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The Hunt for Chiron's Cave

by JRW



Dear Co-Chiron-omaniacs,

I wanted to share an adventure story with you about searching for Chiron's cave on Mt. Pelion. In 1996, Joyce Mason organized the Chiron Convergence in Milina, near Volos, Greece. I had planned to write the story anew, but in reviewing my journal, I think I will let it tell the story.

9 May, 1996. Delta Flight 113. Somewhere over Italy - blanket around my shoulders, white clouds below us......

We made another special friend in Lamia. Nicholaus, the hotel doorman, whose birthday put his sun between 2 and 3 degrees Taurus, the discovery point for Chiron and my ascendant.  Nicholaus bought us a couple of beers and brought them up to us in our room, flirting with us within the limits of our rudimentary Greek.  I told him that I would send him a postcard from America.  Most of the Greeks, it seems know something about astrology, many have told us their rising signs.  I was told that the Volos newspaper ran an article about the visiting astrologers, but I wonder if it said that we would be looking for Chiron's cave?

Our best reference said specifically that the cave and a sanctuary to Zeus were a 3.5 hour climb from the village of Portaria.  The guidebooks lead us to believe that the treck up Mt. Pelion would be challenging - we might be above snowline on an artic tundra. I had a vision of a very Tolkien-esque journey, trudging through the snow, winds howling, so when I described the option of climbing Pelion, I carefully emphasized the potential for the trek to be quite arduous in order to cull out the faint-of-heart. We would have to hire a taxi for the day.  The group of astrologers split along astrological lines, with the more Aquarian riding off to a festival in a neighboring town, while the hardy pilgrims met the taxis at 7am and zoomed off to Portaria.

We used the Mythic Tarot deck to find our roles. Me - Jason of the Argonauts, who also left Volos for a mythic adventure; Pat B. - Phrixis, starts the story by sacrificing the golden ram; Mark - The Fool; Tom - the Psychopomp; Paulagii - The Magician (Hermes); Lori (Pandora), and Tracy - Omphale (rejecting her true role as Pallas Athena).

As Jason, the fearless leader, it was my job to get my crew there and back and to use our resources wisely, so I called on each person for their own contribution.  We knew that Phrixis would not be with us beyond the beginning of the journey as her smoker's lungs wouldn't carry her far, but that too was mythologically appropriate.

We started by heading to the village plaza for tea and the Fool's bananas (he seemed to have brought at least 10 lbs.). The restaurant owner showed us a map of a trail to follow, but when I asked if there really was a cave, he just shrugged his shoulders. As we set out from the Plaza, Hermes invoked a blessing at the crossroads monument and we headed up the road. It occurred to me that the Psychopomp might be able to communicate with those long-dead souls who might remember the location, so we passed by the recommended trail, up the curving mountain road, turning in an elaborate gate, behind which we though was the necropolis (cemetary). At our knocking, a young nun who had been washing clothes opened the gate and invited us in. She immediately asked if we were Catholic or Protestant assuming that we had come to see the church.  It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The women in our group slipped into the skirts provided for them and we went into the church.

These Greek Orthodox churches are quite amazing. Their artists know limit to intricate elaboration of detail.... The plane has just been diverted for a medical emergency. We seem to be going to land in Greenland. An unexpected continent!

The passenger didn't make it so we have just returned to our course. Who knows what they do with dead passengers? I suspect that they would move them out of first class into economy but the body is somewhere at the front of the plane and they are starting to serve lunch. Was this a visit from the Psychopomp? My mother is reading a book that Lori loaned to her in Milina called Journey of the Soul that is all about what happens between lives. Depending on the soul, the departed passenger might be hovering around the aircraft cabin, or it might have spirited off to other happier dimensions. Is it a coincidence that this happened as mom read her book and I wrote about the Psychopomp's role in the journey to Pelion?

Tom's familiarity with the religious rituals suggests that he has been in many Greek Orthodox churches. He said that he was raised as a jack Catholic. He led my mother and I into the church on Koudrous Street in Athens where we heard  awe-inspiring voices in songs far beyond anything I have ever heard. At the nunnery above Portaria, he told the nun that we were Catholic, so we tried our best to act less New Age than normal and we went inside to meditate. Omphale and the Magician remained inside the longest. There was a lot of power there. The nun's family was from New York, but her English was weak. We considered showing her the Hierophant card (Chiron in the Mythic Tarot) and asking her if she knew anything about Centaurs, but I nixed that idea, knowing that it would frighten her. Tom asked her about the Necropolis and she shuddered and told us not to go there. The Psychopomp took this as an omen and directed us to head back up the trail.

