My first Crete retreat with Shakti Tantra was quite early on in my experience, within a few months of my beginning the women’s programme. The whole week was the most amazing and wonderful opportunity to understand the potential of tantra, and recognise the possibilities for the future. The Lissos trip had been described as a highlight of the holiday, an adventure of boat journeys, a leisurely lunch and a ritual in an ancient temple. And that all sounded wonderful. But then something unexpected unfolded, something rather magical. A few years on it still takes me by surprise, as I remember. This is my story….
We jump off the boat that brought us around the coast to Lissos, into the shallows of the startling blue sea, then walk up the pebbled beach and through scrubby ground to a little clearing. We gather under the shelter of the trees, and have some time to look around, as Hilly and Sue go off to reacquaint themselves with the route we’ll take to the temple.
I wander a short distance, lift my gaze to the hills opposite and see what looks like some little caves, with ancient brickwork added to the outside, as if they’d been used as dwellings. I find myself raising my hands, palms facing towards these caves, and feel them buzzing, the energy streaming through them intense and electric. There’s an almost overwhelming sense of power surrounding me, my heartbeat increases, and a vague anxiety grips me. I walk back to the gathering point, we gradually reassemble, and with the return of Hilly and Sue eat our picnic lunch and hear about the walk to the temple and the ritual we will participate in. As we mill about, putting on walking shoes and tidying the lunch things, I hear whispered female voices behind me, moving, and I sense rather than feel the slight rustle of wings, almost touching my neck and shoulder. I turn, but no-one is there. I ask someone close to me ‘did you just speak?’ and feel a little crazy when it’s clear that she didn’t. The sense of power is stronger, and I’m unsettled as Sue and Hilly tell us a little about the place and their previous experiences here.
And then, singing. A group of female voices in the distance, but at the same time close and intimate, a harmony of clear, sweet sound, rising and falling, then becoming the gentlest whisper. An ancient, unplaceable song, repeating, repeating. I’m feeling confused, but calmer, beginning to realise that though my brain is telling me none of this is possible, my instinct is to absorb and accept every element. The power all around me is still overwhelming in intensity, and I feel not fear exactly, but a sense of something so significant it’s as if I’m absorbing, or rather being absorbed by, a presence so huge it’s beyond my capacity to do other than accept. It comes to me that we are being observed, without judgement. There’s benevolence, but no emotion.
We set off, silently walking a gradually ascending path between rocks and bushes, the heat around us, in us. I hear breathing, deep and steady. It’s coming from me, but it’s not my breath. I find myself knowing that it belongs to another, much younger, woman. One who walked this path many centuries ago. I see her sandals on my feet, I feel a rough tunic-like dress on my body, tied at the waist with a simple cord. I feel strong shoulders carrying a basket. My anxiety gradually fades, without me altogether realising it, until we’re approaching the temple, and then I’m calm and purposeful, following the guidance we’ve been given, putting down belongings, loosening my sarong so it’s around my hips and I’m bare-breasted, moving with the group into the sacred space.
I step into the temple and sit. I realise I still have shoes on, and take them off, as it feels wrong to do other than walk barefoot on the temple floor, despite the gripping heat. I put them next to me, but that’s not right either, they must be outside the temple altogether. I have no idea why this is such an imperative, but I move as if bidden by another, and place them on the step at the entrance. I take my place again, satisfied now that my behaviour is fitting. How can this be? Why does it matter so much? I sit quietly, and look around.
Sue moves to the altar and speaks words of gratitude to Lord Shiva. I’m bemused, as I can feel both male and female energy. Each person steps up in turn, puts an offering on the altar, speaks from the heart, and moves back. I’m crying softly, quiet tears, because I know something significant is happening. My turn, and I’m standing directly in front of the altar. My offering of a small shell, unthinkingly gathered earlier, sits alongside the other gifts. I raise my hands, as each has done, and move them in the gestures that give the words form. ‘I honour you with my spirit. I honour you with my heart. I honour you with my sex.’ As I give thanks and ask for guidance, my voice is stronger.
Afterwards we sit together, each deep in thought. Again I feel male and female energy, blurred and merged one moment, distinct and separate the next. I’m being held, curled up like a baby, by this male and female form, and I feel calm and cared for. There is a great compassion here. I’m still confused, as I’m sure we are in the presence of Shiva, and it’s only later that I come to realise that the temple is dedicated to the Minoan Snake Goddess. The perfect balance of male and female then makes sense.
We move quietly out of the temple space and walk separately in various directions, to find a private place in which to make another offering. I sit among the trees, and spill my nectar on the warm earth.
I wander, without thought. My feet take me here and there, imperceptibly downhill. I meander, in vague circles, occasionally jolting to awareness and wondering if I’m lost. I find myself by the sea, and backtrack to our clearing, the shade beneath the trees. Others appear, move around, come and go to the beach. The quiet contemplation is slowly replaced by talk, laughter, the return journey, and dinner overlooking the sea. When we compare notes, I find there are other stories of voices, singing, energetic presence. I am astonished at how profoundly I’m affected, yet so accepting of the whole experience.
Now, at home, I reflect on this, and many other moments of astonishment, mystery and revelation. I read my words, and the rational, sensible ‘pull yourself together’ voice rises in me, but is quickly drowned out by a deeper sense of knowing. I can still feel the power of that place. It is within me, and some part of me is still there. I can hear the singing, the whispered voices. I can smell the earth, feel the warm breeze, sense the compassionate presence of male and female, intertwined, knowing, universal, eternal. How can it be? And yet it is. It is my truth.
Pauline McCluskey 16th January 2017