On Hecate: The Original Witch

 Goddess of magic, witchcraft, childbirth, crossroads, the moon, souls of the departed, necromancy

Guardian of the Household

Lady of the Beasts

Protector of everything newly born, shepherds, sailors, the homeless, the destitute, the oppressed

hecate1|Deharme|

Known as: Darksome Mother; Aphrattos (‘the nameless one’); Skylakagetis (Leader of Dogs); Pandeina (‘the all-terrible’); Brimo (‘the angry’, ‘the terrifying’); Apotropaios (one who protects, blesses and banishes evil); Phosphoros/Luciferous (Light Bearer); Propolos (show-er of the way); Propalaya (Guardian of the Gate); Koutrophos (Nurse to all living things); Angelos (Divine Messenger)

Lovers: Hermes, Triton, Phorcys, Aeetes

Children: Scylla + other monsters, Medea, Circe, Eleusis, Aigeialeus

Symbols: Hecate’s Wheel; torches; three; crossroads; keys

Animals: dog; horse; serpent; polecat (ferrets); dragon; cat; owl; woman

Fumes: sweet, virginal odors; aloes; camphor; civet; honey; menstrual blood; myrrh; storax; peppermint

Herbs: aconite; almond; chickweed; garlic; hazel; mandrake; moonwort; mugwort; oak; onion; opium poppy; ranunculus

Gems: crystal (quartz); moonstone; opal; pearl; star sapphire

Colors: Silver, Black, Purple

Tarot: Threes; High Priestess; The Moon

Tools: dagger; yoni; cauldron; the key

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|Visionary Revue|

If I had to give a quick description of Hecate (Ἑκατη in Greek, meaning ‘worker from afar’ and possible origin of the name Ekaterini) I would say she was the original witch and a protector of the outcasts; an admirable ancient archetype of a strong and powerful woman.

Hecate was a virgin goddess, which obviously doesn’t mean what you think because, as you can see, she had many lovers and children. A virgin goddess merely means that she was unwilling to sacrifice her independence for the sake of marriage. In fact, there were several such virgin goddesses including Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Artemis, goddess of the hunt, whom Hecate was frequently compared to (and often confused with). Her virgin goddess status was highlighted by her love of solitude; she enjoyed walking through the roads at night and visiting cemeteries during the dark phase of the moon.

“…she is more at home on the fringes than in the center of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition.” | Wikipedia|

She has been described as beautiful and luminous; this quality was probably what made her a moon goddess, despite the fact that her kingdoms were actually three-fold: earth, sea, and sky.

It is unclear who her parents were. Some say it was Perses and Asteria (Titan goddess of the Star, which would explain her luminosity; otherwise she was just practical and carried torches), whilst others say Zeus and Hera. Or Demeter. Or Leto. Hey, the guy got around. What is definitely true is that even though she was of unknown pedigree, she was most definitely a Titan and not a god.

Which makes Zeus’ gift to her all the more impressive: She was the only other god, besides himself, and certainly the only (remaining) Titan, who had the power to give or withhold anything from humanity at her discretion. If she felt that the mortals were undeserving, she could withhold any and all blessings as she pleased. Likewise, she could grant wealth, victory, wisdom, and good luck to sailors and hunters. It seems that Zeus trusted her to be fair, careful and just with her power. Alternatively his gift was a political gesture following her involvement in the war against the Gigantes (she slew Clytius with fire), or even her refusal to get involved in the war between the Olympians and Titans. Whatever the case, she was honored and revered by all immortals.

Interestingly, over the course of history, her reputation as a strong, glorious goddess was tarnished, and more recent images depict her as an old haggard witch stirring a cauldron.

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|Mari-na|

Animals

Hecate is associated with several animals, including she-dogs, horses, and black cats. Her chariot is pulled by dragons.

Owl // The owl accompanied Hecate on her travels and acted as her messenger. Whilst Hecate was not really known as the goddess of wisdom, this symbol of wisdom served to recognize a special kind of knowledge she held; as a result of her farsightedness and curiosity for information typically ignored by most people (trivia?), she knew things others did not.

Sacred Dogs // Hecate was so closely associated with black dogs back then, that if you saw one in a cemetery, you would have thought it was the goddess herself. In fact, her approach was always accompanied by the howling of hounds. It is unclear when her hellhounds were acquired. Strangely, the Ancient Greeks thought it was wise to offer dogs as sacrificial gifts, though I cannot understand the rationale of that if she loved dogs so much. She also kept a black dog formerly known as the Trojan Queen Hekabe. Legend has it that the Queen was one of Odysseus’ captives after the fall of Troy, and during the voyage back to Greece, she murdered a Thracian King and was subsequently stoned; she decided the only way out was to leap into the sea where Hecate found her and made her her bitch.

Polecats (ferrets) // The tale goes as follows: When Alkmene started having contractions as a result of the impending birth of Hercules, Eileithya (Birth-Goddess) and the Fates conspired to keep her in birth pains as a favor to Hera, who ordered the action on account of her jealous rage – the father of Hercules was no other than her husband, Zeus. As we’ve already established, this guy was a total womanizer. In any case, by remaining seated with their arms crossed, Eileithya and the Fates fulfilled Hera’s wishes. At this point, Galinthias, Alkmene’s nurse and childhood companion, fearing for her friend’s life and sanity as a result of the pain, ran to Eileithya and the Fates and tricked them by saying a boy had been born despite their efforts, and therefore they had to default. This caused them to immediately uncross their arms, causing Alkmene’s pangs to stop and therefore enable the birth of Hercules. Galinthias discovered pretty quickly that pissing off the Fates was a bad idea. Their anger was exacerbated not only by the fact that they were double-crossed, but by a mere mortal no less! As a result, they took away her womanly parts and transformed her into a polecat, giving her a grotesque way of mating; i.e., being mounted through the ears and giving birth through the throat. Hekate felt sorry for this creature and for this transformation, and adopted the polecat as a sacred servant. Of course, the alternative version goes that the polecat Hecate kept was originally Gale, a witch who Hecate herself had transformed as a punishment for her careless behavior and abnormal sexual proclivities.

Serpent // Usually worn as a crown.

Symbols

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|Wikicommons|

Hecate’s Wheel // It represents the three aspects of the Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone. It is a potent symbol in modern-day witchcraft, and reflects Hecate’s heritage as a guardian of the crossroad before becoming goddess of magic. The shape is based on inferences made from ancient texts regarding a serpent-shaped maze, a symbol for the power of knowledge and life.

Cauldron // Only through her dark cauldron can we see the light.

Three // She was often depicted with three heads: horse, serpent, boar, as she was said to be able to see in all directions, across space (crossroads) and time (past, present, future) – this means that she was also consulted frequently as an oracle.  Crossroads come from the Latin term trivia, meaning tri (three) + via (ways). As mentioned above, she represented all three stages of life.

Torch // She was the only goddess to carry two torches, the others carried only one. With her torch, she illuminates the Unconscious, the unseen, and reveals its treasures. She guides those who are seeking to understand mysteries.

Keys // As the goddess of entrances, she served three functions: to establish boundaries in order to protect the inside from the outside; to help travelers set out or return to the entranceway; to watch over the actual process of entry. She protected from spiritual enemies rather than physical ones (which were actually under Athena’s purview). Of course, as gatekeeper to the entryway, she held a key. As her power grew, her key began to symbolize not only actual doors but the means to open and close the gates between Earth and the Underworld, as well as other realms in general, allowing spirits entry and exit.

hecate6|Mitchell Nolte|

The Search for Persephone

When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, only Helios and Hecate witnessed the event. As a result, Hecate, by order of Zeus, assisted Demeter in her search for her daughter, guiding her through the night with flaming torches, a potent symbol of the goddess. Once Persephone was found and returned to her mother, Hecate became Persephone’s minister and companion in Hades. It is interesting that Hecate never told Demeter what she had witnessed and instead used it as an opportunity to advance herself in the Underworld.

