Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Morrigan

I've always loved this poem, which seemed to erupt from me when I was creating a mask for the Celtic Goddess of battle, justice, and lamentation in 1999.  The Romans record that the Gauls (Celts) went to war with the certainty that the Morrigan, in the guise of a raven, would bear them to the Summerlands if they died in battle.  I could almost hear the ferocity of Her  voice, with an Irish lilt, spoken with a backdrop of drum and bagpipes, which were traditionally used to lament the dead, as well as a call to battle.

It's one of the few things I've written, in other words, that I really don't know where it came from, I provided the hand, Spirit provided the words. At that time I had a gallery in Berkeley, and was deeply engaged in working with the Goddesses - it was a time of flow and attunement.    I hope to open this channel again.   And this poem speaks to me still.  The message is about the entwinement of all experiences, a call to re-member that the real battle is the evolution of our souls into compassion and love, the understanding of that fundamental evolutionary truth, especially now.  I guess that's why, when I put together this collage while thinking about how I might make a new Morrigan mask, a mask that waits to be filled by a new storyteller, the threads of the Web had to be manifest in the drawing.


You who bring suffering to children:

​May you look into the sweetest, most open eyes, and howl the loss of your innocence.

You who ridicule the poor, the grieving, the lost, the fallen, the inarticulate, the wounded children in grown-up bodies:

May you look into each face, and see a mirror. May all your cleverness fall into the abyss of your speechless grief, your secret hunger, may you look into that black hole with no name, and find....the most tender touch in the darkest night, the hand that reaches out. May you take that hand. May you walk all your circles home at last, and coming home, know where you are.

You tree-killers, you wasters:    May you breathe the bitter dust, may you thirst, may you walk hungry in the wastelands, the barren places you have made. And when you cannot walk one step further, may you see at your foot a single blade of grass, green, defiantly green. And may you be remade by it's generosity.

And those who are greedy in a time of famine:  May you be emptied out, may your hearts break not in half, but wide open in a thousand places, and may the waters of the world pour from each crevice, washing you clean.

Those who mistake power for love:  May you know true loneliness. And when you think your loneliness will drive you mad, when you know you cannot bear it one more hour, may a line be cast to you, one shining, light woven strand of the Great Web glistening in the dark. And may you hold on for dear life.

Those passive ones, those ones who force others to shape them, and then complain if it's not to your liking:

May you find yourself in the hard place with your back against the wall. And may you rage, rage until you find your will. And may you learn to shape yourself.

And you who delight in exploiting others, imagining that you are better than they are:

May you wake up in a strange land as naked as the day you were born and thrice as raw. May you look into the eyes of any other soul, in your radiant need and terrible vulnerability. May you know yourSelf. And may you be blessed by that communion.

                   And may you love well, thrice and thrice and thrice,
                   and again and again and again
                   May you find your face before you were born.

                   And may you drink from deep, deep waters.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

a New Studio.....

Is your studio a Sacred Space?
Even if, for now, it's just a scetch book
 or a laptop
 or a table on the porch.

Have a private showing.  
Arrange a series or two like a story,
a vocabulary of  touchstones and talismans:
field notes for the wilderness,
and urban road maps
gathered from a life-long journey
that feels like a 

I'm thinking of building a new studio on my property..........rather, constructing a large (20'x12') shed with a corrugated patio.  It would be a sizable investment, but ah.........to have a space I can really work.  And the main reason would be to have a space where I can more effectively teach small intensives, offering students both a place to work and rooms in my house as well.  There is no learning like the learning that happens when people live and work together, sharing meals, process and dreams.

Thinking about it........it would be a sizable investment for me, in a time when increasingly I feel funds for the arts are disappearing, as well as, and particularly, venues where artists can share, create, interact, show.  But then, maybe one answer is just to stop paying rent and bringing ones creativity to line the pockets of real estate investors, and do it all right in your own back yard.

I like the idea.  Incubating it................

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Acheulian Goddess - earliest human art a Mother Goddess?

