Friday, February 19, 2016

Things that Almost Were

A lot of you know that my Hebrew birthday is Purim, but that's not exactly true.  Actually, I was born on Purim Katan; "Little Purim", Shadow Purim.  You see, the Hebrew calendar is mad cray; one of it's peculiar fuckeries is that every couple of years, the month of Adar (early Spring) occurs twice.  But, asked the rabbis, in which Adar should we celebrate Purim?  After much debate, they decided on second Adar.  But, what about the 14th of Adar 1?  That is Purim Katan, the Purim that Could Have Been.  Purim Katan is the best of all holidays; the only obligation is to be festive and joyous.

Purim, as we know it, celebrates the events of the Book of Esther, but it's obviously a cover for an older holiday, a festival of Ishtar.  Don't believe me?  Read the Book of Esther, but swap every occurrence of "Esther" with "Ishtar",  every occurrence of "Mordechai" with "Marduk", and every occurance of "Haman" with...well..."Haman".  Does the story sound familiar now?

And so, Purim Katan is the Foreshadow of Purim, the most ancient holiday of my beloved Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Eleusis Again

If you haven't read about my first experience at Eleusis, from last summer, I think you should go read that first.

TRIGGER WARNING:  Grief & mild suicidal ideation

Today, I fulfilled my vow, and returned to the Sacred Sanctuary of the Goddesses at Eleusis.  It was amazing.  I feel as though, in August, I went down under the earth, and today I came back up again.  Ever since my parents' death, I have felt rootless, depressed, anxious.  At first, I told myself, it was just grief.  And yet, it slowly evolved into more than that.  I am changed, and I do not think I will ever be the same.  The winter after they died, I embarked on a month-long winter-solstice working, that culminated in my acceptance of Ereshkigal, the Babylonian Queen of the Dead, as a new ally.

When I was long, my very favorite book in the world was The Tombs of Atuan, by Urusula LeGuin. If you haven't read it, you really should, but there's a (spoilery) summary here.  It's a type of Descent/Ascent mythic narrative common in female coming of age tales.  More, perhaps, than anything else, it was this book that settled in me my kinship with the cthonic gods.  I do my fair share of celestial magic, I don't mean to say that the super-lunary is entirely foreign to me, but in my heart, I am a child of the depths of the earth and the crashing night-time sea.

My friend Eleni, with whom I toured, told me that, according to local legend, Spring comes to Eleusis before anywhere else, and spreads over all the land from there.  I could certainly believe it.  Now, in the middle of February, the temple site was fully vernal; windflowers everywhere.  Yellow cowslip, nodding echinacea, white and purple anemone, and in clumps, brilliant red poppies, the sign of Demeter as the Great Goddess of Mysteries.

Before entering into the main temple, I took some time at the temple space of Artemis Propylaia (Artemis of the Gateways) and Pater Poseidon (Father Poseidon).  Unique to her worship at Eleusis, the sign informed me, was the idea that Artemis was the daughter of Posiedon.  This is astonishing, as Artemis's parentage and her birth by Leto are central to her myth!  I, however, have a theory that Artemis Propylaia is actually a face of Hekate.  It is Hekate, the beloved companion of Persephone, who heard her cry out when she was abducted, and who lit a torch, and bore the news to Demeter.  It was Hekate who searched with Demeter for her lost daughter, and Hekate who, bearing her torch, guides Persephone yearly on her travels to and from the World Below.  I know that many think Hekate's father was the titan Perseus, and some think her a daughter of Zeus.  I, however, have always understood her to be a child of Okeanos, the great dark sea at the ends of the earth.   And so, I believe that the Roman temple of Artemis Propylaia, daughter of Poseidon, is a Roman gloss on a much older Hekate the Torchbearer, the companion and guide of Persephone.    Tomorrow, I will visit the Temple of Poseidon at Sunion, which is on the sea coast.  After that, I will hopefully understand more about the role Poseidon plays in all this.

After this, I made my way slowly to the Plutonion, the sacred cave at the heart of Eleusis.  I've written before about how I believe this rock overhang was the most original prehistoric sacred site in this location, the wellspring from which all the Temple arose.  This place is very holy to me; it figures in my dreams and journeys often.  I spent some time here, being with the stones, feeling my way back up from the underworld.  Persephone, like Ereshkigal, was carried into the underworld by force, but became its ruler.  The radiant Queen of the Underworld, throned and glorious, shining like flint, is one of the very oldest of goddesses, who teaches the sacred cycle of life and death, the flowering spring and the bitterest winter.  While I have been here, in unseasonably summery Athens, it has been unusually cold back home.  So cold that the pipes in our apartment building have frozen through several times.  That contrast, more than anything else, has been on my mind during this trip.  One of the locals I have met, an amazing woman named Agape, told me that, in Greece, wherever there is a theater temple to Dionysus, you will find at that site also a Temple of Asclepion, the healer, because theater is healing for the soul, and soul and body must be kept in balance.