The Underworld

Once Hecate assumed this role of minister and companion in Persephone’s life, she became a deity of the Underworld. Blessed by Hades to rule over the souls of the departed, her reputation as a spirit of black magic flourished. By being in the company of the sleeping and the dead, she accepted and felt comfortable amongst ghosts and other social outcasts. She was both honored as the Protector of the oppressed and the fringe and feared as a spectral being who would send demons and phantoms from the lower world to crossroads, tombs, and near the blood of murdered people in the night. She ruled and tormented these demons/spirits in equal measure. She would also teach magic and sorcery to brave mortals who would wander after dark with the souls of the dead. The Harpies were also under her reign, making her the cause of nightmares and insanity.

Hermes, Lovers + Monsters

Working with Hades, it made sense for Hecate to bump into Hermes. Whilst famous for being an Olympian and messenger of the gods, his day job was actually guiding the dead to their final resting place by leading them from their bodies to the Underworld. (Fyi when Persephone was abducted by Hades, it was Hermes who flew down to the Underworld to retrieve her.) So in this role as guide, Hermes complimented Hecate’s role as minister, making their relationship dualistic; he would guide souls down to the underworld, she would lead them back up as ghosts.

They also shared a lot of other common attributes. They were both associated with magic, sorcery and witchcraft, known by many names and forms (such is the power of magic). They both had three aspects and were frequently referred to by similar epithets (including Angelos – The Divine Messenger). They were both deities of crossroads who guarded doorways and temple entrances. And they could both travel between all three realms: earth, sky, sea.

Also, they are both animal lovers, and are particularly linked by serpents and dogs. As we already know, Hecates arrival to the mortal world from Hades was heralded by the dog s ‘baying into the night’. Therefore her arrival incites dogs to bay, creatures over which Hermes has dominion as the god of animal husbandry and guard dogs. Perhaps he was warning those who might cross her path and be beyond his protection of travelers.

It seemed as though Hermes was associated with various Underworld ladies, such as Daeira (who birthed Eleusis) and Brimo. But appearances can be deceiving, for several of these ladies were actually Hecate herself, operating under an alias (she probably wanted to go ingonito). Daeira was identified as Hecate through their joint connection to the Eleusian Mysteries, and Brimo (which means ‘the angry, the terrifying’) was frequently used to characterize Hecate’s. Therefore, if these associations are true, this means Hecate and Hermes were lovers. And that they had a child together, Eleusis.

What a wonderful story for Hermes, the Father and King of Magicians and Hecate, the Queen Mother of Witches.

She was by no means a loyal woman, but from what I’ve read, she lay most frequently with Hermes. She also had many children, many of which were monsters. Scylla, daughter of Phorcos, for example, was born beautiful and spent her time as sea nymph until she started competing with Circe for a man, who subsequently transformed her into a monster. However Circe herself was also Hecate’s daughter, as was Medea, both prominent sorceresses who learnt magic from their mother.

Despite the fact that both Hermes and Hecate had several other lovers and children, I feel that as a couple they have been grossly underrepresented in art.

 hecate4|Durand Gallery|

 

Legacy

Aside from giving me crazy inspiration for Halloween costume, I believe that the legacy of these mythological figures is quite potent. Hecate’s legacy, her story, is a reminder to accept change and transitions. You could say she that she allows us to venture beyond what is familiar and safe, and travel to the scary places of the soul. She uses her torches to guide you. She teaches both tolerance for the oppressed, yet reminds us to remain just – not a ‘bleeding heart’. These spiritual ideals are what makes myths so powerful.

I strongly believe that mythological figure, so-called witches, and astrologers were the first psychologists. But that is another post for another time. Speaking of witch (pun intended): Isn’t it weird that witches ride brooms?

Also, thank you Hairpin, for creating this list of spooky witchcraft and magic museums to visit.

Click here to find out your Tarot Birth Card.

Happy Halloween.

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|Heaux Culture + PicMonkey|

On writing: A Letter to my Lungs

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Source: Unknown

Dear Lungs,

One year ago today, I quit smoking.

It was completely unplanned. I had always intended to quit, but I had no idea it when that elusive ideal would become reality. Life always takes you by surprise.

As you know, Lungs, I have tried to quit several times before. I tried quitting back in 2007 on New Years Eve. That was a quick descent into failure; at a party two days later, I decided that smoking that one cigarette would complement my vodka-soda quite nicely thankyouverymuch.

Then, I quit to climb Machu Picchu in 2010. That was never a full commitment; I fully intended to hold the habit a little while longer. So when I found out that (contrary to my thinking at the time) I would have been better off at high altitude had I continued to smoke, I lit that baby right up, at 2500 meters in the Andes. Poof.

Finally, there was that one time I quit for 3 months because I promised a friend I would quit by 25. He was a staunch anti-smoker and insisted with equal vigour that I was going to die (pff) and that the office smelled every time I came back from my cigarette break. But what did he know?

It was ok, because who was I harming, really? I knew I was a rare creature: a considerate smoker. When he complained about the smell, I promptly switched to menthol cigarettes and smints. I always, always asked people if my smoke was bothering them. People even complimented me on this. They called me “The Most Considerate Smoker Ever”. When I started working in Greece, no one advocated non-smoking offices more than me.

But I wasn’t being considerate to you, was I?

Look, I can’t lie. There are times smoking has been nothing short of great. Were it not for ciggie breaks at work, I probably would have never met some of my favorite people. And, let’s call a spade a spade: smoking feels damn good with a drink.

Also great? The act of smoking. The gesture of the hand. The blowing of the smoke. That puff. It feels a little dangerous. It feels like I’m in some film-noire spy thriller playing the femme fatale with all the power. Power…. What I didn’t feel in life, I felt with cigarettes.

Yeah. Cigarettes helped me out alot. Smoking is great for social awkwardness, you know? Even Rory Sutherland said: When you can’t smoke, if you stand and stare out of the window on your own, you’re an antisocial, friendless idiot. If you stand and stare out of the window on your own with a cigarette, you’re a [f*cking] philosopher.

You see, I thought smoking made me a philosopher and therefore not socially awkward. It also allowed me to be sad. If you’re standing in a corner heartbroken, no one gives a damn. It’s not because people are heartless. It’s because by not having anything to attract attention to yourself with, sadness is repelling by default. But if you’re smoking, then you’re the “cool” sad girl men are drawn to. Smoking made sadness sexy. Such was my rationale, even though I didn’t know it at the time. And guys that are attracted to sad girls like the kind I was have issues of their own. There are no heroes there.

This was my anthem. And sometimes this, when I was feeling more upbeat about dying one day because I killed you.

This time, it’s different. This time, it has stuck. I am 100% commited to you.

Yes. I toy with the idea of starting up again when I’m an old lady with purple hair and have lived my life. I ask to smell smoke when I’ve had that bit too much to drink at weddings. I even have tobacco-scented perfume.

Yes. I also know I blame you… alot. For not being able to ingest oxygen fast enough into my body when I’m running. For not being able to hold that note as long as I would like when I’m singing in the shower. For my stress when I can only achieve quick and shallow breathing.

But it’s not your fault, really. It’s mine. I’m expecting too much too soon, and we have a lifetime together dear Lungs, so let’s just put up with each other’s moments of weakness ok? In turn I will resist the temptation because, you know what? I’m happy about it. Seriously, how disgusting is this? I much prefer knowing that you are pink and huge and vital and safe inside my ribcage (as opposed to black and dying).

Happy anniversary dear lungs. Remember when you used to breathe with cigarettes? I promise I’ll keep taking care of you. I promise I’ll keep giving you fresh air.

So maybe it’s not that one year ago today I quit smoking. It’s that one year ago today, I started taking care of you.

Breath well, Lungs. Breathe deep.

Here’s to many more happy years together.

Love,

Kaiti

On Psychology Case Studies: Halloween Edition

On self-cannibalism: In 2012, researchers at the University of Athens reported a case of autophagia. The patient in question was a 66-year-old man who mutilated and ate his own fingers as a result of severe diabetic neuropathy, impulsivity, and social isolation. There was a marked improvement in his impulsive biting behavior upon medication prescription.

