Ancient Crete Pulls Me Back: September 2021!

Photo by Paula of the sea along the northern coast of Crete in 2017.

Reading those two sentences made me feel archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes was describing my own experience! Allurements? Past and present allurements–yes. After returning from Crete in late 2017 I spent many happy hours and months putting a slide show together about the pilgrimage. I studied the places on the island we had visited and read a number of books including three important books by Marija Gimbutas.

Gimbutas is the ground-breaking Lithuanian-American archaeologist who coined the term ‘Old Europe” to describe the goddess-focused cultures which stretched from Russia across the Balkans to Spain, Scandinavia and the British Isles for many thousands of years prior to the patriarchal invasions.

Return! I realized I, too, longed to return to the island! Some of my own ancestors probably participated in the great goddess rituals and cultures which existed in a variety of forms over that entire area. Some of my mother’s people left Ireland in the 1800s. Someday I’d love to experience Newgrange, the prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland near the River Boyne. Newgrange is an exceptionally grand passage tomb and sacred site built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids!

Yet it is the sunny island of Crete with its matriarchal, matrifocal, and matrilineal heritage that pulls to me once again from across the ocean.1

On this narrow strip of beach in the tiny village of Mochlos I found a single piece of emerald green beach glass. Once home I had it made into a necklace.

In January of 2020 I finally acknowledged to myself and then to Jeanne that I wanted to return to Crete! Both spring and fall sessions for the 2020 pilgrimages were full. I was concerned that the spring dates would be too hot because of my problem with ‘heat intolerance’. After much discussion, Jeanne and I signed up for the fall 2021 trip! It seemed much too far away–I wanted to return as soon as we could. Given my health situation, I was anxious to go sooner rather than later.

Feminist scholar, Carol Christ, who has been leading these goddess pilgrimages to Crete twice a year for over twenty years, recently wrote a blog where she mentioned the insights of British archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes who wrote about Crete in the mid twentieth century.2 This renewed my interest in Hawkes’ work. I bought her 1968 book Dawn of the Gods about the Minoan civilization on Crete and beyond.

Jacquetta Hawkes chose to begin her book by noting the strong pull to return to the islands experienced by most visitors. I felt she knew my mind and heart. All my senses were engaged during those two weeks in the fall of 2017 exploring the eastern regions of Crete. Here are some of my reasons for longing to return this fall.

Traveling with other feminist women brought new friendships. As part of the pilgrimage we planned simple rituals honoring the earth and Her bounty. On our cave excursions the younger women assisted us older women around boulders and rough terrrain. The itinerary will be much the same, but the group of twenty women will be different.

We older women shared our stories of the women’s liberation movement–our protests and actions, the creation of feminist bookstores, rape crises centers, and cultural events like The Dinner Party exhibit and, of course the vibrant conferences and festivals. The enthusiastic younger women included a fourteen year old girl traveling with her mother and grandmother. This time I’ll be traveling with Jeanne to experience all the unknown adventures together.

Immersing myself in another culture makes the long days of air travel worth the effort. Educating myself about the archaeological evidence which reveals the widespread culture where women were honored and respected is a central theme fueling my desire to revisit Crete.

Experiencing the vibrant culture alive today, even as a tourist, draws me. I continue to admire the unpretentious houses made lovely by the village inhabitants with dabs and dashes of blue paint and lush plants in terra cotta pots. Photographing houses and structures brought me great pleasure as I roamed the streets and as I admired the scenes in my pictures later at home. I willingly name myself as an “architectural tourist”. The architectural marvels I admire are simple rather than complex, inviting rather than confounding.

The Greek food was fabulous. I loved the Greek salad, known there as horiatiki, generally made with chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, feta cheese, and olives, then dressed with salt, pepper, Greek oregano, and olive oil. The Greek salad paired with freshly caught seafood satisfied me as a luxury meal since I live in a land-bound state.