I have felt so out of balance these past few years.  I feel homeless and alone most of the time; orphaned figuratively as well as literally.  I do not often say this to anyone, and it is only sleep deprivation that is making me publish it, but there are many times when I want nothing so much as to roll the dark earth over me like a blanket to sleep forever.  At my first trip to Eleusis, I lost my fear of death, but not my craving for it.  It comes over me in waves, the deep grief, as deep as it was at the beginning.  It hasn't lessened in power, but it comes less often now.

My magic has been colored by this, because all of my life has.  I am tired, always and endlessly tired.  Tired when I wake up in the morning, and tired all the time.  An aching weariness of spirit, but also of body.  Everything seems very difficult all the time.

My roommate thinks my work with Ereshkigal has gone on too long, that I am becoming a thrall of the underworld.  He thinks I am become too much a creature of the crossroads, always hovering between one thing and the next, unable to make any real decisions, unable to make any real movement.  Perhaps he is right.  This time, maybe, I will be able to leave that behind as well.

previous Eleusis trip
next Eleusis post

Sunday, February 7, 2016

coming to America, part 2: Halberton

This week, I've been researching my mother's family.  There is very little information available.  I wrote this while I was researching, and, after some thought, have decided to leave it in the order I discovered the information.  There's a bit of a twist!


I spoke with you last week about my father's father's line.  Today, I am going to talk to you about some of my mother's ancestors.  In particular, I want to talk about my mother's father's family, the Halberts, and the doomed colony they first lived in, Halberton NJ.

The town of Halberton was populated by Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in the Ukraine.  In the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, Halberton is just west of Ocean City.  They, however, did not found the town.  The town was planted by the unscrupulous "Cumberland Land and Improvement Company", a New York firm which tricked many Russian Jewish immigrants in New York into coming to Halberton, and working as indentured servants at their factory, a satellite of the "schmata" (rags) industry.  Sanitation was very bad, and infectious disease, including cholera, was rampant.  See here for more details.

My mother's father's father, Michael Halbert, was born May 6th 1893 in Halberton, to Morris/Mortiz and Annie/Channa Halbert, both of then-Russia (Ukraine)  I assume Halbert was not their original name, but rather that they took the name of the town.

Several agricultural colonies were founded in southern New Jersey by Russian (Ukrainian) Jewish immigrants.  One of these colonies was Halberton.  According to the New York Times, the town of Halberton was sold at Sheriff's auction December 22, 1894.  There were, at that time, 60 cottages, each with 5 acres of land.  the community had previously been supported by a cloak factory, but when the factory left, the community fell apart.

So..... upon doing a bit more research, I find that my ancestors WERE NOT the poor besotted immigrants, but rather the evil developers in this story.  Source: Cape May County Herald, May 1902.

"Halberton was started in 1903, by Morris Halbert [my mother's father's father's father], Marcus Stein, and Leon Lait, the latter a New York banker.  The men purchased 5000 acres of land, and erected a large factory building and many houses.  A number of Hebrew families were brought to the place from New York, all of them investing every dollar they possessed.  A few months after Halberton was started, Stein, Lait, and Halbert disposed their interests to Julias Barcome and Marcus Solomon.  In less than a year, over $60,000 was sunk in trying to colonize Halberton.  Those who purchased farms there, which many of them had thought free of encumbrances, were heavily mortgaged to the New Jersey Building and Investment Company of Trenton.  The mortgages were foreclosed and the farmers and their families were dispossessed."

