1. HOMER’S ODYSSEY, A FAR-REACHING JOURNEY, SO NAMED AFTER ODYSSEUS, THE GREEK SEA-FARING WARRIOR-KING.
2. JASON, OF ARGONAUT FAME, SET OUT TO WIN THE GOLDEN FLEECE AND CLAIM HIS RIGHT TO THE THRONE.
3. JASON ELLIOT, BRITISH AUTHOR AND EXPLORER OF IRAN AND AFGHANISTAN – GOING WHERE FEW ENGLISHMEN HAD BEEN BEFORE.
4. MYSELF, FOLLOWING A SINUOUS PATH INTO THE UNKNOWN, BECAUSE I CAN.
This video is a 60 second Levi jeans advert, one I was excited by the first time I saw it because it demonstrated how I felt, wanting to acknowledge an inner drive to break free of physical restraints and escape the ‘box’ I would otherwise find myself in.
Ok, Sony is being a bit possessy about it so – you gotta laugh, try this one, with a different lilt…
HOMER’S ODYSSEY is a chronicle of the nautical journey of Odysseus, King of Ithica (a western isle of Greece) circa 700 BC. The Trojan wars were waging in the west of Asia Minor, now Turkey, then part of the Greek Empire, and Odysseus set sail with his fleet to make his mark. But Odysseus was more than a hapless or gung-ho sailor. His 20 year journey was fraught with challenges from not just the natural elements but all manner of metaphysical temptresses and giant one-eyed gods.
Homer recounts the adventures of Odysseus in the traditional poetic form of an ‘epic’ and the armchair traveler can benefit from the learning curve of our pre-common-era hero through his many escapades. Yet Homer interweaves popular legends and myths from the culture of his time, causing a confusion of places, times and characters of history and fiction.
While her husband is away, Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, fends off one suitor after another as her advisers try to convince her of her inevitable widowhood but Odysseus returns for the happy ending, only after escaping death and all manner of fates – except ageing.
“Tell me, Muse, of that man, so ready at need,
who wandered far and wide, after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy,
and many were the men whose towns he saw and whose mind he learnt,
yea, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the deep,
striving to win his own life and the return of his company.”
Odysseus set out on his journey with a plan and a purpose – to aid his allies in the wars – but his round trip turned into an epic voyage and a fight for survival from the onslaught of unexpected traps set by the gods. If he had known what he would have to contend with, would he have stayed home? Or did the King of Ithaca feel there was no choice in what Destiny had laid out for him? Did he have a sense of adventure or was he just fulfilling his duty? Was he even conscious of what he was doing – that he may have grown from his experience – or was he just relieved to have survived?
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
It is useful to remember that just about any man who was anybody in the days of Greek Ancient History was at sea in a ship. Greece, after all, is more sea than land, taken as a whole. So why did Jason set out in his ‘Argo’ with his Argonauts?
Jason was supposed to inherit the Kingdom of Iolkos from his father, but his wicked uncle had grabbed it from under his nose. Now Jason was just a lad, a bit wet behind the ears and not very worldly-wise and, unknown to him, a wise oracle had warned the wicked uncle of a man wearing only one sandal. When Jason turned up wearing only one sandal the uncle was wary. Uncle Pelius cooked up a devious plan to get Jason out of the way and told him he had to go and fetch the Golden Fleece from Colchis (on the Black Sea). This magical sheepskin rightly belonged in the Temple of Zeus, apparently.
So Jason set sail, taking with him a magical branch from a sacred tree which possessed the powers of prophecy, and all the best lads he could find as crew. Yes, you guessed it, the journey was fraught with problems, mishaps, enemies, monsters and adverse weather. On the way he met Medea, a humble lass and erstwhile princess, who used her witchery to beguile the dragon-guardian and the Golden Fleece was won.
Jason was impressed with Medea, and she with him, so they set sail together for home. Several children later they rounded the last hurdle and make it back to port at Iolkos. Uncle Pelius had murdered Jason’s father and was rather surprised to see Jason had returned successful, but still he refused to hand over the crown. So Medea had him killed.
It should have been all happy-ever-after, but Jason fancied another princess (for political reasons). Medea got jealous and killed the princess, then her own children, and Jason died when the cross-beam on his own ship struck his head.
In the Mythic Tarot this story is used as an example for the suit of Wands (the fire element) and the challenge of the creative vision that motivates us onto paths unknown for an imaginary goal.
Why would we want to leave our home comforts to risk life and limb in search of an illusion? Because on the way we learn stuff through experience and hopefully get enlightened and wise. Zeus, the father-god, is behind the plot; his influence awakens the creative imagination which manifests something better. “If you never try, you will never know” we are told, because we all have a hidden potential not yet realised. Our gift of creativity is God-given and to bring our vision into reality we have to keep the image alive, keep focused, keep determined through thick and thin. The satisfaction that is our prize comes but with exhaustion and at the end of our lives, our energy spent, at least we can say we gave it our best.
