Olives and Ophiolites

I am Maikos Oikinios. Tonight I am standing at the top of my house watching the light dim across the valley. My family came here from the land where the Great Temple raises its stones up above the groves of green figs to the east. When we crossed the water, we brought some of the figs with us in pots. Now they are huge trees in my garden and orchards that I can see below me. Only my oldest relatives can tell you how long ago that was when we crossed the waters. I admire their memories, but I have no head for long lists of names. I love the golden nectar dripping from a fig that has ripened in the sun. I love the way the air smells right now when the night is coming and the birds are singing their songs of sleep. The cloth of my family’s colors moves gently in the breeze and I soak up the way it feels against my skin. Blue and gold. These have always been with me since before I can remember. They are on the walls inside the house where my sons are sleeping. Two beautiful twin boys who are so young and so fragile. Blue and gold keep them company from the paint on the wood that is their bed. The same two colors chase each other across the land in front of me. The light of the heavens dives into the waters and sends its last shining breath across the shadows that are claiming all that is between me and the place where the eye has plunged into the deep for the night.

 

I am Bryan Hewitt and I rode a bus across New Jersey to get here. Now I am walking through the halls of a massive 20th-Century temple to History, Power and Empire. Wealthy families from the nation where I was born have been traveling the world literally and metaphorically to claim the artifacts they desire. They take what they want because they have the power and the might of the nation’s money and armed forces behind them. There is nothing new or unusual about this. It has been going on for a long time. The Assyrians did the same thing 3,000 years ago. They took the lives, lands and Gods of the peoples around them and carried them back to their cities. Nimrud and Nineveh became shining cultural beacons of their power and good taste. They invented institutionalized relocation of peoples away from their native lands so that they could be more easily ruled. They were the pre-eminent military power of the time. The followers of the One True God (in this case called Asur, progenitor of the name Assyrians) learned that people have a harder time fighting back when they are taken away from the soil that gives them strength, separated from the mountains that give them reference for where they are and force-marched across long distances to new places where they do not know the land, the spirits or the way of life that is best suited for here and now. Now they are under the sands of the desert that claimed them when those who had been subjugated by their might rose up and destroyed them.

I walk past a room full of Assyrian artifacts here in this temple. The ruling class who put them there also knew that if you can separate a people from the land, it is easier to take it from them. They also committed a very successful genocide to claim this place from those who lived here before them and force-marched large amounts of those who lived through the first round of killing to far away new places where the the climate and landscape were foreign. Then they went across the Atlantic and brought back some of the sculptures the Assyrians made to celebrate having done the same thing to the people who lived near them. I am just outside this tangible proof of religious military power.

 

Inside the door, winged lions three times as tall as I am and giant stone heads with long, curled beards sit ominously and wait for someone unsuspecting to open up to what they have to say. I am not that person, so I continue past their messages of genocide and the divine right of the followers of Asur to rule the four corners of the world through the force of their weapons. A shiver runs through the air around me and I move a little faster. Nobody is in the room with the stone Assyrians.

 

I am Maikos, and tonight I am here on the top of my house to give thanks. In the falling dusk I have seen the ships returning. They entered the harbor thorough the blue and gold and I heard the long, slow song float out across to me. The men on the ships are my cousins and their cousins. They know me and they know I am waiting for them. So they sing their song for me. It rises and bounces across the valley to my ears. It is a song that was composed by the first people in my family to place their feet on this land and feel the damp earth of the shore between their toes. They had been following the seabirds that are now our symbol for days before their eyes fell upon the land their seers had found in their dreams. They reached out their arms and sang to her. At first the words and the tune were not accepted, because they were right for another coast, another land and another time. They were the sounds of where my people had come from, not where they were going to. But the singers kept letting their words flow and listening to the reply from the island in front of them until they heard how the Great Mother of the Dark Earth wanted to be sung to here, in this place. She helped them tune their voices so they would glide far across her skin and reach deep into the safe places where she had prepared a home for my people. Once they had learned the song, the singers could not forget it. This is because She will not let you leave behind a gift she has given or a song she has helped you to sing. If you accept it, you will always have it with you. Now the song of the sailors is how we say we love Her when we return to land and how my cousins say to me that I can sleep soundly tonight because they are home.

