My Mother, My Akhu

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(My mother on the left in traditional Greek Folk garb in the 50’s)

Coming up on the 20th of April will be 30 years since my mother has passed to the west.

I still miss her and think about her often even though we have a bilocate connection as we were so close, truth be told, I am very much like her in most ways.

Looking through the remaining photos I have of her (most were destroyed in a house fire in the early 90’s) I remembered the things she taught me or used to say which has impacted on me throughout my life.

In life as in death she always moved with the utmost grace and has been the most influential person with respects to my character .  I try my best to learn and evolve with her as a major influence – I just hope I can do her justice in honouring her memory and live my life the best way I can.

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(My mother and me in the late 70’s when I was a baby)

My mother was a kitchen/folk/hermetic witch who also was a practising Greek Orthodox.  Her name was Anastasia and she taught me all about herbalism, divination, various crafts and magick and I feel she was the main inspiration of me being so interested in the occult, spiritual practice and the Greek and Egyptian pantheons. She attended church every Sunday even though she didn’t really believe in the church as an institution.  She would remark on how she thought it was disgusting that certain priests made huge personal profits from the congregation as well as had the arrogance to think they were the only ones who had a line to God.  She always taught me to question authority and listen to my instincts but also showed me how to be a moral person with strong ethics.  She helped build and was heavily involved in lots of volunteer work for the Westal Greek Orthodox church, which was more in line with the original teachings of Jesus (but at the same time she was also someone the local Greek community would come to if they needed help, especially when it came to esoteric healings and readings).  At her funeral so many people came to mourn her passing that the church was full to capacity, as was the courtyard out front of the church and people had to line the footpath outside.

My mother was also extremely well read and educated even though she didn’t officially go past grade 4 (age 8) because of WW2.  I remember her telling me stories of how she attended secret school that the local priest had set up in the basement of the church which would run in the middle of the night. They did this  in order to avoid the prying eyes of the Nazi’s and she could read and write both modern and ancient Greek and was a wiz at mathematics.  She loved reading books on female saints and held education in high regard, always pushing me to do my best.  I remember she also loved the arts and was a great seamstress and would make all my costumes for the plays, variety shows, choir and dancing troupes I was part of, which she volunteered me for (I was a very shy kid and she did this to get me out of my head).  I still remember the old songs of her homeland she taught me to sing and the traditional dances she taught me to dance as well as the fact she always wanted me to be proud of my heritage and would dress me up in traditional garb of her region whenever school had a nationality day.

My mother was an amazing cook and would make everything from scratch without recipes or measurements. Everyone would marvel on what wonderful pastries she made, as she could make paper thin pastry which would never break.  She taught me to always offer guests food and drink when they were visiting and to ensure to cook enough for an army when preparing for a special occasion.  She taught me, to always drink tea from a china cup and that it was best to steep real tea and herbs in a cast iron pot and serve it with either honey or a slice of lemon.   I also remember that no matter where we were and what was going on, she always made time to make me a cake decorated with whipped cream and glazed cherries for my birthday.  She would take me to picnics on the beach or at the park where we would eat specially prepared meals and although at the time I wanted normal sandwiches like the rest of the school kids she would practically pack a whole Greek deli into my lunch-boxes at school.  In hindsight it was a way to show me how much she cared – these elaborate meals which she also prepared at home is what Greek women do and how she showed her love.

She was also an avid cross stitch, knitter and crocheter and I still have an armful of things she made.  She loved tv especially anything historical and her favourite tv show was Prisoner (Bea Smith her favourite character).  She would let me stay up past my bed time so we could watch it together and even though it was full of swearing, sex scenes and violence she never wavered.  She also loved old black and white movies and I remember spending lots of evenings watching them with her where she would often highlight a song or location with great awe and adoration.

My mother was also someone who was immaculate in her presentation.  She never left the house without her red lipstick on, nails painted red, hair set and neat and on-trend outfits.  My cousins and some of her old friends used to always  mention how she always looked and acted like the epitome of a 1950’s housewife even though it was decades later. My mother was from the silent generation (I was a menopause baby) but she was never silent and taught me the same.