The prize is not necessarily gaining material wealth or power but the inner success of finding wisdom, true love, happiness and peace. Jason’s Odyssey serves to teach us that all our endeavours are worthless if we hold greed and resentment, seek revenge and power over others – and forget to duck when the Fates strike a blow.
JASON ELLIOT is a thirty-something English writer. At the age of 19 he set out for Afghanistan to follow a childhood memory of his father talking about the Oxus River. How or why this stuck inside Jason to emerge as a driving force to visit one of the most inaccessible countries between the Middle East and Asia, at a time when it was at war with Russia, an invading aggressor, is anybody’s guess, but he went, and alone. He arrived in Kabul and made friends with some other European journalists as well as some local lads who were members of the mujaheddin (resistance army).
After this first visit he returned 10 years later and headed out into the high mountain passes in winter, bearing extremes of cold, hunger, fear and loneliness, with some fascinating characters that would have fitted more easily into a fiction thriller. The end of the outward journey was at Balkh, an historic but war-ravaged village, where his journey took a mystical twist. After returning to Kabul in a Red Cross plane he then tried to get to the hidden enclaves of the Hazara tribe, but was forced to turn back without getting to see the Hazaras, and some of the oldest Buddhas in the world, at Bamiyan.
Undaunted, he took a hair-raising ride with various others on the back of a truck along a precipitous mountain track, arriving eventually at Herat, in the western plain between Iran and the Afghan mountainous interior. Amidst sporadic shelling from the Russian front and the counter-attacks of the mujaheddin, he employed his relaxed friendliness to acquaint himself with locals and went in search of the once splendid monuments of the city. Dismayed to find them all destroyed, he engaged a kindly taxi-driver and visited one on the outskirts – the shrine of Pir-i Herat (Khwaja Abdullah Ansari) at Gazargah – and decided to camp-out over night.
This was one of more than a few episodes in Jason’s odyssey where he tapped quite naturally, and with unforced curiosity, into some of the most mysterious, divinely-charged and beautiful historic inspirations of that God-forsaken country.
Jason has an eye and a mind for beauty, design, esoteric symbolism and the spiritual significance of the wonderfully decorative temple and palace wall-art. In glorious dazzling tiles the 3D effect of this colourful design technique does not escape Jason’s inquiring mind and his journey finds meaning in the Divine Inspiration of the Afghan architecture.
Jason’s book – ‘The Unexpected Light’ – was his first book and won great acclaim for his unique style, imaginative descriptions and insights from behind a dark curtain of misinformation about the Afghans and their fight for freedom.
In this case, Jason Elliot’s Odyssey encompasses all the best of an adventure; it was undertaken with singular freedom of choice and motivated by a need to explore one part of the world that beckoned his imagination, heart and soul. True to form, the nature of ‘odyssey’ is still there – the countless encounters with unexpected danger, the moments of triumph and the secret surprises of personal experience that somehow feeds a hungry soul.
(sorry – the ‘click-to-look-inside’ only works on Amazon!)
MY ODYSSEY started in 1998 with a vision urging me to ‘go East’. In 1998 the news coverage of the Middle East became frantic with pictures of Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Palestine. I had no previous interest or knowledge of these countries, but my vision led me on a very personal journey towards the East; it started in Cornwall, England, only one step away from my own home.
I hopped, proverbially, from St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall to Mont St Michel in Normandy, France; from Mont Sant Angelo in Italy to Cyprus; then side-stepping to Turkey; then Greece, arriving in Egypt this year. I wasn’t just following my nose but a strong intuition that was unforced by logical thinking. At each of these places I had a so-called ‘mystical experience’ which came unexpectedly.
At first I thought of it as fun, a holiday in a place that was breathtakingly beautiful and rich in history that had been completely missing from my school learning of history (scant as that was in any case). I arranged each visit on impulse, in an ‘in-the-moment’ feeling that it was the right time to go, with very little concrete plan except one of keeping costs to a minimum. Before each trip I had a dream – one of those colourful, clear, precise dreams that one cannot ignore or forget, and this helped to reinforce my original vision. But I had no idea of the final destination to which this stepping-stone path was leading me. I looked questioningly at the world map and could see, as I progressed, that I was indeed going East, but in a meandering, snaking flow that had an organic direction I could not premeditate; I gathered the clues as I went.
Cornwall – Home of some of the oldest and most curious sacred stones in the British Isles, least of which is the castle-cum-monastery on St Michael’s Mount, where the vision of St Michael had been experienced some 1000 years ago. As I stepped onto a ‘node’ (a crossing-point of four major energy lines) I did not find the elation I had expected, but a terrible feeling that something was ‘wrong’.
France – Mont St Michel is a kind of sister mount on the other side of the English Channel, where a similar vision of St Michael had been experienced and led to the building of a small chapel which is now hidden beneath the Benedictine Monastery. It was in this tiny underground chapel that tears poured from my eyes during a grand opening of my heart.
