Excerpts of Advertence by Patrick Leigh Fermor
to Quondam Allodynes of Rural Greece
From Mani; Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, 1958. . .
...After Charon and a mysterious creature called the kallikantzaros, nereids are the supernatural survivors of the ancient world most often mentioned by name in the Greek countryside. Though some of them can beâ€”especially in the Maniâ€”sea-dwellers, on the whole they seem to have moved inland and become freshwater denizens haunting remote streams, springs, fountains, watery grottoes, mountain rivers and torrents and, occasionally, mill-ponds, especially if the mills are in ruins. It is impossible to say when this migration took place; perhaps it is just a shift of names; but they have usurped the hegemony of the ancient naiads and of the dryads and oreads as well. They have inherited the generic role of the nymphs. They dress in white and gold and are of unearthly beauty. Strangely enough, they are not immortal; they live about a thousand years. But they are of a different and rarer essence from ordinary mortals and, in some way, half divine. Their beauty never fades, nor do the charm and seduction of their voices. They are wonderful cooks and skilful spinners of flimsy and diaphanous fabrics. 'Cooked by a nereid!' 'Spun by a nereid!'â€”these expressions used to be common praise. There is also a light and airy creeper that festoons the trees in some parts of Greece, known as 'nereid-spinning.' It reminds one of the cave where Odysseus landed on his return to Ithaca and the 'great looms of stone where the nymphs weave robes of sea purple marvellous to behold.'
These nereids are feminine, volatile and wanton; seldom capable of a lasting passion. But most of the harm they do is involuntary, due to a congenital inaptitude for fidelity and the tamer domestic virtues. Interruption of their revels incurs the penalties of dumbness, blindness or epilepsy. They often fall violently in love with mortals, especially the young and brave, skilful dancers and flute- and lyra-players, and carry them off to their waterside haunts and to the threshing floors where they sometimes dance. Lonely young shepherds are particularly exposed to these dangers. 'Do not go up to the lonely tree,' an island song runs, 'nor down into the lowlands, nor play your flute by the upper reaches of the river, lest the nereids, finding you alone, gather round you in a throng.' There are many tales of shepherds and princes falling in love with them. When it is the other way round the dazed young stranger is carried off to a secret grotto, and wrapped in a passionate embrace, the nereid sailing away on the wind at the third cockcrow. But, with a few exceptions, their ardour flags hefore that of their lovers. If a nereid is reluctant to yield to a mortal (according to one legend) the secret of success is to seize her kerchief. She turns into terrifying shapesâ€”into that of a lion, a snake and finally into flames, as in the story of Peleus and Thetisâ€”but she at last resumes her own and surrenders and their secret nuptials are celebrated.
Sometimes, when a mortal keeps the kerchief hidden, nereids remain faithful to their husbands for years, even when the latter are married to mortal wives. Some have helped their husbands with supernatural backing, manoeuvring them to the height of worldly success. They hate mortal women and the sentiment is mutual. Both are gnawed by jealousy and women seek protection for their households in amulets, by hanging a clove of garlic over the door and by making a cross with paint or lamp-black on the lintel. The forty days between childbirth and churching are a particularly perilous time for women not only from spiteful nereids but from the Evil Eye and the other baleful influences that are loose. There are many families, apart from the Mavromichalis, who are said to be neraÃ¯dogennomenoi or nereid-born. They are thought to possess more than human graces. The adjective is also in common use to describe girls of especial beauty and charm. Fickle though they are, nereids worship their children by mortalsâ€”they are constantly drawn to their cradles. In fact, they have a general passion for the young and often kidnap pretty children, leaving in their stead sickly nereid changelings who usually pine away and die. Children sometimes run away and dance with them for days off their own bat and their petting and spoiling often has fatal results. When this happens the nereids are overcome with sorrow. Young men in love with nereids become melancholy and ill and prone to strokes and seizures. There are 'nereid-doctors' who can cure the nereid-struck with potions and charms. One of the best of these remedies is a branch of 'nereid-wood,'a species of tree of which I have not been able to discover the ordinary name. Goats and other livestock fall under their spell; they desert their flocks and waste away. A native of the Aegean islet of Pholegandros attributes the innumerable chapels there to the eagerness of the peasants to have a protecting saint close by. The whole species are sometimes referred to as the 'kalokyrades'â€”'the good ladies'â€”on the same euphemistic principle that prompted the old Greeks to call the Furies the 'Eumenides' or 'kindly ones'...
In nothing is the continuity of Ancient Greece clearer than in the superstitions and pagan religious practices (and many of the 'Christian' ones) that still prevail in the Greek mountains and islands. I think it is true to say that the educated classes are less and the simple class more superstitious than their English counterparts. The only superstition that really seems to hold its own in the upper reaches of society is the class-defying and panÂHellenic-indeed, almost world-wideâ€”belief in the Evil Eye. But even in this, the strongest single superstition among the simple, there is a touch of levity. It is considered a bit of a joke among sophisticated people, certainly it holds a less tyrannic sway than it does in grand Italian circles. Nevertheless, nobody who has set even a tentative foot in Athenian high life would need to hesitate a second in naming someone credited with this baleful and perhaps unconscious power.
...This side of Greek country life, which evokes the scorn and hatred of some Greeks but few foreigners, has attracted, during the last hundred years, the interest and devoted study of a number of Greek and foreign scholars. The most profitable sources in Greece are Kambouroglou and the magnificent and monumental work of Polites. There is Bernhard Schmidt and there is Lawson. My own favourites are the Athenian Professor Alexander Polites and John Cuthbert Lawson, the Cambridge don. They usually agree but not always; and between them they cover a wide field. Both refer back to ancient sources with a scholarly fairness. Both of them have studied the works of St. John Damascene (whose condemnation of certain pagan practices, though ineffectiveâ€”for many of them still existâ€”is very revealing in showing how little they have changed since he anathematized them), the great Byzantine scholar Psellos and that strange seventeenth-century figure Leo Allatius of Chios. Lawson is the one from whom I...crib most freely [Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion, Cambridge, 1910]...
It is impossible to wander about in Greece or live for long with peasant families without striking this supernatural background. But it is steadily losing its grip... Among country people there is seldom any bashfulness in discussing these matters, except when the semiÂeducated have intimidated them into reticence. Old women are the richest repositories of knowledge and sometimesâ€”through keeping company with their elders at the laundry-trough, the loom and the spindleâ€”young girls. The attitude of peasant men and women alike outwardly resembles the upper class attitude towards the Eye; it is one of amused tolerance coupled with veneration; because, true or not, these beliefs are old and they are heirlooms.
