The beauty of Serenity is that you, well…do your own thing. Kim has picked out a few activities she thinks people might like but they’re all strictly optional. And yesterday the opting went up the mountain to meet a …what? A wise woman. A wondrous witch. A shamanka. An Amazon. I’m not sure Brigitte would describe herself that way; she’d probably settle for ‘phytotherapist’, a herbalist you might say.
She lives in a tiny village tucked away right up in the green mountains that rise up behind Nikiana and she is passionate, beyond passionate actually, about the Earth and the plants that grow on it.
She took us on a walk – more of an amble really – stopping every few yards to investigate some plant, to learn its biology, its pharmacology, its mythology. ‘We’re not conscious anymore,’ she said, with a sad shake of the head. ‘We don’t listen. Each plant comes out at the right time to help us. Like nettles in spring when we need to cleanse our bodies.’ It was intriguing – some of us loved the scent of plants that others hated. ‘Listen to your body,’ urged Brigitte. ‘Your tastes will tell you what you need.’
We learned which plants can help the circulation, which can ease migraine, which can boost the immune system, which can prevent balding. At this point she fixed a beady look at Max, the only male in our little group. ‘Men eh? Too much testosterone.’ Max looked like he was stifling an apology.
‘I need to pee,’ said Claire, darting behind a bush before swiftly re-emerging. ‘Umm, it is okay, isn’t it? I mean, is it okay to pee here?’
As in, is it really okay to pee on the mound of wondrous sacred oregano we’d just been honouring? We exchanged glances. Was it okay, or was it some kind of dastardly sacrilege? It could have gone either way.
‘Of COURSE it’s okay,’ boomed Brigitte. ‘We take from Nature, so we give back to Nature. Spit, pee, blood…is all good.’
Er…blood? What was she up to out here?
‘Menstrual blood,’ she said with relish. ‘Blood is not dirty. Let the menstrual blood flow freely.’ We glanced at one another. Apart from Max who looked…pained.
‘We should bleed on the Earth... Tampons!’ spat Brigitte, turning it into a whole new swear-word. ‘Invented by men of course.’
Bloody men. Or not.
Eventually we fetched up at the abandoned monastery, Ayios Georgios. Did any of us go to church, Brigitte asked. Not particularly we said, apart from for the architecture of course. ‘Well, I’m nominally Christian,’ said Max and Brigitte gave him a kind of ‘yeah, right, well you would be, you patriarchal chauvinist MAN,’ look.
‘Adam and Eve, okay?’ she said, with a challenging stare. ‘So Eve gave the apple to Adam but did he have to take it? Did he?’ She looked fiercely round the group and Max shuffled his feet. ‘I mean,’ she continued. ‘He could say yes or no, right? He didn’t have to eat the apple. Hey, you men, don’t make us women responsible for your own choices!’
Damnit Max, why did you take the fecking apple? It’s all your fault, all this darn mess. Jeez, who’d be a man? Son of weak-willed Adam, liable to baldness due to ineffective hormones, completely lacking in Earth-nourishing menstrual blood. Bloody losers, huh?
Bush and Obama got a bit of a tongue-lashing next, followed by a swift dismissal of the Vatican and religion and politics in general. ‘All those people killed in ‘holy’ wars, eh? All those women they burned at the stake? Where are their monuments? And what about that commandment about killing?’ What indeed? Truly she was magnificent, a wild-eyed Valkyrie, or should that be Athena of the flashing eyes?
‘Don’t get me wrong,’ she said, with a pitying glance at Max. ‘I’m not anti-man. Not at all. Just that we need balance. Yin and yang, light and dark.’
Inside the church we gazed on icons, we stared up at the broken wooden ceiling, still showing vestiges of its original blue (symbolizing the heavens). Examined the rood screen with its acanthus winding around and its encircled cross, a version, Brigitte said, of the medicine wheel, the stations of the sun, the spinning of the year. ‘There,’ she said, pointing at the altar. ‘What’s under there is the source. The wellspring. This church, like so many others, was built on something much earlier, a temple…to the goddess.’
And then she led us down a narrow track to the village to meet Maria, a true kitchen goddess, a Demeter, who cooks food straight from her garden and serves it lovingly in her home to the few people lucky enough to be in the know. Long peppers stuffed with deliciously piquant cheese and herbs; aubergines, tomatoes and bell peppers gorged with rice, onions and herbs; tzatsiki and fresh bread; Greek salad and, for the meat-eaters, spicy meatballs. Total heaven. A million miles away from the standard tourist fare.
Eventually we waddled out to Brigitte’s house and workshop – with bundles of herbs drying in a shed, hanging from the rafters or stretched out on racks. She makes all kinds of wondrous potions - teas, oils, ointments and tinctures. It was hard to choose but I came away with Wellbeing elixir (“to give strength from within”) and Daisy tincture (“gives light to the body, soul and spirit”). But really I wanted the lot.
The herbs are mainly wildcrafted, harvested at precisely the right moment of the right day and made with total respect, love and dedication.
If you ever come to Lefkada, you absolutely have to find her. Though if you’re a guy, you might want to bring a mate for moral support.
And, if you can't come, you can still buy a little witchy magic, from Brigitte's website. :-)
AromatikaPhyta, Alexandros, Lefkada, Greece.