On vampires: Whilst real vampires do not exist, an obsession with drinking blood known as clinical vampirism (also known as Renfield’s Syndrome) does. In 1983, a case study report describes the behavior of four such vampirists, including John George Haigh, the ‘acid bath murderer’. They typically displayed relevant behavior from childhood by cutting themselves, eventually dreaming of and/or drinking their own or others blood. They also associated with the dead and had wavering identities. Usually they were intelligent with no history of pathology in the family. Crucially, females are unlikely to assault others for blood, however the same cannot be said for men, making them potentially dangerous. History has shown that vampirism may be a cause of unpredictable repeated assault and murder, and should be looked for in violent criminals who are self-mutilators. No specific treatment is known.

On being possessed: After Karen Byrne had brain surgery at 27 to control her epilepsy, she developed Alien Hand Syndrome. By severing her corpus callosum (which incidentally cured her epilepsy), her left hand started behaving erratically, attacking her in 2010. Whilst a rare and unlucky side effect of this type of surgery, her condition has been brought under control with medication.

On killer clowns: On December 13, 1978, the police entered the home of John Wayne Gacy, aka “Pogo the Clown”, a celebrated child entertainer. What started as a collection of incriminating evidence such as child pornography, handcuffs, rubber dildos, and ropes, ended as a horrific criminal legacy. The police eventually found nearly thirty bodies on Gacy’s property, as well as several other in nearby areas, such as the river. He used his costume to attract his victims. Gacy was found guilty after a short trial and sentenced to death by lethal injection. During his time in prison, he painted. Whilst he argued multiple personality disorder and sought an insanity plea, no brain abnormalities were found. Clinicians posit that his actions were the result of his childhood experiences (he suffered seizures and was hospitalized repeatedly as a result of his father’s abuse) as well as his repressed sexuality. He was executed on May 10, 1994.

On the living dead: After an attempted suicide, a 48-year-old patient developed Cotard’s Syndrome. In other words, he believed his brain was dead. Using a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner in 2013, neuropsychologist Vanessa Charland-Varville was able to scan this brain.  This revealed substantially reduced activity in the “default mode network” in the front and temporal brain regions responsible for our sense of self and consciousness. However, the patient was also depressed and on a heavy drug regimen, so it is unclear whether this distinct brain activity occured as a result of Cotard’s or something else.  Specifically, do his deluded beliefs create unusal patterns of brain activity? Or does his abnormal brain activity influence his beliefs? The question remains.

On nightmares:  An 11-year-old boy reported terrifying auditory and visual hallucinations of Voldemort in 2008 for three straight days after a high fever. He did not realise his hallucinations were not real and was therefore extremely frightened. His neurological and medical exams came back negative, however an MRI scan showed abnormal signs in the boy’s brain stem, specifically near the region implicated in REM sleep. In line with peduncular hallucinosis and taking consideration of the potential effects of his REM sleep, it is speculated that he was literally dreaming whilst awake. Thankfully, his nightmare condition disappered after treatment with immunoglobulins.

On Halloween: Many people’s worst fears are related to and exacerbated by Halloween, including the fear of Halloween itself, known as samhainophobia.  I’ve had a really tough time finding specific case studies for these, however there is ample resarch on overcoming phobias, particularly for spiders (arachnophobia). Other fears include fear of pumpkins (cucuribitophobia) and fear of ghosts (phasmophobia).

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|via|

On A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong

indexSince I read this book almost two years ago, I’ve been so busy raving about it that I forgot to actually write about it! A Short History of Myth has become the book that has brought together all of the ideas I’ve ever had about literature, religion, and mythology but was afraid to share in case I came off as flaky. Using simple yet eloquent language, Karen Armstrong makes a compelling case for the value of myths in our daily lives, discussing the evolution and value thereof from prehistoric times to the present day.  She is precise in her analysis and very easy to read. Below are some excerpts but I strongly recommend you read the entire thing when you get a chance. I for one cannot wait to read more of Karen Armstrong‘s work.

You can listen to her talk about heroes, shamans, the sky, and many other archetypes and elements of mythology here. She also writes for The Guardian.

On what we can know about myths:

The Neanderthal graves tell us five important things about myth. First, it is nearly always rooted in the experience of death and the fear of extinction. Second, the animal bones indicate that the burial was accompanied by a sacrifice. Mythology is usually inseparable from ritual. Many myths make no sense outside a liturgical drama that brings them to life, and are incomprehensible in a profane setting. Third, the Neanderthal myth was in some way recalled beside a grave, at the limit of human life. The most powerful myths are about extremity; they force us to go beyond our experience. There are moments when we all, in one way or another, have to go to a place that we have never seen, and do what we have never done before. Myth is about the unknown; it is about that for which initially we have no words. Myth therefore looks into the heart of a great silence. Fourth, myth is not a story told for its own sake. It shows us how we should behave. In the Neanderthal graves, the corpse has sometimes been placed in a fetal position, as though for rebirth: the deceased had to take the next step himself. Correctly understood, mythology puts us in the correct spiritual or psychological posture for right action, in this world or the next. Finally, all mythology speaks of another plane that exists alongside our own world, and that in some sense supports it.

On what a myth is:

Today the word ‘myth’ is often used to describe something that is simply not true. A politician accused of a peccadillo will say that it is a ‘myth’, that it never happened. When we hear of gods walking the earth, of dead men striding out of tombs, or of seas miraculously parting to let a favored people escape from their enemies, we dismiss these stories as incredible and demonstrably untrue. Since the eighteenth century, we have developed a scientific view of history; we are concerned above all with what actually happened. But in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what an event meant. A myth was an event which, in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time. Because of our strictly chronological view of history, we have no word for such an occurrence, but mythology is an art form that points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence, helping us get beyond the chaotic flux of random events, and glimpse the core of reality.

On the truth of a myth:

A myth , therefore, is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information. If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed. If it works, that is, if it forces us to change our minds and our hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth. Mythology will only transform us if we follow its directives. A myth is essentially a guide; it tells us what we must do in order to live more richly. If we do not apply it to our own situation and make the myth a reality in our own lives, it will remain as incomprehensible and remote as the rules of a board game, which often seem confusing and boring until we start to play.

On The Hunter archetype:

When an Australian goes hunting, for example, he models his behavior so closely on that of the First Hunter that he feels totally at one with him, caught up in that more powerful archetypal world. It is only when he experiences this mystical unity with Dreamtime that his life has meaning. Afterwards, he falls away from that primal richness and back into the world of time, which, he fears, will devour him and reduce all that he does to nothingness.

All cultures have developed a similar mythology about the heroic quest.

Again, when people told these stories about the heroes of their tribe, they were not simply hoping to entertain their listeners. They myth tells us what we have to do if we want to become a fully human person. Every single one of us has to be a hero at some time in our lives. Every baby forced through the narrow passage of the birth canal, which is not unlike the labyrinthine tunnels at Lascaux, has to leave the safety of the womb, and face the trauma of entry into a terrifyingly unfamiliar world. Every mother who gives birth, and who risks death for her child, is also heroic. You cannot be a hero unless you are prepared to give up everything; there is no ascent to the heights without a prior descent into darkness, no new life without some form of death. Throughout our lives, we all find ourselves in situations in which we come face to face with the unknown, and the myth of the hero shows us how we should behave. We all have to face the final rite of passage, which is death.

On female Hunter archetypes:

Hunting was an exclusively male activity, and yet one of the most powerful hunters in the Paleolithic era was female. The earliest of the small figurines depicting a pregnant woman, which have been found through Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, date from this period. Artemis is simply one embodiment of the Great Goddess, a fearsome deity  who was not only the Mistress of Animals, but the source of life. She is no nurturing earth mother, however, but is implacable, vengeful and demanding. Artemis herself is notorious in exacting sacrifice and bloodshed, if the rituals of the hunt are violated.

Why should a goddess have become so dominant in an aggressively male society? This may be due to an unconscious resentment of the female. The goddess of Catal Huyuk gives birth eternally, but her partner, the bull, must die. Hunters risked their lives to support their women and children. The guilt and anxiety induced by hunting, combined with the frustration resulting from ritual celibacy, could have been projected onto the image of a powerful woman, who demands endless bloodshed. The hunters could see that women were the source of new life; it was they –not the expendable males-who ensured the continuity of the tribe. The female thus became an awe-inspiring icon of life itself – a life that required the ceaseless sacrifice of men and animals.

