Saturday, October 4, 2014

Talking to the Dead

Get ready for a trip to the Underworld, the River Stix, Hades, The land of the Dead.

It is the 12th century B.C.  You have paid the  boatman to take a deceased person to the underworld where you believe he will live out eternity.  But after some time, you realize you need to speak to that person, so you make a pilgrimage to The Oracle of the Dead.

You might remember reading about it in Odysseus's travels in Homer's The Iliad.  Or you might have heard reference to the underworld in the video that claims Margariti people as descendants of Odysseus (you can see that video by clicking --> HERE)  In any event, the story that was once thought to be fantasy, has much basis in truth. So, let us continue on our quest to talk to that deceased person.

Imagine this valley as the lake it was, before being drained in the 1940s to make farmland. In the black of night, you will begin your journey from the far mountains in the distance.  If you are lucky enough to have a boat, you will sail to a landing, dock your boat and begin the hike to the oracle.  Without a boat, you will have to make the long pilgrimage by foot around the lake until you get to the path that leads to the gates. Once there, you will not gain access unless you have an offering for the gods, which could be anything from a live goat to gold coins. But do not arrive empty-handed or you will be turned away.

And remember the rule. You can only go to the oracle one time in your life so you must choose carefully when deciding with whom you want to speak and the question you'll ask that particular dead person.   That rule was most likely created so people wouldn't figure out the scam, which might have happened if they were allowed to keep returning.

Just below those rocks in the photo above, scientists have discovered an area where the water of the lake would hit against some shallow cave-like openings in the rock and make a low moaning sound, so that is most likely what you hear as you approach the gates.

If you still have the courage, you proceed and tell the gate keeper your intentions: Who you are there to visit and the question you wish to ask.

Have you noticed that church on top?  The Oracle of the Dead was part of the 12 Gods religion, before Christianity had become established.  So what's up with that church? You can google exact dates and circumstances, but somewhere around the 300s, Christianity took over and orders came to destroy the temples used for worshipping the 12 Gods.  All over Greece and Italy there are churches built on hills. They most likely cover some ancient religion and the same is true for this site: Necromanteion-The Oracle of the Dead.

When ordered to destroy it, those in charge simply covered it up, built a church and waited for Christianity to die out, thinking they could come back to it someday.  So the church has nothing to do with the oracle.  It was simply hiding the ruins until archeologists and historians started poking around Epirus looking for evidence of Homer's Iliad.

You can see the ancient stones in contrast to the later-built church.

So, let's continue on our journey to communicate with our deceased person.  After entering the oracle, you are brought to a room where you will "cleanse" yourself to prepare for the underworld visit.  That probably consisted of fasting which tends to make a person a bit listless. Part of the ritual also requires you to drink a special elixir.  The poppy plant is prevalent in this area.  My mother-in-law, Chevi, used to talk about how they would collect the black seeds and put it in tea as a treatment for serious illness.

Time goes by while you are being "cleansed." In this dark cavern-like structure, it is impossible to know whether it is day or night. Finally it is time to journey further down so you can communicate with that deceased person.  You walk and walk and walk.  The maze below shows how a person, stoned on opium, listless from lack of food, might be further disoriented, believing himself to be transported far below the earth.

Next, you're brought to a lower chamber.
Archeologists have never been able to find a passageway to  that lower area but they know it exists because in more modern times  a floor-stone was dislodged and pulled off and the chamber was discovered. This metal stairway was constructed for the archeologists, but tourists are welcome to descend down its steep steps.

The chamber below, was constructed in such a way that the acoustics, when someone speaks, give off an eerie dull sound.

There is no echo and it is deadly silent all around. The lighting you see is a modern addition for the safety of archeologists and tourist.

So, it is not clear how you, the visiting person waiting to talk to the deceased, would get to that chamber, but once you are there, you are instructed to stay at one end while you talk to your deceased at the other end.  Archeologists found a structure that they believe was an apparatus for lowering something into the room, so perhaps your  deceased person would descend from the ceiling.

When you see that person, you ask the question, which you had told the gatekeeper about when you arrived.  Your deceased person answers you.  Then you make your long ascent back to the world of the living. As you depart from the gates of the underworld, you are required to throw a black stone behind you and promise never to return.

Necromanteion, the ancient site in Epirus, is a great place to visit.  It pulls together some of the information your teachers told you in sixth grade about Greek mythology, while giving you a greater insight into religion: how strongly we want to believe, and the charlatans who have been taking advantage of that faith since as long as religion itself.

As you exit the site, the town of Mesopotamo offers you some quaint little cafes.  The bakery is one of the good ones and the woman behind the counter is the most cheerful person I've ever met. I encourage you to sit and soak up the atmosphere.

But in addition to their hospitality, this little village has its own more modern relics which are fun to photograph.