Testimonials

Testimonials 2014 and 2015

“This course held many delights. The best one for me was to experience something which I already knew in theory: That the Greek Gods and Goddesses, seen in ancient times as immensely beautiful and powerful, amoral, above and separate from our human concerns though free to meddle in them, are now present deep within us; We have internalised them.
So learning their attributes and particular areas of influence, we created forms and rituals together in which we named and honoured them, offered our gifts and invoked blessing on our endeavours, inviting them to speak to us.
All this gave my imagination scope to reimagine events and decisions in my own life within a wider, even archetypal, context. It was a great enrichment, and I'm looking forward to further studies as the chances arise.” Kathleen van der Weerd, 2015 Holland 

“I was in Amari attending Speaking to the stars during the month of May. May is a very challenging month for because more than one of my beloved have passed away during this month.  Each year I look for a personal celebration to honor them.  In this occasion it is important for me that there is a profound connection with the meaning of our presence on earth and beyond. Two years ago I chose Amari and I could not have made a better choice.”  Giovanna Conforto, 2014, Italy.

The Greek myths are powerful; they contain some very deep issues, connected with the most fundamental aspects of our humanity. A map of the feelings, ways to embody the relationships and conflicts and the great transformative events that mark the personal life (birth, growth, protection, love, betrayal, pain, death…). The Gods and Goddesses are complex and contradictory figures with which you can open your own comparison by resonance and attraction or by aversion and contradiction.

Working with Greek myths during the workshop with Stella and Roi, for me it meant to have available an instrument that enables you to go down very deep into self-knowledge. And this made possible by the storytelling, which reveals how the power of the myth is still fresh and alive today. The method used by Stella and Roi creates a safe and non-judgmental environment, where individuals quickly learn to feel as a group and to let emerge and exchange experiences and reflections. Every aspect is taken care of accurately. I can strongly recommend to anyone interested or just simply curious to meet this world of ancient stories, to participate in this workshop.   Laura Caslini, Italy 

“I first came across Greek myths when on a course at the International School of Storytelling in Sussex. Of course, I'd heard of them but had never studied them at school and they had never really entered my world in any great way. I was blown away by them. This inspired me to go to Amari on the Speaking to the Stars course with Roi and Stella.
All stories are biographical in some way, shape or form but Greek myths address human nature in a way that is able to speak to everyone. Each myth, God and Goddess talks about aspects of our person and behaviour in the timeless way that only stories manage to do. They are as relevant today as they have ever been. Human nature never changes.
On the first day of the course we were asked to pick a piece of paper at 'random' and on the piece of paper was the name of a Greek God or Goddess with their characteristics and elements that they work with. We were asked to look into the stories of the God or Goddess that we had chosen or, rather, who had chosen us. During that week I made friends with Zeus.
For me, it was a life changing experience. Through Zeus I was able to look at my courage, how I had skirted around using my courage for the greater good throughout my life and, perhaps, feared it in some way. Zeus gave me the helping hand to use that courage in the way that he would wish. One of Zeus' big things was about hospitality to the stranger, he would test people on their hospitality and punish them if he thought that they were not offering hospitality to strangers in the way that it should be offered. Zeus was also fairly big on punishment. It was through Zeus that I took the plunge to do the work that I had always wanted to do which is to work with refugees and we are living in a time when there are plenty in the world. 
It has been a bumpy but enriching time thus far. I have to say that if I have doubts about what I am doing, I pick up a story of Zeus, I read any of the Greek myths and they remind me that I am a very small (but important) cog in a very big wheel that has been going round and round since time began. The Greek myths give me the grounding, the space and the enormity of possibility that we all have within us to do what needs doing in the world.
If you have any doubts, banish them and go to Amari. Hold onto your hat for you may be in for one hell of a ride but one that you will never regret and you will come away all the richer for having delved into the world of Greek myths and how they continue to live in our worlds today.” Glenys Newton, 2015 UK

Speaking to the Stars, during my one week stay to Amari, has been quite an experience. Greek mythology has always inspired me and poked my imagination. I did know that Greek Gods and Goddesses were the archetypes of all qualities humans projected on them.
However in Amari, all this knowledge did become an experience. By incorporating the energy of the God I was chosen to be and by exploring in many amazing different ways the qualities of this energy, it became more than clear that all archetypical vibrations reside within every one of us and that it is a choice to either express them or suppress them. Interaction with co-participants strengthened this experience, together with the feeling of belonging, co-existing and sharing.
In a similar way myths narrate the history of humanity. Every character, either mortal or immortal could be you and me and anyone in the eternal human pathway. Exploring the myths is equivalent to exploring oneself and by Speaking to the Stars I strengthened connection with myself and others through deepening a little bit more my consciousness. Isn’t that a gift from the Gods?” Eftychia Christodimou, 2014, Greece

