Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete – Reborn! by Laura Shannon

Thirty years ago, Carol P. Christ founded her Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, which she wrote about in her book A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess (original 1995 title Odyssey with the Goddess) and in numerous posts on this site over the years. She led over 40 groups of women Pilgrims to encounter the history and sacred sites of the peaceful, egalitarian civilisation of Bronze Age Crete. 

Here, the Goddess-honouring culture of Old Europe survived the longest, when patriarchal Indo-Europeans were taking over in the ‘Kurgan waves’ Marija Gimbutas has described. The sophisticated artworks of ‘Minoan’ Crete show women in positions of honour and authority, and do not depict violence, slavery, or war. People celebrated at ceremonial centres, made offerings at cave and mountain shrines, and worshipped the Goddess in sacred trees and stones.

Snake Goddess, Knossos, Crete, ca. 1600 BCE [photo: Heraklion Archaeological Museum]

As many readers know, before Carol passed away, she asked me to take on the leadership of her Goddess Pilgrimage, and to serve as her literary executor and the director of her Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual. Deeply moved by her trust in me, and guided by very clear dreams I received around the time of her death, I accepted Carol’s request. In October 2022, after a three-year delay due to the pandemic, the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete was reborn. 

Pilgrimage feast [photo: Susanne Willis]

We were a wonderfully diverse international group of 18 women, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-70s, and our time together exploring the sacred landscapes of Crete in Carol’s footsteps was simply splendid. Everywhere we went, people knew that we were ‘Karolina’s group’ and shared with us their love and appreciation for her. Through the prayers, rituals and readings which Carol had gathered for the Pilgrimage, we remembered her and felt her presence every day.

We lit candles in caves, shared fabulous feasts, enjoyed music and dance, and took in the splendor of museums filled with treasures made by those who lived in peace and honoured the Goddess. Our simple rituals at sacred sites included songs, prayers, libations, and offerings of fruit and flowers on ancient altars such as this one at the Kamilari tholos tomb. 

Altar at Kamilari tholos tomb  [photo: Elena Oxman]

The first Pilgrimage without Carol naturally had a bittersweet tinge, both for those who had known her personally and for those who would have liked to meet her and did not get the chance. Yet balancing our grief was our immense gratitude for the beauty she created and the legacy she left. 

We were blessed to have with us Christina Nevans, one of Carol’s closest friends and an experienced co-leader of the Pilgrimage. Christina was an invaluable support for the group, not only sharing everything Carol used to say at the sacred sites, but tirelessly working to pass it all on to our new co-leader Angelique, another wise and wonderful woman whom we are lucky to have in our Pilgrimage team. Another much-appreciated source of support came from returning Pilgrim Paula Mariedaughter, who shared many memories and insights from her previous Pilgrimage in 2017. Paula’s gorgeous blogs about Carol and the Pilgrimage are at http://paulamariedaughter.com/?s=Crete

Pilgrimage at Paliani [photo: Jamie Contis]

One of Carol’s favourite places was the Paliani monastery, dedicated to Panayia Myrtidiotissa, ‘Our Lady of the Myrtle’. The courtyard encloses a huge ancient myrtle tree where people light candles and tie votive offerings to the branches, practices rooted in Minoan tree worship connected to the Goddess. Twigs and fragrant leaves from the tree, and water from the spring flowing from a tiny cave nearby, are believed to embody the Panayia’s healing powers. Pilgrims come from all over Greece to visit this tree, where our group also spent quiet time in meditation.

Panayia Myrtidiotissa  [photo: Elena Oxman]

The icon of the Panayia Myrtidiotissa depicts a Black Madonna, accompanied by  evergeen myrtle branches with blue-black berries. As is so often the case in Crete and Greece, the church rests upon the foundations of an archaic temple, probably a sanctuary of Aphrodite. In ancient times, Aphrodite was the great cosmic goddess of heaven and earth, analogous to the Mesopotamian Goddesses Inanna and Ishtar. Aphrodite was also known to the Minoans. And one of her attributes was indeed the myrtle tree.