What happened was this. Since they issued from the haze of pre-history...the Greeks have always been polytheists; and one of the marks of polytheism is that it keeps open house: all gods are welcome. Swarms of Asiatics moved into the company of the native Greek gods and made themselves at home; and, when Christ appeared on the Graeco-Roman scene, there was plenty of room for Him. Tiberius, according to Tertullian, suggested the apotheosis of Christ; and Hadrian (writes Lampridius) reared temples in His honour. His statue, with that of Orpheus and Abraham, was set up in the private shrine of Alexander Severus, and St. Augustine tells of Him keeping similar company with Homer, Pythagoras and St. Paul. This tendency was even more widespread and elastic among the common people. But monotheism, by its very nature, cannot reciprocate this easyÂgoing welcome and when Christianity became the State religion of the Empire, the expulsion of the old gods, after thousands of years of happy tenure and the reduction of the Pantheon to a private cell, was a serious task. There was not much difficulty among the educated: Plato and his successors had prepared the ground; and when Julian the Apostate attempted to re-install the rites of Apollo in the groves outside Antioch, the sophisticated citizens deemed it not only a bad joke, but a rather vulgar one. But what was to be done about the unlettered and conservative masses? How to focus the wide scope of their veneration on a single point? It could not be done and a compromise was found. Temples and shrines and holy sites were rededicated to Christian saints and converted to basilicas. Columns and blocks from ancient fanes, hallowed by centuries of worship, were built into new churches and, to ease the changeover, saints were inducted to these old haunts with characteristics or names which corresponded with those of the former incumbents; sometimes both. Dionysus became St. Dionysios and still retains his link with Naxos and his Bacchic patronage of wine. Artemis of the Ephesians became a male St. Artemidos and, like Artemis, his help is sought in the cure of wasting and nymph-struck children, as it was before he changed clothes, when the handmaids of Artemis had wrought mischief among the offspring of mortals. Demeter suffered a similar operation and became St. Demetrius, who, under the additional epithet of 'Stereanos'â€”'He of the land'â€”is a patron of crops and fruitfulness. In one place the metamorphosis was actually repudiatedâ€”she still continues to be worshipped as 'St. Demetra', a saint unknown in the Orthodox synaxary. Helios the sun-god became the prophet Elijah (the Greek form is Elias and, as the hard breathing had probably already fallen into disuse at the time of the changeover, the disguise was very thin). The name of this Hebrew prophet is now very common in Greece, but rare in Italy, where this name for Apollo was unknown. His shrine is always on mountains and hilltops where Helios, the heaven-born flaming charioteer, was worshipped. They symbolize, says the Church, Elijah's whirlwind assumption to heaven in a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire; and hundreds of lofty peaks all over the Greek world still commemorate this personification of Apollo. Hermes became the Archangel Michael; his helmet changed its shape and his wings their position and the writhing snakes and the feathers of his wand became a flaming sword. ...It is his inherited duty to guide the souls of the Maniot dead through the cavern of Taenaros and down the Herculean path to Hades. The Church of the Blessed Virginâ€”Panayia, the All-Holy-Oneâ€”sprang up in the temple of the Virgin Goddess Athene on the Acropolis and the warlike St. George stepped into the shoes of Hephaestos (the armourer?) in the Theseum. Much earlier, Poseidon in Tenos had usurped the healing powers of Asklepios and presided over a magic spring of healing; both have since been usurped in their turn by the Blessed Virgin.
Examples of substitution could be cited ad infinitum. 'God rains,' say the peasants, recalling cloud-compelling Zeus the Rain-Giver. Old mountaineers north of the gulf of Corinthâ€”hundreds of miles from Creteâ€”swear by 'God of Crete,' unconsciously apostrophizing the Ida-born son of Kronos. When it hails, 'God is shaking his sieve;' when it thunders, he is shoeing his horse or rolling his wine-casks; strangely unsuitable pursuits for the Christian Ancient of Days... . The clergy did what they could to reduce the pagan characteristics, but there was more truth in the gods' claims to immortality than is generally thought. The saints satisfied the habit of multiple divinity, and Christianity, although a celestial hierarchy was maintained, became in a senseâ€”in practice if not in theoryâ€”polytheistic. Rites are still practised in certain groves on certain saints' daysâ€”on St. George's in the Cretan village of Asigonia, for instanceâ€”which have nothing to do with Christianity; and the fire-walking Anastenari of Thrace are in clear descent from the rites of the Orphic mysteries. The saints, whether of pure Christian or pagano-Christian origin, assumed local spiritual sway and presided over the various fields of human activity in the same manner as the gods. The Panayia can remedy all human evils; SS. Cosmo and Damianâ€”'the Unmoneyed Ones'â€”cure illnesses in general; St. Panteleimon is a specific for eye diseases, St. Eleutheros a help in childbirth, St. Modestos has veterinary powers, St. Blaise is sovereign against ulcers, St. Charalampos and St. Catharine ward off plagues, St. Eliasâ€”through his connection with the sunâ€”is appealed to against drought, St. Stylianos against infantile complaints, St. James against deafness. The Athenian St. Maura controls warts, St. Symeon birthmarksâ€”that is to say, they inflict these blemishes with the malignance of pagan gods if their feast days are neglected. St. Tryphon punishes women who spin on his day but he is sovereign, in Kythnos, against insects. St. George the Drunkard presides over alcoholic excess and smiles on its votaries. Sailors are under the protection, in the northern Cyclades, of St. Sostes and the SS. Akindynoiâ€”'The Fearless Ones'â€”as well as the universal St. Nicholas, Poseidon's heir. St. Menas of Creteâ€”like St. Anthony further westâ€”is in charge of lost property. St. John the Baptist cures ague and St. Paraskeveâ€”whose name means Fridayâ€”headaches; and St. Catharine and St. Athanasius are appealed to in questions of matchmaking and dowries for girls. These appeals are invariably made viatheir ikons and by honouring their feast days, often in remote shrines only visited once a year. Sometimes feast days coincide with the rites of pagan predecessors on the same spot. The Graeco-Roman rosaliaâ€”still so calledâ€”was still celebrated during this century in the Theseum with dancing and feasting on Easter Tuesday. Sometimes there is no Christian excuse. Boys still parade with painted swallows on poles and sing an enchanting song (which is roughly the same as the ancient Chelidonisma, or swallow-song of Rhodes) to welcome the return of the swallows. May-wreaths woven of various plants and flowersâ€”but always containing the magically potent garlic bulbsâ€”are hung over all the doorways of Greece till the following May Day, exactly like the ancient eiresiÃ³ne... . One can deduce from all this that Julian the Apostate need never have uttered his famous cry of despair. Even in Christianity itself the pale Galilean conquest was far from complete.
