Niskriya discovered, while reciting from the Odyssey, that the epic poem was originally a song, and that it is the story of a coming home in the spiritual sense.
Magic started four years ago while holding a residential two-week research group on the island of Syros in the Cyclades, Greece. The title of the research was Voice and Death.
The group consisted of ten people, each one carrying out their own research on different subjects, for example: traditional Greek songs that are sung during the days of grief and death ceremonies; interviews with people who had near-death experiences or even the soundless sound of death as represented by Picasso in his painting Guernica. During the retreat I introduced an exercise where the other participants could improvise with sounds while I was reading a story. The story was from Homer’s Odyssey, Book XI Erebus, where Ulysses (also known as Odysseus) goes to Hades, the underworld, to consult the blind seer Teiresias on how to arrive home to Ithaca.
This simple exercise blew my mind! I started re-reading the Odyssey from a completely different angle. When I finished reading, I was left so touched with my heart longing for something; I was slowly recognizing in Ulysses’ adventures my own journey home.
The great Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafi wrote a poem inspired by the Odyssey, called Ithaca. In free translation he says: “You will neither meet the Laestrygonians (a cannibal tribe), nor the Cyclops, nor the ferocious Poseidon, unless you carry them within, unless your mind is putting them out, in front of you!”
I had known this poem by heart since my school years, but now suddenly it made so much sense!
Here is a synopsis of the Odyssey: Ulysses, the great hero of the Trojan War, is on his way home to Ithaca. Proud and arrogant, young and strong, he starts his journey. On the way he meets all kinds of monsters, witches, cannibals, ferocious gods and possessive goddesses. He even has to travel to the underworld where the shadows of the dead reside. For ten years he faces all kinds of threats and is deprived of everything: riches, companions, pride, youth, power, hope, and even his clothes. When he finally arrives home, he has to face his last ordeal: fifty-two suitors, young men from the surrounding islands, have been living in his palace for years squandering his fortune, while waiting for Penelope, his wife, to choose to marry one of them. Ulysses’ only hope is Goddess Athena, the warrior goddess of wisdom. With her on his side he wins the battle! (See parallels to Mahabharata’s Arjuna and Krishna connection.)
What a treasure is hidden in this story and how much of its beauty and depth has been lost since it became a book, and especially a schoolbook that many of us HAD to read – and inevitably came to shun later on! We completely missed this wonderful, spiritual road map!
The summer that followed my discovery, I took part in the International Homer’s Readers night, held in a beautiful garden in the center of Athens. They were reading the Odyssey, one after the other, in a row, the whole night. People of all genders, nationalities and ages were reading in their own language and in their own way. A transsexual beautiful blonde with a black mini skirt was reading before me the monologue of Penelope. The diversity was great! I was surprised to find out that so many different people get touched by the Odyssey, just like me! I read while playing a simple two-chord tune on my ancient Greek lyre. Not having had much experience on this instrument then, it came out a bit flat and I was very nervous – but it really was so inspiring for what was about to follow…
At that time, I felt that my life in Corfu was coming to an end. But after eight incredible seasons spent there, I would not compromise for less. So, I was looking for my next island, a place to live and work during the extended summer season of five months. I was longing for a special kind of intense light, for simplicity, and a blue sea.
One day it came to me: that island was Amorgos, has always been Amorgos! I sailed there at the end of April and started to walk the old trails nearby my rented house. The stunning wild beauty overwhelmed my being! Traces of old civilization were everywhere – From ancient temples to houses, to abandoned villages. I spent a lot of time walking in this beauty and wondering how to put all my ‘tools’ together: the voice work, the Odyssey, the lyre and my love for this kind of nature.
Then it came: Hiking with Ulysses. Yes! I will walk with people on the trails and find special spots to stop and recite parts of the Odyssey while playing Arabo-persian and ancient Greek scales and traditional songs on my lyre! Since I was already working with a teacher on these scales I just had to choose the ones that fitted the Odyssey.
Little did I know that whole parts of the Odyssey had already been passed down over eons in Greek traditional music. Songs that everybody knows in Greece – but very few know that they come from the Odyssey. After my teacher made that remark, I started my own research. It made sense! Since Odyssey was an oral tradition sung by the rhapsody singers during festivities, when the popularity of this art form declined, it became part of Greek traditional popular music. Like a prayer uttered by so many mouths, it has acquired power and healing, in the same way as the vibration of the Odyssey – once we are connected to it – reminds us of our own journey towards whatever means home for each one of us!
I did the first hiking with friends and received their feedback. I changed a few things around and slowly started to put the information out, through social media and posters. When more people came with me, I started to recite in English and French keeping also the Greek in songs and special parts.
When the season came to an end I extended my hiking to the surroundings of Athens and invited a friend to give chi-kung practice during our hiking. We found ancient temples of Kiveli, the goddess of nature, up in the mountain of Ymittos!
The whole project started to take form in my mind: I would create a map of sacred sites across Greece and across the islands, and even Trojan land to start with! I would then walk these places reciting the Odyssey with my lyre, and a dancer would dance to the sounds and vibrations of the Odyssey. A group of people would travel with us, or alternatively we would be joined by local communities. And I would invite a film crew to film the whole project!
I am realizing, as I write, that this is going to be a massive project, and it feels that I have been waiting for this my whole adult life! All my previous work with voice, music, film, and my love for nature are united in this project. I can’t wait to start!
In the meantime, while planning this project with care, this summer I will continue “Hiking with Ulysses in Amorgos.” This beautiful island that combines pure light, deep blue sea, simple white houses and ancient paths is the right background for the Odyssey to be recited, to be listened to and to become alive as the mystical soul map that it really is!
See you along the trails!