Italy – Mont Sant Angelo is a third site of a St Michael (Apollo) vision – this time in a cave deep inside the mountain where a spring used to run across the floor. Again, I was moved to the core of my being in this most ancient of sacred places.
Cyprus – As someone who is familiar with the Greek Mythic Tarot, I could see the images all around me here. Apollo has a temple here – now in ruin – and he is the Greek version of St Michael the Dragon-slayer, which reminded me of Jason (of the Argonauts) and Media overcoming the dragon-guardian to win the Golden Fleece. But Cyprus is believed to be the birth-place of Aphrodite (Venus), Goddess of Love. It was in the capital, Nicosia, that I heard the ‘call-to-prayer’ from a mosque for the first time, across the ‘Green Line’. I ventured forth into the Turkish half of the city and found a 12-pointed star mosaic in the middle of a roundabout. The effect of finding this star moved some invisible force in me – I had to go to Turkey.
Turkey – A cheap package holiday took me to Bodrum, where I found a skeleton in the cupboard! I found the something that was ‘wrong’ and had discovered the source of my past-life karma – I had a debt to pay. While there, I went to Ephesus and Mary’s House (the retreat of Mary, the Mother of Jesus) and Miriam’s Well. I was only a few kilometers away from Troy, where Odysseus had landed, and remembered that it was the first classic book I had read – at the age of 11. It took two years to complete this complex past-life karma. (See ‘Books’)
Greece – Midilli Island is now known as Lesbos, and here I laid my ghost to rest at a beautiful little village called Sigri. An inpouring of self-realisation flooded into my consciousness while standing in a vast soul-less Turkish Fortress, surrounded by bright azure blue sky and sea. The clues would stop now, surely? I returned home to write 3 books, (See ‘Books’). Off I went again.
Egypt – I wanted to go to Persia (See ‘Books’) but my snaking path veered off to the right and took me to Cairo. The relentless TV news coverage on the Middle East had now turned it’s attention on Iran – Persia – so I didn’t feel up to that much adventure – not yet. I had more to discover in Egypt. I found my way past one mosque, then another, then drifted up the Nile, paid my respects to countless departed souls, knocked on the doors of citadels and souks until I finally arrived at the ancient monuments on Giza Plateau. Seeing the Sphinx for the first time was a shock. Some unidentifiable invisible force hit me like a ten-ton-truck and I was dumb-struck. More outpourings of intense emotion brought an understanding that these places were releasing long-hidden memories of thousands of years before. I found solace in the Valley Temple, followed by a picnic lunch at the corner stone of the Great Pyramid, and a ride on a friendly camel.We went on to visit Saqqara, where the ‘Step-Pyramid’ and its surrounding ruins offered something entirely different to me. In the soft light of the sun, slowly setting in the desert behind, I found a gentle balm in this place, which soothed my emotions – and a curious ‘friend’ (see photo below).
Next – I don’t know how I will do it but I will go to Persia – but, more than that, a heart-string is pulling me to Afghanistan, and even the Indus Valley and India. ‘Madness!’ they tell me, the few who know. For now, I have made that part of my journey in virtual reality with the help of Jason Elliot’s wonderful guide. One day soon my feet will find a way of treading the next stepping stone on my own curious Odyssey. It is an adventure, a journey into the unknown, a mission to find an unknown treasure – no, not fame or fortune, just a few more pieces of myself.
I returned to Cairo, feeling that my first visit had uncovered something, but that it was unfinished. I took a train to Alexandria and enjoyed the fresh sea-air from the Mediterranean; Alexander the Great had felt the same and commissioned the transformation of a simple fishing town into the great city of his dreams. He returned from his travels armed with a multitude of manuscripts and ancient tablets and built the famous Library of Alexandria. The Romans destroyed it but most probably took ancient sacred texts back to the Vatican Library, where they have lain hidden ever since. The library is now rebuilt in splendid contemporary design.
I then went to Fayoum, an oasis born of a tributary of the Nile, on the edge of the Sahara. (One needs a guide and driver to take you there to get passed the guards and explore, and there is no bus service.) Wadi Rayan and the Valley of the (fossilised) Whales is, thankfully, a World Heritage Site, and there are next to no tourism facilities. But it was magical. I had discovered the real spirit of the land of Egypt.
Reluctantly, I returned to Giza. I walked away from the madness of tourism around the Great Pyramids and contemplated the scene: I eventually understood the painful impact of my first visit. The Giza plateau, with its Pyramids, tombs and temples was one of the most sacred places in the world, but its sacredness has been lost under the exploitation of archaeological, scientific and touristic probing.
I returned to Saqqara and went on to Dashur, where the sacredness can still be felt.
The demonstrations of the people to oust Hosni Mubarak started the night before I left. It was a complete surprise as there had been no sign or clue that it was imminent. Back at home I came to realise that my concerns about the widespread poverty, uncollected refuse and the mile upon mile of empty, incomplete building sites were symptoms of a depressed country. Then we watched as the Egyptian people broke free.