Some of the great gods, then, were compromised and frogÂmarched into collaboration. Others escaped and, quite literally, took to the hills. There, like divine maquisards, they have led a spiritual underground for close on two thousand years. Fed and supported by fishermen and mountaineers during the interim, they have, in a measure, gone peasant themselves. The quarrel lost its acerbity and, with the years, their rustic hosts, and almost everyone else, forgot the cause. Country people found nothing contradictory in serving both sides... Both sides appeared to co-operate and to complete each other in ordering the sorrows and happiness of men and all feeling of a split allegiance was lost. The mountain influences and those blazoned forth in ikons were indistinguishable. Village priests, who were peasants themselves, shared the attitude of their parishioners. Every century or so an explosion of protest resounded from some far-off bishopric but the echoes of these fulminations died away long before they could reach the highlands and archipelagos they were aimed at. Mountaineers and islanders have always been hostile to centralized authority, whether civil or ecclesiastical; and anyway, what was there to put one's finger on? The brushwoodancien rÃ©gime, unencumbered with giveaway temples or paraphernalia, travelled light. There was nothing, on examination, but murmurs, hearsay, candlelight and shadows and the bare limestone hillside... . The overt ceremonies (which still exist) had adopted enough religious camouflage to confuse all but the most penetrating. And a few have survived quite undisguised. Indeed, Christian and pagan practiceâ€”both the official (i.e. Christian in form) and unofficialâ€”survive in the same way that the older Pelasgian and chthonian religion survived underneath and alongside the official Olympian paganism of the Achaeans in Homeric and classical times. Strangely enough, it is, on the whole, the old Pelasgian deities which have outlived not only the Achaean Olympians, but much of Christianity as well.
Zeus has been almost entirely swallowed up in God the Father, whose character, in peasant eyes, he has strongly affected; but little of him remains outside church walls except in mainland ejaculations referring to his Cretan birth. Some traces of his battle with the Titans still survive in Zantiot fairy tales. The same source commemorates Poseidon, 'a demon of the sea' with his three-pronged fork; but St. Nicholas has almost entirely taken him over. There are clear references in folk tales to Midas, the Sphinx, Icarus and the Cyclopes, and occasionally to a figure resembling Pan who may also be the Far Away One I heard of [in the Mani].
The clearest case of one of the ancients having the best of both worlds is Demeter. Young, almost imberb, astride a chestnut horse and clad in full armour, Diocletian's megalomartyr is not only one of the most puissant saints of Orthodoxy, but, with the great St. George whose mount is white, one of the only two that ride on horseback. Pausanias talks of horse-headed statues of the goddess which may account for the insistence of iconographers on his or her equestrian status after the changeover. The one place where she resisted this change and became an uncanonical 'St. Demetra' was Eleusis, the former home of her most sacred rites in the Eleusinian mysteries. Here an ancient statue of her, escaping the zeal of the iconoclasts, was worshipped and crowned with garlands and surrounded with prayers for prosperous harvests until two Englishmen called Clark and Cripps, armed with a document from the local pasha, carried her off from the heart of the outraged and rioting peasantry, in 1801...[Like much else in these pages, Lawson is my source for this sad tale]. But her memory still lingers in the region of her ravished shrine.
Lenormant records, from the same district, an extraordinary tale, which he had from an old Albanian, of St. Demetra, an Athenian lady with a beautiful daughter who was stolen by a wicked pasha and carried off to Souli, but allowed to return every so often under certain conditions which were closely linked with the welfare of crops. It is not hard to discern Demeter and Persephone here and Pluto, dressed in a turban and a caftan. The heroic hills of Souli dominate the junction of Acheron and Cocytus, routes down to Hades almost as famous as the one at Matapan; and one ancient version of Persephone's descent is placed exactly there. Lenormant found similar traditions in Epirus itself and Lawson in Arcadia, near the 'devil holes' of Phonia in the mountains above the river Ladon and also in those desolate ranges round the temple of Bassae: parts of Arcadia where the old Pelasgian cults were least affected by the Achaean and Dorian immigrations. There are parts of northern Arcadia where, alone in all Greece, the eating of swine's flesh is mysteriously taboo; pigs were held sacred to Demeter and Persephone. But apart from these scattered cases, a 'Mistress of the Earth and Sea' or just 'the Mistress'â€”a non-Christian immortal but nevertheless of flesh and blood, kindly to men, but quite distinct from the Blessed Virginâ€”presides in many remote and mountainous districts over the welfare of fruit trees, the abundance of crops and the increase of flocks. In Aetolia, where tobacco-growing is the main agriculture, she has the tobacco plant under her especial care. Sometimes she is just known as 'the Lady'â€”'Kyra' or 'Despoina'â€”but she has no church, although the same epithets are often applied to the Virgin. She lives in the deepest heart of the mountains as befits a chthonian; as, indeed, Pausanias tells of her dwelling in Mt. Elaion. She may have had temples but her true sanctuary was a splendid subterranean hall and from such haunts she still sends her benign influences forth. With her, too, is connected in folk tales 'the beautiful one of the earth'â€”Persephoneâ€”guarded by a three-headed dog 'that sleeps not day or night;' in other versions this warden becomes a triple-headed snake. Cerberus is also mentioned in most convincing detail, though not by name, as 'Charon's watchdog' in a Macedonian folk-song.
...Even Charon has appeared at times as 'St. Charon'... He is no longer a ferryman, but Death himself, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback. It is thus that he appears in innumerable peasant songs and poems from the days of Byzantium until now. Sometimes he acts on his own, sometimes as God's emissary, sometimes he is a fully-armed warrior prepared for fierce and protracted combat. In the oldest sources, he was closer to his present character (to which the nearest approach in classical times is the mild Thanatos, in the Alcestis, who arrives to take Admetus's queen to Hades; for even to-day he is not always fierce). His warlike personacorresponds to that boatless Charon, armed with axe, hammer and sword, on the flanks of some Etruscan sarcophagi. His boat, in fact, may be an Achaean novelty of comparatively late origin; probably his earlier Pelasgian form had sunk deep popular roots among the Greeks and the Etruscans long before his later imago took shape; and, when time's current bore away the later Charon with all his fluvial gear, his hoary and long-established and land-lubbing forerunner took over and survives to-day more robustly than any of that ancient company.
Eros, complete with his bow and arrow, is often referred to in songs and tales; but as the same word is still used for 'love' in modern Greek, one must be on one's guard. Aphrodite,not styled by her name but as 'the Mother of Eros', has had only a vague and shadowy existence in Christian times, and now she has vanished. (Her duties were assumed by St. Catharine in church, and outside it by the still surviving Fates.) However, I was excited to discover that until recently the word 'aphroditissa,' meaning a whore, still faintly commemorates Aphrodite Pandemos among the Maniots of Cargese.