“I enrolled on the ' Speaking to The Stars'  course in 20015. This was the start of my storytelling journey personally and professionally. On the first day of the course we sat in a beautiful room in an old school, the sun was shining in through the long windows and we were asked by Roi & Stella to pick up a piece of paper from the floor. We were told that this piece of paper would hold the information of the God or Godless that we would be exploring over the next week. I started to read mine........ Hephaestus, God of fire, the forge, he walked with a limp and he made beautiful things out of ugly things....... Blah, blah..... I was not happy, this was not me, this was my husband, he worked with his hands. I then skipped off to lunch  with my usual haste. As I did that, I fell down some steps , fell flat on my bum and quickly got up with an embarrassed expression. I felt like I had been punched in the face and I walked with a limp for the rest of the course. So on day one I felt the power of the gods, my ego was knocked out of me and I had to really slow down. Amari was a magical place, I felt like there was something holding us all from the clouds, I had real moments where I connected to myself and my memories, I was made to look at moments of my life with a new perspective and this has really helped me in my life.
I have worked in education for the last 20 years, but this way of working is deeper than any other way I have worked before, I hold Hephaestus close to me, I recently painted a self portrait, so Hephaestus is there around me, helping me steer with freedom and support.
Thank You ISOS & Friends of Amari”
Eleanor Shaw, Storyteller and Theatre Practitioner, 2014 UK

“Working with myths for me has always served as a grammar and template for my work and storytelling work, especially. The course in Amari gave me the privilege of working with the god that I would not have normally chosen for myself.  As it happens, gods find us despite us believing otherwise. Amari has so much material to begin delving into dimensions of Greek myths and gods, that a week can seem too little. But it is a great beginning to take these fragments of research out into the world and find its interweavings. 

I discovered the spirit and power of this god at the heart of my work. It was like being in denial for a lifetime. And beginning to work with this understanding felt initially like looking at death in the eye, the heart of darkness. But as I grew used to the dark, shades of colours emerged there in and continue to do so. Working with the Greek myths was akin to peeling off layers of an onion, not knowing if we would uncover anything, certainly shedding a lot of water along the way! And certainly the basic spice to any cooking. I found a household recipe with onions today to clear one's throat!
The deep and ongoing enquiry with any mythological divinities is essential to deepening storywork. I may never tell any myths but to live and work with them as templates is vital to my work with storytelling. Working with Greek Gods in Amari led me to discover the importance of this and begin to develop my own work process to work with narratives and stories.” Gauri Rage, 2015, India

"I loved my time in Amari with Stella and Roi on the Speaking to the Stars course in Summer 2015. The opportunity to include the Greek myths was at the heart of the learning. The Greek Gods felt present in ways that challenged, soothed, inspired and touched many of us, me included. I was working with the Aphrodite archetype which was perfect for me personally and led to an inner connection that felt deep and delightful. Under that wonderful Amari sky, in the shadow of Zeus’s mountain, the Gods seemed to be with us in the village, in the cafes, in our workshop  and of course in the countryside around and about. Stella has a connection with the myths that are personal, relevant, contagious and deeply deeply inspiring. With her delightful guidance they came alive for me and still are!" Matthew Stone, 2015, UK

“Greek Mythology has been part of my life since I was a child and my mother used to me read the Odyssey aloud. In Amari I truly felt those ancient gods, with their archetypal power work by my side. I found a way to reinterpret my goddess as a goddess of those who have lost their voices- which was empowering and a way to deal with moments of powerlessness in my life. I definitely recommend working with Greek mythology and personal stories.”  María Serrano, 2015, Spain/Finland

