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On the beach, in the storm



The twelve days of Christmas seemed to pass very quickly this time, despite the rigours and monotony of pandemic restrictions.

Main image: Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman (Getty Pool)

But it’s always an ambiguous period, at least in Greece, for here the Christian belief in the Birth is complicated by a layer of folk-lore involving the Kallikantzaroi, the souls of the dead who haunt the earth at this time, with the express aim of wrecking the Tree of Life, which supports the Earth. Every Christmas these creatures, who have red eyes, cloven hoofs and monkeys’ arms and live on a diet of snakes and worms, become livid with rage because the Birth thwarts their evil intent.

The Kallikantzaroi are darkness and evil, the shadow side of the human soul. They occupy themselves by polluting food and water, and otherwise tormenting people, but are always fought with the weapons of all-cleansing fire and all-seeing light. They are finally ousted on the 6th of January, the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates St John’s baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, and the manifestation of God in the form of a dove. God’s voice is heard, and both light and water are present.

Epiphany is a major feast in Orthodoxy, the day on which the Blessing of the Waters takes place, and when the faithful take little containers of holy water home from church. The sprinkling of each room ensures the defeat of the Kallikantzaroi. But churches were closed this year because of the pandemic, and young men were unable to compete in icy waters for the prize of a flower-bedecked cross.

I try to have a fairly long walk every day, as regulations permit, and on the 6th I went along the beach road. It was all very quiet, and the waterfront was practically deserted. But I suddenly noticed a sole woman right at the water’s edge. She had her back to me, but I saw her lift what was clearly an icon, which she then venerated. I couldn’t hear her precise words, but it seemed obvious she was repeating the forms of the liturgy to herself. Then she produced a long ribbon, on the end of which was a small cross, which she drew back and forth through the shallow sea, so engaging in her own individual Blessing of the Waters.

Screened by some convenient trees, I stood there for quite some time, just watching. She was barefoot, and suddenly walked a few steps into the water, which must have been very cold. But she was not deterred, and continued her ritual. I left a few minutes later, not wanting to intrude on her private devotions any further. I was impressed that she wanted to engage in the little ceremony, doing what she thought was right, though alone.


'The woman on the Greek beach that morning faced no danger, but like her, Goodman acted alone and did what he thought was right.'


Later that evening, I was watching the news in my usual ambivalent mood, and asking myself whatever was going to happen next in these very troubled times. I soon learned: the BBC predictably suspended other reporting while the surreal drama of the Capitol invasion unfolded in Washington. There was something symbolic to see this happening on this particular day. At least that’s the way it seemed to me, even though the prolonged episode hardly seemed credible, a kind of apocalyptic scene of battle between the forces of reason and those of anarchy.

It was some time later that I saw film of a police officer. He was by himself, did not appear to be carrying any arms apart from a truncheon-like weapon, and had been chased by a mob of protesters to the top of a flight of stairs. In a tense moment, he was able to direct the rioters away from a particular doorway.

Several details came to light later. Eugene Goodman had served in Iraq, so presumably had been in tight spots before. The doorway led to the Senate chamber, where the Senators had been engaged, only moments before, in the business of certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Thus Goodman had managed to avert almost certain danger to the nation’s lawmakers.

Goodman is now in line to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his actions. The woman on the Greek beach that morning faced no danger, but like her, Goodman acted alone and did what he thought was right.



Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman (Getty Pool)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, COVID-19, Christmas, America, Greece, Capitol invasion, Eugene Goodman



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Existing comments

I suspect God is paying particular attention when we are alone. It's a two-way street that's personal. The woman alone at the water's edge, the man who stood alone to combat mob violence: these are personal statements where a choice is made. The very best of human nature. Which brings us to the Kallikantzaroi, the shadow side of the human soul. The best way to confront the shadow side is with the light. Great writing, Gillian, one of your best.

Pam | 02 February 2021  

Thank you, Gillian. Incisive and insightful as usual. There is something archetypal about this Light against Darkness struggle which occurs throughout most cultures and most of the world's religions. It is also a real struggle, as appears very strongly in the USA today.

Edward Fido | 02 February 2021  

How beautifully calming and in some ways poetic to link these two individuals - on the Feast of the Epiphany. The Kallikantzaroi unleashed into the Capitol - led away by the fantastically and appropriately named Officer Goodman. (Almost John Bunyan-esque, right?) My heart was in my throat as I watched him - and let's not forget the cameraman running up those stairs in advance of him and filming those Kallikantzaroi - like some rabble-virus rushing behind but then momentarily pausing before the next flight of stairs and away from Mike Pence's office - too - it appears - Trump's tweets naming him having by this stage morphed into the proud boys' led calls for him to be hanged! That woman of faith and her lone ritual stand as exemplary when compared to the mayhem of the US.

