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Village, a work that explores the cosmological and religious ideas in the region of north Evia. The author uses material gathered from the village between 1966 and 1973, but also draws on people’s memories of the past. The book is a sequel to Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village, which discussed the ideas and values of the same village but from the perspective of the village’s social organization and institutions current at the time. Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy seeks to illuminate the villagers’ fundamental relationship with God and the world – with the divine and the diabolical, with earth and water, work and bread, house and stranger, time and death. The overlap between the “folk” culture and the tradition embedded in the liturgical offices of the Orthodox Church emerges as considerable, although there are areas in which pre- or non-Christian beliefs still exercise an influence. This extract illustrates the tension between the fallen and unfallen visions of the world which underlie the depth, variety, and extraordinary vitality of the villagers’ understanding of life. (Editor’s note: These pages have been edited to conform to our house style.) In exploring first the symbolism which serves to order the main course of life in Ambeli, I have taken as my starting point a village cosmos which at first sight could be taken for a static three-dimensional map of the world – something whose relevance to village life might seem far from clear. But the map has turned out, as pre-Copernican cosmologies often do, to be something more – a plan for a journey towards the good. The nature of the journey becomes evident when the story of the fall from paradise is told: paradise, in village thought, is our origin and (in a different form) our destiny, but the fallen world in which we find ourselves has intervened, and our task is to redeem the consequences of the fall and to keep re-making this world as the garden which it still, in glimpses, is. Thus time is also part of this cosmology, and liturgical time in particular, which, as a “moving image of eternity,” is intended to link the present moment with our origin and destiny in the eternal world. These ideas about the cosmos, paradise and fall, and time, are therefore preconceptions which set the context for the villagers’ collective enactment of symbols, which tell them where they are and what at each point they must do – symbols which guide the meaning given to work, marriage, hospitality, kinship, community, death, mourning, and their relationship with the natural and the divine worlds. So in order to see the force of these central symbols, it is necessary to retrace, in brief, the nature of the cosmic preconceptions which form their context. The most important function of the village cosmos is to define the dual world of good and evil where man is placed, and at the same time to identify those aspects of the cosmos which give hope that these allpervading opposites can be reconciled. This dualism exists within a cosmos which is perceived on three levels:
holiness is increasingly present towards the further reaches of the sky. however. are brought up “into the air” and their souls by the same action freed to go “elsewhere. his existence is real enough as part of the freedom God gives to man to decide whether he will follow the good or the evil path. ultimately. and even in his dominion in the center of the earth the devil is said to lie “bound. enters the structure of the cosmos in that while the devil cannot enter the heavens. highly charged with divine or diabolical influences. By contrast. is given over to corruption.” … The middle world of man and society thus has a complex spiritual nature. a place morally and spiritually ambiguous where the outcome of the battle between the various forces is from moment to moment uncertain. too. the Almighty and Creator of All. relative only. heaven or hell. lies down in the center of the earth. for an essential part of its ordering is the absolute dominion of God over all things including the power of evil. the devil’s power is always defeated if Christ is summoned.” that is to say the world of the hallowed or unhallowed dead. Satan also is not confined to a single unique presence but has under his command legions of demons who speed about the world doing his bidding after which. his power is also diffused in an infinity of spiritual presences – saints and angels. the author of evil. Thus for all the tension that exists between good and evil. “everywhere and at all times” (παντού καὶ πάντα) as the people say. hobgoblins) from their work of destruction. and the world of nature between the two which is the dwelling-place of man and the meeting ground of God and the devil. There is in this way a hierarchy according to which spiritual good and spiritual evil inhabit the highest and the lowest levels of the universe. At either end God or the devil. where the body. in the world of men. however. cleaned and purified by the earth. both above and below. both in the ordering of the cosmos itself and in the battle . as it is said. While God is One. and these areas again consist of a number of subordinate levels inhabited by ranks of angelic or infernal powers. and evil increasingly towards the depths of the earth: God has his habitation at the outer limits of the universe among the sun.the divine powers in the heavens above the earth.” Again. they report back to him and are awarded medals for good work. for at the same time as being man’s home in the universe it is a place of physical and spiritual danger. Even though the devil is not autonomous but exists only by permission of God. In this sacred cosmos. seraphim and cherubim. the demons in the caverns below. this uncertainty built into the cosmos is. moon and stars. whereas Satan. the voice of God is able to penetrate the underworld and summon the skalikandzoúria (dialect for kalikándzari. by what is termed “the other world. are the final outcomes of the battle for each individual soul. and also. However. now symbolically dissociated from the blood which is the defining substance of fleshly life. And this reality. the bones of the long dead. The darkness of the earth is the first destination of the newly-dead.