When I worked with Stella on Greek Myths I learned incredibly much about the power of (the often invisible) Hera who I was linked to. 
One of the deepest exercises was one where I learned most about my own biographical story; it took place during an outdoor storytelling. In this exercise I asked Hera for the courage to be vulnerable. At that very moment, my myopia sunglasses fell off and bumped on the rocky surface. That actually made me vulnerable for the rest of the week; short-sighted I missed my glasses with the right bow unrepairable broken. 
Exactly a year later I was at home, lying on the couch, after an accidental fall on my right eye. From the 7 ophthalmologists I had seen, I learned that my eyesight would not recover in full. I feared for the end of my storytellers path which I had seen gradually unfolding itself after the 3 month storytelling course. It took me roughly another year in which I had to learn to be vulnerable and strong at the same time; I slowly began to see how things were meant to be. 
Last year, two of my partners in biographical counselling went to work with Greeks Myths with Stella as well. After the course we all were deeply impressed by the impact of autobiographical storytelling and myths and the common ground there was with our work. 
Thanks to Hera, my partners and I repositioned the individual work we had been doing for several years and founded our ‘Institute for Biographical Storytelling’. I can see clearly now how Hera affected my professional and personal life; working with Greeks Myths does open doors, deepen insights and give direction.”  Annette Filippo,2014, Holland

Stella Kassimati was just so comfortable drawing on deep wells of wisdom within her own culture with its rich mythology and history.
She told us Greek Myth first as captivating story and then to find a layer of meaning from which we might explore events in our own lives. This latter aspect was shared with co-course carrier Roi Gal Or.
In “responding to the archetype” my work was with Hermes through invoking his qualities.
Hermes has for a long time appealed to me because he is a peaceful messenger.
Now I equate my sense of humour with his being a trickster.
In  Hermes Gorge I offered to Hermes “story for fireside” i.e. my love of telling stories in small group gatherings.
And asked for “messages of peace spread far and wide, the return of spring to each heart” which are among my greatest desires today.
Recently, when translating into simple storytelling language passages from The Routledge book of Greek Mythology, I discovered Hermes’ early life had a great deal to say about family relationships. I am enjoying practising this part of Hermes’ story and eagerly looking forward to telling in a small gathering somewhere out there.” Kathleen Hunter, 2015, New Zealand

“You asked me for a testimonial about my working with Greek Gods and Goddesses.
Well as a storyteller I still and joyful tell the story: “How come that Jheronimus Bosch never painted the fall of Ikarus” This story was made during “Speaking to the Stars” in Amari 2014.
My hard working with the Goddess Hestia, the Goddess of hearth and home, has given me a painful insight in my life but also much comfort and joy.” Burt Lintmeijer, 2014, Holland

“What is meaning of life? I don’t know! I am as confused as everyone else in modern time. But every single time I’ve been listening to a Greek myth, I have had the feeling: “This is the truth! This is what it is all about!” If you ask me afterwards if I can explain and define it to you, I can’t because this is wisdom beyond brains and reason. But while I am listening I sense that I know and I understand. And to be brought there by a myth  encourage me to join daily life and other human beings and think it is not that bad after all and in a larger perspective be able to think: Cheer up, mankind! Practically Greek myths offer you a focus in daily life. In Crete in peaceful and warmheartet Amari in the course Speaking to the Stars I met Apollo. I am so glad I did.” Inger Lodberg, 2015, Denmark 

Testimonials of 2014 

Speaking to the Stars – storytelling in Amari, Crete, 8.5.14 to 15.5.14

As I write this, it was exactly one full moon ago that a dozen of us gathered from different parts of the globe to attend a story telling workshop in Amari in the mountains of Crete. 

Through a range of experiences including voice, play, song, movement and listening, our two experienced facilitators gently brought out skills and strengths to enhance the evolution of our chosen story. This allowed us to trust a deeper and more powerful voice to come through, a voice that was based on true life experience intertwined with archetypal myth. The  week culminated in a magical evening where everyone presented their story in a courtyard smelling of fragrant orange blossom and jasmine under a soon-to-be-that-evening, full moon. 

Many of these stories had never been told before. It seems that people are too busy and distracted to really hear and bare witness to receiving the gift of each other's stories and yet, when we do slow down enough, it is by far the most satisfying and nourishing form of entertainment, and perhaps the oldest, as humans have always engaged in storytelling from the beginning of time.