The Philadelphia Times, March 3, 1902, has this to say:
"The town was founded in 18933, when Morris Halbert and Marcus Stein purchased fjve thousand acres of land, much of which was laid out In farms of ten and twenty acres each. A town site occupied a thousand acres, upon which many homes and a large factory building were erected. The object was to establish a colony where many Hebrews of New York's east side could find healthy and comfortable homes at a moderate cost. Several families were taken there, the factory was put in operation, and for two or three months Halberton boomed. Then its promoters disposed of the town to Leon Lalt, a New York banker and broker. Lait organized the Cumberland Land and Improvement, Company, of which he became president. In a short time the colonists learned that their homes and farms had been heavily mortgaged to the New Jersey Building and Investment Company, of Trenton. The factory was closed. Without any means of earning a livelihood, the colonists were soon reduced to extreme poverty. This land upon which they had settled was barren pine land waste, unfit for farming. - When the colonists were about ready to desert their homes, Isaac Bercaine, of New York, and Marcus Solomon, of Boston, took control of Halberton. The colony was extensively advertised, and efforts were made to obtain more colonists. Bercame and Solomon worked hard to make the colony s success, but after nine months they decided it was useless, and they went back to New York, losers to the extent of $60,000. Then the New Jersey Building and Investment Company foreclosed the mortgage. The colonists were dispossessed. Relatives and friends helped some to reach New York, but many had to leave Halberton on foot. More than $100,000 was lost In the venture. A fine schoolhouse, built by that Township Committee, Into which no teacher or scholars ever entered, stands In the town. Halberton, with its houses falling to ruins, its weed-grown streets and deserted farms, is a striking contrast to the prosperous Baron de Hirsch colony of Woodbine, only a few miles away."

The town was rebuilt by 1897, when The Menorah, a Jewish monthly magazine from B'nai B'rith said "The Jewish settlement at Halberton, NJ is experiencing a boom.  One hundred and fifty houses are to be erected, and the old ones rebuilt.  New industries, including shirt, cloak, wrapper cotton, and towel factories are being contemplated."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Paternal Ancestors

Today, for complicated reasons, I hacked into my late father's email account.  While looking for some other information, I found some really fascinating information about my ancestors on my father's side.  As far as I know, all I've said below is true, but I'm no historian, so it's probably better to consider it all as myth.  Which, really, is more important than fact in the long run anyway.

There is a naming tradition for first-born sons in my family.  My brother's name is James.  My father's name was Michael.  His father's name was James.  His father's name was Michael.  His father's name was Dimitri.  I assume that Dimitri's father's name was Michael, and so on back into the mists of time.  James is not linguistically related to Dimitri.   many men named Dimitrios (who went by Dim for short) were called Jim in America, because of the similarity in sound. From Jim, they named sons James.  Demitrius (Δημήτριος), obviously means "Devotee of Demeter"and ties my paternal line to Demeter, the Great Goddess of the Earth.  Her name, Δημήτηρ,  means either Da-Mater (Earth MOther) or Dea-Mater (Grain-Mother).  Michael (מיכאל), on the other hand, is a Hebrew name.  It means "Who is like El".  And so, again, I find myself tied to the marriage and El and Shaddai.

UPDATED 2/3/2016.  After consulting with some aunts and cousins and doing some research, I have made a few changes, added some new photos, and added a section on the history of Kos.

Most of my Greek family is from the island of Kos, a small island in the eastern reaches of the Dodecaneese, about 10 miles off the coast, near Bodrum, Turkey (ancient Helicarnasus).  The island has been inhabited since at least the late Neolithic period.  A well-preserved Neolithic settlement called "Astri Petra" (White Rock) has been found on the southwestern tip of the island.  Having just now looked at some pictures, I am quite confident I have seen and visited it in visions, journeys, and dreams, where it was called "White Womb of the Earth".  I recall a large woman, painted with brown-red mud, wearing some kind of white fur, sitting on this altar/bench in the niche.  She may be an ancestress.  She may be a past life.  She may be my imagination.  Does it matter?

photo from here
 That being said, Karst caves all kind of look the same, so it could be a coincidence.  I hope to visit the cave myself someday.

The name Kos was attributed to the island long ago - for example, Homer mentions it in the Iliad.  The island is, perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of medicine.  Along with that in Epidarus (the home of Asclepius) the Asklepion (healing temple) of Kos was among the most ancient and respected, and her attendant Medical School was considered the best in the ancient world.  Here, Hygeia as much as Asklepios ruled; healers (both male and female) trained at the medical school of Kos were famous for their ability to not only cure, but also to prevent illness.  Their prophylaxis was, without competition, the best in the world.  Unlike other contemporary medical schools, the school of Kos, particularly under the guidance of Hippocrates, focused on holistic care of the entire patient, rather than on treating individual diseases.  While some writers like to draw a bright line dividing the "rational" medicine of Hippocrates' school from the "spiritual" healing of the Asklepion, no such division was understood by the ancients themselves.  Healers trained at the medical school often pledged themselves to service at the Asklepion, and the Asklepion sent patients to the Medical School as well.  

