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

I was in for some surprises in May of 2006, when I first visited Samos, a Greek island near the border with Turkey, to give a talk at a students’ club. I had been invited by Minas Papageorgiou—a student back then and now a writer, researcher and journalist—to speak about Mary Magdalene. He took me on a journey up a stream named Potami (pron. potámi), the Greek word for river. It turned out to be a magical place as the stream runs through a forest and forms small lakes and waterfalls.


Our journey into the wild started—appropriately—with a strange kind of pilgrimage. Soon after Minas and I started hiking, we saw a sign reading: Ancient Chapel, Transfiguration of the Savior. Standing in the shade of a big rock, it had an eerie feeling about it. The day was warm and bright, but no sunrays touched the 11th-century church, as if Helios, the Sun God, carefully avoided this uncanny place.

We pushed the blue wooden door and were instantly greeted by a pungent smell of candles and incense. With goosebumps crawling up my arms, I tried to resist the feeling of awe inspired by the tall, gray stone walls, which exuded an aura of mystery. “Non-believers aren’t supposed to feel awe in such places,” I carefully admonished myself.

Besides, we were not there to pay homage to the Christian Savior, whose painted image was inspecting us from the door of the sanctuary. We had gone with the purpose of observing the four columns which supported the center of the old building. They were round and smooth, their only decoration being the intricate Corinthian-style column capitals. Were these pre-Christian? Archaeologists believe that they may well be.

Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a French botanist and writer who visited Samos in the early 18th century, claimed that the columns came from the shrine of Hermes Kharidotes, “Giver of Grace (kharis)” or “Bringer of the Graces (Kharites).” In some places, during his festival, called Hermaea, the social order was temporarily reversed, as strictly defined roles came topsy-turvy. Among his many qualities, Hermes was also the Trickster, the Subversive One.

The foundations of that church were very old, dating probably from the 6th century CE. It was customary at the time to build Christian temples on top of Hellenic ones as the new religion was rapidly devouring the old one. We stared at the columns in silence, in the vain hope they might reveal their secrets. They didn’t, but an unexpected clue manifested as we turned back to walk out of the door. The evidence was there, right under our feet: the marble rectangular stone which formed the doorstep had a big circle carved in its center, which bore two holes. What else could that be but the base of an ancient statue? Similar stones can be seen in a host of Greek archaeological sites.

The name of the church was also telling: the Transfiguration of the Savior. The Greek word for transfiguration is metamorphosis, which is commonly used with the meaning of “transformation.” It rung a bell as Hermes (known to the Romans as Mercurius) is indeed a mercurial figure, a god with diverse roles and many faces, and a mediator between different realms. He was also considered the guide of souls to the underworld; his place of worship could have easily been transformed into that of the Christian Savior of souls…

That rather unorthodox pilgrimage was the beginning of our journey up the potami, a stream flowing into the sea just a few meters away from us. We began to walk uphill and soon reached a grove of olive trees and lemon trees, which seemed to relish the abundant touch of the sun and the presence of the life-giving water.

As our walk through the grove came to an end, Minas and I suddenly entered a different world. I stood gaping at the dreamlike landscape. The interplay of light and shadow created an otherworldly atmosphere. Hermes came to mind again, this time as the god of dreams, magic and alchemy. As a messenger of the gods, he could easily cross from one world to the other, from heaven to earth and into the underworld. I wondered what messages he had in store for us.

Read the second part of the essay here.

Have you visited a place that seemed to have a special spiritual significance for you? If so, I'd love to hear about it. Please write about your experience in the comments section below!



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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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