Another thing I remember is that our house was always full of flowers, plants and herbs both inside and out of the house.  She knew all about herbs and could propagate anything from the smallest of cuttings.  Whenever I wasn’t feeling well she would take me into the garden and show me what I needed to get and how to use it in order to get me well again.  She also was well versed in cupping which unfortunately I didn’t pick up as I was too young at the time to learn.  She taught my dad how to remove the evil eye so he could teach me in front of her, as according to tradition that particular thing is always passed from male to female or female to male. She taught me how to read palms, playing cards and coffee and tea cups as I sat beside her..quite often during the times she gave readings to those who came to see her.  Another thing I remember quite vividly was the day she realised I could see spirits and talk to them.  Instead of freaking out and filling me with fear she encouraged me and guided me so much that I was never afraid with the exception of the first time it happened….to be fair I wasn’t really afraid more annoyed because the spirit wouldn’t leave and let me sleep.

Since my parents were working class and didn’t have a lot of money, my mother always saved up what she could to get me things that I really wanted.  As a little girl I remember my first ring which copied hers – instead of ruby there was a red bead and instead of gold loop it was plated wire, the blue and green skipping rope she got me when she noticed I loved to skip, the gold dress with matching shoes and handbag for my first school dance – which she never got to see me in as the cancer had taken her by then and my Humphrey B Bear teddy I still have  – albeit a missing nose, eye and hat.  Those things sound insignificant but to a working class family with not much, it meant the world to me as it was given with true meaning and care.

Even though I have all these fond memories of her, I have come to admit that she was human and had undesirable traits like the rest of us.  She had a Greek temper, was overtly pedantic when it came to presentation and pushed ahead without a backwards glance.

Funny thing is, all these things I’ve inherited too but I have worked hard to move them with graceful tact and I’m still a work in progress (like we all all are).

 

 

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The Greek Orthodox Church and why I turned my back on it

This is an account of what happened the last time I ever stepped foot in a Greek Orthodox church…me finally letting go of a religion which I never felt connected to and brought me nothing but guilt and pain.

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My father had passed away in early 2008.  I wanted to hold my father’s funeral at the Westal Greek Orthodox Church like my mother’s was, as it was built and maintained by my local Greek Orthodox community (my mother being heavily involved in much of its early days).  Unfortunately,  I found out through the overpriced Greek Orthodox funeral director, that we couldn’t have it there as it wouldn’t be considered legit in the Greek Orthodox community as the Arch Diocese had the church struck from the records.  Why? Well because the priest at Westal refused to pay the incredulous amounts of money to the conglomerate of the Greek Orthodox leaders since the church was built solely from donations and fund raising from the local community. After Westal was established it continued to be self funded and maintained and has never received any assistance from the heads of the Greek Orthodox church and wanted to put all the “profits” the church made back into the community instead of lining the already overflowing coffers of the Greek Orthodox Arch Diocese.

Just another reminder of why I turned my back on the church when I was kid.

The church where my father’s funeral was held in Clayton was awful due to the greedy and judgmental old fashioned priest who had no people skills and used guilt, fear and manipulation as a tool.  This was the priest who gave my father’s last rites in hospital.  He was the closest priest to said hospital and one of the Greek doctors called him as a sign of respect to my father’s faith.  The  first thing this “holy” and compassionate-less priest said when he laid eyes upon my father (who was painfully suffering whilst trying to breathe and could only communicate by the terrified look in his eyes due to loosing his speech and mobility) was to spitefully complain that he had to pay for parking and that it was late at night.  After giving my father the last rites in a half assed way (which actually seemed to calm him) he hovered for ages to get some sort of tip or payment and then left in a huff when he realized it was not forthcoming.

This priests behavior grew worse when he held the funeral there due to it being the closest one to our family home and the nursing home my father had lived in during the last few years of his life.   I found out not only did the priest rip me off and overcharge me BUT he  told me to get things which I found out by another more prominent church in neighboring Oakleigh (after the fact) that it was unnecessary and a way for him to fill his storerooms whilst  knowing full well I was using all my savings to pay for the overpriced Greek Orthodox funeral. That wasn’t the worst part, that came later when he asked me if I attended church and I replied honestly – that I didn’t.  So what did he do?  Well right after the funeral service (which had to be paid for in full before the fact)  he gave a sermon on why you need to go to church or you’ll go to hell whilst constantly looking my way and finished off by going on and on about how greedy society had become and to focus on faith and family and then incredulously finished off by asking for donations to allow the church to thrive.   All the while neglecting the fact so much money has come into that church that not only is everything gold leaf or plated but the church has bought quite a number of the surrounding properties at around half a million a pop and knocked them down to create more parking for their parishioners.  All the while neglecting the fact that the priest himself makes quite a profit from the church, which has enabled him not only to live in a huge two story mansion type home in another suburb which is more expensive and prestigious but he also drives the latest BMW and sends his kids to private schools and to expensive trips to Greece on a regular basis and indulges their every whim financially…so much for living a simple life and abstaining from the lures of vanity like they are instructed to do when they take their vows.