Fun fact: Medieval legend has it that Hippocrates daughter was transformed by Diana (whom, in this context, I understand to mean Hekate) into a water-dragon.

In the Hellenistic period (ie, between the death of Alexander and the rise of Rome), Kos rose to prominence as an important trading port.  It served as a "gateway to the East", and was famous for its silks, dyes, and exotic spices.  This prominence extended well into the medieval period, when the island was controlled by a series of Italian powers, notably Venice and Genoa.  In the 1500s, Kos came to be part of the Ottoman Empire, and remained so until it was taken by Italy in 1912.  The site of very heavy British and Resistance casualties during WWI,  Kos was liberated by the British in 1943, and returned to Greek control in 1948.  In modern times, Kos has a population of about 30,000 (about half that of Lancaster) and her primary industry is tourism, attracted by the beautiful beaches.  Today, Kos is on the front line of the Syrian refugee crisis.  Almost 1000 people land on the island every day, fleeing extremism and seeking a better life in Europe.

The first Greek family (not just a single man) to immigrate to Lancaster was the Caludis clan, headed by Kosta Caludis and his wife, Fotini Mastromichaeli Claudis.  They arrived in Lancaster, from the island of Kos, in August of 1908.

Shortly after Claudis and Fortini moved to Lancaster, so did Michael Mastromichaeli (1886-1953), whom I believe to be Fortini's first cousin, the son of her uncle Kyriako.  At Ellis Island, his name was changed to Michael Mastros.  However, family legend says that the name was shortened because it would not fit on a business sign.  This Michael was my father's father's father.   Michael arrived in New York City on the SS Laura in 1909.  He worked building the Lincoln Tunnel, where he earned $3 a day.  Shortly thereafter, caught rheumatic fever, and came to Lancaster to recuperate.  His brother John already lived here.

In 1914, Michael married Christina Nicholau, the daughter of George and Maria.  Christina was very religious, and always worried about the fact that they had not been married in a Greek church, as there was not yet one in Lancaster.   The Nicholaus lived at 304 South Prince St.

Michael and Christina's engagement photo

Michael & Christina's Wedding

Jim, whose Greek name was Dimitri, was my father's father.

They owned a grocery store at 302 South Prince Street, where Wonder Bar now is.  In 1914,  Michael's parents, Dimitri and Kathryn, and his youngest siblings, Marika (Mary) and Filipou (Phillip), joined the couple in Lancaster.  They all lived together above the store.  Over the next 9 years, Christina has 7 children, Catherine, James (my grandfather), Mary, George, Sophie, Sadie, and Christ.  She died from "female complications" (I'm pretty sure this means some kind of cervical or uterine cancer) in 1925, at the age of 38.

Mastros Grocery is in the background.  circa 1930?

In 1920, as Prohibition began, Mike (my great grandfather), along with his father, Dimitrios (my great great grandfather), opened the Mastros Cafe (Spaghetti is our specialty!) at 56 East Vine Street.  Dimitrios was famous for his bathtub gin, which he and his grandson James (my grandfather) delivered all over town in glass jars in James' little red wagon.  After Prohibition ended, they got one of the first liquor licenses in Pennsylvania.

Since Prohibition began in 1920 and didn't end until 1933, I suspect the date on this photo is wrong.  Fun family story.  Look carefully to my great grandfather's right.  That used to be his second wife, (ie, my grandfather's stepmother) but after he died, his kids had her painted out of the photos.

Mike died in 1953, of a heart attack.  He is buried next to his parents in Lancaster Cemetery, on the corner of Lemon and Lime Streets.

As I mentioned early, there was no Greek Church in Lancaster when Michael and Christina married.  In 1921, the Nicholau and Mastros families, along with several other Greek families bought a formerly Methodist church at 215 South Queen St for $14,250. This was the first home of Annunciation Greek Church.  The building now houses St. Paul's Church of God in Christ.  The first priest, Father Vasilos Vasiliadis, lived with the Nicholaus.  He led his first service on March 25, 1922, the festival of the Annunciation.  He was priest until 1930.  Mike played the bouzouki (like a mandolin or banjo) at the church.  He is the second from the right in the back row in this photo.
It's actually a bouzouki that Kosta is holding.

Michael's son James (Dimitri) was my paternal grandfather. He was born in 1916 in Lancaster.  Although he only completed the 8th grade, he was a great lover of learning.  In WWII, he served in Europe, first as an artilleryman, but for most of the war as a mess sergeant (cook).   I'll write about him some other time.

You can read more about the early history of Greek people in Lancaster here