Mythic Wisdom: A Greek Author’s Perspective

Connecting the past with the present has always been a powerful experience for me, maybe because I live in a land rich in history. In this blog I am going to explore a variety of topics, which I find deeply meaningful: women’s roles, gender and sexuality issues, activism, goddesses and gods, etc. By examining myths, symbols, and archetypal figures, I feel that we gain a fresh perspective on our lives and society. Ancient history, art, and literature can become amazing sources of inspiration. By learning from the wisdom of the past, we can transform ourselves and the world we live in.

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A Journey with Hermes, Part 2

How can a journey up a stream turn into a mystical experience? My visit to the Aegean island of Samos showed me how I could connect with archetypal figures from Greek mythology through the beauty of nature.

This is the second part of my essay "A Journey with Hermes." To read the first part, click here.


 

We continued to walk by the stream, which seemed ever-changing. Here it flowed calmly, forming still ponds. There it rushed taking the shape of a miniature waterfall. The color of the water alternated between the brown of mud and the green of the leaves mirrored on its surface. White foam and small, bright reflections of sunlight offered a treat to our eyes and babbling sounds filled our ears.

We were not the only ones who loved this body of water. Tall plane trees grew in abundance around the stream, their roots at times protruding from its surface. I smiled in gratitude at this sight which only seemed to intensify the mystery of the place. How often do we get the chance to see a tree’s powerful roots? They’re supposed to be hidden deep in the ground; chthonic in nature, they belong to the realm of the underworld. Like Hermes, trees partake all three planes: the sky, the Earth and her dark innards.

I felt a sense of wonder swelling up. By revealing their roots, the plane trees reminded us that our roots are there, too, in the countryside, in such places of exquisite beauty. The Graces must be here, too, I thought, playfully dancing with the forest Nymphs, which Greek folk tradition turned into fairies.

Our feet stepped on large white-gray boulders smoothed by the gentle, persistent power of the water. Yet soon we were to come across a different kind of rock. We found ourselves in deep shade and when I looked up, I realized we were in a canyon. Tall gray stone cliffs emerged on both sides of the stream—the same stone that formed the walls of the church. “Nature builds its own temples,” a voice said in my mind as I felt a slight shiver run down my spine. I observed the steep cliffs, rich in texture, feeling their aura of mystery.

As we kept walking, I was mesmerized by the little creatures of the forest and their enchanting dances. We saw small fish, tiny black tadpoles, and strange insects swimming on the surface of the water. A butterfly with dark blue iridescent wings was standing motionless on a bare branch. “If there’s any sure mark of an otherworldly creature, that must be blue iridescent wings,” my inner child says playfully.

The butterfly has always been a symbol of transformation, an emblem of the psyche. In fact, psyche meant both “butterfly” and “soul” in ancient Greek. The story of Psyche and Eros comes quickly to mind and a possible connection between Aphrodite and the butterfly. But wouldn’t Hermes, the guide of souls, also love this creature? Its ethereal nature captures perfectly the essence of the Graces and Nymphs that he had an affinity with.

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Lost in my mythical thoughts, I realized all of a sudden that we come to a halt. The trail we had been following, made of dirt and boulders, ended there. From that point on, the stream ran between the cliffs, taking a sliver blue color. We had to either turn back or climb up.

Minas pointed toward steep steps made of roughly cut wood, which led up the stone cliff. “Are you up for it?” he asked and I bit my lip and nodded. We began to ascend holding as tightly as we could on handles made of tree trunks and branches. Sometimes the wooden steps give way to wooden boards or even boulders. One misstep and we’d never make it up the canyon.

We held on and climbed up, feeling a little like Indiana Jones. “I sure hope Hermes, as God of Travelers, is watching out for us,” I thought with a smile. With my face close to the rock, a strange yet familiar smell teases my nostrils: the aroma of thyme. I gaze avidly at the breathtaking view, a collage of images and sounds: the green of the plane-trees, the roaring of the water, and the patches of sunlight dispersed among the shade.

When we finally reached the edge of the cliff, we became witnesses to another metamorphosis: dark firs, which love high places, dominated the landscape, replacing the playful plane-trees. Up there the mysterious stream was hidden from our eyes. Another body of water displayed its bright blue beauty: the Aegean Sea awaited our return from the world of shadows. My mind roams to foam-born Aphrodite, who was also considered a Sea Goddess and protectress of sailors. After our journey into the realm of Hermes, who was one of her lovers, we came back to her, just like the winding stream always flows into her embrace…

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Harita Meenee is a Greek independent scholar of classical studies and women’s history. Her graduate studies were in the field of archetypal and women’s psychology. She works as a writer, translator and editor while also being a human rights activist. Harita has presented cultural TV programs and has lectured at universities in Greece and the US. She is the author of five books, as well as of numerous articles and essays published in Hellenic and international anthologies and magazines.

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