Notes from A Goddess Pilgrimage by Joyce Zonana


The solar eclipse has had me sensing deep alignment with earth, sea, and sky, with my sisters and brothers and Self. This, then, from my 1995 journal of my first Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete with Carol Christ, a trip still engraved in my heart:

June 3  – Yesterday, anointing us with rose, lavender, or olive oil, Jana said, “Your journey has begun.” But for me it is this morning, with the purchase of this journal at the biblio on the square across from the hotel, where I sit now in the lobby, traffic noise outside, our group gathering, preparing for our journey . . . happy to be here . . .

Bleeding at the home of the Panagia, the all holy, the sacred mother, sacred myrtle, ancient tree of Aphrodite, Mary, black-bent nuns: we tie ribbons to the tree, sing, “all manner of things shall be well. Blessed be, walk in beauty.” And I am utterly in tears as I walk on the grounds of this ancient place, the birds singing everywhere, yet there is quiet, stillness, an ancient peace . . . A pilgrimage, a shrine, a very holy place.

June 4  – I sit in the bar of our hotel in Zaros. . . a place that feels like a spiritual home. Here on Crete, I think it is the home, perhaps a birthplace, of the Goddess. Yes, the whole island seems to call to Her, it is all a kind of shrine. Mountains, prairie, and sea. . . I feel so good in my body here, so very grounded . . .

I still see our ritual objects at the altar, glistening: turtle, my ring, other jewelry; it is an image as if burned into me, shining, almost blinding: a power occurs, the Goddess revealed.

What is the Goddess? Acceptance, embrace.

Do we live in Her arms, Her belly, Her breast? I think yes, even as I know that I prepare myself for the descent on Tuesday, into the cave womb. I am frightened of this, yet I think this is the most important part of the journey for me—and also, I imagine, Delphi, as a home of Gaia.

June 5 – A goat braying on the other side of the ravine, birds singing. I sit in cool dappled shade on the site of an ancient house. I have hiked up here with Sage; we lunched on oranges and almonds. Now I have been sitting here in silence, dreaming, peaceful. This too, a home of the Goddess.

June 6 – On Mt. Juctas, a peak shrine, poppies grow in crevices between the rocks. Their fragile orange blossoms startle, like skirts of maidens in the wind, flaring upward, folding, trembling. Here they brought offerings to the woman of the earth, into an opening that extends deep within: mountain mother, earth womb, nipple, mouth. She drinks our gifts, woman, Rhea. Here the mysteries were first performed, here the truth was uncovered.

June 7 – We’ve just returned from the Eilithea Cave nearby: childbirth goddess. At the entrance, a belly stone, two massive thighs opening. Inside, a womb, a birth canal. A few of us go into the tiniest recess, through and down a narrow passage. When we emerge, the group calls out joyously, “It’s a girl!” I speak of Nelly, Rose, Allegra—my mothers. I think of Diane, Celine, Stella, Myrna, Joyce, Sascha, Edna, Suzanne . . . the mothers in my family. I think of Judith, Anne, Dolores, Alice, Pam, Susan Andrea, Barbara . . . and, perhaps for the first time, I accept my own childlessness.

Goddess of Myrtos

June 9 – The museum at Agios Nikolaos: I am moved by the grace, the power, the abiding beauty of the Neolithic and early Minoan cups, bowls, pitchers, goddesses . . . all sharing the same life, fluid and solid together, decorated with mandalas, webs, serpents, triangles, cross-hatching . . . delicate, deep, powerful. The Goddess of Myrtos makes me weep.

June 11 – Yesterday at Kato Zakros, something happens. . . Standing in the sun, I am overcome. I move into shade, thinking it might be sunstroke . . . but then I find tears, sobs, a pain that rips through me. Karolina comes to me and holds me. “Another woman last year had the same experience,” she says, “it isn’t your own pain, is it?” “No,” I say, “not at all.” But I cannot name this thing that I feel. I see the women of Kato Zakros, I feel the presence of their quiet life in this ancient place. The stones speak. On the hill above the center are small houses, steps, streets, like a contemporary Cretan village. A maze of rooms. The labyrinth. I return to the lustral bath in the west. I want to enter it; it is overgrown with reeds, and there are insects buzzing. I see the pattern etched into the wall, and I see a woman standing at the bottom, receiving initiates, whom she immerses in the water. This is a place of ritual purification, transformation. This is a place where I have been—on the southern shore of Crete, on the Libyan Sea, on a trade route with ancient Egypt, 3500 years ago. I stand here and deeply feel this life that has gone before me.