On metaphysicality:

The earliest mythologies taught people to see through the tangible world to a reality that seemed to embody something else. But this required no leap of faith, because at this stage there seemed to be no metaphysical gulf between the sacred and the profane. When these early people looked at a stone, they did not see an inert, unpromising rock. It embodied strength, permanence, solidity, and an absolute mode of being that was quite different from the vulnerable human state. Its very otherness made it holy.

On awe:

In our skeptical age, it is often assumed that people are religious because they want something from the gods they worship. … From the very earliest times, we have experienced our world as profoundly mysterious; it holds us in an attitude of awe and wonder, which is the essence of worship.

On the importance of height and the sky:

Height has remained a mythical symbol of the divine – a relic of Paleolithic spirituality. In mythology and mysticism, men and women regularly reach for the sky, and devise rituals and techniques of trance and concentration that enable them to put these ascension stories into practice and ‘rise’ to a ‘higher’ state of consciousness.

When people aspire towards the transcendence represented by the sky, they felt that they could escape from the frailty of the human condition and pass to what lies beyond.

It is highly significant that these myths and rituals of ascension go back to the earliest period of human history. It means that one of the essential yearnings of humanity is the desire to get ‘above’ the human state. As soon as human beings had completed the evolutionary process, they found that a longing for transcendence was built into their condition.

On reverence for animals:

Paleolithic mythology also seems to have been characterized by great reverence for the animals that men now felt complled to kill. Humans were ill-equipped for hunting, because they were weaker and smaller than most of their prey. They had to compensate for this by developing new weapons and techniques. But more problematic was a psychological ambivalence. Anthropologists note that modern indigenous peoples frequently refer to animals or birds as ‘peoples’ on the same level as themselves. They tell stories about humans becoming animals and vice versa; to kill an animal is to kill a friend, so tribesmen often feel guilt after a successful expedition. Because it is a sacred activity and charged with such high levels of anxiety, hunting is invested with ceremonial solemnity and surrounded with rites and taboos.

Central to almost all the religious systems of antiquity was the ritual of animal sacrifice, which preserved the old hunting ceremonies and honored the beasts that laid down their lives for the sake of human beings.

Gods, human beings, animals and plants all shared the same nature, and could, therefore, invigorate and replenish one another.

On the transformative power of myth:

Mythology is the discourse we need in extremity. We have to be prepared to allow a myth to change us forever. Together with the rituals that break down the barrier between the listener and the story, and which help him to make it his own, a mythical narrative is designed to push us beyond the safe certainties of the familiar world into the unknown. Reading a myth without the transforming ritual that goes with it is as incomplete an experience as simply reading the lyrics of an opera without the music. Unless it is encountered as part of a process of regeneration, of death and rebirth, mythology makes no sense.

On sexuality:

Human sexuality, for example, was regarded as essentially the same as the divine force that fructified the earth. In early Neolithic mythology, the harvest was seen as the fruit of a hierogamy, a sacred marriage: the soil was female; the seeds divine semen; and rain the sexual congress of heaven and earth. It was common for men and women to engage in ritual sex when they planted their crops. Their own intercourse, itself a sacred act, would activate the creative energies of the soil, just as the farmer’s spade or plough was a sacred phallus that opened the womb of the earth and made it big with seed. The Bible shows that these ritualized orgies were practiced in ancient Israel well into the sixth century BCE, to the fury of such prophets as Hosea and Ezekiel. Even in the Jerusalem temple there were ceremonies in honor of Asherah, the fertility goddess of Canaan, and a house of sacred prostitutes.

On the violence of nature:

Again, mythology is not escapist. The new Neolithic myths continued to force people to face up to the reality of death. They were not pastoral idylls, and the Mother Goddess was not a gentle, consoling deity, because agriculture was not experienced as  a peaceful, contemplative occupation. It was a constant battle, a desperate struggle, against sterility, drought, famine and the violent forces of nature, which were also manifestations of sacred power.

The sexual imagery of planting did not mean that people experienced agriculture as a romantic love affair with nature. Human reproduction was itself highly dangerous for mother and child. In the same way, tilling the fields was accomplished only after hard, backbreaking labour. In the book of Genesis, the loss of the primordial paradisal state is experienced as falling into agriculture. In Eden, the first human beings had tended God’s garden effortlessly. After the Fall, the woman brings forth her children in sorrow, and the man has to wrest a living from the soil by the sweat of his brow.

On death:

In early mythology, farming is pervaded by violence, and food is produced only by a constant warfare against the sacred forces of death and destruction. The seed has to go down into the earth and die in order to bring forth its fruit, and its death is painful and traumatic. Farming implements look like weapons, corn must be ground to powder and grapes trampled to unrecognizable pulp before they can become wine. We see all this in myths about the Mother Goddess, whose consorts are nearly all torn apart, dismembered, brutally mutilated, and killed before they can rise again, with the crops, to new life. All these myths speak of a struggle to the death. IN the old heroic myths dating from the Paleolithic age, it was usually a male hero who set forth on a dangerous journey to bring help to his people. After the Neolithic revolutions, the males are often helpless and passive. It is the female goddess who wanders through the world on a quest, who struggles with death, and brings nourishment to the human race. The Earth Mother becomes a symbol of female heroism, in myths that speak ultimately of balance and restore harmony.

On the myth of Gilgamesh and how it reflected society’s thinking at the time:

Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends, and set on their adventures. In the course of their wanderings, they meet Ishtar. In the older mythology, marriage with the Mother Goddess had often represented the supreme enlightenment and the climax of a hero’s quest, but Gilgamesh turns Ishtar down. It is a powerful critique of the traditional mythology, which can no longer speak fully to urban men and women. Gilgamesh does not see civilization as a divine enterprise. Ishtar is a destroyer of culture: she is like a water skin that soaks its carrier, a shoe that pinches its wearer, and a door that cannot keep out the wind. None of her relationships lasted; she has ruined each one of her lovers. Mortals are better off without these destructive encounters with irresponsible gods. Gilgamesh, the civilized man, declares his independence of the divine. It is better for gods and humans to go their separate ways.

Instead of getting privileged information from the gods, Gilgamesh receives a painful lesson on the limitations of humanity. He heads back to civilization: bathes, throws away his lion skin, dresses his hair and dons clean clothes. Henceforth, he will concentrate on building the walls of Uruk, and cultivating the civilized arts. He personally will die, but these monuments will be his immortality, especially the invention of writing, which will record his achievements for posterity.

On the struggle with monotheism and the birth of Judaism:

But the history of religion shows that, once a myth ceases to give people intimations of transcendence, it becomes abhorrent. Monotheism, the belief in only one god, was initially a struggle. Many of the Israelites still felt the allure of the old myths, and had to fight this attraction. They felt that they were being torn painfully form the mythical world of their neighbors, and were becoming outsiders. We sense this strain in the distress of Jeremiah, who experienced his god as a pain that convulsed his every limb, or in the strange career of Ezekiel, whose life became an icon of radical discontinuity. Ezekiel is commanded by God to eat excrement; he is forbidden to mourn his dead wife; he is overcome with fearful, uncontrollable trembling. The Axial prophets felt that they were taking their people into an unknown world, where nothing could be taken for granted, and normal responses were denied. But eventually this distress gave way to serene confidence, and the religion that we now call Judaism came into being.

On Babylon:

Ironically, this new self-assurance came after a great catastrophe. In 586 the Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar conquered the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple of Yahweh. Many of the Israelites were deported to Babylonia, where the exiles were exposed to the towering ziggurats, the rich liturgical life of the city, and the massive temple of Esagila. Yet it was here that paganism lost its attraction. We see the new spirit in the first chapter of Genesis, probably written by a member of the so-called Priestly School, which can be read as a poised, calm polemic against the old belligerent cosmogonies. IN calm, ordered prose, this new creation myth looks coolly askance at the Babylonian cosmology. Unlike Marduk, Israel’s god does not have to fight desperate battles to create the world; he brings all things into existence effortlessly, by a simple command. The sun, moon, stars, sky and earth are not gods in their own right, hostile to Yahweh. They are subservient to him, and created for a purely practical end. The sea-monster is no Tiamat, but is God’s creature and does his bidding. Yahweh’s creative act is so superior to Marduk’s that it never has to be repeated or renewed. Where the Babylonian gods were engaged in an ongoing battle against the forces of chaos, and needed the rituals of the New Year festival to restore their energies, Yahweh can simply rest on the seventh day, his work complete.

