Malta , 2600 B.C.E.
by Theresa C. Dintino
We have been traveling a long time on this boat, over many waters. Waters blue green, green brown, blue blues and at night, endless black. The waters slap a slow rhythm against the boat’s edges. Slap. Slap. Slap. We will be on this boat forever. I sleep within its wooden roundness listening. Slap. Slap. Slap. We rock together upon the waves. My Mother guards me from the everywhere sun’s light with a covering of cool cloth.
Awake, I wonder over the other pilgrims. Why do they travel? What do they seek? We are on our way to the sacred islands of Malta—islands of visions and voices—to Her temples of healing.
* * *
A time ago, my mother woke with a face full of knowing. On the next event of the rounded moon she consulted with the council of elders. I know not what words were spoken there. I only know that after her visit with them she entered the temple each day, praying for long periods of time. She brought with her many offerings, even my festival robe. Still, she told me nothing. I wondered until the question became me and I became the question. Then the wondering left me.
It is heated moon time. We spend most of the strong sun in the brown waters of the wide part of the river our village sits aside. We sit and tell each other stories at the place where the trees bend their long branches over it, offering coolness.
In the cove of the singing rocks I sing my song which the tall rocks sing back to me. I send them more songs and they send more back until it sounds as if a whole village is singing.
It was here that my mother found me the day she told me we were to leave for Malta.
“Malta?” I exclaimed. I was in true surprise. “Now?”
“Yes. Now.” she answered.
I splashed out of the water and up the hill toward her, barely bidding my friends farewell.
For three days we walked, taking turns carrying the clay vessel we were bringing as a gift, before we reached the boat that would carry us to Her. The journey has been long.
* * *
My mother wakes me to the sight of Her islands rising in curving shadows of hills from the waters that everywhere surround them. Enormous stone temples stand tall upon the crest of one of them, their rounded walls leaning out toward us, beckoning us near.
These temples are the largest ever built. It is said they were built by the Goddess herself, in one evening, a child at her breast.
On shore, priestesses greet us bearing fresh water and ripe fruits. The are all dressed the same. Proud breasts curving freely over bell shaped skirts, which sway below their knees. Each wears a necklace of stones strung between tiny, delicate shells. These necklaces seem to be that which identify them to one another. Each wears a different one bordering gently the base of her neck.
One of them approaches my mother and me. She introduces herself as Martiki. My mother treats her in the manner of a friend. I know that we have never met this woman. Martiki considers me with great interest. She takes me by the hand and leads me up the hill.
There are many people on this island. It is clear from the variety of clothing that they have come from different places. Martiki leads us to a flowing stream of fresh water. We bathe ourselves in its sparkling coolness.
After bathing we are led to a small hut which sits on a hill overlooking the calm waters of the afternoon sea. Martiki instructs us to rest.
“Tomorrow, when you are better yourselves.” she says. “I shall take you to Her.”
I lie in the hut looking up at the place where the sun’s fingers push through the straw roofing, creating patterns of square weaving within the room and upon my Mother sleeping within it. Her silence overwhelms me.
Martiki meets my mother and me as the morning mists are rising off the waters. She escorts us to a grove in the valley below the temples. Grapes, quince, sheep cheese and breads overflow in piles upon a large table for all to consume. This will be our last meal until tomorrow morning. We will sleep in the underground chambers tonight. “The Goddess wants you empty,” Martiki says, “clean.”
Pilgrims are scattered about, eating beneath cypress trees, sitting alone in silent thought, visiting in small groups. Above us hover the imposing temples of stone; their flat roofs stretching toward the sea. Young girls wearing red robes, which flow around their ankles as they walk, attend to the food supply.
Martiki notices me watching them. “Those are priestesses in training,” she tells me. “They have all been called to this island to serve the Goddess. Hand picked by Her from many different places. They serve in this way until initiation at which time they shall assume the specific function the Goddess has chosen for them.”
Below my navel, something softens and turns over to melting. It moves painfully through my chest, my throat and neck tightening around it. When it reaches my head, the spot above and right between my eyes, I push it aside.
Martiki is looking at me. She is waiting.
I look at her. I say nothing.
When we have finished eating, she leads us to the temples. In the entryway is a large stone engraved with the circling spirals of life. Martiki crawls up on it and, on her hands and knees, enters the temple. I follow behind her barely getting up onto the large rock by myself. When I have crossed the stone threshold, I try to stand up but the ceiling is low above me. I must crawl further upon my hands and knees through a narrow passageway which bears no light. I am relieved when the tight crawl space opens itself into a large circular room of stone.
There are a few lamps lit up high on the circular walls. Otherwise the room is dark and cave like. The walls seem to be pushing in toward us from something behind them. The stones emit vibrations as though, if one listened carefully, they would hear them whispering. We sit in a circle of three. I observe the other pilgrims sitting about. Martiki and my mother pray.