We climbed along a trial which followed a babbling brook - down in these deep valleys the ubiquitous red poppies were replaced with bright red anenomes. The primulas, while not quite in bloom, covered the ground. It was much too hot for our snow-trekking long underwear, so Tom and I paused in the cool valley to discretely shed our long-johns. We rounded a bend and came to what looked like the city water works. The Fool tried to get us to eat more of his banana's to lighten his load. There was a large sycamore tree that had been hollowed out by fire, so we crowded into it, hoping that the forest spirits would show us the way.

The going was getting steep. Hermes, in her mid-50's, started dragging in a most most un-mercurial way, so we stopped again, eating more bananas, listening to the sheep bells on one side of us, and the Cuckoo birds in the trees on the other. We could see a road at the top of the ridge, so we continued to climb. Abruptly our trail ran out at an ancient homestead where the state of the corrals suggest that they had been occupied by goats since the last time Jason was in the area. A few dogs laid in the shade on the road while a gray horse grazed on the mountain side. We could still see the road above us, so we opted to continue up the goat trails.

Goat paths are rather curious in that their ends just suddenly happen. One second you have a perfectly usuable trail, well worn, and the next second you are standing in a thorny bush. I wore long sleeves, but my companions did not. They suffered many scratches before we got to the next level and they dragged themselves up to the road, thankful to leave the shrubbery behind. It wa a half-finished, freshly-cut road and it wasn't long before, rounding a bend, we found the bull-dozer at the top of the hill, beyond it the road turned into a path through a fruit tree orchard. A bench and a shrine under a chestnut tree beckoned for us to sit again for yet another snack. Those of us sitting on the ground discovered the spiny properites of the chestnut hulls. The Fool pointed out their similarity to Langoliers, of  Stephen King fame.

As we were sitting there, some men came out of the house on the slope far above us and wandered down through the orchards to where we sat. They didn't come directly, but as they got closer, they started checking this tree or that and trying to look at us without really looking at us. I got up and went to meet them. They were Albanians, not Greek. I explained that we were looking for Chiron's cave (immensely helped by the guidebook to the area which was written in parallel columns of English and Greek). The Albanian's didn't read Greek, but they figured out what we were looking for and pointed up the hill saying three and a half-hours. We only had one and a half-hours until our turn around time, so we decided to press on as far as we could. We climbed out of their orchard and headed north on a road.

A man came by on a motorcycle and asked where we were trying to go, assuming that we were lost. He started out by telling us that the road up went to one town and the road down went to Portaria. We showed him the Hierophant card and he became quite excited, slapping and pointing to his thighs. Certainly he knew the myth of the Wounded Healer! He almost threw his motorcycle down on the side of the road as he grabbed a stick to draw a map in the dust. The map showed 2 forks and he said that we would get there in less than 1.5 hours, so we kept going. After a while, we came to a 3rd fork and we coundn't decide if we had taken a wrong turn or what, so we took the lower road along a water line which ultimately left the road altogether. There we stopped. We were rescued from having to make the decision to turn around on an open trail, the trail itself had decided for us.

The forest was a light and airy place with a cool stream and flashing birch leaves. I rested in a leaf pile, while my companions went to commune with the stream.  We had set the absolute turn-around time and it wasn't long before it was time to pick up and go. I carried Hermes' backpack to balance out our energy levels. We stuck to the roads and wound our way down (next time take the taxis higher on the mountain). It was very nice to just walk along in small groups chatting about life and astrology. By the time we reached Portaria, we were hot and tired. Suddenly the Fool and I got separated from the group and found ourselves on a cobblestone path through a lovely neighborhood of ancient homes. We came out on the road below the crossroads and had to climb back up to find our taxi, Phrixis, a sleeping yellow labrador retriever, and our companions. After a wild taxi ride, we returned to Milina to find our associates still happily feeling their ouzo.

I hope that you have enjoyed my adventure tale. There are some things to know if you go searching for the Cave. Every town in the region claims its own Chiron's cave, and they are all about 3.5 hours hiking (as is everything else).Trust your instincts. The brush is rugged, avoid shortcuts across slopes, and be physically ready for some tough hiking. The more Greek you speak, the better you will fare. I plan to go back and look again when the universe provides me a ticket.

With love,
JRW


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