For me it was a powerful week leaving a deep impression etched in my memory for many full moons to come! 
Eleni Rivers, Australia

I enjoyed the gentle way in which the Greek Myths and autobiographical work were woven together. The sessions spent working outside in the landscape were particularly special and I left Amari filled with renewed wonder for the tiniest details in the natural world all around us. The experience of listening to others tell stories from their own lives with the context of these ancient myths there in the background was moving and thought provoking, and will stay with me for a long time to come. The course was very well held by the two teachers, who were attentive to the needs of the group and adapted and shaped the week with those needs in mind. Staying in the village of Amari was wonderful - I had never been to Crete or Greece before, and I felt absolutely welcomed by the warm hospitality of the Friends of Amari and the local people in the area.  Bronia Evers, UK


This course was a delight. It felt spacious and uplifting. The facilitators led activities well, with care and graciousness and without seeming to do much 
and yet I (and other  course members) was able to produce my story in a way I never thought possible. It was magical

I loved that everything was done beautifully with spirit from the opening ritual to our activities in nature, to use of sound and movement

And of course the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of Amari was as nourishing as the hospitality extended in looking after our needs while there

Thank you for a truly magical and effective course. Femi Hughes, UK

 

Thanks to the dedicated and devoted community of Amari

 I had a wonderful experience:

 I spoke to the stars

 I searched for the Gods

 And found back lost parts of myself

 Bert Lintmeijer Hengelo The Netherlands

 

Testimonials from Art Exhibition 23/07-04/08/2014:

Ωραία πρωτοβουλία, ωραία εκθέματα. Συγχαρητήρια και πάντα ενέργειες σαν και αυτές να προβάλονται και στην περιφέρεια.  Χρισούλα Ψαρουδάκη

Τα έργα είναι πολύ ωραία και καλοφτιαγμένα και δείχνουν τον πολλιτισμό μας που είναι πολύ μεγάλος σε όλο τον κόσμο. Ελευθερία Τζωρυζάκη

Η έκθεση πρέπει να γίνει ευρύτερα γνωστή. Συγχαρητήρια. Αδαμ Παραδεισιανός

Πέρασα από την έκθεση σας και έμεινα ενθουσιασμένος για το τι είδα. Συγχαρητήρια στους Πρωτεργάτες. Παπας Μαν. Λύτινας 

Thank you Eleanor Allitt for your gift! Πράγματι είμαι δώρο οι πίνακες της Eleanor για τον τόπο μας.
Ευχάριστη η συνάντησή της με το χωριό μας, τον Ψηλορείτη, την παράδοση μας, τους αρχαίους θεούς. Ευγενία Φραντζεσκάκη 

Testimonials of 2013

Speaking to the Stars:

"I knew that traveling from the USA to Crete to attend the "Speaking to the Stars" storytelling course would expand my horizons. I did not anticipate the magnitude of the impact that the content, instructors, and my fellow classmates would have on me. I have grown intellectually, spiritually, and culturally. This experience has been transformative!" Anthea Lavergne, U.S.A.

"The course was held in a caring, inspirational way. It was like a trip to fairy land, where everything is possible, the sun shining and penetrating deep into dark places - finding gems which were hidden there." Kaja Vildersboell, Denmark.

"Generous, inspiring, supportive, fun ....The final telling under the stars, beneath the big tree, was a sublime and memorable experience." Christina Rowntree, Australia

"This course was transformative, liberating, encouraging and Fun!" Barbara Leeney, UK

"A really tremendous week to explore life's experiences in a playful, deep and meaningful way." Dinah Pryor, UK

"Intensely beautiful. A meeting of landscape and metaphor inviting you to deeper and braver knowing." Julie Perrin, Australia

“It was amazing how quickly we - much thanks to the leaders of the workshop - established an atmosphere of trust and confidence, and how every member of the course after just a few days became BOTH ABLE AND WILLING to show such an amount of sincere honesty and great openness in their biographical storytelling. You cannot actually learn so much technique in only one week, but what happened was that people GOT THE COURAGE to put their life and experience and whole personalities in their storytelling- and that is what made the final stories on the last evening so captivating, so touching, so funny and so unforgettable.
During this week in Amari I felt really deep contact with people I never met before. And I truly feel that we all, although we came from quite different parts of the world and from different backgrounds, share the same life on this earth.” Nena Stenius, Finland

Speaking to the Stars, storytelling on Crete

There is always a bit of faith involved in signing up for a course; faith in the teachers, the intention, the other people who will make up the temporary community that you become for that week or several weeks.

Every time I do a course with the International School of Storytelling I wonder if it could ever live up to the previous experiences. Many of us were coming to Crete because we had been taught elsewhere by Roi Gal-Or and we wanted to be in his orbit again. Others were curious about Crete and Stella Kassimati’s  Friends of Amari.