My own Greek Orthodox relatives were shocked at this because  you never give a Sunday sermon during a funeral and friends and coworkers who had come to show support who weren’t even Greek were also quite appalled at this unexpected bible bashing sermon they didn’t expect.  This priest annoyed me further because during the wake of simple breaking bread next door at the church hall (which incurred yet another excessive cost) the priest pestered me and pestered me to organize booking and payment for another rite in 7 days (which is a simple watering of the grave).  I wasn’t in the right head space to make more plans so when I continuously refused to do that as I politely told him it wasn’t the right time and I needed a few hours to get my thoughts in order after just having buried my father and that I would get back to him, he went to my sister and organised it with her.  He did this knowing full well that I had paid for everything including the funeral and I was the estate’s executor  and the fact my sister and I didn’t speak as she cut ties with me years earlier (due to getting engaged to a “Jew”).  I was tired and over it by this stage but I went to this rite at the grave-site a week later and yet again he hovered for payment after all the money I had already thrown at him and the disrespect he showed me.  If I hadn’t already turned my back on the Greek Orthodox church at 11 years old – this would of definitely made me leave the “faith” which I personally find a misogynistic greedy religion who prays on the fears of their faithful.

After that I held the next memorial at the church in Oakleigh which not a single relative or family friend turned up to, including my sister which I ascertained was due to the fact that my father hadn’t left them anything in his Will (you wouldn’t believe the people I had knocking on my door wanting to find out what was happening to my father’s estate, which included relatives he hadn’t spoken to in decades) and hey they could of taken some of the tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt he left me, but I digress.  The Oakleigh church contact who helped me out immensely explained to me that the priest whom I had perform my father’s funeral in Clayton under duress had indeed taken advantage of me and they were not only very kind and gentle with me but they explained fully and in detail what needed to be done and how it was going to be done.  This small kindness was a relief but it stopped me from holding anymore memorials for my father yearly like some traditionalists do, due to being completely put off by the process and finding out from various sources it was unnecessary to have it at church and a simple tithing to a charity or doing volunteer work would suffice (which I did and I still do to honor my father’s memory).

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(Saint Photini which I was named after was an outspoken devotee who was tortured and killed by Emperor Nero due to her unwavering faith.  
Ironically, her remains are buried in Mt Athos an all-male religious state where women cannot enter.)

Anyway truth be told the real reason why I left the Greek Orthodox church was because I was actually kicked out of Sunday school when I was 11 or 12 (cant recall exactly) but my father was called one day by the priests wife who ran the bible studies class as apparently I disrupted the other children in class and I wasn’t welcomed back.  How did I disrupt the class? Well considering I knew the bible well due to my mothers devout attendance and knowledge about scripture (she was a practicing hermetic Greek folk witch but incorporated her faith in her practice) I often asked questions of the priests wife which emphasized contradictions, not only in the bible itself but the way the church and priests carried themselves in direct contradiction to what was being taught in the class or being preached in church.  Fact is the priest’s wife wasn’t apt at answering questions which were sincere yet challenged the huge inconsistencies in what was said and what was done.  In the end I remember the last thing the priest and his wife said to me after the last Sunday school class I was ever to attend, but not so eloquently as I put it to you now…they said that I was a girl child who asked too many questions and needed to just blindly accept what I was being told.  That my studious intellect and genuine curiosity was a danger to myself, my faith and others.  Also something along the lines that women were inherently sinful and dirty, who needed to work hard for salvation yet were never be able to achieve the connection to God that priests could.   After that day I completely turned my back on the church and refused to be part of it and disavowed my baptism in the faith when I was 21.  I never attended a service in a Greek Orthodox church again unless it was to support a friend or family member for a specific celebration and even then I never made any devotional tokens unless it was to occasionally light a candle in my parents name when it was a family event (that was until my father’s memorial which was indeed the last time I stepped foot into a Greek Orthodox Church and I will never again).

After the fateful day I was expelled from Greek Sunday school at 11/12, I started researching the origins of the magick my mother had taught me and that is when I discovered paganism which led me first to Hermetic tradition and then to Wicca (witchcraft connection) and finally to the Hellenic and Kemetic faiths which I continue to honour to this day.  So it its essence I think the transition from a faith I had no connection to, to one where I am have full freedom and self responsibility suits me just fine.

My personal philosophy is : “The divine and spiritual is not found within the church but within the individual’s connection to spirit/god/goddess.”