Explorations: All Holiness is One

Helen Michelson

Here are some thoughts that came to me after consecutive trips to Greece and Ireland. In ancient times, every spring where the faithful came to worship the everlasting source of life had its goddess or nymph. These springs have continued to bubble through the centuries and indeed have absorbed the essence of the souls who worshipped there. The names of those revered have changed, but the feelings of love and reverence remain. The guide book says, "Olympia . . . the site of the original Games.Not much to see except some rather uninteresting ruins." From this drab description I was hardly prepared for the surge of awe I felt when inthe presence of an antiquity that most certainly predated the Games and probably the ancient Greeks themselves. I looked out over the wide plane in the western Peloponnesus, a valley silver green with olive trees, and at the distant brown hills. It must always have looked like this, I thought, for there is nothing but the rocky earth that will grow crops only with a great deal of effort, and yet it is a land that draws one like no other. I missed seeing the field of wildflowers in the springtime, described to me by my much-traveled British companion, but never mind, I was here at last. I was prepared to feel transported by the sight of the ruins all about me—the colossal stumps from the Temple of Zeus, the gentler remains of Hera's lovely sanctuary, and, through a tumbled archway at one corner, the stadium with its grassy slopes—and columns everywhere, some stacked haphazardly, some left where they had fallen eons ago.Thank God (or the gods) for the Greeks, I thought, they leave things alone. They allow you to think, to imagine, and maybe to remember. Fascinated, I felt drawn back through time, an intruder, for women were forbidden to enter the sanctuary of Olympia in the old days.

Overwhelmed and feeling the need to be alone, away from the hum of tourists, I wandered from my group and presently found myself before a grove of trees. This is a holy place, my inner self said. I knew that a sacred spring bubbled in the grove, secret beneath mossy stones, and that it had been here long, long before the Games. I was certain it had always been here. The first mortal who had found it dedicated it to the Goddess, the nameless Goddess, the mother of the earth, the source of life, a dedication made long before the Greeks created their Olympus of anthropomorphic deities. And through the years it became a sanctuary and drew the faithful. That is what I felt—centuries of accumulated, almost tangible, emotion: love, wonder, reverence, devotion. The sound of voices and the scuffle of feet on the gravel path brought me back to the present. Someone clicked a camera shutter, and I thought, I will, too, because I must have a record of this place. I took a whole roll of film, but not one picture came out. Not one. It was the only roll of my entire trip that was blank, suggesting that there are some things not to be photographed. That evening, back on board ship, I leaned on the railing and held a glass of wine while I watched Apollo spread his golden streamers over the gnarled fingers of the Peloponnesus, grabbing at the sea. "Here's to you, Poseidon," I whispered, holding out my glass. "For I know you and all your cronies still inhabit this antique land," and I poured the wine, as a libation, into the Aegean. In Ireland a year later, I was lucky enough to be hiking near Maam Cross in Connemara, one of earth's wilder, windier, and more magnificent spots. We had climbed all morning through shine and showers and finally reached a high, rocky pass dedicated to St. Patrick—rather bleak Stations of the Cross stepping along close to the rock wall. Nearby was a spring, forever deep, cold and windswept, surrounded by its pathetic offerings: a bit of candle, a few coins, a tiny statue, a scribbled prayer, some shells. My eyes filled at the sight, and again I felt the surge of understanding, of the love and veneration left here over the years by the poor, dear bits left by the faithful. This source surely predated St. Patrick, when some woman, perhaps, left a sprig of flowers, a little fruit, a dish of milk, to a nameless Goddess. I spoke of it later to our young Irish guide, and he, in typical Celtic fashion, accepted the mystical as an everyday fact of life. "Sureand I don't believe in leprechauns, but they're there anyway." He nodded his head as I told him my similar story in Greece. "Ah," he said, " the Goddess has her secret sanctuaries on this planet. They were recognized by the ancients and occasionally by one of

us, too," and he looked at me. "All the gods are one, now aren't they? All holiness is one."

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