Friday, 23 August 2013

The Fire Jumpers

"1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

One night I had decided to stop by the hotel of one of our hotel partners in the center of Athens. From time to time I do this to check things out and see how people are generally getting along. At this one hotel in particular a young man named Dimitri was working the reception desk. It looked kind of quite so I went in to say "hello". As the conversation ensued he had mentioned a special gathering of people at  Plato's Academy. He said that it was a sort of party that happens every year on the "Holy Spirit Day" (Pentecost/Feast of the Holy Pentecost). This gathering of course involved drinking, dancing and people jumping through fire. "Wait a second," I said, "people jumping through fire?" He told me that it was a traditional thing to do on the Holy Spirit Day, and not just in Athens but all over Greece. This was certainly news to me so naturally I was inclined to inquire about it. Seeing my enthusiasm to witness this event Dimitri invited me to come along. It was pretty late but there was no way I was going to miss such a tradition, and especially a tradition that was being held at the Ancient site of Plato's Academy...No Way! After thirty minutes of closing procedures we all packed into Dimitri's car and went down the narrow, dark streets that led to that famous Academy.

Plato's Academy has always been a difficult place to find and I've often wondered why its seldom mentioned in the guide books and tourist information centers in and around Athens. One reason may be that its not really in a picturesque part of town, or maybe because the grounds are left unmaintained, whatever the reason(s) might be I'll include a link, or map, or something that may be helpful for you if you wish to go.

As most of us already know, Plato was a great philosopher and mathematician who lived during the classical period of Greece (428-348 BCE?). The famous, and often required college reading, "The Symposium" which was a work concerned with the nature of love(Platonic Love) is probably the most read work of this great philosopher. Plato was also a student of that great mind, Socrates.The Academy of Plato was founded in 387 BCE and lasted till the 1st century BC. Of course the guineas of the man and his thoughts have gone on till the present day. The academy was also a place where Aristotle study for some 20 odd years and there are reports of two women being able to attend: Axiothea of Phlius and Lasthenia of Mantinea. But lets get back to the festivities...

In the open center of the park a bonfire blazed, crackled and poped. In the large swaying circle of people who moved to the timely beat of the drum player's trance. Although most of the people attending were somewhere between 23-35 years of age their were older people who didn't necessarily dance in a Dionysiac frenzy but rather feed the flames with tender and logs. When I got to the middle of the circle people were dancing even more wildly as others jumped through the 8 foot high flames. 

So where did all this start and how did it begin? There's probably someone out there that has cracked open a dusty old book or two to get the awnser to this question and surly has a lot more acurate information than me, but this is a blog and not a scholarly artical so I think its OK to take some liberties and make an honest effort to explain this strange an fasinating ritual that I'm sure could go back to the "cave days". Just to follow this up I invite anyone who has more information on this subject to send us an email. We're all eager to know more and grow more into our Greek heritage. 

The Pentecost, or as the Greeks call it, "Agiou Pneumatos" (Αγιου Πνευματος), is a day that the Holy Spirit came to the 12 Apostles in the house where they were observing the old Jewish Shavuot or Festival of Weeks. Supposedly when this Holy Spirit came down upon them there were about 120 followers of Christ present when these disciples began to speak in a "spiritual language" or more commonly known as, "Tongues". This must have been a very grand spiritual awakening because Paul later tells us in the book of Acts 2:41: 

King James Version (KJV)
"41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."

The location of this house where this Holy Spirit "fell" is unknown. However, Bargil Pixner, a Benatine Monk, Biblical Scholar & archeologist (among other things) made a claim that the location is actually under the Cenacle on Mount Zion, Jeruselum. Regardless of the location my question was, how in the world did this event start and what was the significance of the fire? I understood that Paul mentions their "tongues on fire" and that fire has always been a symbol of purity but how did jumping through bonfires come about? 

Upon reading a little more about this holy day I discovered that many other countries, not just Greece, celebrate the same day. Most of these countries refer to it as St. John's Eve. I was expecting to find some sort of weird ancient Greek thing behind the bonfire, and I'm sure there must be, but what I found looked as if this "ceremony" of bonfires is most likely attributed to the Danish who on 23rd of June would build bonfires on high-ground to keep away low flying witches. OK, I guess that's pretty weird, but it wasn't Greek. 

It was probably around 2am when the fire died down, the music stopped, the coals were racked out and the crowd gravitated down in the park where the scattered remains of Plato's Academy were. I had seen enough and was satisfied with being lucky enough to witness and take part in this unique ceremony on the grounds of a place that great minds once called Plato's Academy.

Map To Plato's Academy Click HERE

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