The month of June has an association with Easter, perhaps surprisingly to Western ideas. The Ascension of Christ, coming 40 days after Easter, often may fall close to June. The people of Greece and Crete make their way to the sea, fish is consumed traditionally, the first swim of the year taken. Women often remain in the sea until they have counted 40 waves, before returning to the shore to dry out. The flocks of sheep are taken to sea and blessed with salt water. Cheese is given to all helping to herd the flocks and to all those that took part in the church service that day. For those that live up in the mountains too far from the sea, people go to springs and wells. The face is washed 40 times instead, and the sign of the cross is made on their foreheads.
On the Saturday of the Pentecost, the souls are ready to return to the underworld — a dark world with no sun, no light. Such visions go back as far back as the Homeric writings and no doubt earlier still. Women in Crete, who have experienced death in their home, leave a glass of water or jug of water outside their house for the souls to drink from, before they take their long journey. As the wind blows through the trees, the sounds of the leaves are the tears of the souls that have to return. Women, like a modern version of the ancient Greek deity Demeter, prepare coliva – a special dish served at funerals in memory of the deceased. These dishes are taken to church in absolute silence … for you see in Crete at this moment there is no Heaven nor Hell. There is only Hades for all souls, just relentlessly dark Hades. Candles are lit on every dish of coliva – to light their steps as they descend once more. Walnut leafs are used to kneel on, the leaf when rubbed stains one black with its dye .. again the profound darkness of Hades.
ON MONDAY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Feasts take place throughout all Cret, wherever there is a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Pilgrims walk sometimes for days and nights in order to arrive on foot at a mountain top or a chapel, as proof of their devotion. In the village squares the people celebrate all together.
8 OF JUNE, SAINT THEODORE THE GENERAL
A local Saint celebrated in Western Crete at Omalos, and on the small islands of Saint Theodore in Western Crete. The people commemorate him in the open air, in the countryside.
12 OF JUNE, SAINT ONOUFRIOS
This Hermit lived in Egypt. Once restricted to the coast of South Crete, this saint is now found through all the island. Monasteries and caves are where he is celebrated. At the village of Alones, the shepherds milk their flock and serve milk after church service.
24 OF JUNE, THE BIRTH DAY OF SAINT JOHN THE FORERUNNER/THE BAPTIST
The most important birthdays in Greek Orthodoxy are those of Jesus Christ on December 25 and of Saint John on 24 June. Saint John is said to have been 6 months older than Jesus Christ: a significant halving of the year. On the 24 of June bonfires are set: they symbolize the midsummer sun and its light. After sunset the fires are lit and blaze up. People jump over them. Such practices can remind us of the myth of Demeter trying to immortalize the infant Dimofonta by passing him over fire; or Thetis with her son Achilles. This fire-jumping tradition is associated in Crete with Saint John Klidonas. The leaping takes place to music and dancing. Wine and food is enjoyed. Saint John is also the patron saint of the bee keepers.
29 OF JUNE, SAINTS PETER AND PAUL
The two most senior figures in the early church. Saint Paul is seen by the Cretans as the one who introduced Christianity to the island. The South of Crete is riddled with beautiful chapels dedicated to him. Crete does not have poisonous snakes: originally this was seen as a gift of Zeus to his birthland. His gift was later assumed by Saint Titus, the first Bishop of Crete, appointed directly by Paul. (St Patrick did the same for Ireland.)