Though they are less well known than Charon, the three Fates, sheltering in scattered grottoes hard of access, are still with us. Their shrines are scarce but they are dotted all over Greece. I have several times talked to old women who have consulted them. The most famousâ€”in the peasant world that isâ€”are near Sparta (on the eastern flank of Taygetus) and in Aetolia, on Mount Pelion and in Scyros. There were many in Asia Minor, now, with the exchange of populations, stripped of their votaries. Well into this [20th] century Athens itself was their haunt, notably those rock-dwellings in the Hill of the Muses and more especially the one known as "Socrates' prison," which, during the last century, was often filled with their offerings [Dodwell]: 'cups of honey and white almonds, cakes on a little napkin and a vase of aromatic herbs burning and exhaling an agreeable perfume.' This continued till a short time ago [...I mean a matter of decades, not centuries]. Love, weddings and childbirth are their special care; their suitors are nearly always women or girls; cakes and honey are their favourite offering and they are wooed with alliterative incantations beginning 'O Moirais...' ('O Fates'); for their collective name is still the same and though they are no longer separately known as Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, their roles have only changed by a third. One spins, another holds a book in which human destinies are inscribed, a third wields the shears. ('His thread is cut' is a common phrase for 'he is dead'; also 'his spindle is wound full.') Except in Andros and Kythnos, where they are sometimes known as 'the Erinyes'â€”and, by inflicting consumption, they conduct themselves with the spite of Furiesâ€”they are now poor, soft-hearted old women easily moved to compassion. The Fates, like some nereids, are also known as 'the good ladies.' They invariably visit houses three days after a child is born. The watchdog must be chained then, the door put on the latch, a rushlight left burning and a feast of cakes, almonds, honey bread and a glass of water laid out on a low table surrounded by three cushioned stools. Mothers have seen these three crones confer together in murmurs, stooping over the cradle to write invisible destinies on the child's brow:â€”moles are known as 'writings of the Fates', as though they had accented or punctuated their messages in indelible ink. Then they steal off into the night. Neglect of due care in receiving them can stir their anger and call down on the baby an inauspicious destiny. 'Moira' is also used in the singular in everyday speech for one's own or somebody else's ordinary fate; it is usually mentioned with noddings of the head and sad sighs.
St. Artemidos, by usurping the name of Artemis (and her incidental gift of curing nymph-struck children), has forced her for the last sixteen hundred years to roam the woods under various pseudonyms. She is 'the Queen of the Mountains' in eastern Greece, 'the Great Lady' in Zante, the 'Chief of the Nereids' in Cephalonia and Parnassus; in Aetolia, Lawson discovered her under the name of the Lady Kiloâ€”akin, surely, to the totally uncanonical, churchless (and now vanished) St. Kali of the humble Athenians. Both Psellus and Leo Allatius expatiated on the Lady Kalo, calling her 'The Fair One of the Mountains.' Larger and more beautiful than the other nereids, fiercely virginal, a dweller of the mountains and woods, and given to dancing with her nereids and to bathing in streams and pools, she is merciless to men that come upon her by chance. The usual penalties of those that surprise the nereids visit them, only with greater severity.
She has sometimes been confused with the Lamia of the Sea, a beautiful sea-nymph who lures young sailors andâ€”yet againâ€”lonely shepherds pasturing flocks by the shore, down to her underÂwater alcove; to their destruction. She spins along luminously in the form of a whirlwind or a waterspout, and when one of the latter goes twisting past over the waves, sailors cross themselves and say 'the Lamia of the Sea is passing' and stick a blackÂhandled knife into the caique's mast as a counter-spell. Her beguiling songs, which beckon seamen to their undoing, she seems to have borrowed from the Sirens. Of the ancient Lamiae, however, who are more closely related generically to the plural 'lamiae' of the next paragraph, only one, who was the mother of Scylla mentioned by Stesichorus, is linked with the sea. But this lonely marine Lamia, who rules the sea-nymphs, has inherited in full the lasciviousness of the ancient Lamiae; of which fault, with all their gross demerits, the more easily traceable land-lamiae seem to be guiltless.
The plural lamiae are one of three sets of female monsters; two of them are not only monsters, but demons; they are of most ancient descent, and all three have a hideous passion for devouring babies. Babies and women after childbirth, it will be noticed, seem to share with shepherds and sailors the main onslaught of the supernatural world.
The progenitrix of the lamiae was a single Lamia, a Libyan queen who became a victim of Hera's jealousy for the usual reasons. Robbed of her children by the spiteful goddess, she took to a lonely and morose cave-life and, her mind twisted by despair, she degenerated into a wicked fiend who preyed on the offspring of luckier mothers. Along with Empesa and Mormo, she became, even in the time of Apuleius, a bogey to frighten children with. This is still part of her rÃ´le, but she has since expanded into a species; and typical lamiae are now filthy, bloated, slovenly creatures, dragons' brides and abominable housekeepers, and so foolish that they attempt to bake bread in cold ovens, feed their dogs on hay and throw bones to their horses and are then surprised when they die off. They live in wildernesses and, though spendthrifts, they are often rich, owing to their link with dragons who 'guard' treasure. They are, however, generous and honest and never break their word once given. Were it not for their cannibalistic passion for newborn babies, they would seem more pitiable than wicked. 'The lamia has strangled it' is a peasant phrase which accounts for the sudden death of a baby.
The second category of these dangerous demons descends from a maiden called Gello whom authorities in classical times derive from a mention, now lost, in Sappho. Dying young, she haunted Lesbos and took grievous toll of the infants there. The archipelago is still her hunting ground. St. John Damascene, Psellus and the Chiot Leo Allatius mention her, and, like Lamia, she has multiplied and her offspring are called 'gelloudes'. They sometimes cast spells on infants before eating them. This can be cured* by the mother summoning a priest to exorcize the child, whose cheeks she solemnly scratches. If this fails, she must choose forty pebbles washed up on the shore at sunset by forty different waves and boil them in vinegar. At cockcrow the Gello will then take wing for ever [Theo Bent, The Cyclades].
The third group of these baby-eaters differs from the demonic lamiae and gelloudes. For the striges are women with the power to turn themselves into fierce birds and animals to assuage this baleful hunger. They are of Graeco-Roman descent from the Latin strix, the screech owl. The bird has a sinister mention in Strabo, and Ovid tells us clearly that they had the character of cannibal witch-birds among the Marsi of the Abbruzzi. Derivatives of the wordâ€”chiefly stregÃ¡â€”exist in Albania, and of course in Italy, Corsica and Sardinia. (I remember hearing the word strigoi, meaning a kind of witch, in Transylvania; it is probably inherited from the Roman legionaries and convicts who settled in Dacia in the reign of Trajan.) The modem Greek stringla...is surely from a low Latin diminutiveâ€”strigulaâ€”of strix. It is in universal use today to describe a hag, crone or witch. They are as old women with a gift for flight, though their knack for transformation has dropped out of currency. Their cannibal bent was not always limited to babies, but, according to terrible tales told quite recently in Messenia, it wrought havoc among grown-ups of both sexes as well. Sometimes, according to Allatius, they were just poor old women in league with the devil; and sometimes they are little girls afflicted with a werewolf tendency. There is an old tale from Tenos which treats of a horse-devouring princess. They are always nocturnal.