Kato Zakros
Kato Zakros Ruins

June 12 – At the sacred spring, cold fountain, on the sacred mountain, Kato Symi, shrine for Aphrodite, Hermes of the tree. Life. Song. Water. Honey. The eternal sound: sweetness of a clear bubbling spring.

June 13 – The north wind blows as we sit in the mouth of the Idean Cave, the Cave on Mount Ida where Rhea is said to have hid Zeus. It is raining, and the earth smell sifts into the cave.

June 14 – Our last day on Crete: feeling a deep sense of community as we prepare to leave. The community of women I might have had in Cairo, the community that might have celebrated my engagement, danced at my wedding, watched over me through all the passages of life. Something we need, something we want, something we have to now create, piece by piece, like the embroidery and crochet work of the village women, using our hands, our eyes, our bodies to weave the links of connection from a common thread. A circle of women.

(After the tour ends in Athens, I travel with two of my new friends to Delphi)

June 17 – On Mount Helikon, directly across from the site of the Apollo shrine, built above the more ancient place of Gaia worship, Ge, we see a huge triangle, a cleft in the mountain. From everywhere in the sacred precinct it is visible, and particularly from the site on which we find the ancient omphalos, the navel-stone/egg that marks the center. If you look a certain way, the egg can be seen emerging from the cleft . . .

Mt Helikon
Our view of Mount Helikon

Here, at the center, a most ancient and  important place of Goddess worship, brutally supplanted by Apollo/Zeus, the son and father, what we saw—after our time on Crete, after the teachings and gifts of Karolina—was the Mother. The guidebooks and remaining monuments speak only of the Olympian cult, of Apollo. But it was for us as if none of this existed: we had eyes only for Ge, found Her spot as if by instinct, held to Her rocks as if guided by Her power. We sat their quietly, not sad at all, knowing that a new time has come, that a new transformation is coming into being. 4000 years of the patriarchal divinities, 4000 years of war and oppression, slavery, hierarchy, division. That time is over. We find the egg, we bless it, and we know where we belong.

Joyce Zonana is the author of a memoir, Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, an Exile’s Journey (Feminist Press 2008). She served for a time as co-Director of the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual. She is the recipient of a 2017 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Award for her work on Ce pays qui te ressemble by Tobie Nathan. Her translation of Henri Bosco’s Malicroix is forthcoming from New York Review Books.



14 thoughts on “Notes from A Goddess Pilgrimage by Joyce Zonana”

  1. “The community of women I might have had in Cairo, the community that might have celebrated my engagement, danced at my wedding, watched over me through all the passages of life. Something we need, something we want, something we have to now create, piece by piece, like the embroidery and crochet work of the village women, using our hands, our eyes, our bodies to weave the links of connection from a common thread. A circle of women.”

    When I read this part of your beautifully crafted journal I almost wept because I too have experienced that longing and yes, this circle of women is still in our future waiting to be re – born.

    I loved reading about your experiences because I hope next year to be able to make that pilgrimage to Crete with Carol. This year financial constraints and physical issues are looming…

    However, unlike you, I am not so optimistic about the future. “Transformation” be on the docket but I no longer believe that this is going to be experienced as a positive shift for the earth or humanity.


  2. Thank you for this lovely piece and for sharing parts of your journey. The photo of Zakros evoked so many memories for me! I was on a pilgrimage there with a small group of women in 2012 (not Carol’s group – a different one as hers was full) — truly, these types of journeys are miraculous, aren’t they? As you say, “the stones speak.” I, too, received an abundance of blessings.


  3. Joyce–Your memories are so evocative and well-written. They remind me of some of my own pilgrimages–such as to Ephesus and Malta. I am also reminded of my astonishment in 2016 when a group member found a perfect yoni clefted into the rocks at Joshua Tree National Park and the visceral experience of standing in that rock womb entrance. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to more of your writing.


    1. Thanks for your generous comment. Yes, these pilgrimages bring us visceral, essential experiences that are actually impossible to fully put into words!


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