We crawl through another passageway, which leads to three adjoining circular rooms. Within this rounded, cloverleaf of shrines there are altars, ritual cleansing bowls and small, square walls with holes in them for oracular consultation. In these temples there are many priestesses. I understand only now that many of the pilgrims in the other room await individual consultation.
My mother calls my attention to a long, low, bench altar to our right which has many offerings upon and around it. Together we present the Goddess with the gift we have brought Her.
Later, when darkness covers the land, Martiki leads us to the underground chambers. It is here that the Goddess speaks to those who have visited Her temples above in the light of day.
We descend a long row of stairs down into the deep depths of her warm encircling caves. The only light is the one that Martiki carries in front of us, leading the way through long narrow tunnels. Inside a small room which has been carved into the stone, she points to two boat shaped beds.
“You shall sleep here tonight.” she says, taking her light with her as she leaves.
I lie awake, my eyes open, waiting for them to adjust to the thick darkness. My mother’s breathing deepens slowly into sleep.
I awake to the voice of a woman chanting. Rising up from the ground below me, surrounding and enveloping me. I have never experienced anything like this sound. It is all consuming in its beauty and strength. Whole, pure, clean, it vibrates within me as I lie upon my bed in deep blackness. My skin pulses, tingling outward. I float upon its current; swaying, rocking, weightless.
In the morning I ask my mother if she has heard the singing.“Yes,“ she says, holding my hands within hers. “I have never heard anything so wonderful.” Tears fill her eyes. She has not yet received her vision. We shall return to the caves tonight. No one leaves Malta without receiving their vision. The Goddess speaks to all who journey here. One must patiently await their turn.
I cannot stop thinking about the chanting. When Martiki meets us at morning meal, I observe her with renewed interest. My eyes keep returning to the place where her necklace lies upon, almost possessing, the smooth skin which covers her collar bones.
I tell her about the chanting.
“You are very lucky.” she says, “The Goddess does not sing every night. She has looked favorably upon you.”
“Why does she not sing every night?”
“Many nights She is silent. We know not why. We are always there, ready for Her, waiting.”
All day I try to remember the melody I have heard. I practice singing it into a rock by the sea. I go to the temple alone. I thank the Goddess for Her song. I ask Her to please sing to me again tonight. I have never wanted anything so completely. My body aches with memories of floating.
In the small boat of a bed, I welcome the darkness. I pray for sleep.
Sleeping I am sound passing through a circular hole in the wall, growing within underground chambers, dancing up out of the earth; bouncing off walls repeating myself back to myself, flowing down hallways and dark tunnels, spreading myself through large dug out caverns.
A woman kneels, swaying over something, chanting. Her white creamy voice enters a hole in the wall near the floor above which she sways. She turns her head revealing to me my own face. The song enters me from the earth below me passing through my body like a strong fiery breath. It billows up through my open throat, out my receptive mouth, vibrating lastly off my red tingling lips. I am stunned by its power.
In the morning I say nothing. I leave the underground chambers alone. I walk to the sea. I let the warm waves lap at my legs, immersing myself into Her watery depths. I sit cross legged in the temple with my eyes closed, swaying, asking for guidance.
At night, Martiki leads us again across the waters to Her temple of darkness. Again we descend Her steep staircase following narrow passageways. This time we pass the small room we have been sleeping in and journey deeper into Her until we reach a large belly of a room whose rounded red walls curve gently into a domed ceiling above us. Many pilgrims are spread about, waiting for sleep.
My mother and I lie down beside each other, shoulders touching. Sleep takes me quickly, almost landing upon me. I am awakened by a whispering in my ears. The whispering grows louder and louder, tripping around the great hall making itself into more whispers, swelling into voices.
When I open my eyes I see small, while flowerets of light rising up out of each of the pilgrims who are lying in this room with me. From within their open chests they emerge, climbing up slowly, then releasing themselves swiftly into the roundness. I watch these lights bounce off the walls and ceilings, each other; dancing above me within this darkness.
I observe my mother bathed in this light. It shines glowing upon her broad forehead, exposing her eyebrows, thick and almost meeting, her sharp angled cheeks, her strong nurturing body. I thank her for all she has given me. I stand up. “I am ready now,” I say.
I walk among and between the pilgrims. They see me not. All that exists for them is this sound; this most sacred healing voice which I follow. It leads me up a few steps into a small room directly off the great hall.
Inside Martiki kneels, swaying over a hole in the wall near the floor. The Goddess is singing through her.
My mother’s boat moves slowly away from the island. My eyes will remain upon it until it disappears, rolling over the crest of the horizon. The warm wind from the sea blows the soft fabric of my red robe against me between my legs. She may come to visit as often as she wishes. I await her return.