But with the eating of the fruit. or the link between the natural world and the devil. Means of access allowing vision into the other worlds through wells and from mountain tops figure in the symbolism of communication between the worlds. and the dead. the reign of God. and this consummation can be realized through the communication which exists between these cosmic levels. a question of partial vision. Man. in a number of oppositions which comprise a symbolic language for openness to good or evil – describing things which are up or down. Snakes walked upright. that is to say with the wilful separation of human will from the will of God – in . is a place also where man can at all times receive blessings. dangers and temptations. is the pivot on whom all things turn. a feeble but free being at the center of the cosmos. there is an in-built presumption in favor of the supremacy of the good and the triumph of life over death. and at certain random moments. can also be extended over the middle level of the cosmos. capable of orienting himself either towards the higher or the lower worlds. but also the spirit of man. presaging the final defeat of the demonic hosts beneath the earth. already supreme in the upper level. The universe.” stands at the center of the battleground. and can find rest. oriented towards order or chaos. too. an orientation towards the good. This orientation towards the spiritual world is one which pervades daily life. in prayer and in visionary or prophetic experience. even if such communication between the visible and the invisible worlds remains for the living incomplete. providing the link between the natural world and God. find passage between them. Not only do incorporeal beings such as the saints. Man’s freedom is. the angels. Central to the cosmos is its original nature as paradise in which Adam and Eve. and with the power to choose between good and evil. In this way man. desperately weak but placed nevertheless in charge of his world as the “the superior intelligent creature. The demons issuing from holes in the ground present man with a realm of seductions. lived in a communion with God which held all things in harmony. and at midnight in particular. With man’s cooperation. representing the human race. caught up in the moral and spiritual drama being played out within it. the angelic powers entering the world from on high help to repel these evils both by direct assistance and by calling man’s attention to the divine world in which alone his good is to be found. compromised by the fall. the veil separating the middle world from the divine world is especially thin. right or left. but one which always confronts the uncertainties of living and the mystery of the other world. stones were bread and there was abundant water. trees bore fruit in abundance. the world gave food without work. These channels are built into the cosmos. straight or squint. however. although harboring demons and devils and containing awesome powers of destruction.between God and the devil within it.
and revealing the consequences of the fall directly in the “disgrace” of their menstrual periods. But in contrast to Eve’s opportunism and weakness. and his toil in fields and forest that resist him is an image of this. and keeping control of his wife. and instead of an easeful and blessed life in a paradise in harmony with itself. people look no further than God’s judgement. Man as “Adam” is also associated with the fall. For the origin of man’s present plight. and man became an outcast in the creation of which he had been intended to be the head. Thus women are thought by nature to lack responsibility and self-control. pain and suffering. especially in their work in fields and forest.” imaging their prototype who betrayed her man and initiated the loss of paradise. relations of power and authority of the stronger over the weaker became part of the natural order. and to regain his due place in the order of creation he must exercise the authority which he abandoned in the fall – tilling his fields. he is felt to retain an element of intelligence and moral strength. became the hallmark of man’s struggle for existence. toil and sweat in a divided world. in sexual relations. because of the theme of gender in the story of the fall. and. This view of things underpins the villagers’ life. providing for his family and children.” for the comment this evokes is unanswerable: “Do we have things otherwise now?” In relations between the sexes the association with the fall is expressed with still greater disillusion. “With toil and with sweat shall you till the fields. . The exercise of self-discipline and obedience within a life-long marriage is seen (with the rare exception of entry into the monastic life) as the only answer to this innate weakness in woman’s character. and in this marriage she must be in all things subordinate to her husband.village terms the seduction of Eve by the serpent and of Adam by Eve – paradise was lost. Women are referred to – and refer to themselves – as “Eves. It is a view which above all claims realism. the process of birth against women. Human rebellion against God thus precipitated the rebellion of the rest of the created world against man. showing a tendency to gossip and quarrel. The natural processes of the earth were set against men.