 

But tonight I am not here to sing with The Great Mother of the Dark Earth. Our mother who is beneath our feat, wider than our outstretched arms and inside our very bones gives us everything we need to build our bodies and keep them strong. She is warm within her body and her heart shines out to the others who float in the darkness. They are many as they fill the sky around me now that the day has ended. The points of light in the blackness that is born from the last dying shadows of blue left behind by the day swirl and twinkle with life if you look at them long enough. They fill my vision as I tilt my head back and contemplate how vast they are and how small even the Great Mother I can touch is in comparison. Between them is an even greater amount of darkness. It is the beginning of everything, and together with the dances of the celestial bodies, they let me know She is near. Tonight I am here to speak with the Great Mother of the Stars.

 

I light the incense on my high altar and sink down into kneeling, with my body supported by sitting on my heels. I breathe slowly and draw in the silence of the night that has come after the birds finished their lullabies. I pull the comfort of the darkness around me and breath it in. I become the space between the dark earth and the starlit sky. Only through darkness can I reach the space where my time can slip and stretch far enough for me to hear Her when she speaks. She is what comes before all other things, so her voice is not like any other voice. It is not easy to hear because it is in all things, all of the time.

 

The smoke is rising. My body rests on my legs. My eyelids rest gently on my cheeks. I have been doing this my whole life, so I do not need to see it with my outer eyes. I look with my inner eyes and dance with the smells as I wait. I sing softly to myself in a voice nobody else could hear if they were next to me on the roof.

 

Between the stars there is blackness 

In the blackness there is life

 

I chant these lines over and over again so that She will hear me and know where I am opening the door for her to come through. She moves and swirls to her own rhythm and none can hasten her arrival. If you wish to talk to the Great Mother of The Stars, you light your flame and you wait. She is bigger than anything else that is and she can be fast like the lightning that struck the olive tree at the top of the hill I can see to my left or as slow as the changing shape of the side of the mountain that they are digging the copper on the other side of the island. I have prepared fresh milk from my goats, almonds from my trees, and honey from the bees’ hives that make it possible for the flowers to bear fruit all around me. 

 

There is a bowl of shining black stone on the altar a little bigger than my two hands together. The altar is made of green diorite. It is not large, not even as wide as the length of one of my arms. Years ago, one of my ancestors placed it here at the highest part of our house to talk to Her. Now I sit quietly in front of it with my gifts and wait. They sit on the lower part of the altar closest to me. I shift the weight of my body on my heels and feel the extra warmth of my hands as they sit on my thighs. The smell of the incense slowly floats into the air. I hold it in my inner world and help direct it towards where She usually arrives from. Two streams in two worlds floating up together to make ready the place where She will pass through.

 

The cargo in the ships was not the usual supplies that I regularly send in trade to the cities of the coast across from us on the mainland. Here we raise olives and figs, though we also carry in our ships the produce from the farms of other families nearby. There are many types of olives in many sizes. The figs are all the same honey-sweet yellow-green fruit that look like full breasts when ripe. They came with our family in our ships as we crossed the sea to this land, and we continue to honor their gifts and receive their blessings. The olives were here already when we arrived. We learned to live with them and help them to give us their fruit in abundance. Now we press the oil and send it across the sea, where it is known and treasured. 

 

This time the ships of our fleet held the best oils from all of our groves and the tastiest dried figs in the most carefully made cakes we could offer. The cakes also have almonds from our small grove of trees that we grow for offerings. We have been under the care of the Great Mother of The Stars for as long as anyone knows. So we grow almonds for Her and for the other families who are under Her protection. The ships that have just returned held many bags of these precious nuts. They also held the best that our friends and neighbors could give. Finely worked bronze, luxurious cloth, beautiful pottery and fine wooden furniture all sat in the hold of the ships as they sailed out towards the far shore. All of these were going from our island to the Great Temple deep within the land where our families came from before we began to live here. The temple has been dedicated to the Great Mother of the Stars since before anyone, even the oldest keeper of stories, can remember. Its stone were raised in the time when most of the land was empty and people travelled far to find food because they did not yet know how to live with the trees that give us their fruits as we do today.

 

It is now at this time where the day and night stand one after the other for equal time that all of the offerings from all of the lands that trace their family lines back to Her with be given. The procession to the Great Temple will be so large that it will be seen from the tops of the hills across the valley from the temple. I know because when I was younger it was my job to make sure our family’s offerings arrived safely. I could not sleep for days because I was so excited to be given this honor. Then I was too tired to remember the details. But I remember the smells and the sounds. So much joy and wonder as we all climbed the hill to give Her our gifts. Now I sit and give thanks at Her altar because the song of the sailors has told me that the trip was a success and the offerings have reached the Great Temple. They are waiting there for Her, just as I am waiting here at my spot on the roof.