The Acheulian Goddess

I recently re-discovered this, and felt like sharing it again.  This may be  the earliest work of art ever found* that represents a human/primate figure.  I learned of this a few years back from  The Goddess Timeline.    It is a female figure carved in all probability  by pre-human (homo erectus) people.

The Acheulian Goddess was carved by a nomadic hominid tribe who predated even the Neanderthal era, and  has been recently carbon dated as camping at Berekhat Ram (in the modern-day Golan Heights region of Israel) between 232,000 and 800,000 years ago!

The Berekhat Ram Figurine (The Acheulian Goddess)  is a 35mm high fragment of volcanic rock (basaltic tuff) that was found between two layers of volcanic flow in the Levantine area of southern Syria. It is thought to be between 233,000 and 800,000 years old, dating from the Acheulian paleolithic era, and has been attributed to either Archaic Homo Sapiens or to Homo Erectus. The artisan is believed to have taken a small stone with existing feminine features, and used a flint tool to incise grooves delineating the head and arms, thus creating the oldest known human image.  From scoria stone they carved the astounding figurine which, according to the Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society

"...might be considered the earliest manifestation of a work of art."



It is remarkable to note the similarities between the Willendorf and the far, far older Acheulian. Both figures are distinctly female, great breasted with featureless head and discrete limbs. Using flint tools, the maker of the Acheulian intentionally adapted an existing small stone which already had breast-like Mother Goddess features "...by adding incised grooves delineating the head and arms." Like Willendorf the Acheulian appears to have a groove suggestive of the sacred vulva.

Over a thousand miles and an amazing quarter-million years separate this piece from the famous Willendorf Goddess find in Austria.  Until the past few decades, the Willendorf, carved of bone circa 32,000 years ago, was held to be the earliest human crafted work of art and veneration.

In trying to find links to this for this article, I can't help but laugh at the "patriachal paradigm predjudice"  which is that these "venus" figures are somehow extremely ancient forms of pornography.  As if the image of life nurturing breasts, and vulva from which the miracle of birth ensues, could only  symbolize  male sexual pleasure.  

It took a brilliant women archeologist, Marija Gimbutas, to look at the  ubiquitious forms, previously called "fetish objects" and realize that they did not represent the Paleolithic notion of a playboy centerfold,  but rather, they were sacred talismens representing the Prime Deity, the body of the Goddess from which life issues and, as in cave arts, to which life returns as well.  They were probably carried for protection, fertility, and other spiritual reasons.  

An example of this extraordinary inability to see the obvious, not to mention an amazing dismissal of the abilities and needs of the female side of humanity going back half a million years............may be found in the article I quote from below, describing one of the "Earliest Representations of the Female Body"*** in which a (male) archeologist notes that the form is "sexually aggressive" and must have "been carved by a man to represent his girlfriend".  Amazing assumptions!***

There is an incised pattern found on a mollusk shell that is approximately 500,000 years old, believed to have been made by pre-humans.  http://news.discovery.com/human/evolution/oldest-art-was-carved-onto-shell-540000-years-ago-141203.htm

"As one male colleague remarked, nothing has changed in 40,000 years," said Nicholas Conard, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tubingen and the proj's leader.  "It is the oldest example of figurative art in any class, making it all the more surprising that the figurine presents such a powerful, sexually aggressive image."

"All place emphasis on sexual attributes and lack emphasis on the legs, arms, face and head, made all the more noticeable in this case because a carefully carved, polished ring "“ suggesting that the figurine was once suspended as a pendant "“ exists in place of a head," he added.  Professor Paul Mellars, an archeologist at the University of Cambridge, wrote a commentary about the Venus to accompany the publication of the group's findings in Nature magazine.  "It's at least as old the world's oldest cave art," Mellars wrote, adding that the observer "can't avoid being struck by its very sexually explicit depiction of a woman.  The breasts really jump out at you."

In an interview with Discovery news he added, "I assume it was a guy who carved it, perhaps representing his girlfriend "¦ Paleolithic Playboy?  We just don't know how it was used at this point, but the object's size meant it fit well in someone's hand."


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Love Poems from the Lost............

