Friday, 15 August 2008


Back on Kalymnos...

Today is the Assumption Feast of the Panagia.

Panagia is a Greek word (Παναγία) meaning 'All-holy' and is one of the titles used by the Orthodox Christian churches of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The Feast of the Assumption, celebrated on August 15, commemorates the Catholic doctrine that Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."

On the same day, the Eastern Orthodox church celebrates what is referred to as The Dormition of the Theotokos or 'The Falling Asleep of the Mother of God'.

The theology is slightly different here, Orthodox Christians believe that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ, but that on the third day after her death her body was resurrected and taken up into heaven in anticipation of the general resurrection scheduled for all believers at the Second Coming of Christ.

Here on Kalymnos, as on all the Greek islands, Panagia is one of great religious feasts of the Christian year preceded by a 14-day fast during which no red meat, poultry, meat or dairy products, fish, oil, or wine are permitted. This fast is still strictly observed by much of the population, including the Glinatisi family at Artistico with whom we are staying - despite the fact that they are having to cook and cater for guests and visitors who eat at their taverna.

The traditional Panagia meal is roast goat and is a reminder of the historical and economic significance of this animal within Greek culture. The animals that clamber and scramble about among the rocky mountain slopes above Emporios - the sharp clanking of their bells is often the first sound one hears on waking in the early morning - were once the staple (and are still the symbolic) source of sustaining life...

As with all 'new' religions it is interesting to reflect on how they overlap with the old, pagan beliefs which they supplanted. The goats of Greece are the only traceable decedents of Pan (Πάν) the goat-horned, goat-bearded, goat-footed god of ancient myth...

Pan was the mythic deity associated with shepherds and their flocks and of mountains, fields and woods and, therefore, with spring -- and fertility: the symbolism of a being that is half man and half goat is one that does not require the services of a Freud to decipher!

This particular statue, exhibited in the National Museum in Athens, depicts Pan attempting to embrace Aphrodite (the Goddess of Love, beauty and fertility) who has removed her left sandal with which she teasingly threatens to strike him.

Above this ill-assorted pair of would-be/wouldn't-be lovers is hovering the mischievous Eros who, one suspects, is actually egging-on the lecherous old goat.

The sculpture was found on the island of Delos (famous as the alleged birthplace of the god Apollo) and dates from around 100 BCE.

Some of you will have seen this photo before, but I make no excuse for republishing it because, for me, it captures something about the mystery of the Greek islands where - despite the people's obvious Christian devotion - one of Pan's satyrs might, perhaps, still be glimpsed in the shadows...

Images: Brian Sibley and David Weeks © 2005/2007.


Carl V. Anderson said...

I grew up Catholic and in my early pre-teen years we started going, as a family, to non-denominational churches. While I certainly appreciate my religion I do sometimes miss and certainly cherish the traditions of the Catholic faith. On occasion when I visit a Catholic service I am in awe of the stuff that, quite frankly, I found very boring and repetitive as a child. Once one realizes the spirit behind it and the beauty in what is occurring it becomes a very special thing. Like anything I think that being away from it certainly gives me a different perspective whenever I go back as opposed to falling into the routine of weekly worship...which happens in all versions/practices of faith.

Anonymous said...

I used to hear a voice telling me "your the holy goat." It happened for weeks. I never heard of a holy goat before that incident.