The Gods May Be Watching: What We Saw In Crete- Ed Tick
Crete, Greece’s largest and southernmost island, sits in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It is halfway between Europe and Africa, the Iberian Peninsula and the Middle East. It has been occupied since Neolithic Times and, due to its unique and sensitive geographical position, has been invaded and occupied by different conquerors for thousands of years. Its people have retained a fierce spirit of resistance, rebellion and devotion to Greece. They live up to their motto, Leftherios H Thanatos, Freedom or Death.
Crete is speckled with ruin sites dating back 25,000 years. There are mythological sites where some of the ancient stories unfolded – such as the Idean and Diktean Caves where Zeus was born and as an infant hidden from his devouring father while being nursed by a goat. There are archaic sites such as the great Minoan palace of Knossos and several other palaces as well as scattered towns whose streets, foundations and house and walls remain from the last of the Great Goddess civilizations that flourished until the Santorini earthquake around 1450 BCE. There are Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins from all epochs. There are monuments to the dead and small burned out and deserted towns from the Nazi invasion and occupation during World War II. And there is the fortress of Frangokastello, built by the Venetians in the 1370s to secure their rule of the region. Later, in 1828 it was occupied by the Greeks during their War of Independence from the Turks. The site, known as the Greek Alamo, is a now-silent ruin site on the lonely southern coast staring out across the Libyan Sea. There, on May 17, 600 rebels fought against 8,000 troops of the Turkish occupation in a last stand to the death. To this day residents and tourists to the area testify that every year on the anniversary of this battle the ghosts of dead Greek freedom fighters appear. The Turkish army saw them in 1890 and fled. A German patrol saw them during World War II and fired on them, thinking they were real insurgents. Here is yet another place in Greece where the veil between the visible and invisible is so thin that we see into the hidden dimensions and cannot tell what is corporeal and what is mist and spirit.
Frangokastello stands on the remote, stone and sand-swept southern Cretan coast about 7 miles east of another village. Sfakia is a small town of about 2,000 residents built of several roughly parallel streets running along the craggy coast. It has been known throughout history as the home of revolutionaries and is famous for never having been conquered. During World War II the last British troops evacuating from the German onslaught boarded their fleeing vessels in Safkia’s deep, broad aquamarine bay. Safkia’s people are strong, proud and independent, generous and hospitable unless crossed, then fierce and self-protective. They give their few visitors a taste of the original Cretan personality.
I am leading a group of pilgrims on a journey to Crete’s remote regions. We immerse ourselves in its landscape, history, mythology. We wander ruin sites and wonder and imagine at the life lived among these hot stones and near this sparkling sea, sometimes rough, sometimes placid. We visit Frangokastello. The men in our group gather at the old gate, take out pens, pocket knives or the hand-made machiari, the carved and honed knives for which this region is known that we have purchased from local artisans. In front of these gates made sacred by self-sacrifice, we bless our blades and pray that they are used for life-affirmation rather than destruction.
Sfakia is small and authentic. Local elderly residents still recall the Nazi occupation here where many took to the mountains to hide and resist but were limited in their ability to fight because of the brutal retaliations against their families and villages. At nights in the tavernas lining the water, locals still laugh and talk, dance and drink late into the night and blast the sky with old firearms in celebration. The village is built into the rugged southern coast and its only access road stretches through the southern mountains to land on this rough coastline. It turns east toward Frangokastello or west into what looks like endless stretches of nowhere. There are no residences, no streetlights, just a narrow and black winding road sandwiched between rough mountains on its northern side and a boulder-strewn plunging coastline along its south.
I am leading five or six of my pilgrims on a late-night hike westerly down this remote coastal road. It is dark, dark, darker than most of us have ever seen. The mountains along our northern border tower over us like rugged black giants against a star-studded blacker curtain of sky. We hear the waves crashing against the rugged coast below us that we cannot see. We walk closely together, making sure our footfalls land squarely on the blacktop beneath us.