 

I am Bryan Hewitt, and I know there is something here in this temple that I will learn from. I don’t know where or what it is, but I feel it calling to me. As I leave the stone Assyrians and their angry words I think of their distant past and how it mirrors another time not so far away. As Tiglath Pileser III and Ashurbanipal took the Gods from the temples and the stories from the peoples they conquered, they also gave them to the future. What the families who died in the process of forced relocation lost, others gained because of the great libraries int eh Assyrian cities that kept the stories of Sumer and Babylon. Yes, it could all have been preserved another way. But it wasn’t. This is how I know the names of so many deities and heroes, people and tribes form the ancient past. It is because they were hoarded by an empire that was then destroyed by its enemies. The stolen tales and lifted relics went under the earth for thousands of years until a new empire dug them up and took them away. Now I get to look upon them and learn their tales. 

 

Just like the Assyrian rulers who believed they were enacting the will of their One True God as they dispossessed peoples of their land, their roots and their riches, J.P. Morgan and Nelson D. Rockefeller saw no problem with participating in the same actions several thousand years later here on the continent where I was born. And just like the Assyrians, I owe them a “thank you” because it is through their donations that this temple I am walking through exists. They took the stone versions of the Assyrians here and gave the money to make it possible for them to menace me and for whatever I am here to find to teach me. Life is complicated if you try to see what is there, not what you think you ought to find.

 

Ahead of me there is a different energy. It smells of the sea and feels like the sound of joy. I walk a little faster and soon find myself entering a white room full of light and objects painted in rusty red with designs that I have been drawing since I was a child without knowing why. There are sinuous waves and interlocking swirls climbing up the side of vessels There are patterns of lines that make no sense but that I completely understand. Triangles and squares carefully incised over and over again into clay. Repeated diagonals that turn a square boundary into a portal with a far-away door to somewhere else. The coiling leaves of a mysterious plant that I have drawn again and again on the edges of my paper while I sat through lectures on subjects that I no longer remember. Almost everything I have ever drawn as doodles is here in this room. It feels like home in a very strange way. Like all of those things I created while wasting time might really have been the most important things I have ever made.

 

In the center of the room is a ceramic larnax that was built to hold the body of an ancestor long, long ago in Minoan Crete. It was made 3,000 years before I was born. At first I feel that it might be rude to focus on it. After all, it was not meant to be here, in a public place after being emptied of its contents. It was made for the dead to sleep safely inside of in a tomb. Then I hear a laugh and the sound of waves gently breaking against small rocks at the edge of a shallow bay. A pull so strong I know I should not resist draws me to begin walking around the larnax. I turn right and begin the first circle. This is where I have come to learn.

 

I am Maikos and I remember as I sit and wait. Years ago, when I was still a young man who had just ceased to become a boy, I traveled across the mountain to the other coast to be part of the Mysteries. It was the first journey I had made to places I could not see from my home. I went with my uncle, who had been there many times. He was much taller than I will ever be, and he scared me a little when he was not laughing. His face was so powerful and his eyes were so intense it seemed like he might be looking inside me to see everything I had ever done. I have always loved food and often got in trouble for eating a little of something that was not yet finished cooking. When my uncle looked at me, I felt that he saw each of these times all at once. Mostly he was silent, so I never knew what he thought about the things he saw in me. As a boy, I found this uncertainty terrifying. But then he would laugh at something one of us kids did or smile at the way one of the birds that are the symbol of our family landed at the edge of the harbor. As he did these things, the world seemed to light up around him until nobody near him could help but join him in laughing or smiling. Eventually, I decided it was alright to take the journey with him because of his laugh.

 

The trip was long, but it was worth it. On the final day, we arrived early at the top of the giant staircase. We sat in silence at the top of the stone steps and waited until the sun was starting to set. Hundreds of others stood or sat in small groups near us. All of us held unlit torches in silence. Down below us we could see the priestesses moving around near where the steps entered the water. The day was clear and I could see far out across the sea. The sky was filling with yellows and oranges as the sun neared the horizon. Out of the woods behind us came a very old woman wrapped in gray cloth. She began to sing as she came towards us. Each group took up her song as she passed them until all of us were chanting the same song I had chant tonight as I sit beside my little altar and my tiny fire of incense.