On Ancient Greek philosophy:

Before the passion for philosophy took strong root in the fourth century, the Athenians had developed a new type of ritual, the mimesis of tragedy, which solemnly reenacted the ancient myths in the context of a religious festival, but at the same time, subjected them to close scrutiny. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes all put the gods on trial, with the audience as the judging tribunal. Myth does not question itself; it demands a degree of self-identification. Tragedy, however, put some distance between itself and the traditional mythology, and queried some of the most fundamental Greek values. Were the gods really fair and just? What was the value of heroism, of Greekness, of democracy? Tragedy came to the fore in a time of transition, a period when the old myths were beginning to lose touch with the new political realities of the city-states. A hero such as Oedipus is still committed to traditional mythical ideals, but they do not help him solve his dilemma. Where the mythical hero could fight his way through to victory, or, at least, to some degree of resolution, there are no such solutions for the tragic hero.

On Plato:

Plato disliked tragedy, because it was too emotional; he believed that it fed the irrational part of the soul, and that humans could only achieve hteir full potential through logos. He compared myths to old wives’ tales. Only logical, rational discourse brings true understanding. Plato’s theory of the Eternal Ideas can be seen as a philosophical version of the ancient myth  of the divine archetypes, of which mundane things are the merest shadow. But, for Plato, the Ideas of Love, Beauty, Justice and the Good cannot be intuited or apprehended through the insights of myth or ritual, but only through the reasoning powers of the mind. Aristotle was in agreement with Plato. He found the old myths incomprehensible: ‘For they make the first principles gods or generated from gods, and they say that whatever did not taste of the nectar and ambrosia became mortal… but as regards the actual application of these causes, their statements are beyond our comprehension.’ Aristotle was reading myth as though it were a philosophical text. From a scientific perspective, these myths are nonsense, and a serious seeker after truth should ‘turn rather to those who reason by means of demonstration.’ It seemed that the study of philosophy had caused a rift between mythos and logos, which had hitherto been complementary.

Yet this was not the whole story. For all his impatience with myth, Plato allowed it an important role in the exploration of ideas that lie beyond the scope of philosophical language. We cannot speak of the Good in terms of logos, because it is not a being but the source of both Being and Knowledge. There are other matters, such as the origin of the cosmos or the birth of the gods, that seem subject to blind causality and so contaminated by the irrational that they cannot be expressed in coherent arguments. So when the subject matter falls below philosophical discourse, we must be content with plausible fable. When he writes of the soul, for example, Plato falls back on the old oriental myth of reincarnation. Aristotle agrees that, while some of the myths about the gods are clearly absurd, the basis of this tradition – ‘that all the first substances were gods’-is ‘truly divine’.

On Greek rationalism vs Greek religion:

There was, therefore, a contradiction in Western thought. Greek logos seemed to oppose mythology, but philosophers continued to use myth, either seeing it as the primitive forerunner of rational thought or regarding it as indispensable to religious diuscourse. And indeed, despite the monumental achievements of Greek rationalism during the Axial Age, it had no effect on Greek religion. Greeks continued to sacrifice to the gods, take part in the Eleusinian mysteries, and celebrate their festivals until the sixth century of the Common Era, when this pagan religion was forcibly suppressed by the Emperor Justinian, and replaced by the mythos of Christianity.

On Jesus:

Jesus was a real historical human being, who was executed in about 30 CE by the Romans, and his first disciples certainly thought that he had-in some sense-risen from the dead. But unless a historical event is mythologized, it cannot become a source of religious inspiration. A myth, it will be recalled, is an event that-in some sense-happened once, but which also happens all the time. An occurrence needs to be liberated, as it were, from the confines of a specific period and brought into the lives of contemporary worshippers, or it will remain a unique, unrepeatable incident, or even a historical freak that cannot really touch the lives of others. We do not know what actually happened when the people of Israel escaped from Egypt and crossed the Sea of Reeds, because the story has been written as a myth. The rituals of Passover have for centuries made this tale central to the spiritual lives of Jews, who are told that each one of them must consider himself to be of the generation that escaped from Egypt. A myth cannot be correctly understood without a transformative ritual, which brings it into the lives and hearts of generations of worshippers. A myth demands action: the myth of Exodus demands that Jews cultivate an appreciation of freedom as a sacred value, and refuse either to be enslaved themselves or to oppress others. By ritual practice and ethical response, the story has ceased to be an event in the distant past, and has become a living reality.

On the Muslim adoption of Ancient Greek logos:

When Plato and Aristotle were translated into Arabic during the eighth and ninth centuries, some Muslims tried to make the religion of the Koran a religion of logos. They evolved ‘proofs’ for the existence of Allah, modeled on Aristotle’s demonstration of the First Cause. These Faylasufs, as they were called, wanted to purge Islam of what they regarded as primitive, mythical elements. They had a difficult task, since the god of the philosophers took no notice of mundane events, did not reveal himself in history, had not created the world, and did not even know that human beings existed. Nevertheless the Faylasufs did some interesting work, together with the Jews in the Islamic empire who set about the task of rationalizing the religion of the Bible. Nevertheless, Falsafah remained a minority pursuit, confined to a small intellectual elite. The First Cause might be more logical than the god of the Bible and the Koran, but it is hard for most people to work up any interest in a deity who is so uninterested in them.

Significantly, the Greek Orthodox Christians despised this rational project. They knew their own Hellenic tradition and knew only too well that logos and mythos could not, as Plato had explained, prove the existence of the Good. In their view, the study of theology could not be a rational exercise. Using reason to discuss the sacred was about as pointless as trying to eat soup with a fork. Theology was only valid if pursued together with prayer and liturgy. Muslims and Jews eventually reached the same conclusion. By the eleventh century, Muslims had decided that philosophy must be wedded with spirituality, ritual, and prayer, and the mythical, mystical religion of the Sufis became the normative form of Islam until the end of the nineteenth century. Similarly, Jews discovered that when they were afflicted by such tragedies as their expulsion from Spain, the rational religion of their philosophers could not help them, and they turned instead to the myths of the Kabbalah, which reached through the cerebral level of the mind and touched their inner source of anguish and yearning. They all had returned to the old view of the complementarity of mythology and reason. Logos was indispensible in the realm of medicine, mathematics, and natural science-in which Muslims in particular excelled. But when they wanted to find ultimate meaning and significance in their lives, when they sought to alleviate their despair, or wished to explore the inner regions of their personality, they had entered the domain of myth.

On the Great Western transformation:

Western modernity was the child of logos. It was founded on a different economic basis. Instead of relying on a surplus of agricultural produce, like all pre-modern civilizations, the new Western societies were founded on the technological replication of resources and the constant reinvestment of capital.

This freed modern society from many of the constraints of traditional cultures, whose agrarian base had inevitably been precarious. Hitherto an invention or an idea that required too much capital outlay was likely to be shelved, because no society before our own could afford the ceaseless replication of the infrastructure we now take for granted.

An empire would expand and increase its commitments and, inevitably, outrun its financial base. But the West developed an economy that seemed, potentially, to be indefinitely renewable. Instead of looking back to the past and conserving what had been achieved, as had been the habit of the pre-modern civilizations, Western people began to look forward. The long process of modernization, which took Europe some three centuries, involved a series of profound changes: industrialization, the transformation of agriculture, political and social revolutions to reorganize society to meet the new conditions, and an intellectual ‘enlightenment’ that denigrated myth as useless, false and outmoded.

On controlling the environment:

There was a new optimism in the West. People felt that they had more control over their environment. There were no more sacred, unalterable laws. Thanks to their scientific discoveries, they could manipulate nature and improve their lot. The discoveries of modern medicine, hygiene, labor-saving technologies and improved methods of transport revolutionized the lives of Western people for the better. But logos had never been able to provide human beings with the sense of significance that they seemed to require.

On witchcraft:

The great Witch Craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which raged through many of the Catholic and Protestant countries of Europe, showed that scientific rationalism could not always hold the darker forces of the mind at bay. The Witch Craze was a collective demonic fantasy that led to the execution and torture of thousands of men and women. People believed that witches had sex with devils, and flew through the air to attend satanic orgies. Without a powerful mythology to explain people’s unconscious fears, they tried to rationalize those fears into ‘facts’. Fearful and destructive un-reason has always been part of the human experience, and it still is. It emerged very strongly in the new Christian movements that attempted to translate the ideals of the Enlightenment into a religious form. Quakers were so-called because they used to tremble, howl, and yell during their meetings. The Puritans, many of whom were successful capitalists and good scientists, also had a tumultuous spirituality and traumatic conversion experiences, which many were ill equipped to sustain. A significant number fell into depressive states, and some even committed suicide. The same syndrome can be seen in the First Great Awakening in New England (1734-40). Everybody was attempting to be a mystic and achieve alternative psychic states. But the higher states of mysticism were not for everybody. It required special talent, temperament, and one-to-one training. A group experience of untaught, unskilled individuals could lead to mass hysteria and even mental illness.

On modern anxiety:

When we contemplate the dark epiphanies of the twentieth century, we see that modern anxiety is not simply the result of self-indulgent neurosis. We are facing something unprecedented. Other societies saw death as a transition to other modes of being. They did not nurture simplistic and vulgar ideas of an afterlife, but devised rites and myths that helped people to face the unspeakable. In no other culture would anybody settle down in the middle of a rite of passage or an initiation, with the horror unresolved. But this is what we have to do in the absence of a viable mythology.

We may be more sophisticated in material ways, but we have not advanced spiritually beyond the Axial Age: because of our suppression of mythos we may even had regressed. We still long to ‘get beyond’ our immediate circumstances, and to enter a ‘full time’ , a more intense, fulfilling existence. We try to enter this dimension by means of art, rock music, drugs, or by entering the larger-than-life perspective of film. We still seek heroes. Elvis Priestley and Princess Diana were both made into instant mythical beings, even objects of religious cult. But there is something unbalanced about this adulation. The myth of the hero was not intended to provide us with icons to admire, but was designed to tap into the vein of heroism within ourselves. Myth must lead to imitation or participation, not passive contemplation. We no longer know how to manage our mythical lives in a way that is spiritually challenging and transformative.

On the importance of art:

It [Picasso’s Guernica] is a painting that is suffused with compassion, the ability to feel with the agony of others. Sacrifice has inspired some of the earliest mythical speculations. In the Paleolithic period, human beings had felt a disturbing kinship with the animals that they hunted and killed. They expressed their inchoate distress in the rituals of sacrifice, which honored the beasts which laid down their lives for the sake of humanity.

On the importance of literature:

But can secular novel really replicate traditional myth, with its gods and goddesses? We have seen that, in the pre-modern world, the divine was rarely regarded in the metaphysical terms imposed upon it by Western logos, but was usually used to help people understand their humanity. As people’s circumstances changed, the gods often receded, taking a marginal place in mythology and religion; sometimes they disappeared altogether. There is nothing new in the godless mythologies of contemporary novels, which grapple with many of the same intractable and elusive problems of the human condition as the ancient myths, and make us realize that – whatever the status of the gods- human beings are more than their material circumstances and that all have sacred, numinous value.

And yet the novel [Day of the Dead by Lowry] is not itself nihilistic, there is deep compassion in its evocation of the pathos, beauty, and loveable absurdity of humanity.

If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest. If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight to our lost and damaged world.

On a Bloggers Guide to Greece

031-EKIES_POSTCARDS_preview-05|The meadows of Poseidon via Beetroot Design Group for Ekies|

A while ago, Anne over at Pret-a-Voyager put together a Bloggers Guide to France. She has inspired me to do the same for Greece; I love that I can pay tribute to this wonderful country that has given me so much. Despite her many contradictions, Greece offers such riches to those who venture to her shores.  The list I have compiled below is by region in alphabetical order.

It is common knowledge that Greece is a wonderful and gorgeous playground, but what is unknown is how varied her landscapes are; people like Ares Kalogeropoulos have worked hard to highlight how you can meet the world in Greece, but there are still so many corners that remain unexplored, particularly by regular travellers and bloggers like you and me.

To this end, I would like to invite you to contribute posts on places in Greece via the comments section below or by contacting me on k v a r t h o l o m a i o s @ g ma i l . c o m .

There are some glaring omissions as I have yet to come across/write myself blog posts on certain places (Thessaloniki, in particular, springs to mind), so I would welcome contributions from any of the places listed at the end of each section. However, if you feel you have something more you would like to add to either Mykonos, Santorini, or any other list, by all means feel free to get in touch in the comments section below!

The idea is to build a collection of real, personal, and hopefully positive (!) experiences from real people who find small truths and little pieces of themselves in this magnificent little corner on Earth. Of course, I have included links to official city/region pages where available in English. In other words, is there a relevent local website? If so, is it in English? I am not using aesthetics as criteria as (unfortunately) several of the existing sites are seriously outdated, however most of the basic touristic attractions should be covered.

I hope you find this guide both useful and enticing as an invitation to visit and write about my πατρίδα (homeland). Enjoy!

Greek-Graphic-Design-Awards-2013-EBGE-beetroot-yatzer-13|illustration by Beetroot Design Group, courtesy of EBGE 2013 Awards via Yatzer|

Greece

Official Tourism Board // Visit Greece
Other notable semi-official sites: Discover Greece // UP Greek Tourism // Greece is Changing // Greece Daily Secret // Greecestagram // Fantastic Greece // Small Hotels in Greece
Grecian Paradise // Eleni
Greece Travel Guide // Matt Barrett
How Greece changed meTo just be // Where the heart resides
Passion for Greece // Passion for Hospitality
Ellada stin Kardia mou // Greece in my Heart
Greece and Musings on PhotographyGreece – White Blue + Hot Pink // Carla Coulson

Aegean Islands

Chios
Official // Chios
Daily BreadDown on the Street - The Boss // My Photographic World
A little place that I love in Greece // Cookoobananas

Ikaria
Official // Ikaria
Panigiri: a feast under the trees // Aegean Pan
I’m being broken downLive with your ragsHave you missed the point of this life joke?How to make Ikarion soufiko // Sarah Wilson
How to Live to 100 (eat no sugar) (drink wine + walk ) (eat pork) (panigiri + drink wine) // Sarah Wilson

Lesvos
Inspiring Lives – Clare Lloyd My Greek Island HomeA Greek Island Dream House // Carla Coulson

Samos
Official // Samos 
A Samian SummerWindow with a ViewA Greek TragedyA Samian SummerSuch is LifeFly Fishing and Beef StifadoOff the Beaten Track, Samos, RevisitedSunrise in SamosThe Meltemi WindThe Road to Leka – A Word in Your Ear

Limnos // Oinousses // Psarra

Athens

Official Tourism Board // Athens *downloading the I’m an Athenian app is a MUST!!
Athens // Daily Secret
I love Athens project // Anon
Athens // Ana’s Diary
As I’m strolling down Praxitelous // Americanika
A Taste of Athens – Perhaps not as you know it // Table Salt
Strolling through AthensThe ParthenonThe National GardenThe five-star hotelTables + chairsThe view from up thereThe language gameThe truth about travelling // Where my heart resides
Athens – Travel Diary (Ena) (Duo) (Tria) (Tessera) (Pente) // My Kiki Cake
Sardelles – Gazi, AthensTzitzikas kai Mermigas –  Athens // My Kiki Cake
On the best: Freddo Cappuccino in Glyfada // Americanika

Central Greece

Nafpakto
Official Page // Nafpaktos
Nafpakto – Travel Diary // My Kiki Cake

Olympia
Passion for Ancient Olympia // Live Your Passion

Patra
Patra – Travel Diary (Ena) (Duo) // My Kiki Cake
Achaia Clauss – Patra // My Kiki Cake

Arachova (Mt Parnassus) // Delphi // Galaxidi // Igoumenitsa // Ioannina // Karditsa // Karpenisi // Meteora // Metsovo // Parga // Pelion // Plastiras Lake // Preveza // Trikala // Volos // Zagoroxoria