Gorgons (to whom Polites is the best guide), while retaining their ancient name, have suffered a sea change: just below the waistline the flesh gradually laminates into scales and, like mermaids, they swell at the hips and then shelve away in long fishÂtails; sometimes, in lieu of legs, into twin sets of squamous and tapering coils. They are represented thus, holding up in one hand a ship and the other an anchor, on the walls of taverns, on the figureheads of old caÃ¯ques and tattooed on the bronzed and brineÂcaked forearms of seamen.
Their chief habitat seems to be the eastern Aegean and the Black Sea. In these waters, beautiful solitary gorgons suddenly surface in the hurly-burly of a Cycladic or Euxine stormâ€”especially, for some reason, on Saturday nights; they grasp the bowsprit of a pitching caÃ¯que and ask the captain in ringing tones: 'Where is Alexander the Great?' He must answer at the top of his voice, 'Alexander the Great lives and reigns!' perhaps adding, 'and keeps the world at peace!' At this the Gorgon vanishes and the waves subside to a flat calm. If the wrong answer is given, the tempest boils up to a deafening roar, the Gorgon tilts the bowsprit towards the sea's bottom and the caÃ¯que plunges to its destruction with all hands. This strange legend, which is widespread among seafaring men of the Greek world, has a strong hold on the imagination. It appears off the shores of Mitylene as a memory from his Asia Minor childhood in Venezis' bookAeolia, in Seferis' beautiful poem The Argonauts, also in a book of MirivilÃs, and even in a poem of Flecker [Santorin], whose wife was a Greek. It is remarkable that Alexander the Great should be the one Greek hero to survive in popular minds. He is the only one of them to appear, in splendid plumed silhouette, on the lighted screen of the Karaghiozi shadow play. O MegalÃ©xandros is a household word. I think Lawson is wrong to attribute this to late demotic translations of his life by the Pseudo-Callisthenes, for his many legends, under the name of the Lord Iskander, in Arabic, Persian and several other languages, dominate Islam as far as the Himalayas; with how much greater reason, then, should he live and reign in the minds of his countrymen.
The human part of a gorgon is represented as a beautiful woman; but, in common speech, gorgona is often applied to women with hideous or frightening faces. In Rhodes, it means a virago, and in Cephalonia, where the name Medusa is also used, she is a scowling beldame. In Kythnos the word means a depraved woman or harlot, which tallies with another aspect of gorgons in a thirteenth-century Byzantine bestiary, whose author wrote under the name of 'O Physiologos'. Here she is 'a harlot-like beast with a beautiful white body and auburn locks ending in snakes' heads and a glance that brings death.' She is both polyglot and gifted with knowledge of the language of beasts; tormented by wantonness and lusting after lions and dragons and other beasts, she woos them in their various tongues. Spurned by this wary fauna, she melodiously courts the embrace of mankind [probably in the person, as usual, of a shepherd or a sailor]. Men with sense are no less cautious than the animal kingdom. Aware of her terrible glance, they pretend, from a safe distance, to consent to her luresâ€”on the condition that she digs a pit and buries her death-dealing head in it. This, guilelessly, she does, leaving her naked body exposed; 'so she remains and awaits the pains of lewdness.' But, instead of drawing near with a lover's step, the beloved rushes up and slices off her head with a sword; he then hustles it with averted eyes into a pot, in case he should need to display it for the destruction of dragons, lions or leopards (but lately his putative rivals). So much for the Physiologist. Again, there is something pathetic as well as ludicrous in the fate of these medieval gorgons.
Modern gorgons have mixed attributes. Their faces are dangerous either from their hideousness or their fell beauty. Their gift of sweet song (suggesting, like that of the Sea-Lamia, a loan from the Sirens) they use, like the mermaids of the West they so closely resemble, for luring sailors. Medusa's snake locks, originally an infliction of Athena (incurred by the love of Poseidon, to whom Medusa bore, according to Hesiod, the winged Pegasus), seem to have disappeared. They were always, as they are to-day, sea creatures. Ancient vases display them in the company of dolphins, sometimesâ€”like many female supernaturalsâ€”in groups of three. There is a modern story of one infesting some straits like Scylla and taking toll of a sailor from each ship; not as a lover, but to eat. They are always to be feared.
I had some news of a gorgon three years ago, the greatest of them, in the rocky little island of Seriphos, windiest of the Cyclades. An intelligent boy of nine took me under his wing the moment I landed, and turned himself into a most instructive guide. After explaining the windmills and the churches, he led the way, half on our hands and knees, up a steep rock face to a chapel jutting from the cliff. Once we were inside, he pointed to a spot between his feet on the floor, which was half irregular slabs and half excavated rock, and said with a broad smile: 'Guess what's down there!' I gave up. 'The head of Medusa the Gorgon!' he said, 'they buried it there out of harm's wayâ€”fathoms and fathoms down. Her hair was all snakes!' He flourished his hands in the penumbra overhead, hissing and mimicking with his fingers the dart of forked tongues. 'It was in case it should sting people... ,' It was in Seriphos that Perseus, with a flourish of his dripping and petrifying trophy, turned the tyrant Polydectes to a statue along with all his toadies at the banquet. This gesticulating boy made it seem as though it had all occurred last week.
The supernatural ancien rÃ©gime presented a conundrum to the Early Fathers. When the Fathers came into their own after long persecution in the name of the old gods, they adopted, as we have seen, bold and sweeping tactics. The gods and the more presentable figures were captured, baptized and camouflaged; their headquarters were either wrecked or re-garrisoned by the winners and up fluttered, as it were, the new victorious flag. Some of the dispossessed managed to keep a leg in both camps. Othersâ€”insignificant as possible leaders of counter-revolution or totally ineligible-were (as supernatural beings can only be burnt or smashed in effigy) outlawed en bloc. A banished mythology was left to skulk and roam in the mountains, eventually, it was hoped, to die of neglect. But from a mixture of ancient awe and, perhaps, Christian charity, the country people befriended them, and they are with us still.