Paliani is just one of many places on Crete where we can experience aspects of the living Goddess. She can be found in temple sites later overlaid with Christian churches, in the landscape where the Minoans worshipped, and in the many ceremonial centres of Bronze Age Crete. Sometimes concealed, sometimes revealed, she is ever-present for those with eyes to see.

In A Serpentine Path, Carol writes that the mystery of the Goddess was revealed to her on Crete “as the dance of life: a serpentine path with no beginning and no end, into the darkness, into the light, and back again.”She also used to say that the mystery of pilgrimage lies in the art of overcoming external obstacles, and thereby learning to overcome inner obstacles also. This Pilgrimage, like all others, was not without its obstacles: at the very beginning, a medical emergency kept two participants and two of our team in Heraklion for a couple of days, and at the very end, heavy storms closed the airport on the day that most Pilgrims were leaving, so sudden new plans had to be made. We survived these and other challenges, learning through them to practice the flexibility, resilience, and inner peace which are among the gifts of the Goddess.

Thank you, Carol, for showing us the way. We follow in your footsteps with the greatest love and respect.

Carol P. Christ at Trapeza Cave, ca. 1995 [photo: estate of Carol Christ]

Resources: 

Our 2023 Pilgrimage is full with a waiting list. There are still spaces on the 2024 tour (October 5-19, 2024). 

December 20, 2022: 

Zoom gathering (registration at this link): ‘Carol Christ and the Pilgrimage to the Goddess

On December 20, Carol’s birthday, we will celebrate her life and legacy, with a focus on the Goddess Pilgrimage on Crete which she initiated and which now continues in her footsteps. Paula Mariedaughter will speak about the symbol of the labrys, Laura Shannon will share about Goddess motifs in Cretan women’s folk art, and participants in the 2022 Pilgrimage will share photos and stories. All friends of Carol are welcome to join us to reminisce, and anyone interested in joining a future Pilgrimage is welcome to come and ask questions. Time: 10am-12 noon PST, 1-3 pm EST, 6-8 pm UK, 7-9 pm Central European Time, 8-10 pm Greece. Free of charge.

BIO Laura Shannon is one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement. She trained in Intercultural Studies (1986) and Dance Movement Therapy (1990), holds an M.A. in Myth, Cosmology, and the Sacred from Canterbury Christ Church University (2020), and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Gloucester (U.K.). Her research in Balkan dance highlights out songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which descend from the Goddess cultures of Neolithic Old Europe, and which embody an ancient worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura is a longtime faculty member of the Sacred Dance department of the Findhorn eco-spiritual community in Scotland, an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Sacred Dance Guild, Founding Director of the non-profit Athena Institute for Women’s Dance and Culture, and Carol P. Christ’s choice to succeed her as Director of the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual. Her articles and essays on women’s ritual dances have appeared in numerous publications. Laura lives in Greece and the UK.



Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminism and Spirituality, General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Pilgrimage

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Beautiful. Thank you. I hope to go on this one day! (And wow, will have to reserve early!) Meanwhile I have shared and linked on the divine feminine app and facebook. Well wishes, Caryn

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  2. Love this! So happy Carol’s work/legacy will continue.

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  3. Thank you Laura, so glad this work lives on. Me too would love to be part of this sometime and grateful for the reminder to book early as Caryn pointed out:-)

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  4. I’m so glad you are continuing Carol’s essential work, especially the Crete tours. Being where our feminist spiritual history happened and feeling its presence all around you is so transformative and important in this time when we need to bring these beliefs and traditions back into our own time and society. I have not had a chance to go on one of the tours, but it is definitely on my list of things I hope I will be able to do in the future. Thanks!

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  5. Oh, reading this beautiful post is bittersweet and yet Carol’s presence is woven through your every word… how we miss her….I am certain that she accompanied you on this pilgrimage and of course, like Carol I believe that the Spirit of WOMAN comes through the artifacts in Creat like nowhere else….oh how much I’d like to be a part of such a gathering. Thank you Laura!

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  6. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing the experience of this Autumn’s Goddess Pilgrimmage to Crete. Thank you for your leadership, knowledge, and loving spirit!

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