On a cold and rainy morning in Lesbos, I ponder the advice of my intuitive friend Cristina to reflect on the spiritual dimensions of my decision to move to Crete. When asked why I am moving from Lesbos to Crete, I tend focus on the negative: I am lonely in my small village; and I am disheartened by my neighbors’ lack of compassion for the refugees who come to our island from Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.
As I begin to think again, I recall the many wonderful things I have experienced in Lesbos. This is the island where Sappho sang, and I too have been inspired by the muses who arise from the land. It is here that I first felt Greece calling me to leave my home. It is here that I learned to speak Greek. It is here that I listened to the stories of the old people who remembered a time when everyone lived closer to each other and the land. It is here that I learned to dance the traditional dances of Greece. It is here that I learned to identify over 300 species of birds that visit the wetlands on spring migration or are year-around or summer and winter residents. It is here that I dedicated a decade of my life to the effort to protect the wetland home of the birds I came to love. It is here that I was asked to run for regional and national office by the Green Party Greece. It is here that I met green friends I will always hold in my heart. It is here that I became an amateur geologist, learning the volcanic history of an island that has been declared a UNESCO Geopark. It is here that I imagined the time before 1922 when Turks, Armenians, and Greeks lived together in my village. It is here that I renovated a small Turkish house in a neighborhood that once had a mosque and later, a Neoclassical “mansion” (not particularly large by American standards) built by a Greek shipowner who transported goods brought by camels along the silk road from China. It is here that I learned to drink retsina and to relish food drenched in olive oil. I will carry all of this with me, for it is in my blood and in my bones.
But now, Crete is calling me.
On the practical level, I hope to make friends who share my passions for the environment, for women’s power rising, for the Goddess, and for the harmonious egalitarian culture of ancient Crete. Though I know that people who feel threatened can become nasty in other parts of Greece and indeed in every part of the world, I will be happy not to be experiencing that nastiness on a daily basis.
But if practical concerns were all, I might not have chosen Crete. Crete is calling because it was once home to a culture based on respect for women, harmony with nature, and peace: a history that can still be glimpsed from time to time in the generosity of its people.
In fact, Crete has been my second home for all of the twenty-five years I have been leading the Goddess Pilgrimage. There I visited sacred places and found the power to overcome what had been a recurring depression. There I learned that love is always available though not always in the places we expect to find it. There the Goddess spoke to me in the darkness of caves, through the green leaves of the Sacred Myrtle Tree, and in the serpentine rhythms of the dance. The landscape of Crete is incredibly beautiful, and I count many of its people as my friends.
At the end of the most recent Goddess Pilgrimage, one of the women thanked me for my dedication to unraveling the egalitarian matriarchal culture of ancient Crete—and for not giving up no matter what! The fact that ancient Crete was, as Marija Gimbutas has written, the final flowering of the egalitarian, peaceful, matrilineal and probably matrilocal culture of Old Europe that worshipped the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and regeneration in all of life, is the deeper reason I am moving to Crete.
Coincidentally—or not—I made the decision to move a few weeks after I was invited by archaeologist Vance Waltrous to join the team that is interpreting the results of recent excavations of the Minoan town of Gournia, originally uncovered by the American archaeologist Harriet Boyd (later Hawes) at the beginning of the twentieth century. In agreeing to write about religion at Gournia for the new team, I was aware that I would be following in the footsteps of a very brave and very intelligent woman who understood as I do that the culture of ancient Crete was different from the familiar Greek patriarchy.
Harriet Boyd, her colleague Blanche Wheeler (later Williams), and Marija Gimbutas are ancestors calling me to Crete. They, along with a long line of women stretching back to those who first came to Crete bringing with them the secrets of agriculture, are calling me to write without fear of any reprisal about the peaceful society of ancient Crete where reverence women and nature was at the center of everything.
Thank you for your oracular question, Cristina Nevans. You provoked me to recognize that writing about the “society of peace” that was ancient Crete is one of the reasons I am being called to move to a place where memories of a different way of living in harmony with each other and our mother earth are waiting to be revealed and articulated. I cannot yet envision what form it will take, but I now sense that the essay Vance Waltrous has asked me to write is only a beginning.
Ancient Mothers, I hear you calling me.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving to Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.