Long Ago and Far Away . . .
In 1973, while earning a Master's degree in humanistic psychology, I took a course titled, "Phenomenology of Community." For our final project in the class, three other grad students and I (strangers to each other before grad school) researched the phenomenology of our developing friendships with each other, while our friendships were unfolding. We named our new research method, Dialogal Phenomenology.
As you may know, the definition of phenomenology until then was, "the study of individual experience."
While reviewing the social science literature about friendship for the class project, I stumbled upon the discovery that the majority of friendship studies were conducted by mostly white men in an academic setting and funded by the same kind of men. Therefore, most of the research conclusions about friends and friendship were based upon data that such men had collected and interpreted.
Not surprisingly, the prevailing [white male] academic view of the function of women’s friendships in traditional cultures seemed bizarre to me: women and children in traditional societies were seen as incapable of significant, meaningful friendship ties. After taking my M.A., I decided to look into this matter.
At that time, male researchers saw male friendship as a relationship whose function was to facilitate the exchange of goods and services among men.
Since most women in traditional, patriarchal societies typically had limited or no access to the type of property, transportation and marketable resources that men controlled, such women in patriarchal societies were generally classed in academic circles as being like children: incapable of maintaining genuine friendships (nothing to trade=no friendships.)
Since I was a child, my friendships with a few men and mostly women were such a vital part of my life, I found this prevailing conclusion about women's friendships preposterous. I decided to select a traditional culture where I could study women's friendships and go see if this were true.
Because I knew enough Spanish to get by, in 1973 I moved to Spain and began fieldwork for my PhD. Eventually the danger and chaos of the impending collapse of the Franco regime made it clear that I had to leave Spain, but go where? I consulted a trusted astrologer/psychic, Phyllis Harrison, and asked for guidance. The next day, after doing astrocartography, Phyllis said to me, "Have you ever been to the Greek island of Crete? It would be the very best place in the world for you to live. I then moved in January,1996. I hired someone to teach me Greek.
After I felt I had enough conversational Greek under my belt, I started looking for a small, remote mountain village in western Crete where I could being my field work documenting women's friendships. I was the first non-Greek person to live in the village.
With the help of several Greek families on Crete, I was introduced to a local family who took me under their wing. Their guidance and generosity allowed me to gain the trust of several women in the village who understood the aim of my project and who were willing to go out on a limb to help me.
I slowly began to realize that male social scientists who had studied women's friendships in similar patriarchal settings had come away with the misconception that women in the village had no friendships was that the most women's friendships were hidden from the naked eye. Villagers would have only shown a male stranger the world of men. (See Herzfeld, Michael___)
After I had been in the village for a few months, and the word got out that I didn't gossip, a handful of women began to tell me more and more about their relationships with their best friends. Two women introduced me to their husbands who were an anomaly: they were in favor of their wives' spending time with their best friends. Eventually, I was taken into a vast underground network of incognito women friends. Although this network is what kept village life going, it was kept secret from men and mothers-in-law whose first loyalties were to the patriarchy.
My findings about women's friendships in a small mountain village on the island of Crete is the first of its kind. The study's results overturned basic social science conclusions about women's friendships in a traditional culture. (Gender and Power in Rural Greece, Princeton University Press, 1986, Jill Dubisch, ed.)
I returned to the States and completed my Ph.D. in 1981. Because my research included knowledge from anthropology, psychology and feminism,
I chose the title of Clinical Anthropologist to describe my approach to helping people. I opened an unconventional private practice in Atlanta, Georgia that flourished for many years and continues in a small town in the NE Georgia mountains and occasionally in Crete. I cherish my deep sense of connection to that magical land.
A turning point in my life and work came in 1990, when I became intrigued by the work of the late Felicitas Goodman, Ph.D., a German psychological anthropologist.