I was looking through old files, and found poems, poems from people whose names I have lost, poems from people who left me their beautiful moments in poetry of one shape or another, and then were somehow lost, like footprints disappearing along a beach, in the time stream. I have lost their names, I am sorry to say, they have become unamed, even un-faced, in my own particular stream - but here they are, their moments remaining, like touchstones.  Some of these poems, on old typewritten paper or even the lined pages of a notebook, just have a first name.  Most, not even that.  Should I be ashamed to share here what was so generously given thus?   So I felt like dedicating this post to those  poems from the Lost.  And if the names thereby surface again, by any chance, that would be good indeed.  I am sorry I have lost your names, but with age, it seems the names go out of things. 

 Perhaps, it is time to un-name things anyway, and find new names closer to the fragrance of who we are or were.  Thank you once again for the pentimentos  that remain.


At this shoreline
there is no visible 
bridge to cross
the anemones of love
are opening, closing
opening, closing
in waters below

you must take the leap


It was only

three strands of hair
falling across an eye half closed
a flash of green light
a  curtain of eyelash

a snapshot
in my memory book

where you  still live,  the moment


Losing Her Way Back Home

I want to still be that girl with
Cottonwood leaves caught in
The damp rope of her undeniably
Red hair while she dances so hard
The whole day stops –it just stops-
To stand brilliant and razor-edged

Around her long brown body
Writhing so close to the ground that
Her hands and hair caress the earth
She is holding onto lust, life and fire
Even as it all sifts and spills
Through her wide open fingers.

Down here in the riverbed,
A dry heat is burning my skin
To parchment and clay. I chain-
Smoke stolen cigarettes and
Mumble the words to a song I
Once heard on your pickup truck

Radio when it was tuned to only static
Except for that beat: the pound
Of dirty feet against the dust
That was rolling up in clouds
Around us, the sudden vision
Of human bodies urging the

Earth towards orgasm. The
Spirits of animals walking
Towards the dancers with
The intention of union,
Singing a song with the sound
Of wind-filled bones and

Skin drums: heartbeat/
Bodybeat in the lucidity
Of a circle filled with light.
You wearing golden feathers
And calling out to me until
I gave life to the dance and matched
The rhythm struggling to emerge
From those half-busted speakers

And I sang words as bright
And hard as the desert we drove
Across at not-so-high
Speeds taking in the stars
Like a drink, like something
We could become drunk upon

Exploded into something
Less than fragmented
Until we were lit up
And glowing volcano-
Red in the August night.

But tonight, the world is
Darker and much less alive; you
Are long since gone and the dance
Circle is nowhere in sight. I am
Just a girl with crow feathers
In her red hair, crouching in the

Remnants of a dried up river
Alone and aching for a song,
A drink, a dance partner
And the sound of a hundred
Barefooted bodies still making

Insatiable love to the ground.


The Game

The big bang was a sigh,
God wistful for a playmate,
bored of being and looking
for action.
I remember God as chubby
from eons lounging
on the ein sofa, a bit mad
from an infinity
of doing nothing.
He made me just after finger painting
a binary star; this forever colored me
in shades of two, as if being One
wasn't hard enough.
I divided: One half hurtling
to frontier reaches, the other
curling into a universe
no bigger than dust.
The game was to find
each other across the vastness,
space and time
our playground.
When we met
in the billionth year,
we traded discoveries
and tales, gifts
of blue feathers, a red stone,
arrowhead and a chain
of stars.
The real prize: In your arms
In my arms,  Home. 


If I were to write a poem for you

I can tell you what it would not be

I would not include flowers
too sweet with immanent decay
no forevers, or  deadly promises, 
or worse plans for
Where We Go From Here.

I would say just this:
your fire ran across my thigh
it burns there still.
You have left your mark.

For a moment,
we took that  flame
in our mouths,
and passed it, one to another:

and we were warmed by this,
made bright.

If I were to write a poem for you
I might say this was more
than enough,
without having to give it a name
or a position in the Zodiac.


Monday, May 16, 2016

The Hand and the Eye Revisited

"Hand and Eye" by Tylor Gore

Moundville Mississippian ceremonial tablet, ca. 1500 a.d.