 

We began to move down the steps in the afterglow once the sun set. The song echoed off the stones behind us as we descended. The words and music gained power as more of us entered the curved space of the steps and our voices combined and bounced out across the water towards where the sun had gone into the sea. By the time I was near the bottom, tears were streaming down my face. The salt from my eyes poured out of me and joined the salt of the waters around my feet. I made no effort to hold it back. Out ahead of us the priestesses had lit a huge fire that I could see burning up from the calm waters. To this day, I have no idea how they made the fire on the water. But how is not important if you know why.

 

I waded out into the deepening water towards the fire. The reflections of the flames danced in the ripples made by our legs as we moved towards them. Those who had reached the fire before me passed me with lighted torches in their hands and a circles of dancing flames followed each of them in the waters below. The clear night sky full of stars swam in the sea as we made our way through the darkness stretching out above and below. Here in the place where the Mother of the Stars embraces the Mother of the Waves and the Mother of the Earth at the time when the Day and the Night stand together as equals we moved beyond death and beyond time. Between them arises the Daughter, and I met her for the first time that night. She smiled and welcomed me there at the edge of the Sea, the Sky and the Land. Beyond that, there are no words for what happened. We all shared in the gifts of the time and took them away inside us when we could once again see our own feet and know that we stood as blood and bone. After that night, I understood a little better why my uncle was so quiet when he watched the moon rise.

 

Tonight I sit and I remember as I wait for Her. I do not know when She will come, or what She will say. After so many years, I have learned it is not important to wonder about these things when the air is sweet and the night is around me. Soon the incense begins to burn out, so I add a few more pieces to the altar. The smoke keeps rising and I feel the thread of the images of our family’s birds sown into my robe. They are slightly rough under my hands as I sit down once again and rest my palms on my legs.

 

I am Bryan and I have been dreaming strange dreams. Walking in circles can lead to fires and songs at the edge of the sea. Now I am sitting at an altar holding milk, honey and almonds. The bowl into which I will pour them arrived in my life by a series of accidents so strange that I choose not to repeat them. It is made of green diorite. Behind me a fig tree is spreading its branches. The last crop of the year is hanging honey-sweet and green from the ends of its branches. Olives of all types sit in jars around my house. I have been eating them as I write this. There is an olive orchard not far from my house, and many more only a slight distance away. The orchard doesn’t belong to my family and I didn’t cure any of the olives. But my uncle grows almonds a few hours south of here. All of this was true before I took a bus across New Jersey and walked around the larnax in the temple.

 

I live in California, not on the island of Crete. My home is the western edge of a giant continent, not a thin island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. But underneath the place where Maikos Oikinios was making his offerings and the place where I am about to make mine, there is more. The part of California where I live is a very unusual geological feature called an Ophiolite. Geologists come from far-away lands to hold their tiny rock hammers next to the red stones that were once the skeletons of tiny sea creatures and snap photos.They walk across a dangerous-looking bridge and through a hole in a large black rock at the edge to observe its shape. The red stone is radiolarian chert and the black one is pillow lava. They are two of the oldest rocks on the planet. In some circles, the dirt under my feet is famous. Most people know nothing of this because many of of those who live near hear are listening to other voices that do not speak of the land. 

 

No matter who is talking or who is listening, this is a place where the earth has taken a piece of her skin and flipped it upside down. The most ancient rocks around here are on the top of a mountain and the newest are down at the edge of the bay. The orderly record of time found in the stones has been taken out, shaken up and put back upside down. Just because so many humans ignore it, doesn’t make it any less important. Ophiolites like this also come with what Science calls “magnetic anomalies.” Both the physical body and the energy body of the Earth Herself are doing unusual things here. In this there is great opportunity. Other people who lived here before me listened to Her voice and learned this. Now it is my turn to learn it. 

 

And where else does this strange geological inversion happen that opens the way to surprises and magick? On the island of Crete, underneath where Maikos sat waiting for the Great Mother of The Stars. Two people sitting at the same type of doorway across half a world, an ocean of time, and a sea of waves. Behind them both stands a fig tree in the night. In front of them sits milk, honey, almonds and a conversation with the Great Mother of The Stars. Perhaps they are not so very far apart after all.

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