of firewood or random articles left lying around – is all part of the way life goes on. and a view of sacred relations in which the Almighty Power rules by a dictate whose logic. so alongside the struggle between man and nature and that between the sexes runs also the struggle against neighbors for limited resources. speculative gossip. and it is the house which defines the sacred center around which all revolves. of land by shifting a boundary stone. however. and may have to absorb as a matter of course the irritation and blows of a husband who happens to be drunk. mutual trust and support are expected and in the main achieved. leading to a society in which young brides can be systematically overworked and neglected. and while this can be for the protection of women it is also easily misused. In this scheme of things. the battle against death. or laughter at others’ expense. either over tangibles like land or intangibles like reputation and honor. marginal theft – of sheep. anxious.” Thus with “strangers” – those who have passed beyond blood relationship at second or third cousin – competition becomes the norm. aside from the possibility of initial tensions between in-laws. is inspired not only by justice but also by whim. Thereafter. Within the house. and scandalous accusation. relations with people outside the house become subject increasingly to some degree of competition. it becomes more prevalent as “kinship decreases. dominated by men’s use of physical and economic power. and though this can be fiercest between siblings and over inheritance. known only to himself. These power relations between men and women do not occur in isolation. so much so that the many quarrels and disturbances of village life are described by the people as due to the “enmity” which they feel to be endemic to their society. or displeased. . for they are part of an entire world view of which sin against God is the basis. and wives must accept without question their husbands’ sexual demands. is part of the spice of everyday conversation.It is a scheme of things in which relations between the sexes are unequal.
of survival as involving the conquest of the weaker by the stronger. who exacts retribution from those who are too fortunate.” a world that tricks people with an appearance of permanence. what might from one perspective be seen as justice. intense but ultimately doomed.All this is the product of a view of life as continual struggle.” This is the God who himself appears to be the author of man’s calamities.” All . so in the same view relations between man and God tend to be seen in terms of power play in which man is invariably the loser. The earth that will eat the dancers must be trodden down under their feet while they still have strength to do so. death. Life is a struggle. where every detail of a person’s life is “written” at birth and “cannot be unwritten. and beauty is shown to be “deluding” or “false. in another is seen as the exercise of tyranny. and acts through motives so inscrutable as to turn men simply into objects of his play. for in the end there is no avoiding the embrace of the earth’s “black mantle” and the dancer’s own reduction to “a handful of little bones.” and even the soul is in peril from desecration of the body by animals or by a careless action between death and burial. nevertheless permits the devil to operate within it. which is the reality of the fallen world. Yet self-interest itself is ultimately pointless in the face of the archenemy. and it reaches its tragic culmination in the great image from Greek folk poetry – the “struggle” with Charos on the marble threshing floor. and of the pursuit of “self-interest” as a morally justified activity even if it involves damage to others. passion. violence. This reality. Survival is a prize gained in the teeth of competition from others. This idea of an unpredictable and all-powerful God is given its most complete articulation in the idea of fate. and the answer to death is a life lived with panache in glorious defiance of its inevitable end. so that a common reaction to the hardships of life comes in the form of the reflection. “That’s how God has made us – to suffer.” so too is justice in the idea of punishment for the wrong choice: “Is that what you’re like? Take that!” And since there is in the fallen world such a strong predisposition in man to sin. who comes with drawn sword on his black horse. and gives man free will to make his own choices. While mercy is built into this economy in the idea that “God doesn’t lose you. of one man’s harm being another man’s good and vice versa. deaf to cries for mercy. and then snatches all away. the world in all its color. In the face of this ultimate reality. God Almighty who made a world innately predisposed for the survival of man and beast. Just as in this fallen view of the world death is victorious. slaughtering old and young and consigning their bloodless shades to the underworld. must in this view be faced unflinchingly.