These mythic moss-troops, then, included not only the lesser gods, but the rag-tag and bobtail of the sea and the woodsÂnymphs, nereids, dryads, oreads, gorgons, tritons, satyrs, centaurs and the like-and they are known collectively by a variety of revealing names. Ta paganÃ¡-'the pagan ones'â€”has a nuance of fairyland about it, suggesting the smaller, more mischievous supernaturals; as daimonia they are divinities and demons, as phantasmata, or phasmata, apparitionsâ€”those phantasms of the night that are routed by the Compline hymn; as taâ€™ xaphnika they are 'the sudden ones', as eidolika, passing visions, as ta angelika, like angels, as aerika, denizens of the air, and as Tzinia, cheats or false gods. Perhaps their most significant style is taâ€™ xotikÃ¡, the exotic, extraneous, 'outside' ones; indeed, 'they that are without' the churchâ€”a narrowing and sharpening of St. Paul's phrase in Corinthians I v. 12 and a shifting of it from the world of men to that of gods and demons. St. Basil also applies the same word to human pagans. This sense assumes added point at certain seasons, notably at Christmas. Then the pagan crewâ€”usually known in this context as paganaand xotikÃ¡â€”are represented as an active nuisance but not a dangerous one. They are always trying to break in from 'outside,' to start a row or to steal the roast pork which is the Greek Christmas fare; behaving, in fact, in an embarrassingly Nordic and trollish way. They are not, however, bent so much on trying to break up this Christian feast; they are trying to join in the festivities of the season, though in a different cause. In many places they are humorously tolerated and placated with left offerings. The invariable time for this yearly outburst is the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. This span included the great winter feasts of the Dionysia and the Kronia and, after the Roman Conquest, the imported Latin fasti (which were accepted and completely Hellenized by the Greeks) of the Brumalia and the Kalendae. The last celebrations, the New Year feast, became those horse marines of the almanack, the Greek Kalends. All of them were occasions for rejoicing and excess, but by far the most unbridled were the Dionysia; it was one of the great seasonal feasts where the supernatural riff-raff came into their own. The rejoicings among mortals in early days, especially at Ephesus, seem to have been as wild as the corybantic stampedes of Cybele. They were mixed with group ecstasy, orgy, maenadic frenzy and destruction not unlike those of Moharram and of the Rufai and other dervish sects to-day: bloodshed and even human sacrifice were not unknown. After Christian proscription, the four GraecoÂRoman feasts merged into twelve days of underground pagan kermesse, and not always underground. Bishop Timothy, before Christianity became official, met his death trying to suppress one of these orgiastic swarms; the Kalendae called down the ire of St. John Chrysostom and Amasios in the fifth century; in the seventh, the pagan winter festivals were forbidden by the sixth Oecumenical Council; a tenth-century writer inveighed against the celebration, in the old pagan way, of the Kronia and the Kalendae; and Balsamon echoed him in the twelfth, when drunken masquers even appeared in the nave of the church. It was the pagan, more than the indecent aspectâ€”improper disguise and travestitismâ€”which had become the chief target of ecclesiastical anathema: men in women's clothes, women in men's, and 'mad drunkards' dressed and horned as devils, their faces darkened or masqued, their bodies clad in goat-skins and simulating quadrupeds. It was mimicry, in fact (on the same principle as that on which Spanish penitents reproduce the slow and solemn stages of the Passion), of the entire dionysiac rout: rites which the pagana were simultaneously enacting in their aerial sphere... . ...Mummers...career through the streets of many Greek towns and villages to-day, both at the identical magic period of the Twelve Days and during the Carnival that precedes Lent.
One of the rowdiest of the pagan exotics which disturb the peace of the Greek world between Christmas and Epiphany, the one of them most often aped by mummers and, perhaps, the best known by name, is the kallikantzaros.
The kallikÃ¡ntzaros, which in the long off-season inhabits a subterranean cavern, is a problem-beast. It is, quite literally, an infernal nuisance and, in some cases, more. Its shape is as perplexing as its name and provenance and subject to as wide an ambit of variation. Physically, the kallikantzaroi are heteroclite and ill-fitting assemblies of elements drawn from various branches of the animal and human kingdoms, and there are two main types. The large ones can be several yards high. They are black and shaggy, their outsize heads are sometimes bald, and they are armed with outsize pudenda. Their eyes, set in swart faces, blaze red as coals. They have goats' or asses' ears, and scarlet tongues loll from their fierce fangs. Their bodies are thin and their arms are simian, their talons are long and they have goats' or asses' legsâ€”or one is bestial and the other human. They are sometimes bipeds, sometimes quadrupeds, and often, understandably, lame. But they travel at great speed, and the Athenians have nicknamed them 'needlebums' [KolovelÃ³nides] from the pace they go pricking on their always unnecessary and often harmful errands. They are immensely strong. Very, very rarely they are quadrupeds with no human characteristics; and, equally rarely, ordinary men who may or may not be hooved. But, almost invariably, they possess some anthropoid characteristic. Usually the goat element predominates.
The lesser kallikantzaroi, though more rare, are nevertheless widespread, and, like their larger fellows, they are to be found from the Rhodope mountains to Cyprus and especially (according to Polites) at Oenoe on the southern shore of the Black Sea. These are jet-black human pygmies, not only bald but totally imberb and afflicted with varying blemishes: lameness again, a squint or features and limbs askew. Their leader is sometimes dubbed the KoutsodaÃmonos or "limping demon." Often riding about astride various animals and birds, they are boisterous and interfering, but harmless. These hideous little wretches, thinks Lawson, are casual, less ancient, and less grim by-products of their gaunt and gangling congeners. For the larger kind can be dangerous; they have been known, in some places, to prey on human flesh; though normally it is Christmas pork and pancakes and, above all, as much wine as they can get hold of, that kindles their gluttony. Gregarious creatures, they run wild at night in gangs, rending, bruising and trampling all who stand in their way. They are well known for breaking into water-mills, eating up all the corn and flour they can swallow and trampling and urinating over the rest...Smothered in flour and not fit to be seen, they burst into houses by the door, the window or the chimney and upset and smash the furniture, drink everything in sight, swallow up the pork and foul any food, wine or water that is left over. Lurching into wine shops, they gag the taverner with droppings..., kick, stave in and shatter his casks and amphorae and then, having swilled their bellyful, let the rest run to waste. Blundering and clumsy though they are, they have a passion for dancing, and pester not only the graceful nereids but the wives and daughters of mortals, whom they have been known to abduct as brides. Should they come on a benighted traveller, they force him to join their loutish gambolling, leaving him, at cockcrow, battered and groggy. They are thickÂwitted and prone to quarrels both with strangers and among themselves, usually over girls or dancing-partners. Like the lamiae, they are honest and frank in their dealings and strangers to falsehood; they are also extremely, almost pathetically, gullible. The most transparent device, the most obvious cock-andÂbull story can outwit and send them careering off. They are frightened of flames and fires are lit to scare them away. In the Pelion district, a rib of pork or a sausage and a breadflap would be hung on a tree to appease them; or, so easily deluded are they, a bare pig's bone... . They can be driven off by throwing scalding water in their faces or by flourishing firebrands or hot spitted meat. The smaller kallikantzaroi are very nimble roofÂclimbers and, to keep them from forcing an entry down the chimney, evil-smelling herbs are thrown on the fire and blazing logs set upright. Baulked and angered by flying sparks, they urinate down the chimney in the hope of putting the fire out. But this does no harm. The ashes are allowed to accumulate in the hearth all through the Twelve Days, husbandmen scatter them on the young crops later on, and they operate like a magical manure.
