“Light and Darkness” is a song written and arranged to one of the oldest known European melodies by Ariadne Institute founding Co-Director Jana Ruble, following her first Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Every year since then, we have sung it in the caves of Crete during our rituals. A pilgrim told us that she learned it at the (Christian) Re-Imagining Conference. Last spring another pilgrim said that she knew it because her choral group sings it. You can listen to “Light and Darkness” and see pictures of an altar in a cave on a new video created by Goddess pilgrim PJ Livingstone after the 2015 spring tour.
In our culture we have been taught to fear the dark. We have been told that monsters come out in the dark, and that they will eat us. Such fears have not always been part of cultural memory. Before the Indo-Europeans arrived in Europe and later in Greece, light and dark, day and night, winter and spring, were celebrated as part of the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. Women, the first agriculturalists, knew that a seed must be hidden away in a cold dark place (often a cave) to rest before being planted again. The setting sun marked the end of the day, ushering in a time to rest from tasks requiring the light of the sun. Winter was a time of rest from the hard work of planting and harvesting in spring and summer.
The arrival of the Indo-Europeans upset and vilified traditional ways of knowing that had been passed down for millennia. In ancient Crete, ritual games played with bulls were part of the rites of spring. Leaping over the bulls celebrated the leaping up of nature after a long winter’s sleep. I suspect that adolescents, both girls and boys, reared and the trained the young bulls for the spring rites. Though bulls too have been vilified as vicious and dangerous, even today they are led around auction halls on leashes. In order to make bulls fight, someone must first frighten and injure them. Although bull-leaping took place in the open and the light, other rituals of ancient Crete took place in caves, where the darkness was celebrated as a place of transformation leading to rebirth and regeneration.
The Greeks took these two ritual themes and turned them into the story of “Theseus and the Minotaur.” In the Greek story, Pasiphae (the name is Greek not from the ancient Cretan language), said to have been queen in ancient Crete (though there were were no queens), falls in love with a bull and asks the engineer Dadaelus (father of Icarus who features in another story) to make a contraption that will enable her to mate with the bull. Here, the love that the children of Crete must have had for the bulls they reared is turned into something dirty. The idea of women mating with the large animals is the stuff of pornography up to the present day.
After mating with the bull, Pasiphae gives birth to a monster-child, half-bull and half-human male. Horrified, she abandons him in a labyrinth, most probably a cave. The monster-child survives to become the Minotaur who demands 7 girls and 7 boys to be sacrificed to him each year. The darkness of the cave becomes the place where evil monsters dwell. The monster eats children. The children who played with the bull are transformed into human sacrifices demanded by the evil bull.
The hero Theseus, with the help of a thread given to him by Pasiphae’s daughter Ariadne (her name is pre-Indo-European and may have been a name of the Goddess), who has fallen in love with him, enters the labyrinth or cave, slays the Minotaur, and finds the way out using Ariadne’s thread. Because he has slain the monster, Theseus is a hero whose his name will be known for all time. In stories told by the victors, the cultures they conquer are vilified as brutal, barbarian, and orgiastic. In this story, it is added that a woman from within the old culture precipitated its demise because of her love for the man who came to destroy it.
It makes me very angry to retell this story because in so-doing, I am re-minded and my body re-members the damage that was done and is still being done. Women are lustful creatures. The dark is the place where evil monsters dwell. The wombs of women are dark places where evil dwells. Only the hero can save us. The old culture must be destroyed. Women know that. Even the Goddess gave her thread to the hero. In this story, the hero does not save Ariadne, because he soon abandons her on a nearby island.
In our rituals in the caves of Crete we enter into the darkness and celebrate it as a place of rebirth and regeneration. We re-write history in our bodies, re-claiming all that has been stolen from us. The song “Light and Darkness” celebrates our new knowing. Please feel free to share it widely, giving credit to Jana Ruble.
Carol P. Christ is author or editor of eight books in Women and Religion and is one of the Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement. She leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in Spring and Fall: Early Bird Special until February 15. Follow Carol on Twitter @CarolP.Christ, Facebook Goddess Pilgrimage, and Facebook Carol P. Christ. Carol speaks in depth about the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in an illustrated interview with Kaalii Cargill. Photo of Carol by Andrea Sarris.
A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess will be published by Far Press in the spring of 2016. A journey from despair to the joy of life.
Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology with Judith Plaskow will be published by Fortress Press in June 2016. Exploring the connections of theology and autobiography and alternatives to the transcendent, omnipotent male God.