Back when I had more time than money, I followed the sirens’ call to Greece, whose mythology had enchanted me since childhood. Loading up my backpack, I set off on four months of ferry trips, hiking, hosteling and camping on the islands and mainland, soaking up impressions that eventually grew into my near-future thriller just out from Book View Café: The Ariadne Connection.
From the cover: “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure? A journey to the crossroads of science and myth.” So how did ancient ruins and myths trigger a story about a scientist tackling a pandemic and a startling old/new paradigm of healing?
The story germ might have stirred to life at Knossos on Crete, perhaps the original labyrinth of King Minos. The myth has it that Zeus made one of his philandering excursions from Mount Olympus to impregnate the wife of Minos, which godly visit resulted in the birth of a male child with the head of a bull. This monster Minotaur then resided at the heart of the labyrinth, where he consumed tribute youths sent from rival Athens. Ariadne, daughter of Minos and possibly a priestess of the old ways, knew the secrets of the labyrinth and provided a string to Athenian hero Theseus to guide his passage out of the maze after he had killed the Minotaur.
Simplifying complex historical speculation, the Minoan culture could be said to represent ancient chthonic (within the earth) and matriarchal powers, while the newer mainland Greek kingdoms were moving toward worship of patriarchal sky-gods and logic. So what if a modern Ariadne, a follower of logic, somehow rediscovered the thread to ancient powers at the heart of the labyrinth? How would that tug-of-war in worldviews play out against a backdrop of environmental crisis and a pandemic possibly triggered by electromagnetic pollution?
But that crisis and plot scaffolding didn’t occur to me until years after the Greek trip had soaked into my subconscious and the “what ifs” started popping up. While traveling, I just followed my nose to explore the land, the culture, and the ancient ruins. After Knossos, I hiked along the rugged south coast of Crete to visit more ruins of what were rumored to be some of the fabled 99 cities of the ancient Minoans. These mazelike footings of the original settlements, some of them seemingly carved of one piece out of the pale stone of the cliffs overlooking the “wine-dark sea,” seemed to emanate a mysterious power that drew me like a magnet. While camped beside one such abandoned ruin at Falassarna, I sat one day on the edge of a long-dry fountain in a circular plaza and saw the shadows of former inhabitants stirring while a ghostly young boy played on a pan-pipe. That scene would later echo in the novel.
I became more fascinated with the Minoan culture and Ariadne as I traveled, which surprised me because my initial attraction had been to the classical Greek mythology, art, and architecture. The many small, painted terracotta statuettes of Minoan priestesses or goddesses displayed a confident power as they held the sacred healing serpents, another indication of the chthonic mysteries. Interestingly, some people reacted with admiration to these images, and some were frightened or repelled.
I started to think of Ariadne as a priestess/healer, and would later study with a shamanic practitioner in order to understand the ancient, cross-cultural traditions of healing that often involved sacred serpents. (I’ll talk more about that in my next blog.) That healer thread led me to Epidauros, the ancient center of healing on the mainland, whose patron god of healing Asklepios held the staff entwined with the sacred serpents. That staff, the Caduceus, is still the symbol for the medical arts today. And the version with two intertwining serpents looks a lot like our double-helix DNA strand featured on my novel’s cover. (Again, more about that next time.)
I woke up pre-dawn in order to hike along the original road to Epidauros and arrive at dawn before the site was open to tourists. Making a solo pilgrimage around the perimeter of the ruins, I encountered some of the sleepy serpents and gave them a respectful distance. The original stone theatre still hosts dramatic productions there, alongside the healing chambers where the sick patients would sleep beside the sacred snakes and have dreams that would guide their cures.
Finally, a quick trip to the island of Tinos confirmed the continuing tradition of healers. The shrine of the Tiniotissa, a version of the Virgin Mary, is believed to hold healing powers and is built on the site of an ancient mineral spring with rumored magical properties. Every year in the spring, pilgrims come from all around the region to give offerings to the Tiniotissa and pray for Her miraculous cures. Her iconic image makes for an interesting contrast to the Minoan serpent goddess, two visions of female power. In my novel, Ariadne visits the shrine to see if she can find an answer to her confusion about the irrational old powers versus the logic of science, but she finds no answers–yet.
The power of place in Greece cannot be denied, resonating with so many layers of history and belief. I still feel its spell when I think about my journey and look at photos. Next time, I’ll talk more about how some of these Ariadne threads started twining together to weave a story.
Sara’s newest from Book View Cafe was just released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction.