Laura's Blog

Greek Fire 4. Bread, birth, and the Píta of the Panayía

Thursday, December 17, 2020

This week, in the northern hemisphere, we are enjoying the last days of deepening darkness before the winter solstice brings the return of the light. As my friend Carol P. Christ writes, while the light is indeed to be celebrated, the dark is not to be feared: at this time of year we would be wise to celebrate the restful, welcoming darkness.

The rebirth of light at the winter solstice is mirrored in Christianity by the birth of love and wisdom symbolised by the cosmic Christ. In earlier times, the return of the sun was one phase in the balanced cycle of birth, death, and regeneration embodied by the Goddess. [1]

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Greek Fire 3. The Womb of the Mother and the Life-Giving Spring

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Last week I wrote about the chalice-shaped incense burner, the thymiatírio, which in Orthodox belief is a symbol for the womb of the Divine Mother.

Today, on a December morning blessed with
life-giving rain, I light frankincense in my clay thymiatírio and sense the strong presence of the Divine Mother, She who will soon give birth to the light of the returning sun and the cosmic Christ. Inside this divine being, I also see the woman Maryam in her ninth month of pregnancy, facing difficult circumstances for the coming birth. Both of these images guide me strongly during this Advent time.

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Greek Fire 1. We give thanks for fire and food in lockdown

Thursday, November 26, 2020
Today is American Thanksgiving. This holiday is not really known or observed here in Greece, but finding ourselves housebound in lockdown, my husband and I decided to prepare a small celebration meal today, just for ourselves. The pandemic restrictions in Greece are fairly austere at the moment: you can only leave your house for 6 specific reasons, you have to send a text message to a government website and then wait for the response before you can set foot out the door. Luckily, exercise is considered a valid reason, and we are very fortunate to be able to walk by the sea daily – but we have to stick close to home, we can't drive off to have our daily walk someplace further afield. Essential shopping is also permitted, but we can only go to our local supermarket, not to the bigger one in the next town which has a much better selection of organic and whole foods. If any of Kostantis' family in and around Athens were unwell and needed us to take care of them, we would be permitted to go and do that, but again luckily, everyone remains in fairly good health, ftou ftou ftou – however, this means we are not allowed to see them at all. We can't go to them, and they can't come to us.

Greek Fire 2. The fire of incense and the Tree of Life

Thursday, December 3, 2020

One of the things I love most about life in Greece is the way women burn incense to sanctify their homes and holy icons. With this tiny act of sacred offering, along with the lighting of the kandíli or olive-oil lamp, the lady of the house takes on the role of priestess, turning her home into a temple, a place of prayer, as women did in ancient times. Incense sticks are not used here. Chunks of pure frankincense or scented resins are placed on little charcoal disks called karvounákia, in a special burner, a thymiatírio. When money is scarce or shops are far, women burn olive leaves, as they have done in Greece and Cyprus for thousands of years.

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Dancing on Lesvos this Easter - with compassion for all refugees

Celebrate Greek Easter:
2-week Dance & Culture Holiday on Lesvos with Laura Shannon & friends
27 April - 11 May 2016



January Full Moon, 2016

Dear dancing friends,

I invite you to join us on the Dance & Culture Holiday to celebrate Greek Easter in Milelja, Lesvos, 27 April - 11 May 2016.  I will be sharing Greek, Balkan and Armenian traditional dances, with exquisite and sensitive live music provided by Kostantis Kourmadias and Nikolas Angelopoulos. Local teacher Rena Grigoriou will share Greek dances from Molivos and Asia Minor, and feminist theologian Carol P. Christ will give a talk on the Goddess in ancient Greece. 
The early booking discount applies until February 1, 2016
This year’s course is open to men and women, and also to non-dancers (ask about prices) so it is a good opportunity for holidays with your partner. There is no course happening in Milelja the week of May 11-18, so there are rooms available if any of us would like to stay on for a non-structured holiday. 
Milelja is such a beautiful place, especially in spring, and Easter is a very special time to be in Greece, where the ancient traditions really come alive and we are invited into the heart of them.
It is a time to focus on rebirth and resurrection, both in the Greek Easter mysteries and in pre-Christian rituals honouring spring and Persephone’s return from the underworld. We will dance traditional ritual dances which emphasise these energies, so that we can work with these cycles consciously in our own lives, honouring both the descent and the emergence of new life.
As you know, the island of Lesvos in the last six months has received thousands of refugees coming by boat from Turkey, mainly fleeing the war in Syria. Some of you have asked how the refugee situation will affect us, or how we can help. 
Things have changed a lot since last summer. Now there are reception stations set up on the beaches near Eftalou and Skala Sikammias, from where the refugees can travel by bus to the centres in Mitilini, so they no longer have to walk across the island to the capital and they no longer pass through Molivos or Petra. There are many local and international aid organisations helping to welcome and care for the new arrivals with food, clothes and medical care. Uschi and Irini, the owners of Milelja, have personally dispensed 30,000 euros’ worth of goods from donations made by guests like ourselves. 
They have also given much support to local Greek families, who as a result of the economic crisis also find themselves in need. This is enormously appreciated. Our presence, too, is a sign of support for residents of Lesvos and especially Molivos, who see in us a precious affirmation that ‘life goes on’ despite the recent challenges, and we will be made very welcome.
So be assured, you will be able to relax and enjoy your holiday. Having time off is very important and Milelja remains an ideal place to rest, dream, dance, renew and take care of yourself on every level - even more so this year, when we may have our own dedicated bodyworker on site during the course.

There are ways for you to contribute to the refugees if you wish to, either by making a donation, bringing extra clothes, or staying on to volunteer with one of the local groups (let me know if you would like more information about volunteering options). There are enough volunteers on the island already, so our hands-on help is not actually required.
We dancers can best be of service by bringing our compassionate presence to the island and to the overall theme of exile and homecoming. Many ritual dances serve as conscious containers to help hold, and heal, feelings which are too much for us to carry alone. It is not the first time streams of refugees have travelled through this part of the world; most inhabitants of Lesvos today are descended from the Greeks who left Smyrna as refugees in 1922. Kostantis, whose grandparents were among that wave of refugees, plays and sings the music of the Asia Minor Greeks in a way which both bears witness to the pain of the loss, and recreates the homeland through its music and dance. People in Molivos honour him deeply for his skill, and we are lucky to have him play for us.

I find that most people have, somewhere in their family history, a story of some kind of loss or exile, and all of us have certainly gone through versions of it in our lives, perhaps many times - it is part of being human. This is not the only theme we will be working with in the dance, but it is one of the key ones, and the dance circle is the best place to witness and transform it. The dances of people who have survived can teach us emotional, physical and cultural resilience, and reconnect us with the joy which is so often obliterated through the experience of trauma.
Sufi mystics also know: the yearning to return from exile inspires us to dance, because there is no other way to carry the feelings; then, paradoxically, the dance itself becomes the road home, the passport to the inner homeland of the dancing body. This is also the heart of the Easter mysteries and Persephone’s return. There is no greater joy than a return to the whole, full self, and to feel ourselves as part of the whole human community – this is the invitation of the circle.
I hope we will be dancing together in Milelja this Easter! If you have any other questions, please email me.

With love and blessings in the dance,

P.S. The dance course for the 2 weeks costs 695€ if booked with deposit of 250€ by February 1, 2016; 795€ thereafter. You can also pay in full if you prefer. Please see flyer for booking information and accommodation prices.