I've found myself returning to the often ubiquitous image of the "hand and the eye" in my art and imagination, and re-vamping some articles that concern it, so forgive me if I "repeat myself" for any who may be interested.  I am always  mytho-archeology and "artology" minded, but recognize that this image  may seem esoteric to most.   But if one is  following the elusive trail of myth, metaphor, and archetype, those mysterious touchstones found along the path of synchronicity and art and dream.....read on.

I had a friend who is a collector of artifacts, and remember that she  showed me what looked like a piece of thick shell, about 3"x 2", stained, carved into the shape of a hand, incised to show the fingers and joints, and with an eye and pupil in the center of the palm. A hole was drilled in the top of this medallion or amulet, presumably so it could be worn with a cord. Judith said she bought it at show from someone who came from Ohio.

hands 28
Design engraved on Spiro shell; Hamilton, The Spiro Mound, 1952,
The Missouri Archaeological Society.

I was fascinated by this native American artifact, and found myself continually holding it. It seemed to emanate a kind of "clarifying" energy, and being curved, fit into the palm of one's hand. I don't have a photo of Judith's amulet, but the shell gorget above is from a similar source.
The "Hand and Eye" motif, like the Spider with Cross, are found throughout prehistoric sites of the Mississippian peoples of the great river valleys, from Ohio to Alabama.

These people have also been called the Mound Builders, leaving behind mounds and burial chambers (in 2007 I visited Wickliffe Mounds in Kentucky,  and in 2015 I visited Mound State Park in Indiana, which features several massive circle mounds.  It is located near Camp Chesterfield Spiritualist Center).

The awesome "Serpent Mound" in Ohio has been associated with these ancient peoples.

For those unfamiliar, atop a plateau overlooking Brush Creek Valley, Serpent Mound is the largest serpent effigy in the United States. Nearly a quarter of a mile long, it apparently represents an uncoiling serpent; its "head" may also represent an egg in the mouth of the serpent. It has been variously dated from about 1,400 years ago to as long ago as originating in 5,000 bc. It's also geomantically interesting that this ceremonial mound was built on the site of a ancient meteorite strike. Some scholars also believe it aligns with the summer solstices, and also with the constellation "Draco", suggesting it was designed when the star draconis alpha was the pole star. Serpent Mound is certainly one of America's greatest archaeological mysteries.
At any rate, my fascination with Judith's artifact, an ancient sacred image once ubiquitous among the Americas. Judith's carved shell Hand and Eye may well be 500 years old or older. Why did they wear it, engrave it in stone?

Rands' Hand-Eye Motif figure 1
Variants of the Hand and Eye motif. a, b, c, Southeastern United States (after Waring and Holder 1945, Figs. 1, 7 a-c); d,Lienzo de Tlaxcala: 40 (after Seler 1902-23, Vol. 2: 569, Fig. 99).

What did this iconic image mean to these prehistoric people, who were the ancestors of the Cherokee and others? I am familiar with the "Hamsa", also called the "Hand of Fatima", a symbol used to ward off evil ( worn as an amulet, or over doors) in the Middle East, both by Muslim and Jewish peoples. This token is ubiquitous through the Arabic world, although it's meaning is undoubtedly different. What does it personally mean to me, so that I am continually finding ways to incorporate it into my artwork? Perhaps, to me it represents conscious mind in the works of our hands, in what we manifest. Beyond that, the Presence of God/dess, of the divine, the "one within the many", moving through the manifest creative and healing works of our hands, of our lives. An amulet not to avert evil, but to call forth the divine vision and creativity.

Does that make sense?

Here's an amazing "Hands with Eyes" mask made by artist Dan Lyke, which I found on the fabulous web page "Hand and Eye" created by T.P. Kunesh, whose fascinating (and wry) website shows him to be a philosopher and visionary worth knowing. My great thanks to Mr. Kunesh for the images and commentary he provided me with.