A half hour into our hike, unexpectedly, we are bumped by furry, aggressive four-leggeds coming down off the mountain, mingling in and scattering our human group, then continuing down the road or over its steep side. We are in a flock of kri-kri,the wild Cretan mountain goats that have become a totem of the island. It is believed they were brought to Crete about 7,000 years ago during Minoan civilization, have long since gone wild, and are now the only population of such goats in the world and give us a living glimpse into the earliest domestication of wild animals known.
The kri-kri, with their long swept-back horns, furry faces and long beards, bump and jostle us, showing no fear but letting us know that this is their home and we are the visitors. Some of my group giggle and stroke them, others are more cautious and step gingerly through their traffic jam.
We pass through the goats as if through guardians of a sacred boundary. Now we have walked an hour and are in deep darkness with no lights but the blazing stars above. We come to a cleft in the rock and precipitous curve in the road. One of my travelers says she thinks we have gone far enough; she feels like we are deep in the distant cosmos and she would like to pause, rest and return. We stand together in the deep stillness.
Another of my travelers addresses me in the darkness, “Ed,” she says, “you told us that this would be a spiritual journey. You said we might experience strange events and witness mysteries. You insisted that Greece is both sacred and beautiful. Well, I see beauty everywhere. But I have not experienced anything spiritual. What did you mean? Where is it?”
I answer her and all my travelers through the pitch-black Cretan night. “Be careful of what you say,” I reply. “The gods may be listening.”
At that very second, as the last word drips from my tongue, a huge meteor bursts out of the southern horizon. It screams over our heads low and very large, a molten fireball burning red and gold with a long yellow-red tail trailing behind it back towards the sea.
We all fall into silent awe. The meteor shoots right over our heads, lower and larger than any celestial object any of us has ever seen. It disappears over the mountain crest by our side.
“Oh!” mutters one traveler. “They heard,” whispers another. “The gods are listening,” echoes a third. We walk slowly back toward Sfakia in stricken silence.
We cannot know exactly what occurs behind a synchronistic event. It is a coincidence not in the sense of being random but simply meaning that events coincide. Such an occurrence happens at an unusual, unexpected time in a way that draws our attention to some hidden meaning unfolding before us and with us. It seems like a miracle in its original meaning – an occurrence that seems to defy ordinary natural laws. It makes us attend, listen, question, realize that we do not know but that everything is somehow connected and powers beyond us may be communicating with us. We become part of the web again.
What was this meteor? It was an event that reduced our entire group, including the “non-spiritual” member, to awe and wonder. It projected us into a domain for which we have no adequate explanations. In ancient times we might have said that Zeus threw a lightning bolt or Poseidon a fireball, Athena a flaming spear or Hephaistos an ember from his forge to awaken us, challenge us, show us that there is a transpersonal dimension that hears and responds, and we are interwoven in its logos in ways we cannot see but that can be blessedly revealed.
Could this have been a random or accidental event? That meteor would have had to have been created millennia ago by some incredibly distant cosmic explosion at just the right second for it to soar through the galaxies to arrive over our heads at just that instant that my words sounded. That scientific explanation, nearly inconceivable, would still render this event synchronistic because the universe would have collaborated in order for the meteor to appear at just that moment. So what explains the visitation? I still see that meteor flying over the heads of all of us doubting Thomases of the modern world.
Excerpted from Ed’s forthcoming book, Soul Medicine
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Edward Tick, PhD is an archetypal psychotherapist, author, educator, poet and international journey guide. He is Director Emeritus of Soldier’s Heart, Inc. and on the Board of the Western Mass. Jung Assoc. He is the author of eight books, including The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries into Modern Medicine, and the award-winning War and the Soul. He has been a healer for over 40 years and has led more than 20 pilgrimages to Greece to study, replicate and restore the sacred and holistic healing traditions. His next book, The Future of Ancient Medicine, will be published in the fall of 2022.