Journey of Saffron, in the land of Thera, Greek
As mentioned in the Saffron Express’s previous articles, saffron was highly used in the art industry. Whether to dye the paintings or clothes, or just being mentioned in the texts, paintings, and movies.
This Saffron Express article evolved out of love and respect for the land, the people, and the language of Greece. Rocky islands, turquoise waters, and whitewashed buildings reduced to shimmering blocks of color by light and heat both concealed and revealed the energy of the old gods pulsing beneath everyday life. In the following years, returning to explore the ancient marbles and to study early Greek religion and ceremony dovetailed with my recognition of the archetypal mysteries in the psyches of modern women and men in analytic work.
In the National Archeological Museum of Athens, one of the frescoes from the island of ancient Thera, now Santorini, is the Spring Fresco, which shows a rocky landscape with blooming red lilies and swallows diving in a joyous expression of nature (1). In another fresco, two ladies are intimately engaged in a robing ceremony (2).
These Bronze Age frescoes are from the site of Akrotiri, where excavation was begun in 1967. The Akrotiri settlement was abandoned after an earthquake, then covered over by a volcanic eruption 1630 BCE. Archaeologists found the frescoes and other artifacts preserved by the volcanic ash. The Petros M. Nomikos Foundation has recently installed an exhibit at the Nomikos Conference Center in Fira. This show reproduced the rooms to scale with photographic images of the frescoes that had been excavated thus far.
The Saffron Express team is going to tell you a little more about these interesting art pieces and the story behind them.
Preparation (Προτελεια): A Robing Ritual
Every initiatory ceremony, from birth to death, requires elaborate preparation. Special garments that carry significance for the rite are made and presented for the purpose. A robing ritual that one scholar named “the presentation of the sacral skirt” was depicted in the Room of the Ladies at Akrotiri (2). This image of the gifting or offering of a flounced skirt from one woman to another emphasizes the weaving and textile industry in Akrotiri, which profited from the yellow dye made from saffron. The motif of robing or dressing appears in modern women’s dreams in many variations during psychological initiation. And it’s interesting how saffron played a role in dying the robes.
For example, a 66-year-old woman dreamed on September 21st, the Autumn Equinox, of designing garments for an unknown ceremony:
A friend and I have heard of some young women who are excellent dress designers and seamstresses and we need them. After searching for their building and suite, we enter their space, ARAS Connections Issue 1, 2016 This paper is strictly for educational use and is protected by the United States copyright laws. Unauthorized use will result in criminal and civil penalties. 9 big and bare, little furniture but lots of fabric and some baskets of thread, tape measures, and pincushions. The three seamstresses are sitting on the floor. They say nothing as we enter. We sit on the floor in front of them; still, they say nothing. We seem to repeat this process— entering their barren suite and once again sitting on the floor in front of them; again, they say nothing. I wait a bit and say, “My friend and I need your services. We’ve heard about your excellent dressmaking skills and hope you can help us. These dresses will be for a very special event. My friend needs a lovely lime green material, a long A-line skirt, and a fancier material for the short top. And I need a long, one-piece dress made of elegant material. Can you help us?” The women, in a few words, let us know they can. Then I seem to see the dresses that I’ve described, already made. I was amazed when I woke up at the detail of the dream and at the “mythic” aspects of these three silent young dressmakers.
The dreamer said the seamstresses were priestesses and the color was a spring green, symbolizing new growth, new life, and rebirth. The silent dressmaker-priestesses suggested the Moirai (μοιραι), the three Greek fates: Klotho (κλοθω), the “spinner,” spun the thread of life from the distaff onto her spindle; Lachesis (λακεσις), the “apportioner,” measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod; Atropos (ατροπος), the inevitable (literally, “unturning”), was the cutter of the thread of life. Atropos chose the manner of each person’s death, and when the time came, she cut his or her life-thread. The dream’s prophecy was fulfilled when the dreamer’s 90-year-old mother died in February of the following year. Synchronistically, her memorial service was held on Spring Equinox, six months after the dream of the Moirai.
Read also: The soil impact on saffron cultivation
A different robing motif appeared in the dream of a woman I shall call Claire as she struggled with her intrusive mother complex:
I have a red silk kimono appliquéd with flowers of another shade of red. It will heal my body if I wear it. My mother gives me another kimono to wear—it’s green and black, of textured silk, and padded for warmth. I don’t like it but find I am wearing it—it seems to be more practical. I am waiting until I can put on the red one. It is of very fine, soft, smooth silk and is breathtaking to look at and touch.
The dream suggested that when Claire was able to put on the silk kimono of her choice, the color of blood, she would be able to heal her childhood wound, step into her empowered femininity, and choose her destiny. The mother complex for women is often played out in their choice of clothes or their conflict about choosing what to wear. Then this element of initiation gets worked through in analysis. In ancient Thera, dressing or robing was ritualized by the culture to honor a woman at the threshold of change.
Ανθολογια/Καρπολογια: Gathering of Saffron Flowers/Picking of Fruit
In the first Crocus(saffron)-Gatherer fresco, the robing preparation has been completed (3). On the east wall, two young girls wearing elaborate jewelry and formal dress are picking crocus flowers; they are engaged in a ritual. The scene takes place in the rocky landscape of the island. The younger girl on the right is hanging from a rock; she is flat-chested. The girl on the left is a little older and does not appear to be in danger of slipping. She has small breasts with nipples indicated by a red dot; this shows that she is between childhood and puberty. She is holding a basket in her left hand. The two are also differentiated by hairstyles; the younger girl has had her head shaved with curly locks left dangling. The older girl is wearing a band to keep her hair out of her eyes as it begins to grow.
The gathering of the saffron is organized by age group. The girls in the fresco pick the flowers of the crocuses from the top, placing them on top of one another in the baskets; they are not picking saffron as ornaments but to obtain the stigmas, the fruit. The saffron stigmas are the source of saffron, the intense reddish-yellow spice of the Mediterranean. This detail suggests that the girls are engaged in a saffron harvest festival. Symbolically, the fertility of the earth is often associated with girls becoming fertile.
Read also: The role of saffron in Holi celebration
Girl Carrying a Basket of Saffron Flowers
In the Crocus-Gatherer frescoes, a third saffron flower gatherer appears on the north wall (4). Her breasts are small and her nipples are indicated by red dots (maybe saffron). She has a mass of short curls and a headband, and she has lifted her filled basket of saffron flowers onto her shoulder and is proceeding left to the main scene with the goddess on the north wall. These two scenes are divided by a window (3).
The Crocus-Gatherer wall paintings show both successive points in time during the ritual and a view of the whole so that each girl represents one stage of the process of crocus collection. Four girls altogether are involved in the gathering, transporting, and disposition of the crocuses. All age groups appear to have been designated chores according to their abilities. This suggests that the saffron trade gave women some economic control that affected their social status. These activities precede and prepare for the moment of offering the harvest to the goddess. This is the only example in Aegean prehistory of an entire, sequential depiction of saffron/crocus- gathering; the wall paintings are both realistic and decoratively detailed. The saffron harvest was the Theran way of thanking their goddess of commerce for her valuable gift.
Read also: The use of saffron in Hinduism
Have you enjoyed reading this article about saffron? Share your opinions with us!
We are going to continue this subject and point out some of the most important facts about social status in ancient Greek in few next Saffron Express articles.
Special thanks to Virginia Beane Rutter whose respectable report on her visit of these frescos published under the name of Saffron Offering and Blood Sacrifice: Transformation Mysteries in Jungian Analysis, really inspired us and was our main source.