"Hands Mask" by Dan Lyke at Burning Man (2000)

Here is some further information about the mysterious Mound builders of southeastern U.S. I have taken much of this information from the inspired writings of writer and Jungian psychologist Frank Adair, MD, who resides in Redwood City, CA. I love one of his comments in particular about this symbol:
(The) inner Self has been likened to God or to "God within us". It has been called the light of nature that creates our dreams. Whatever "it" is called will involve some degree of projection limiting meaning. Somehow, the eye as symbol captures the pivotal point between the opposites, between the conscious and unconscious - where "the land meets the sea."

The hand adds richness to the symbol. Hands can build the bridge between our inner world and the external world...The hands are the mediators between spirit and matter, between an inner image and an actual creation. By handling, the existing energies become visible.
Large ceremonial centers were found in Moundville, Alabama, Etowah in Georgia, Spiro in Oklahoma and Cahokia in Illinois. These Mississippian mounds are the greatest sources of the artifacts of this culture. The mounds served as raised platforms for structures built of timber, mud and thatch. The eye, usually a simple oval containing a small circular pupil, is centered in the palm, and it's been suggested it symbolizes the hand and eye of the creator.

This famous disc has a hand pointing upward, and appears to be both sides of the hand (perhaps suggesting non-duality?) There are two knotted rattle snakes. (Being knotted, they could further suggest the forces symbolized by the snake as contained, controlled, or organized by the hand?). The meaning of this piece is ultimately unknown by archaeologists, but that it represents shamanistic power and/or deity is certain. ( see, Walthall, 1994).

As Dr. Adair points out in his article, the motif of the "eye in the palm" is found in paintings of the compassionate Bodhisattva White Tara of Tibet. He further points out that none other than the great mythologist Joseph Campbell (1) has mused and written this about possible meanings of this particular Native American stone disc:
Interpreted in Oriental terms, its central sign would be said to represent the "fear banishing gesture" of a Bodhisattva hand showing on its palm the compassionate Eye of Mercy, pierced by the sight of the sorrows of this world. The framing pair of rattlesnakes, like those of the Aztec Calendar Stone, would then symbolize the maya power binding us to this vortex of rebirths, and the opposed knots would stand for the two doors, east and west, of the ascent and descent, appearances and disappearances, of all things in the endless round. Furthermore, the fact that the eye is at the center of the composition would suggest, according to this reading, that compassion is the ultimate sustaining and moving power of the universe, transcending and overcoming its pain. And finally, the fact that the hand is represented as though viewed simultaneously from back and front would say that this Bodhisattva power unites opposites.

Our picture depicts the dual aspects of psychic life which have been projected, since ancient times, as metaphysical realms. On the one hand, there is ordered consciousness symbolized by the regular appearance of the sun's "blazing eye;" on the other hand, there is the unconscious, a chaotic region of animal instincts, symbolized as "serpentine monsters" capable indeed of wrapping themselves around the ego and dragging it into its depths. Yet the American Indian projection preserves the fact that the unconscious is full of novelty and is a creative reality which can be harmonized with the structures of conscious living. That has been achieved aesthetically in our artifact. The image of a "hand" at the center reminds us that this beautiful piece was made by human hands and hints at the requirement of human effort if we are ever to unite the opposites within ourselves. Should what we say here be more than intuition, should it also be rooted in the facts of the psyche and in the requirement to withdraw projections, then sensation has also been served. Serving opposite functions and honoring the larger duality of the conscious and unconscious psyche is, then, the modest modern equivalent of the prayers, offerings, and correct ethical behavior of the Mound Builders. (1)

References (From Dr. Adair and others):

1 Campbell, J. (1990). The Mythic Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Fundaburk, E.L. & Foreman, M.D. (1985). Sun Circles and Human Hands: The Southeastern Indians. Art and Industry. Fairhope, AL: American Bicentennial Museum.

Kunesh, T.P. The Eye in the Hand, http://www.darkfiber.com/eyeinhand/

Walthall, J. (1994). Moundville: An introduction to the archaeology of a Mississippian chiefdom. Tuscaloosa, AL: Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Frank Adair, MD www.uroborus.com


Church of the Subgenius fist of SLAK

The legendary logo of the Church of the Subgenius ("the all grasping hand of Bob")

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Everything is Waiting for You": David Whyte & the Conversational World

        Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice.   You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness 
and ease into the conversation. 