a “work of the people. inevitably conditioning all events which follow it. lies in the way it apprehends a many-dimensional reality through its freedom from sequential. time. Yet this world is perpetually countered. in which all these elements are configured differently. a person’s fate – his or her share of fortune and misfortune – carries with it a kind of acceptance simply because it is to do with that element in God which is beyond argument or resistance. The key to this understanding of the presence of the kingdom of God. as opposite poles in a continuing drama in the life of each person. and another view of things. The power of the liturgical understanding. the creation of a way of life as a symbolic whole. but it presents against it the reality of the kingdom of God. The presence of this other world within the fallen world reveals the fallen world not as the final reality but as something waiting to be transformed. however. These are the circles of eternity in time. the dominance of men over women. The fall as a once-and-for-all event trapping succeeding generations into a causal sequence of sin and punishment gains its power in part because in this mode it is seen as an event in the past. the year. and penetrated by another world. is the fallen world. so that the day. This. The first vital shift which liturgy makes between these two views of the world is in the understanding of time. both in village life and in the liturgy. challenged. is the practice. and cycles within the year. the competition of neighbors.” made manifest in all those areas of life where village symbolism echoes the liturgy of the Church. the week. and in this way it exposes the realism of the fallen world as transitory and ultimately insubstantial – as itself a fallen consciousness which produces the reality that it describes. Thus ordained. and it is in this world and with the attitudes consistent with it that people live for much of the time. not in some unthinkably mysterious future but pervading this present world. each come back to the same sacred event and to the same company of sacred persons who enact that event. and of doing so in cycles which nest one inside the other. but a recovery of an encounter with the divine which is ever-present. and the triumph of death. and it is made present by liturgy – that is to say. subjection to an inscrutable and tyrannical God or fate. This view is dominated by the idea of the hostility of nature to man. and it places both the fall and the kingdom of God in the present. or linear. A greater reality transcends this fallen world and its characteristic view of things. through which a remembrance takes place which is not a memory of the past. are in the last resort explained by this force acting in the lives of men. then.characteristics and events. however random and unconnected. of returning through a circle of time to a familiar moment. It does not negate the reality of the fall. continually unearthed . a force inseparable from God himself.
from the forgetfulness engendered by the fall – the recovery which is intimated in the Greek and English Church term anamnesis. In a café. death. for instance. The concurrence of these two time schemes opens up for those involved in them two worlds of experience – fallen and unfallen.” . so that from moment to moment each person can slip into the one or the other. and it is this that allows deeply contrasting philosophies of the destiny of man to co-exist in a vital symbiosis. Something exists. the edict of fate counterposed with the idea of personal responsibility can occasion a roar of the most lively debate about unforeseen results from apparently chance circumstances. and then in the nested cycles of the liturgical year by which his life. Both world views are simultaneously available. The entry into linear time of the sacred persons of the eternal world thus occurs through the inter-penetration of the two orders of time. first in the story of Christ. they wouldn’t be there for nothing. or mention of life after death can provoke a prolonged discussion in which a natural scepticism about the destiny of the soul after death – “No one’s come back to tell us” – will find in another habitual sceptic an unexpected rebuttal: “There are all these teachings and writings in the Church. which are themselves two ways of looking at the world. and this that is amongst the factors that provide the extraordinary vitality and complexity of conversation and discussion and argument in the village. and resurrection and the lives of the Mother of God and the saints are celebrated and seen to be reflected in the material world.
which “takes precedence.” In a house. at the same time weighing the presentiment that they should desist from incantations if they are getting old and nearing death.” “Do we follow Christ’s road?” “We don’t.” Or in discussion they may follow out with ruthless honesty the implications for salvation of sins in which they know they are complicit: “Will Christ save us?” “Only if we are good and follow Christ’s road.At a memorial service a bystander will rebuke a mourner who bursts into a moirológi for her son. weighing the speculative enjoyments of divination by throwing beans against an uneasy sense that this is forbidden. or wish to take communion. arguing that it “doesn’t do” to sing a lament “in front of Christ. which they carry out themselves and which they feel certain are effective. against the value of the “reading” from the priest which is enjoined by confessors. sotto voce.” And then. I haven’t an idea. “A lot she knows. later on. a woman. people will ponder the value of spells.” This rich awareness of opposing choices arises in part from the complexity of a culture which has long roots back into the pre-Christian . in decision: “Shall we?” Again. ponders: “Is it a sin? Isn’t it? I don’t know.” but arouse a scornful rejection of such reticence from the mourner.
but it is felt to be possible at any time to make a reconnection with the timeless world beyond this middle ground of the cosmos and of time. is a living presence alongside the unfallen one. then.gr/ . The fallen world. Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village can be ordered via the web site of the publisher. though its insights have to a great extent been incorporated and baptized by Christian tradition. which are especially clear in the circumstances of subsistence living face to face with the natural world. ❖ Cosmos. it also arises from knowledge of the fundamental choices posed by human life in any circumstances.past. and this in turn brings about a series of radical transformations. Denise Harvey: http://deniseharveypublisher.
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