Jim KABLE | 02 February 2021  

‘There was something symbolic to see….a kind of apocalyptic scene of battle between the forces of reason and those of anarchy…..but like her, Goodman acted alone and did what he thought was right.’ A near-miss at a red light is not necessarily an indication that a future of chaos threatens the orderliness of how drivers use roads. Nevertheless, even if one believes that the Capitol riot was a watershed that shows QAnon-like irrationality is the hidden face of the American voter, it devalues Goodman to compare the real threat that he averted to a superstition.. Although it is biblically established that disruptive behaviours on Earth are reverberations of the war in the heavenlies, and that sometimes the heavenly wars physically manifest themselves in the form of demonic visitations, there are no evil dead with agency. Evil human souls choose to quarantine themselves from the saved, the suffering and the militant where they can torment themselves endlessly but nobody else. A symbol is an analogy between two realities, one analysed after perception one glimpsed after analysis.

roy chen yee | 03 February 2021  

Gillian, I have been to Greece so I could visualize your story as I read it. Thanks for relating the background that led to a wonderfully quaint religious event in Greek culture, Your connecting the ritual to the darkness and evil of Capitol Insurrection on that same day is very apt.

Gavin O'Brien | 03 February 2021  

Gillian, linking medieval superstition to US politics and attempting to legitimize these flights of fancy with the analogy of anarchy versus reason, defies logic. The folk killed at the Capitol were shot by security forces. There have been plenty of unauthorized mobs invading houses of assembly that hasn't resulted in terminal bloodshed. Just imagine shooting all the Aboriginals that used to congregate in the tents at Canberra. Women lifting icons from the sea in some primitive ritual to eschew the forces of darkness is reminiscent of the lady of the lake holding aloft Excalibur. Hardly a good basis for a democratic system of Government but perhaps a convenient way to demonize the Republican supporters.

Francis Armstrong | 03 February 2021  

Real icons, which are 'written", not painted, are a bit like sacramentals in the Western Church, Francis. They are not meant to be used 'in some primitive ritual'. Confuting their use with faded memories of an imagined Celtic past seems a bit far fetched to me.

Edward Fido | 04 February 2021  

Beautifully observed as usual Gillian. I think the pandemic has thrown us into examining our own beliefs and it is sad that some people are easily led into following the worst of their natures. We are social creatures but we must be careful to follow the light and not be led astray by greed and self interest.Captain Sir Tom Moore showed us what we can achieve alone when we do what we can to help others.

Maggie | 04 February 2021  

Thanks for your article and sharing your thoughts Gillian. There is a lot of food for thought here. I am sure both Goodman and the lady by the sea shore intended good and did what they thought was right. In fact I believe that Goodman actually did what was right under the circumstances. However on deep reflection, I’m not so sure that ‘doing what we think is right’ is a ‘guarantee‘ of it actually being right, for example on the sacrificial ritual of ripping out human hearts by early Aztecs.. The high priests of these civilisations would have felt deeply guilty I have been informed, if they had not carried out these procedures, which they were convinced were for the good of the nation and pleasing to the god Huitzilopochtli. This was considered not only normal, but a great honour, and many victims participated willingly. I find this ‘relativity’ of conscience matter quite profound, and well remember once a homily about this by a priest who was also a prison psychologist.

John Whitehead | 05 February 2021  

Thanks to you I now know what inspired Trump and his followers on the day of the Epiphany! One can only hope that the solitary prayers of the woman by the shore are answered, unlike those of the Trumpeters.

Juliet | 05 February 2021  

I loved this. Thank-you!

Kate Sommerville | 05 February 2021  

Agree with everything you said Gillian, with one small correction. It was not anarchists who attacked the Capitol, but fascists. A very important distinction; one which the MSM continue to ignore (or deliberately confuse).

Reg Tydell | 05 February 2021  

This was a beautifully written piece and for me the allegory was clear and apt.

Stephen | 06 February 2021  

We are closer to Spirit when alone - Do the Kalikantzari represent the “Constant Chatter” in our minds? Well Written

Starthis T | 09 February 2021  

I think, in Greece, as in other parts of Catholic and Orthodox Europe, there is a cross fertilisation between Religion and Culture. It has gone on for more than a thousand years. It is something we in the English speaking sphere have substantially lost. T S Eliot does not seep through to the person in the street. 'Culture' is much more than the culture of the chattering classes. The Kalikantzari are known to the average Greek motor mechanic and laundress. I have seen a very impressive Russian Blessing of the Waters take place in absolutely freezing conditions. One of the women bystanders looked just like my wife. The whole thing blew me. If Religion doesn't occasionally blow someone, I fear for their soul, because they are not genuinely alive.

Edward Fido | 18 February 2021  

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