The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, 
the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness
and seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

  -- David Whyte**
      from Everything is Waiting for You 
     ©2003 Many Rivers Press

I was listening to a wonderful interview on On Being with Krista Tippet with the poet/philosopher David Whyte - the title of the interview immediately struck me:  "the conversational nature of reality".  So many times I have myself thought of "the great Conversation" he speaks of.  World is always speaking, speaking to us........
and Whyte points out that like any relationship, "Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity", the reciprocal attention we give to open the dialogue.  When one walks in the world with that sense, just listening.......one cannot be arrogant in the assumption of "aloneness". 

**Listen to the Interview:

The Conversational Nature of Reality - David Whyte interview with Krista Tippet on Onbeing.org.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Foot-note on Megara...........the "Dance of Persephone"

I couldn't help but laugh when a few days ago I read  the article below in the Feminism and Religion Blog, which I subscribe to.  In the previous post I explored the idea of "marga" and synchronicity which began when I was writing a little article to submit to the very same Blog (the article, of course, was about Spider Woman, the great connector of all things)  In the course of writing my last post I included in the post something about Megara.  

Following those footprints........and I take the liberty of copying here the fascinating article by Laura Shannon.  Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland.

Dance of Persephone: The Trata of Megara by Laura Shannon 

In a previous post on FAR I explored Greek Easter customs which interweave Christian and pre-Christian beliefs.  Today I would like to take a closer look at one of these customs, the women’s ritual dance known as Tráta, ceremonially performed on ‘Bright Tuesday,’ the Tuesday after Easter. Versions of Tráta survive in the towns of Mégara and Elefsina just west of Athens, on the island of Salamína directly across from them, and in the surrounding area as far as Thebes.
Eleusis – ‘Well of the Beautiful Dances’Elefsina, of course, is Eleusis, where for over 2,000 years the Eleusinian Mysteries enacted the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone’s descent to the Underworld. Choral dance was a central part of the ceremonies at Eleusis – as at other sacred sites including Delphi, Knossos, Athens, and Vravrona – and the ‘Well of the Beautiful Dances’ can still be seen at the archaeological site. It is a a visible reminder of the circle dancing which was a part of the initiatory experience, bringing cosmic order – symbolised by the circle – into the human world. This is still one of the functions of the Tráta as performed today.
Eleusis – ‘Well of the Beautiful Dances’
Temple relief of Demeter with grain, poppies, snakes, from Eleusis.
Temple relief of Demeter with grain, poppies, snakes, from Eleusis.
Initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries involved the understanding that an ear of grain first must die in order to give new life (whether planted as seed, baked into bread, or made into beer). The phenomenon of death leading to life through the medium of a sacred marriage was celebrated in other archaic springtime festivals, such as those of Aphrodite / Adonis, Cybele / Attys, and Isis / Osiris), from which the Resurrection story of Christian Easter is directly descended. I believe something of these ancient customs survive in the women’s Tráta dance, whose every detail hints at the story of Persephone’s descent and return.
Women dancing the Tráta at Vilia on Mount Kithairon, Attiki, Greece.
Women dancing the Tráta at Vilia on Mount Kithairon, Attiki, Greece.
In Megara, the annual ritual of the Tráta is one of the most significant events in the village. Women of all ages gather at the upper square, near the tiny church of ‘Saint John the Dancer’ with its miraculous spring believed to grant fertility. The women’s costumes used to feature strong black, white and red elements, the colours of the Triple Goddess and the three central figures of the Eleusinian drama (Hecate, Demeter and Persephone).
The old style of costume from Megara with strong black, white and red colours
The old style of costume from Megara with strong black, white and red colours
Now they are rich in silk, satins, and gold embroidery, with deep red aprons embroidered with flowing floral and vegetation motifs. The long, pale silk veils – symbol of initiation and the threshold between the worlds –  are embroidered with fertility symbols including wheat, sign of Demeter, and pomegranates, traditional food of the dead and symbol of prosperity and abundance chiefly associated with Persephone.
Silk and gold veil (bólia) from Salamína with design of enclosed pomegranates
Silk and gold veil (bólia) from Salamína with design of enclosed pomegranates
Velvet jacket (zipoúni) of Mégara with downwards-facing Goddess embroideries
Velvet jacket (zipoúni) of Mégara with downwards-facing Goddess embroideries
The zipoúni or velvet jacket is richly embroidered in gold, and the sleeves feature the pre-Christian motif of the sun-headed Goddess; unusually, she is depicted head-down instead of right-side-up, as if indicating the direction of descent to the underworld.  The overall effect closely resembles the women on the frescoes in the 4th C. BCE Tomb of the Dancing Women in Apuglia, Italy.
Fresco from the ‘Tomb of the Dancing Women’, 4th C BCE, Apuglia, Italy
Fresco from the ‘Tomb of the Dancing Women’, 4th C BCE, Apuglia, Italy
The kinetic motif of ascent and descent central to the myth of Persephone is dramatically emphasised by the pronounced zigzag of the dance pattern, visually mirrored in the basketweave handhold, and expressed again in the way the dance spirals completely in and out as you can see in the video.  The Tráta is one of the few traditional Greek dances which do this, in a labyrinthine movement of deepening and emerging which magnifies the inwards-outwards, ascending-descending theme.
In a reversal of normal procedure, young unmarried girls lead the older married women in the dance line: the daughter is the agent in this danced symbolic journey.  Among the mature women at the back of the line are the strongest singers, those able to sing loudly enough for the dancers at the front to hear, even when the circle is large and the dance line snakes and spirals around.
This spiralling movement is stunning to watch. In Mégara in the late 1940s, Kevin Andrews described it thus: ‘A long line of a hundred and fifty to two hundred women with gorgeous clothing holding hands across each other’s waist, simply moving slowly round and round the square… wearing head cloths of white silk falling in long folds over their backs and shoulders, plum-coloured velvet jackets tight and stiff with a profusion of gold embroidery, with lace at the cuffs, strings upon strings of coins hung across the breast, and silk aprons heavily embroidered over their long skirts that swirled over their gold-slippered ankles… There was no music anywhere.’
Rennell Rodd, in 1968, wrote that ‘the step appears to be extremely simple, not to say monotonous, and yet the precision with which it is accomplished, the simultaneousness of every movement, cannot be easy to acquire; while the general effect of these serpentining chains of linked figures, in their bright dresses and floating veils, advancing, retiring, and winding round, is particularly graceful and pretty.’