According to some local theories, they can assume the shape of many animalsâ€”wolves, dogs, hares, horses, goats, and in Cyprus, where they have the additional name (though both are in use) of Planetaroi, or 'the Roving Ones,' even camels; and in Epirus they are sometimes as small as squirrels. But, as a general rule, they are hybrids with, invariably, some anthropoid feature. Some sources declare them demons, others, transformed men subjugated to the sway of beast-like passions. The southern Euboeans were once considered kallikantzaroi. It certainly seems to be a destiny which lies in wait for some unlucky mortals. Little boysâ€”never girls, the female is almost unknownâ€”who are born in the Christmas octave are at once suspect. Their toe-nails grow abnormally fast and to counter this their small feet used to be held over a fire to singe and hold them in check; and a violent temper, akin to madness, was said to afflict them, driving them to unruly and untameable conduct and even to laying fatal hands on their brothers and sisters. The taint, once implanted, is congenital. Indeed, all the sources point to a human origin.
If the layout of the data on these deplorable creatures has worked as I intend, the reader will have concluded long ago that they are either satyrs or centaurs or a mixture of both. And (here I lean on Lawson again) he will be right. For all the best authoritiesâ€”Polites and Schmidt and Lawsonâ€”though they fall out on some smaller points, are agreed that they are related to satyrs. Lawson goes further. Basing his theory on Polites' magnificent array of research, but at variance on the derivation of the word, he reaches different conclusions. Kali-the affix deriving from the modern kalos, 'good' (the ancient 'beautiful')â€”can precede many words, changing little in the sense beyond giving it, like 'goodman' and 'goodwife,' a faintly benevolent and rustic flavour. This is in accord with the Greek mythological practice, both ancient and modern, of calling a bad thing good from precaution. The change from kentauros to kantzaros, to anyone acquainted with the dialect variations of demotic Greek, is not at all far-fetched; and Lawson traces its mutation with scholarly logic and regard to likelihood and precedent. If he is nght, and I feel sure he is, the kallikantzaroi are' good-centaurs.' The centaur as we think of himâ€”the exclusive combination of a horse's body with a human trunk and torso growing from its breast, the denizen of the Parthenon metopes and poetical literatureâ€”was a late classical reduction and idealization of a much wider and more inclusive and variable range of hybrids. On coins and in archaic art, if not in literature, other types of centaur were commoner than the more correctly named hippo-centaur we all know... . There were ono-centaurs, ichthyo-centaurs and trago-centaurs; ass-, fish- (or triton) and goat-centaurs, and even combinations of two or more.
The word 'centaur,' in fact, has nothing to do with a horse: it is the human part of a hybrid, and both the hippo-centaur and the trago-centaurâ€”the centaur we all know and the satyrâ€”were subspecies of a single species whose only constant was its human part. They could be either bipeds or quadrupeds. The plastic rule which confined satyrs to two legs while it allotted four to the centaurs, became inflexible only in classical times. In archaic art the ass-centaur seems to be the oldest of the tribe and it is probably the ancestor of both. 'Satyr' is itself a fairly late word. Nonnus stated clearly that the satyrs were of centaur stock and awareness of this belief probably lingered on in the chthonian underworld of consciousness and rustic gathering while the grander, neatly-classified livestock, with their stipulated attributes and invariable sum of legs, paraded through the smart golden age of literature and sculpture.
It was only in Graeco-Roman times that the formal hippoÂcentaur fell in step beside the formal satyr in the Bacchic troop. These were, essentially, sophisticated pets; and when the big change came and the Dionysian zoo was broken up, both were impressed into Christian demonology and their natures reÂadjusted for the torment of hermits. The satyr was supplied with a pitchfork and turned into a stoker in Hell and the centaur trotted away north-westwards, perhaps to start life again as a unicorn, unaware that biblical translators would muddle him with the hippopotamus. At home meanwhile their matted, telluric and unfashionable poor relations floundered into the void and have wrought havoc ever since. The kallikantzaros now possessesâ€”in his abandoned habits, his bibulousness, gluttony, turbulence, clumsiness and naivety, his mania for dancing and horseplayâ€”the attributes of both; and his baldness probably commemorates the Sileni. It is remarkable that though the creature is pan-Hellenic, the most abounding source of his legend by far, the region that he infests most thickly, is still his ancient stamping ground, the steep and beautiful villages and the Magnesian chestnut woods of Pelion. It is well known that an illiterate peasant, confronted in a museum by either a centaur or a satyr in marble, quite correctly recognizes it without a second's hesitation by its pagan-exotic nameâ€”'Look! A kallikantzaros!'â€”and behind his back the semi-literate attendants exchange collusive winks of pity. I have had an instance of this. Some time ago, Joan and I were gazing at the bas-relief of the magnificent ithyphallic satyr in Thasos [not the small formal Pan piping to a listening goat on the rocks by Apollo's temple on top of the hill but the life-size figure outside the town in an olive grove, on the solitary gatepost of the old town wall]. He is undoubtedly a satyr by his horns and cloven hoofs, but the phallic attributes and the stallion's tail cascading from his rump are much more equine than goatish. When we turned to leave, a shepherd leaning on his crook under the olives pointed to him with a friendly and possessive smile and said: 'Our kallikantzaros.'
. . .
From Roumeli; Travels in Northern Greece, 1966. . .
...The pre-Christian legacy is never far from the surface in Greece. In a society like the SarakatsÃ¡ns, pagan magic survives in a yet more pronounced shape and the superstructure of Christian form is correspondingly more shaky. Traditionally, there is no awareness of the existence of the Trinity. God the Father and Jesus are the same Person and He (or They) is known as AÃ¯, a dialect abbreviation of ayios (hagios)â€”'saint' or 'holy one.' Sometimes He is known as Proto AÃ¯, or the First among the Saints, sometimes as Aphenti, 'the Lord,' from the ancient Greek word authentes(from which the Turkish title 'effendi' also derives). All over Greece, the army of saints has taken the place of the ancient pantheon. This is especially true among the nomads;AÃ¯ is little more than the first among His peers. As one would expect in a masculine and patriarchal society, male saints have cornered the high places in this celestial company. Numbers have been drastically reduced. Only a handful, from the thousands which overlap and crowd each other in the villagers' calendars and the Synaxary, have found their way into the huts. The greatest, as horseman, protector of flocks and folds and slayer of dragons and other predators, is St George; his feast day, on April 23rd in the Gregorian calendar, corresponds perhaps to the great Roman shepherd festival of the Parilia on the 27th. The prominence of horses in the life of the nomads also hoists St Demetrius and St Theodore, equestrians both, to a height which only St George overtops. St George's day is more important even than Easter, the crux of the Orthodox year. Red eggs similar to the Easter-symbols are distributed and the finest black lamb of the flockâ€”black animals are more highly prized than whiteâ€”is ritually sacrificed. (Easter is only marked by a white.) Oaths taken in the name of St George are the most binding. St George and St Demetrius have another claim to fame: their feastsâ€”May 6th and November 9th in the New Calendarâ€”mark the start of the pastoral summer and winter when the leases for grazing begin and end and thetsellingas makes a new pact with his clan. They are days of decision. His mountain-top shrines make the prophet Elijah especially revered. (Elias in Greek; the nomads call him 'St Lios.' When the Greek world went Christian he took over the hilltop fanes to Helios-Apollo, on the strength of his name and partly because both their careers ended in the sky in fiery chariots.) 'He's a mountain man like us,' they say, 'he lives in the wilderness and wanders from peak to peak. He helps us and we hallow him.' The Blessed Virgin is addressed under one of her many epithets; they call her ParigorÃtissa, the Consolatrix; as an alien and a woman who has somehow insinuated herself into their midst, her honours are fairly cursory. St ParaskevÃ is another female saint with some status. Each staniâ€”each 'fold,' clan or gathering of families and hutsâ€”has its own feast day, fortuitously depending on chapels that lie in their favourite pastures. Some have won general acceptance: the Assumptionâ€”like Elijah's, the eponymous churches often perch on mountains; St Constantine, the champion of Hellenism; the Deposition and the Purification; and in the Agrapha mountains, the Nativity of the Virgin, thanks to her great monastery there, hard of access in the Proussos gorge. Our Lady of Vella, between Yanina and Konitza, is honoured for a like reason. St Athanasius is not cultivated as a Doctor of the Church, but, unexpectedly, as a warden of flocks. They neglect his January name-day because it falls in lambing-time and celebrate it later in the year. The fondness of Macedonian SarakatsÃ¡ns for St John the Baptist is probably due to his shaggy iconographic outfit: it looks far more like their own goatskin homespun than camel-hair; he lived in the wilderness too. They boil beans on his feast day and distribute and eat them in church. The bean-feast is linked with pagan magic ceremonial at harvest time and commemorates, almost certainly, the Pyanepsia when the ancients boiled and ate broad beans to bring fertility and a year of plenty.
