have not been able to find the appropriate channels. I am moved now to keep searching.


    1. Before coming to the tree we draw ribbons of different colors from a closed bag with the suggestion that we meditate on the meaning of the color we drew. For example, green might mean something is growing in me, light blue that I need more calm in my life. We usually enter the church first where if we want we light a candle and approach the icon of the Panagia. She has big brown eyes that seem to look directly at you. I usually pour out my heart to her there in petitions and thanks. The Sacred Myrtle Tree is just behind the church. There we tie our ribbons on the tree with the special prayer connected to the color of our ribbons. After that we gather and sing to the tree. “We shall be well, we shall be well, all manner of things shall be well,” adding and invoking all of our names and the tree too. In the photo Laura and I are singing in Greek with one of the nuns a chant like song which is the story of the Sacred Myrtle Tree. I have written a song in English for the tree which we also sing. There is also a common prayer which we read responsively that includes the words “Sacred Myrtle Tree at the Center of Earth beginning … this day your child I have become.”


  5. A lovely story, Carol, one that seems to still be ongoing. Several trees have been important in my life, not necessarily associated with a particular goddess. I have thanked them with tobacco (an American Indian tradition) and tiny Herkimer diamonds, a stone that comes from the area where I was born and raised. Maybe it’s the tree that needs thanking, rather than just the Panagia?


    1. At Paliani the two are one. I have thanked the tree too, but whatever is placed there gets removed, perhaps for the health of the tree. For me the issue I was discussing is about place and healing in place. I think you understand that too. For me it is the Panagia, the tree, and the nuns. No separation. An email I received today about the post suggested to me that my “true love” is women and our spiritual lives. There is some truth in that too.


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  7. I am always open to hearing another Tree of Life story. In my life so many trees have offered comfort, witnessing, healing, friendship. My love for all trees is a living presence in my life. Each morning now, as fall approaches I awaken to the lush green apple tree just outside my bedroom window. She is heavy with apples and three deer, a mother, aunt and spotted fawn visit each dawn to see if any apples have dropped in the night…each morning I give thanks for this wild apple tree that I planted as a seedling the first year I moved into my little log cabin, marveling that I used to imagine that someday I would awaken to a tree this big and just as beautiful… Trees know things…The beloved cedar that I cut down this summer after returning from New Mexico because she had been ravaged by the deer during the harsh winter and was slowly dying, broke my heart. After dragging the tree to one of my brush piles I spoke to her and cut many branches, some with her first cones to bring into the house. For the first week those branches turned towards the place where their tree lay, as if crying out to her in sorrow. At Lammas I honored her as the sacrifice required and the part of her that is me…I will miss her all the days of my life to come…The Trees of Life are everywhere waiting for us to notice them… when we do something amazing happens; trees love us too.

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