Beliefnet
Excerpted from "Goddess Journeys," published in the Autumn 1999 issue of PanGaia.

The cave is the "womb-tomb" of the Earth Mother, and going into her center is one of the most ancient of human religious rituals. I have climbed to the Kamares Cave in Mt. Ida, overlooking the Minoan site of Phaistos on the island of Crete. From Phaistos the cave looks like a dark, gaping hole in the side of the mountain near its top. The all-day hike is hard, and I surprised myself as, goatlike, I made my way with several others all the way to the top of this ancient sacred mountain.

Although I love to walk up hills and climb over rocks, I had never before this undertaken such a rigorous six-hour hike--straight up a rocky mountainside in the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Before an hour had passed, I began to use a mantra to help me sustain the ordeal: "Left foot, right foot, Om Shakti, Om Shakti, Om Shakti." Whenever I thought about how much farther we still had to go, it seemed overwhelming. The chant brought me back to the moment and the next step, and then the next one. Two hours before the top, we had to leave the donkeys and most of our stuff. One hour before the top, we had to use our hands to climb up over the steep rocks.

The Kamares Cave is named for the beautiful polychrome pottery found there, which was made at Phaistos 3500 feet below. It was used for continuous Goddess worship before, during, and after the so-called "palace periods" of middle and late Minoan times (2000 - 1400 BCE). Unlike the more famous site of Knossos in the north near Heraklion, the southern island site of Phaistos is subdued in its quiet, unrestored beauty. Occupied from earliest times, Phaistos and the "villa" of Hagia Triada next to it are enigmatic in many ways. The famous "Phaistos Disk," a round clay disk with symbols repeating in a spiral formula, brings to mind Robert Graves' theory that as mainland Goddess civilizations were overrun by patriarchal invaders during the Bronze Age, the priestesses fled to islands and caves carrying their sacred script on round clay disks in goatskin bags with a Gorgon's face on the outside.

Crete is a mountainous island covered with sacred caves that were used by the ancient people for Goddess worship over a period of several millennia. I have been taking groups to visit Crete's ancient caves and mountain shrines since 1993, and whenever we are lucky enough to find ourselves alone in a site, we perform group rituals in honor of the ancient Goddess. We pray for peace, ask for help, sing songs, and generally give thanks for the privilege of being able to experience the spirit of each place. Experiencing the sacred places in this way is always moving, often touching us in nonrational ways that defy logic.

Entering the well-used cave of the ancient birthing Goddess, Artemis-Eilythia, we sang, "You are entering the body of the Great Mother; welcome home. You are entering the womb of the earth, giving birth to yourself." This chant was "received" by my co-leader Nancy Leatzow on her last visit to this cave, and singing it opened our hearts and minds to the magic of the invisible presence that lingers on there. We performed a short shamanic trance journey in the damp darkness. We sat around the famous stalagmites of a Double Goddess in the center of the cavern, believed to represent the Mother and her child. The silence was broken only by the soft sounds of more than one woman weeping. We made wishes and prayers for all the women we know who are pregnant or trying to be, whispering their names into the sacred darkness, asking this ancient Goddess of fertility to bless their efforts.

In the huge Scoteinó cavern (the name means "dark") with its giant owl-like stalagmite dominating the central space, we spread out and took half an hour to be quiet in places of individual choosing. The participants made "prayer sticks" as they meditated, asking for help in their personal lives, help for their families, and help for the world. I clambered up onto the central stalagmite and found a tiny cave inside it, calling to me. I looked inside and felt a familiar conflict: I am always attracted to enter these dark, close spaces, and at the same time freaked out by what might be in there that I can't see (spiders, rats, scorpions, or something worse). I took a deep breath, prayed to be fearless, and entered the small cavern to meditate and make my prayers. At the end of our prayer vigil, we came together, lit incense, and shared our prayers, songs, and hopes for our lives and the world. Alone in the huge cavern, we ended with a circle dance on the "dance platform" to one side of the cave.

Several times over the years our groups have climbed Mt. Karphi, where Minoan refugees created a settlement in1200 BCE. On the way up we always take a drink from the sacred Spring of the Vultures, and at the top, we experience the exquisite quiet of nature as we sit in trance and look out over the vast Lasithi plain. Once in this pristine quiet space we were spontaneously moved to take the raised-arm position of the famous "poppy Goddess" found at this mountaintop shrine. That same day the vultures thrilled us with a visit, swooping low over our heads like ancient dakinis (a Tibetan word meaning "sky-walker," referring to fairy women, Goddesses, or priestesses).

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