Crete

Official // Crete
My Paradissi
// Eleni shares little corners of her island under the guise of an interior design blog.
Crete – Food and Travel Diary // My Kiki Cake
Passion for Margarites Village in Rethymno, CretePassion for Elafonisi Beach, ChaniaPassion for Preveli BeachPassion for Falassarna Beach // Live Your Passion

Cycladic Islands

Greecetopia: My Cheat Sheet on What to Pack, Where to Stay and Where to Eat in Santorini+Mykonos // Nubby Twiglet
Greek Islands City Guide //  Sophie Carr‘s guest post on Design*Sponge

Amorgos
Official // Amorgos
Amorgos Greece // Carla Coulson

Folegandros
Official // Folegandros
Travelogue|Folegandros // My Life Box

Koufonisia
Official // Koufonisia
Koufonisia // Streetgeist
The thing about Greece // Jagged Melon Productions

Mykonos
Official Tourism Board // Mykonos
Mykon0s, Greece  // The Sweetsonian
Melissa in Mykonos  //  Garance Dore
Mykonos – Food and Travel Diary // My Kiki Cake
Mykonian Withdrawal Symptoms // Earthly Musings
Passion for Mykonos diaries // Live Your Passion
Lunch in Mykonos, Greece: Aperanto Galazio // Girl Eats World

Paros – Antiparos
My Greek Island Love Affair // Carla Coulson

Santorini
Official Tourism Board // Santorini
Sunset and Sailboats in Santorini // Gala Darling
Santorini, Greece // The Londoner
Portrait Inspiration – The Power of  Dress // Carla Coulson
Santorini – Food and Travel Diary // My Kiki Cake
Travel Thursdays: SantoriniTravel Thursdays: Santorini by Bit of Ivory Photography // Le Magnifique Blog
A Fira SunsetWind, I hate you Room with a viewChocolate for breakfast every single dayA cloudy day in FiraTake me backWhite + blueGrateful // Where my heart resides
Honeymoon Photos: Greece // A Cup of Jo
Romantic Santorini // Curious Notions
Santorini, Greece: Volcano Blue // Girl Eats World

Sifnos
Official // Sifnos
Sifnos // Carla Coulson

Andros //KeaKythnos // Milos // Naxos // Syros // Tinos

Dodecanese

Rhodes
Official // Rhodes
Rhodes – Food and Travel Diary // My Kiki Cake

Astypalaia // Chalki // Kalymnos // Karpathos // Kassos // Kos // Leros // Lipsi // Nissyros // Patmos // Symi // Tilos

Ionian Islands

Corfu
Official // Corfu
The Corfu Diaries (Part I) (Part II) (Part III) // Basil and Oil

Kefalonia
Official // Kefalonia
Beautiful Adventures // Cocorrina
Kefalonia Island, Greece (Part I) (Part II) // Ana’s Diary

Lefkada
Official // Lefkada
Lefkada – Food and Travel Diary // My Kiki Cake
Lefkada // Ana’s Diary

Zakynthos
Official // Zakynthos
Zaynthos Island, Greece // Ana’s Diary

Ithaca // Lefkas // Paxoi – Antipaxo

Northern Greece

Alexandroupoli // Edessa // Grevena // Halkidiki // Kastoria // Kavala // Serres // Thessaloniki

Peloponnese

Loutraki
Loutraki – Travel Diary // My Kiki Cake

Corinth // Epidavros // Kalamata // Mani // Monemvasia // Nafplio // Sparta

Saronic Gulf

Aegina // Hydra // Kythira - Antikythira// Poros // Sounio // Spetses

Sporades – Evia

Alonissos // Evia // Skiathos // Skopelos // Skyros

On feminism, embodiment, Gone Girl + identity

I first started writing this post in July when I was knee deep in my embodiment – technology project. Embodiment absolutely fascinates me. Assuming you’re over the whole Cartesian mind-body issue, embodiment is simply the process of living in the body, a body which is more than just our biology. This is a particularly salient idea in social psychology, as theorists argue that since we cannot seperate ourselves from our bodies, we can only relate to other people through them. Therefore, if our bodies, identities, and social worlds are inextricably linked, it is possible that by changing our bodies, we can change how we feel about ourselves, our roles in society, and how we are perceived by others; all of which are aspects of identity. (Some very cool people are actually looking into the plasticity of the self through changes of the body.)

So it is hardly surprising that people use their bodies as identity projects (aka body projects) in order to express a specific identity and lifestyle-the body is both something we are AND something we have.  The easiest way to express individuality, aspirations, and group affiliations is through fashion (although exercise is also a popular), which also explains the proliferation of makeover shows; people genuinely believe changing how you look can and will change your life. In truth, there is something to be said about how clothing affects your success.  Unsurprisingly, your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustoworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion. Hence why alternative schools of thought offer courses that allow for working on changing perceptions from the outside – in, and why top television programs are so fashion-focused. Professor Karen J. Pine even wrote a book about it and gathered some interesting research-based facts about fashion psychology. That said, I have come to the fairly obvious realization that clothing and shopping no longer play the same status role in my life that they used to, and therefore, matter less to me.

Far more interesting are extreme body projects, as well as the subversive and pervasive effects of… talking.

First, extreme body projects. One of the most reknown body projects is that by Michael Jackson. M

Michael-Jackson-Plastic-Surgery-Before-After

Michael Jackson used the latest technologies in plastic surgery to blur the lines of his sex, ethnicity, race, and age. As the technologies improved, the more he was able to do to alter his appearance. His actions were both socially rooted and had social effects in how he was percieved. It is widely argued that he changed his body because of personal eccentricity, but also because of racialised power relations current in Western society at the time. Body projects are typically the result of a move to regain control over one’s life as well as to defy ideas about what normal is by challenging the roles society has assigned. But are such expressions of individuality truly the result of free will? Or do they occur as the result of social pressures?

This brings us to talking. By talking, I mean discourse, which is written and spoken communication whereby meaning is constructed, rather than pre-existing (as defined by Michel Foucalt and discursive psychologists everywhere). In other words, discursive psychologists believe that joint meaning is constantly being constructed through talk. So an ‘embodied self’ is a ‘social body’ (aka an organic object of discourse). According to discursive psychologists, body projects reflect the pervasive influence of society. By simply defining what it means to have a ‘normal’ body, that definition becomes the truth.

Feminists are concerned with bodies.

feminism

They oppose the outdated yet sadly prevalent idea that man equals mind (rational, knowable) and woman equals body (irrational, unknowable). Elisabeth Grosz has fought this idea by comparing the corporeal feminism to a Mobius strip, which unites the inside with the outside,  never knowing where one ends and the other begins. She argues that the female body goes beyond biology once it becomes the site of psychological and social forces such as insight, reflection, drive, and agency; i.e., the very definition of embodiment. In the fight to empower women and their bodies, Susan Bordo has brought light to the contentious issue of female body image in discourse and the ‘tyranny of slenderness‘. We’ve all heard the argument about how unfair it is that the evolved definition of a sexy body has shifted from Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s to today’s physical ideal. According to Bordo, the media enforces that only young, athletic, slender bodies can be beautiful and happy, which also explains the prevalence in eating disorders amongst women. She claims that through anorexia and bulimia, women use extreme ways to voluntarily surveil themselves and to conform to patriarchal norms which dictate what standards of feminity are culturally acceptable. At the same time, it is also the way women are choosing to exert control over their lives given such conditions which they may feel powerless against.

Enter Gone Girl. By now I’m sure you’ve already read the “Cool Girl” rant somewhere, but just in case, here goes:

 Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)

- Gillian Flynn // Gone Girl

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Gone Girl reflects the current zeitgeist, where it seems that there is no better time for the #Heforshe campaign to be gaining traction. Sati on Cinematic Corner made some excellent points regarding the alleged misogyny of the film. I started copy/pasting quotes from the blog post to link to, but it would never do it justice. Just go read it.