One beautiful taverna high on a mountainside near the Diktean cave served a delicious tzatziki dip of yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, and herbs. We dipped our crunchy fresh vegetables into the creamy dip and talked about our day driving high into the mountains of central Crete. With my camera I rambled around the large open-air taverna marveling at the huge pots of blooming hydrangea plants. (October, 2017)

In describing the pilgrimage, Carol Christ writes “The two-week tour for women includes museums and archaeological sites, sacred ceremonies, swimming in the Cretan sea, delicious food, conversations with village women, walking and moderate hiking and climbing to reach mountaintops and to enter into caves that were sites of ancient worship. The physical aspect of the tour allows insight to take root in the body as well as the mind and spirit.”3

My own awareness of the importance of integrating our physical experiences with our mental and emotional observations is central to the magnetic draw I feel for the island of Crete! This unique aspect transforms the tour into a “pilgrimage”!

“Our sisterhood is held in the web of our ancient mothers’ arms.”4 Our ancient mother’s arms includes both the living planet Earth and our own flesh and blood mothers. Here I’m drinking from a fountain delivering water from a natural spring in the mountain town of Zaros, Crete. The refreshing spring water in Zaros is bottled to be sent all over the island. Drinking pure water directly from the source in the earth was a unique experience for me. Even in the 1950s when my family camped by the clear streams in the Smokey Mountains we were warned to not drink the water for fear of contamination.

I’m excited about the prospect of returning to Crete and continuing my exploration of the ancient society of peaceful, women-honoring people. Today we can study their art and architecture, pottery and weaving which tells much of their story.

Jeanne and I have read about the matriarchal societies that exist all over the globe today in work by Heide Goettner-Abendroth and other scholars. “Matriarchies are not just a reversal of patriarchy, with women ruling over men – as the usual misinterpretation would have it. Matriarchies are mother-centered societies, they are based on maternal values: care-taking, nurturing, motherliness, which holds for everybody: for mothers and those who are not mothers, for women and men alike.”5

Jeanne and I are each passionate about investigating the ancient matriarchal cultures which covered much of the globe in Paleolithic and Neolithic times–these were your ancestors and mine!. Walking through the streets paved with smooth stones four thousand years ago and re-imagining the lives of those who walked there invigorated me when I visited four years ago. Exploring with Jeanne will be another highlight. And another dream come true.

1 To learn more about the Pilgrimage:

2 “Jacquetta Hawkes’ insight that the religion of ancient Crete celebrated ‘the grace of life’ is exactly right.”

3 Information contained in the handout Carol Christ gave us at the beginning of the Pilgrimage, 2017.

4 author C.H. page 483 in Female Erasure: Female Erasure: What You Need to Know about Gender Politics’ War on Women, the Female Sex and Human Rights edited by Ruth Barrett 2016

5 about Matriarchal Studies on Indigenous Cultures across the Globe
Heide Goettner-Abendroth offers this four part definition of matriarchy:

Social level: “non-hierarchical, horizontal societies of matrilineal kinship”. (I would generalize this to very strong female bonding and female centeredness for now, as we can’t go from what we have now to full-fledged matriliny).

Economic level: “societies of economic mutuality, based on the circulation of gifts” (and she also talks about the economy being based in subsistence)

Political level: “egalitarian societies of consensus”

Spiritual-cultural level: “sacred societies and cultures of the Female Divine”

Heide Goettner-Abendroth explains further the four parts of her definition in a short article in the link above.

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4 Responses to Ancient Crete Pulls Me Back: September 2021!

  1. Lila Rostenberg says:

    These photos and memories are wonderful!
    No wonder that you want to return!

    Fingers crossed for all to go well for your upcoming trip!

    • Paula says:

      After a year of living with covid we are all getting better at realizing our “best laid plans” may come to naught! But my current CT scan indicates I’m doing well so we could try for next year. If we have to postpone the trip until autumn 2022, that gives us more time to prepare and more hours of anticipation! Thanks for your encouraging comment.

  2. Adele Atha says:

    Having attended your presentation at the local library and seeing your pictures again from your trip in 2017, I’m so excited that you and Jeanne are returning again in 2021!

    • Paula says:

      Adele, Sharing the photos (and everything I could remember) in that slide show at the library allowed me to relive the experience of the pilgrimage where we focused on the ancient woman-honoring culture in Crete 4,000 years ago. I appreciate your enthusiastic response to the idea of Jeanne and I flying across the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea to explore ancient Crete together.

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