Laura's Blog

Greek Fire 16. Kathará Deftéra and the Kalóyeros of Ayia Eleni

Thursday, March 18, 2021 
Earlier this week in Greece we marked Kathará Deftéra, 'Clean Monday', the official end of Apókries (Carnival) and the beginning of Lent. I say that we marked it – I can't say that we celebrated it. Normally this is one of the most important holidays in the Greek year, but we are still under strict lockdown here – even stricter than before, actually, because now we are only allowed to exercise within walking distance of our homes, where previously we were allowed to drive up to 2km – so there were no gatherings, no gléndia, no family feasts.

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Greek Fire 15. Tsiknopempti, the start of Greek Carnival

Thursday, March 4, 2021 
Today is Tsiknopémpti! In an ordinary year, large groups of family and friends would be gathering around a groaning table, with laughter, ribald jokes, music and dance to kick off the season of Apókries – Greek Carnival. This year, of course, because of the pandemic, we are not permitted to meet in groups or to travel outside our own local town, so there won't be any of the usual celebrations. Once again, we must savour our memories and kindle our imaginations – and our hope that next year we will be together again.

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Greek Fire 13. Panayia Tricheroúsa, the Three-Handed Madonna

Thursday, February 18, 2021 
  In Greek Fire 12, I mentioned the miraculous icon of Panayía Tricheroúsa (Παναγία Τριχερούσα), the Three-Handed Madonna, an unusual and powerful manifestation of the Mother of God. 
I don't know of a church in our part of Greece which has an actual icon of Panayía Tricheroúsa, but a large framed picture of the miracle-working one from Mount Athos hangs behind the cash desk of my favourite grocery store in Kalamata, Aderfoi Lambou (Lambou Brothers), near the harbour.  
On our way to give concerts and seminars in Mani every year, we always used to stop there to stock up on ladopaksimádia, delicious olive oil rusks; the famed pastéli of honey and sesame seeds; local figs and olives; lalángia or 'snake cakes', my favourite treat [photo at left]; and other traditional delicacies for our seminar guests. Visiting the Three-Handed Madonna was always the best thing about shopping there.

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Greek Fire 14. Ayia Zoni, the birthing belt, and the dance mandíli

Thursday, February 25, 2021 
  In Greek Fire 13 I described the miraculous icon of Panayía Tricheroúsa (Παναγία Τριχερούσα), the Three-Handed Madonna, an unusual and powerful manifestation of the Mother of God. This caused a regular reader of this blog to comment that I always seem to be writing about the Panayia, or fire, or women's ritual dances.

It's true: my inspiration for the name Greek Fire comes from the importance of fire here, both literally – the fireplace in our unheated house (Greek Fire 1), the incense I light daily (Greek Fire 2) – and metaphorically, as in the fire of life, expressed so unreservedly in nature and in dance. My life in Greece is definitely an ongoing quest for living traditions of women's ritual dance and other aspects of women's spirituality which survive here in sometimes unexpected ways.

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Greek Fire 12. Candlemas and Ypapantís: Forty Days After Childbirth, Mary Returns to the World

Thursday, February 11, 2021 
  Here in Greece we are enjoying the lengthening late-winter days and the first flowers of spring. The almond trees, always the first to bloom here, light up the landscape in sunlit airy clouds of blossom, heavy with fragrance, dancing with bees. Thousands of anemones shine like stars scattered in the grass, ranging in hue from the palest white through faint shades of pink, to a startling deep fuchsia. And the sea squill bulb we hung by our front door for luck at New Year (see Greek Fire 6) has surprised us by flowering: a tender green stalk is crowned with tiny lavender orchidlike blooms, whose heavenly aroma wafts around us as we go in and out. I did not know it would do this and am astounded by the flower: its beauty, its fragrance, and the fact that it appeared at all. Note the resemblance to the 'sun-headed winged Goddess' motif so common in women's ritual dances and the costumes and embroideries which accompany the dances!

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