The usual pan-hellenic spiritsâ€”Pagans, Airy or Shadowy Ones, Exotics, vampires, werewolves, dragons, ghosts and Kallikantzaro-centaursâ€”people their cosmogony and infest the folds. They can be exorcized by counter-spells and baffied by phylacteries of dog's droppings; a dried snake's head, hidden in a church for forty days and then retrieved, is sovereign against many baleful manifestations. To the Nereids, a danger for all lonely shepherds near pools and streams, young SarakatsÃ¡ns are particularly exposed. They are struck dumb and robbed of their wits by blundering on their revels by mistake, as mortals were sometimes turned into trees if they had the bad luck to interrupt the dances of the nymphs. There are mixed nomad-Nereid marriages and these water-girls steal healthy Sarakatsan babies from their hanging cradles, leaving sickly changelings in their stead. Demons of every kind and gender dog shepherds' footsteps uphill and down dale and 'chase them into woods', as the saying goes. The nomads are a special target for female supernaturals called theKalotychesâ€”('the good fortunes'): like the name Eumenides ('the kindly ones') for the Furies, this is a wry placating misnomer)â€”who are half women, half she-asses and snake-locked like Medusa. They plague the flocks and bring bad luck at lambing time and childbed and they are especially dangerous during the forty days following a birth. Other Shadowy Ones lurk round the pallets of the ailing and the dying. But the darkest villain in SarakatsÃ¡n demonology is a male spirit known as the Daouti. Daoutis, sometimes called Pans, are the wildest, strongest and wickedest of them all. Shaped like satyrs, with a body half-goat, halfÂhuman and long legs with cleft hoofs, they have the heads of rams and long twirling horns. Like other demonsâ€”the Shadowy Ones and the Kalotyches, in particularâ€”Daoutis are doubly threatening to flocks at three seasons: in Advent (just before lambing, that is); in late April or early May, as the shepherds prepare to leave their winter quarters for the mountains; and from the feast of the Transfiguration until the end of August. They swoop shrieking like birds of prey and the flocks cower in caves and sheepfolds. After two or three of these onslaughts, the beasts begin to perish by the dozen. They swell up and die. Sliced tortoise meat is brought into play as a counter-spell and the shepherds shift camp at once. If a priest can be found, he sprinkles the new site with holy water and the bells are removed and blessed. Unlike most wicked spirits, these Daoutis attack without shame in broad daylight, and, having the knack of making friends with the dogs, they pad along after the flocks unmolested; so, when an emergency fold is built, the shepherds leave their dogs behind and kindle fires to form a magic circle of smoke. Daoutis learn the Christian names of mortals, so if they hear strangers calling the shepherds hold their tongues: answering might strike them dumb for ever. These terrible spirits spread sudden panics and when they are not busy doing evil they settle out of sight but within earshot and play their flutes.
Trees are the dwelling-places of spirits. They are the haunt of the Kalotyches and unless countercharms are murmured while felling and lopping, these wretches are loosed on the woods. Many bushes, all thorn trees and especially the wild pear, have powerful spirit-repelling properties. Box is a powerful apotropaic; the osier which is woven into all their huts is the strongest and most hallowed of all. Flowers are plaited into phylacteries; their sweet smell, and even the memory of it when the flowers have faded, drives evil away. They have odd and hazy notions about the past: they believe that the Hellenes, the ancient Greeks, were taller than oaks and as strong: they spanned wide rivers at a single pace and strode from peak to peak. They never fell ill; they died suddenly and often broke their necks by falling down cliffs in their bold mountain pacings, turning at once into benevolent ghosts. The nomads speak of a heroic and mythical Macedonian character called Roublouki, whose attributes sound rather like those of Alexander the Great, the hero and darling of Greek folk tales and the only one of the ancients to gatecrash the Karayiozi shadow-play.
. . .
Fire is sacred and the hearth especially so: 'AÃ¯ was born close to a fire.' Extinction is a particularly bad omen if it happens in the winter sojourn or in a wayside camp. They keep up a blaze during the twelve days of Christmas to fend off the Pagan Ones; a troublesome breed of the Kallikantzaros is abroad then; it is known as thelykokantzaros, the 'wolf-centaur', or, rather oddly, the astrovoli, 'starstroke'. A vast log burns slowly all through Advent to proof the settlement against the supernatural pests of the season; buried at the door of the fold on Christmas day, it keeps illness, Shadows and the Eye at bay. Women always give birth next to the hearth for the same defensive reason and the powers of darkness are driven off with foul-smelling smoke for the following twelve days. Miscarried babies, also the caul when a live baby is born, are buried under a flat stone beside the hearth; not in the middle, as people entering the hut must tread across a burning log, which, werethis precaution not observed, would breed vampirism in the mother's blood. Burial by the hearth 'charms the child back to life;' that is, it reincarnates it quickly in its mother's womb. They used to stow stillborn babies in a goatÂskin full of salt and hang it on a branch by the hut for forty days, then burn it lest it should take its mother with it. [Children are often born however in the autumn and spring migrations. Alerted by the start of travail, the mother drops behind the caravan with a companion and the baby is born. Then they hurry to catch up.] ... The Fates visit the suckling's cradle three nights running; the usual offerings are left for them, and people with good souls can eavesdrop and expound their prophecies.