Our eight days on Crete began when Naamah Pinkerfeld met us at the Estia – a homestead that was to become the gathering place for alfresco meals and verandah conversations. A core of people stayed in these spacious accommodations and others of us were in different homes around the village of Amari.

Stella took us on a walking tour of Amari, beginning with the spring of drinking water – ‘If you drink from this spring, word has it that you will come back to Amari.’ We passed the place where the women used to gather to wash the clothes; we looked up to the old bell tower and stood under the great spreading tree outside the village’s only coffee shop. We visited the small folk museum, a photograph hung over the hearth of a group of twenty or so unsmiling women staring without self-consciousness back at the camera. Amari, it turns out, is a good place to lose your self-consciousness and enter a bigger dynamic. The photograph called forth the question, “Does Amari have a history of strong women?”

The course information – which was useful, considered and accurate – had told us to come to Amari prepared. There are no shops, no ATMs, no pharmacies. We needed to be organised. There was an enormous freedom in the lack of distraction. I got to the end of the 8 days and realised the only time I had actually reached into my wallet was to buy a beer at the beach. I think I spent 3 Euros in the whole week.  These courses are never about money but we were generously taught, hosted and accommodated and fed for a modest fee.

The course formed part of a quest for understanding our relationship to concepts of destiny and choice and relatedness to the natural world. Roi led us into the landscape and over the week we explored a mountaintop near Pan’s Cave, hopped along the rocks by the side of the river at Hermes’ Gorge and visited Poseidon’s realm, diving into the sea.

Stella began by telling us stories from the Pantheon of the Greek Gods. Her voice was sure and she carried these stories that I had often found bewildering, to a new level. As the week unfolded we had a rhythm of meeting from 9am – 1.30pm.  Following a siesta we would regather from 5 – 8pm. The afternoon rest period provided time to absorb and reflect and a fresh beginning in the evening.

As the week passed we were heading toward that nervous pointy end where each of the 15 course participants would tell their own autobiographical story. How would this ever happen, people wondered. Our teachers kept a steady focus and firmness. We would do this and the stories that needed to be told would reveal themselves through the activities and exercises. People protested, they had no story, they could not do it, and so on.

In the event we did a final telling that began on the last afternoon at 5pm under a large Prinos tree behind which the huge valley of Amari unfolded in shades of green and mauve. We gathered in a semi circle offering our attention to each teller by turn. Fifteen storytellers and two intervals later we finished at 9pm. You would think it might be exhausting listening to so many stories. It was not. It was exhilarating, extraordinary, ordinary, human and filled with wonder.

I think the mark of a great teacher is a humility that takes things in its stride. Roi has this in spades. Another mark is the reciprocity that takes up learnings from the group. Stella did this with clarity and openness. We remain indebted to them both for gifts shared and exchanged. We drank from the spring, we climbed mountains and leapt over river rocks and spoke to the stars.  We were not disappointed.                                                                                                                                                                                      Julie Perrin August 2013 

 

Testimonials of 2012

The Odyssey: 

"A convivial and concentrated week in the warm heart of Crete..." Hugh Lupton 

"Amari is a haven, a sanctuary from the Babel that is modern life. If you want a space to take stock, try Amari." Daniel Morden 

"Beautiful, a long awaited breath of life which nourished me on a deep level. Thoughtfully and very efficiently organised." Eleanor Allitt 

"Friends of Amari opened up a whole new and interesting experience for me" Marc ter Kuile

"Strangers are friends you haven't met yet." Rien van Meensel

"Surprising but good. I always end up learning different things than I thought I came for. But working on this material (The Odyssey) in this landscape is really special." Janneke Tanja

"Unique. Sitting around the table....I felt like I was with good friends that I'd known a long time. To be here with such lovely people - sharing stories - each other's lives. Get away from it all - find yourself." Costel Harnasz 

"I had the time of my life!" Dawn Powell

 Amari   27.10.12  -  2.11.12
Storytelling Course with Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden

‘If you drink this water you will surely return.’  So Stella our host told us as we all 8 of us took it in turn to cup our hands at the village fountain. 

Amari is a remote village in the mountainous area of Crete, west of Heraklion.  We had come for a week’s course to study and perform the Odyssey.