The women’s Tráta today still resembles the pictures painted by these witnesses of 50 and 75 years ago, but as with most Greek folk customs, major changes are underway.  John Tomkinson reports that the dancers used to ornament their songs with strange low twittering sounds like that of swallows (also a symbol of Persephone, and like her, associated with the returning spring) but the women no longer do this. By custom the Tráta was accompanied by the women’s own a cappella singing, yet now the mayor of Mégara hires an orchestra of male musicians to accompany the women. And whereas historically the women’s Tráta was the only dance permitted on this day, now boys’ dance groups come on at intervals to perform other Greek dances – Syrtos, Kalamatianos, Tsamikos – turning the ritual into a kind of performance complete with speeches by dignitaries, sellers of peanuts and balloons, and similar distractions.
However, even with all of these changes, the dance still expresses something valuable on behalf of those who watch, and for many the Tráta of Mégara remains a unique and important touchstone of the Easter festival. Each time I have gone, I have been touched by the powerful sense of rightness and peace which comes over the crowd as the women’s ritual dance unfolds before them, bringing a sense of wholeness and relief, just as in ancient times.
Recommended reading:

Shannon, Laura. “Ritual Dance in Greece, Then & Now,” 2011. http://laurashannon.net/articles/49-ritual-dance-in-greece-then-a-nowShannon, Laura. “Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in our Time”. In Dancing On The Earth: Women’s Stories Of Healing Through Dance. J. Leseho and S. McMaster. 1st ed. Findhorn Press, 2011. 138-157.