Ceremonial Walking: Dikte Cave, Crete

Cretan bell flower

The mountains of Crete and their great caves have drawn every kind of pilgrim since Minoan times. And I hope this link ( http://ancientlights.org/sojourns.html ) will take you to a short film (shot in May 2012) that takes you down into Dikte Cave. By tradition, this is where Minoan human beings first emerged into the world, and as Karl Kerenyi notes, was the place where Minoans, with new-lit fires, music, chant, dance and ceremony, rekindled their cosmos each New Year’s Day with the rebirth of the sun on winter solstice.

Wait, if you have to, until the latest loud and laughing horde of bus-borne tourists have had their turn and gone: still your mind and heart, and Dikte Cave will take you back in time. Short flights of slick stairs zig-zag down into the dark. Overhead, mountain-swallows and fork-tails shriek and dart trading perches among massive limestone crags: you smell the mossy beards of lichen that hang down into caverns of green stone, and feel the chill of icy pools of water in the galleries below. When you can no longer see the entrance, you’re less than half-way to the bottom.

Dikte Cave pillars

Afterward, when you’ve spent time in those depths, you climb back out and take a first green breath of the great plateau of Lasithi, ringed with its mountains far below the mouth of the cave—the living opposite of the dark, wet, cold and oozing walls that just surrounded you. The Minoans felt the powers of these deep and high places to the point that they gave their best architecture features of caves and mountains. But Dikte Cave bestows a gift that every person can take home and remember like medicine: the memory of a sacred silence at the still turning center of the world.

Of a comparable tradition, Oglala Native American author Ohiyesa (Charles Eastman) said:

The first Americans mingled with their pride a singular humility….He [and she] believes profoundly in silence—the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind and spirit….If you ask, “What is silence?” they will answer, “It is The Great Mystery!” “The holy silence is Deity’s voice!” If you ask, “What are the fruits of silence?” they will say, “They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.”

As the cave’s absolutes strip away your senses, the imagination fills in. You can stand still down inside there for awhile, and then turn around to be startled by some figure in molten stone that seems to have crept right up next to you. I wonder if that’s why I see a profoundly strange winged figure in the photo below, looming out of the back wall of this great cave’s deepest gallery. If you can make out a face just above-center in the photo, the outspread arms and belly and the figure’s great stony crown seem visible too. Actually standing there, you wonder if it’s going to turn its gaze your way and start to move.

 Dikte Cave stone 'figure'

This is a passage from People of the Sea (Chapter 2 at Ancientlights.org) that takes a Minoan man, Deucalion, into Dikte’s depths:

          Down, and torchlight showed the ceilings growing fangs of every color, livid like the things inside a body. Down, and in the first grotto, pillars big as oaks, man-shapes, pregnant crones oozing water, mock-faced hunchbacks, guardians to pass: your own sounds loud and louder the deeper you sank in underground. I went past some monstrous multicolor thing growing off the wall like liquid rock, with a thousand labial grooves across its jaw; and tucked in almost every groove, some rusting prayer, a tiny Labrys of green bronze, little animals in votive clay or people’s limbs that needed healing. Sealstones cut with signs of their visions. I turned, and found a being at my side…

            The thing was to breathe as the caverns took you down, one upon the other, and closed dark silence round your crackling torch. There was icy water to wade now, but dittany-incense rising past me for the world. Where the floor rose up again, the walls turned, and beyond was a massive crevice leaking light…

          She was seated at the cross-legged feet of a shape five times her size coming out of the wall: wings outspread but ragged, older than time, and a face of molten rock half-crone, half-insect like a mantis. I froze, like prey…

Karfi, Crete, peak-sanctuary site, stone 'erosion figures'

The Minoans’ caves and their high peak-sanctuaries were places of complementary meanings and powers: their family ancestors were below them in the mountain and above them in the cycles of the sun, moon and stars. In between was their living world and ours. I think they loved these places as threshold-points between the worlds, where their forebears felt closer and more alive. These were families who lovingly tended their ancestral tombs for centuries. It seems they were making the most of our little human time in the sun, between where we came from and where we are going…

 'Kalistamonis' blossoms, Crete 2012

All I know is that every trip to Crete is a rebirth—a new measure of gratitude and value in the place and time where you are.



About Dr Jack Dempsey

Always good to hear from you! A life-long freelance writer/editor, Brown University Ph.D. (in Native & Early American Studies)---novelist ("Ariadne's Brother," "People of the Sea"), historian and biographer ("New English Canaan," "Thomas Morton," "Mystic Fiasco" and more), producer ("Nani: A Native New England Story"), Book Editor/Public Speaking Coach: Bentley University Adjunct Assistant Professor of English, Media Studies & Communications (Best Part Time Prof 2010). Latest works? Scientific nonfiction on the lunar/solar calendar of ancient Minoan Crete---"The Knossos Calendar: Minoan Cycles of the Sun, the Moon, the Soul & Political Power" (Iraklion, Mystis 2016), based on lectures drawn from "Calendar House: Clues to Minoan Time from Knossos Labyrinth" (2011). Come and enjoy multimedia resources including filmed Native American interviews at ANCIENTLIGHTS.ORG
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