Goodman was a prolific scholar, poet and medical translator who spoke 17 languages! In her mid-sixties, Felicitas entered graduate school to earn a degree in psychological anthropology. Her fieldwork in Mexico was the first to document speaking in tongues as a neurological phenomenon, not a language (Speaking in Tongues, Indiana University Press.)
In 1977, Felicitas re-discovered that, in certain non-Western cultures, figurines of humans in unusual, yoga-like poses believed to have been used during rituals. Depending on the context in which such figures were found, they are believed to depict a technique of entering profound states of religious altered consciousness.
After participating in one of Felicitas' workshops and reading her book about the method that she had reconstructed to facilitate the experiential effects of that sacred poses that she had identified from prehistoric, non-Western cultures, Felicitas and I became colleagues and eventually friends. (Felicitas Goodman, Where the Spirits Ride the Wind; Indiana University Press, 1990).
In 1992, back in Crete again for the first time since I learned about the poses, I was eager to take another look at the poses depicted in the sacred art of prehistoric and ancient Crete.
At the same time, through practicing and teaching the poses, I was learning from the inside out about the underlying evidence that the first European culture (on the island of Crete) had elements of shamanistic, if not shamanic, healing practices, and that the specific poses that I was studying were a part of the island's culture from at least 7,800 BCE to around 450 BCE.(and possibly later.)
Since that trip to Crete when I was seeing those poses--from the microscopic scenes of rituals carved into gold rings to the life-size terracotta figurines found on the Greek island of Kea, I have not been fascinated by these poses.
I began practicing and teaching the poses from Crete in earnest. I learned a great deal through my friends' and my own visions that came during our weekly circle in Atlanta where we learned over 100 poses. In that circle, I was always a participant, never a facilitator.
This understanding liberated me, because until Iearned about the poses--and eventually shamanism--I had deliberately avoided organized religion of any kind, Buddhism, meditation techniques, yoga. I especially avoided all shamanic practices because I was uncomfortable appropriating spiritual practices from non-western cultures.
And as far as I knew, there was no way to experience European shamanic or shamanistic practices.
I was overjoyed when I realized that there is a way to access the spiritual worlds of the first prehistoric European civilization known as “Minoan."
The spiritual effects of experiencing and teaching these poses changed my life and my work. Since 1992, I am still learning from these poses from Crete, along with other Indo-European practices.
Today, thanks to the work of Felicitas Goodman and others like me around the world, who are interested in shamanistic poses (some of which are still practiced today--for example, in Nepal and Eritrea), there are tens of thousands of people who have gone on to experience how to transform consciousness through experiencing the powerful effects of specific positions of the body, with specific percussion, with an appropriate intention, in a safe, respectful, sacred atmosphere.
I am currently finishing a book-length manuscript about my research.
For a link to a recent article I wrote in Sacred Hoop Magazine, synopsizes my work on Crete’s sacred poses, click here.
I still visit Crete frequently, where Greek-American Patricia Kyritsi Howell and I lead tours sponsored by our small travel company, Wild Crete Travel, LLC.
Wild Crete Travel specializes in small group, custom, off the beaten path experiences of Greek culture, history and what I refer to as spiritual archaeology.
We seek out wild places, amazing traditional Cretan cuisine (Crete is where Tuscany got the idea), and the essence of life on this beautiful island, along with one-of-a-kind museum tours based upon my original research.
Book a private session with me here.
To find out about upcoming tours, click here.
Click here to listen to a live discussion between Nika Annon and me.
Send me an email. or Phone me: (706) 746-5485
Here is My Story.
The story takes place in an existing, respectful,
internationally diverse, spiritually-oriented community of mostly women like you (sincere men sometimes join us.)
Once upon a time, like so many people like you, although I knew exactly what I was looking for, I didn't know for sure if it even existed. I certainly didn't know where to find it.
Now I do know and I have found it. And so have you. Welcome.
I am a shamanistic practitioner and clinical anthropologist working at the intersection of consciousness and culture.
Aghios Nikolaos, Crete, 1975.
Copyright Robinette Kennedy 2017