We need scary women characters. Men hit women, cheat on women and frankly they are mouthier than ever nowadays. ‘Calm down’, ‘settle down’, ‘listen you bitch’ etc. They think if they hit their wives they will become submissive and afraid. Worse yet – they think that women SHOULD be afraid of men and should be submissive. They think it’s in woman’s nature to be submissive and fragile. And thanks to Gillian Flynn they can now see that sometimes woman’s nature is to be vindictive, righteous and very, very sly. There is nothing misogynistic in saying some women are evil. It would be misogynistic to say they are weak. And neither of the female characters in Gone Girl is weak.

-Sati // Cinematic Corner

And read the book.

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On the contributions of phenomenology + social psychoanalysis to social psychology

Various dimensions exist within social psychology that allow for a broader understanding of the relationship between individuals and their social environment. These are cognitive social (also referred to as experimental), discursive psychological, phenomenological, and social psychoanalytic perspectives. Whilst it is widely agreed that no single perspective is sufficient independently, each creates knowledge which can contribute to social psychology in a unique and distinct way. The basic idea is that the differences (uniqueness) of each approach, specifically in terms of ontology, methodology, and focus of analysis, are what give it value in a social psychological context. This essay will focus on the unique contributions phenomenology and social psychoanalysis make to social psychology. Starting with Wendy Hollway’s illustration on how different perspectives can approach a single phenomenon, various examples of research on emotions, such as love and hate, language, embodiment, and self will be used to demonstrate the use of the other two perspectives.

A good way to gain some understanding of how different perspectives produce different kinds of knowledge is to consider hate and love.

We will analyse an article published in The Guardian entitled ‘I will always hate you people’: a direct quote from the matriarch of an Iraqi family, Mrs. Izmerly, regarding the mysterious death of her husband during the British/American invasion. In this example, the overarching similarity between the social psychoanalytic and the phenomenological perspectives is in their authors’ reflexivity on their own feelings on the matter whilst reading the text. Rusell Spears aptly acknowledges the experimental perspective as ‘a different part of the jigsaw’, whereby the puzzle is made up of pieces of the other approaches, and recognizes the need to treat experiments ‘with interpretative care’ despite their ability to go beyond an individual’s conscious account.This is where the similarities seem to end.

The most obvious difference in perspectives is their methodologies: qualitative versus quantitative. Hollway argues in favor of qualitative methods against the prevailing social emphasis of ‘scientific’ approaches to understanding human behavior popularized by cognitive psychology’s zeitgeist, highlighting issues of control and therefore ecological validity. Whilst the experimental approach seeks to model social processes in order to control them in a laboratory setting, the phenomenological and psychoanalytical approaches seek ecological validity by eliciting experience via unstructured interview techniques in order to obtain elaborate narratives. This is not an unusual way to gain insight, given that how a person tells their story can shape their identity.

Another difference lies in the visibility of the object of analysis within each perspective. The phenomenological and psychoanalytical approach are both interested in emotions themselves, unlike the cognitive social approach, which is interested in causal relationships, and the discursive approach, which seeks explicit use of emotion words and outright rejects deeper interpretation. For example, the discursive approach takes the position that language creates meaning and is therefore a constituent of the self. Both the discursive and the psychoanalytical perspective takes this one step further and view language as the key way subjective experience is communicated (Hollway, 2012).

However, social psychoanalytic perspective goes beyond the surface of words used. In fact, it is argued that language can hinder communication, either as a result of unconscious processes (for example, an inability to express a feeling may be a defense against a painful memory), and because it is impossible to map language on to concepts absolutely perfectly. Whilst somewhat counterintuitive, language is where the psychoanalytical perspective can make a useful contribution to understanding an internal process. Consider also embodiment. Cartesian mind-body dualism has been central to psychodynamic theories, particularly in terms of psychosexual development. Repressed feelings may manifest as physical symptoms, thus giving weight to the intersubjectivity of the body in other perspectives, such as phenomenology, whereby paying attention to the body can reveal a wealth of information in terms of both consciousness (subjective body versus bodily self-conscious) as well as a body-world interconnection. This directly contrasts with discursive psychologists, who believe body projects, and therefore identity, reflect society’s influence in terms of how meaning is built.

Even in this split, there are differences; the phenomenological approach is interested in revealing (making visible) emotions through elaborate descriptions which contain the emotions people are aware of, whilst the psychoanalytical perspective seeks to understand underlying (invisible) unconscious dynamics and motivations. In the example of The Guardian headline, Hollway considers her own subjective response when deciding how to frame her research question so as to understand what ‘hate you people’ really means. The interpretation cannot by its nature remain neutral as it carries the meanings and associations within the unconscious dynamic of the researcher. By extension, this perspective can only be applied as a clinical method rather than a research method, so as to extrapolate theoretical understandings of hatred to reach conclusions about Mrs. Izmerly’s experience, emotions, and how they are unique to her. Interestingly, phenomenology is “one of the few theoretical perspectives in social psychology that does not shy away from hate, understands it and takes it seriously” . Like the phenomenological approach, the psychoanalytical perspective focuses on the person who speaks, rather than on the words themselves, as per discursive psychology. According to Edwards, discourse analysis is more appropriate within a specific context.

The phenomenological approach is interested in the human experience behind the headline, according to Langdridge. By attempting to understand the many levels within an article and its headline, Langdridge seeks to understanding the hatred being felt by focusing on the story of the family living the shadow of the conflict in Iraq. Eliciting descriptions, as mentioned earlier, is essential in order to understand experiences and the breadth of human emotion. To do so requires epoché, such that it is possible. This type of descriptive analysis is useful in finding both consistencies and variations across narratives, thereby providing deeper ‘anecdotal’ insight which could be used to find causal relationship through the use of cognitive social methodologies. Spears uses comparative modelling processes in studies of Schadenfreude to understand why/how the kind of hatred demonstrated by Mrs. Izmerly could occur, and is able to find that disempowering conditions of stable low status (and hopelessness) are tied to more aggressive forms of discrimination, as epitomized by The Guardian article headline.

In understanding ‘the self’ as some shifting position, involving both individual and social fields, the phenomenological perspective is useful in helping us understand the personal experience of a mental or physical illness, which contradicts or ignores the underlying unconscious aspects evident in a social psychoanalytic perspective. Comparing the phenomenological research of an Alzheimer’s sufferer against the social psychoanalytical perspective of a sick man, Vince, it is clear to see how an embodied experience can simultaneously be comprised of psychosomatic symptoms as a result of internal distress, which are hidden not only from the researchers view, but from the individual himself as well. In this way, ‘hidden’ aspects can be revealed.

The way perspectives complement each can easily be seen when it comes to studying love. Heafner, M. and Ijzerman take the cognitive social approach to understand, not how love is discovered and experienced, as per Finlay (pending), nor how it is maintained through dialogue but how it is regulated through cognitive mechanisms.

“People have often asked me whether what I know about love has spoiled it for me. And I just simply say, “Hardly.” You can know every single ingredient in a piece of chocolate cake, and then when you sit down and eat that cake, you can still feel that joy.”

-Helen Fisher, Feb 2008, TED

Essentially, this entire discussion is really a conversation about power-relations: which social psychological perspective has the upper hand. The indisputable truth is that they all allow us to have a wider appreciation of what it means to be human.

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Brown, J.C. (2006). Reflexivity in the Research process: psychoanalytic observations. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 9, (3), 181-197

Finlay, L. and Langdridge, D. (2012) ‘Embodiment’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 1, 2nd Edition, pp 199-224, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

Finlay, L., V. Eatough (pending) A phenomenological approach to understanding the experience of discovering a kindred spirit connection, Phenomenology & Practice.

Heafner, M. and Ijzerman (2011) The Face of Love: Spontaneous accommodation as Social Emotion regulation, [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 37(12) 1551–1563.

Leslie, B., Morgan, M. (2011). Soulmates, Compatibility and intimacy: Allied discursive resources in the struggle for relationship satisfaction in the new millennium. New Ideas in Psychology, 29, 10–23.

Hollway, W. (2012) ‘Methods and Knowledge in social psychology’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 1, 2nd Edition, pp 59-90, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

Hollway, W. (2012) ‘Self’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 1, 2nd Edition, pp 119-144, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

The Open University. (2014) Motzkau’s online commentary: The production of knowledge. Retrieved from DD307 2014B module website

(2008) Helen Fisher: The Brain in Love. Retrieved http://www.ted.com