Hugh and Daniel guided us step by step through the whole process of making the Odyssey our own.  That process which every storyteller knows where, like Cinderella, at some unperceivable point the story just creeps into one’s heart and becomes an honoured guest.  We worked hard, but in between times Stella had organised trips to interesting places associated with the Greek myths.  One afternoon an ancient 4 wheel drive taxi took us to Pan’s cave high in the mountains.  We crept into the cool darkness, feeling our way. A feint whiff of goats cheese hung in the air for this was where the shepherds until very recently, had matured cheese for many years. Another afternoon we visited a spectacular gorge where there was a cave said to be linked with Hermes, now overlayed, by Christianity, and St Anthony in particular.

We explored the dramatic rockiness and murmuring stream casting our minds back to what it must have felt like to be surrounded by all these ancient Gods and Goddesses. Apollo, Poseidon, Athena, Aries, Hephaestos, Hades, Zeus and Aphrodite, all were acknowledged.

Back in the village schoolroom we continued our progress into the heart of the Odyssey.  We worked in pairs, and Hugh and Daniel allocated each pair a section to work on, and to ultimately present on the final evening.  Our first run through was scary, I remember saying to Daniel

‘I don’t think I can do this’,  However somehow I stumbled through, my mind frequently blanking out, or worse just not being able to find the words.  More hard work. The time soon came for the performance.  This took place in Stella’s beautiful house, and of course accompanied by delicious local wine made by Stella’s husband.  Hugh and Daniel started with a background story – the death of Achilles, and then it was over to us. Somehow and miraculously everything flowed, and there was a very real and vital energy.  The performance ended with Odysseus’s homecoming  told by Hugh .

The week was not only a wonderful adventure into an outstandingly beautiful place but also deeply nourishing in terms of community and the sheer power of dedicating one’s self to the bewitching power of story.

This is indeed a place to return to, whether for a course, or to find a quiet place in which to pursue one’s creative projects.  It is so good to wander round this village, to see the ancient gnarled old olive trees, to explore the shepherd tracks, and to hear the quiet goatbells.     Eleanor Allitt      www.eleanorallitt.com

 

Speaking to the Stars: 

"This course is unique. It is important. The work of Amari is vital in a world with ever increasing connections which seem to have lost its most basic and fundamental human ability to truely connect." Sue Macmillan

"From my understanding of Living on earth so far.... the Amari experience was an honest, true and authentic meeting of Man and Gods". Sarah Vaughan 

"The Amari experience for me was a protected space in which to explore and discover memories, in the company of kindred spirits.” Pennie Hedge

“The Amari experience for me was coming to a place of safety and Original Participation! A little kingdom to know and love”. Hannah MacDowall

 “Unwinding, touching, touching base, abundant, fun-loving, great weather, deepening bonds, possibility of strong visionary woman!” Naamah Pinkerfeld

Testimonials of 2011

"Bringing the myth to life." Michael Harvey 

"Amari has given me so much. It's opened the door into storytelling and shown me how to step through. It's planted the sound of sheep bells and the blue of the mountains right in the middle of my heart." Nicola Davies

"I felt the breath of inspiration and found the beating of my storytelling heart again, amongst other searching people, in the middle of this beautiful valley of Amari." Mia Verbeelen

"Inspiring storytelling workshop, nestled in the mountains of Crete that combines the learning with journeys that bring the Greek myths to life." Anne-Marie Harison

"This week has been a dream and a delight. We have been craddled by the Gods and pampered by Amari." Teresa Winchester

Michael Harvey: Mixing the Muses
Amari, Crete 1 - 8 June 2011
Having visited Amari several times (including twice as writer-in-residence) I travelled there in early June 2011 to participate in Mixing the Muses, a storytelling course run by master storyteller Michael Harvey at the Amari International Centre for Storytelling.  Eight of us arrived from U.K., Netherlands, and Belgium with a common passion for stories and a wide range of storytelling experience.  We made our way to the Hestia - the heart and hearth of the Storytelling Centre -  a low white-painted building in the small village of Amari at the centre of Crete. 

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Amari is that the valley and the surrounding mountains are achingly beautiful.  Olive and Cedar trees, pink oleander and a profusion of yellow and blue wild flowers fill your eyes.  Psiloritis (the highest mountain in Crete at 2,454 metres) stands to the north, still - in June - with patches of snow visible near the summit.  As if all this was not enough to gladden a storyteller's heart, the landscape is impregnated with stories of gods and men: Zeus himself, we were told, played on the mountain slopes as a boy and had his Golden Throne nearby at Ancient Syvritos.  

The Hestia is modest and comfortable with mostly shared accommodation and a communal kitchen and eating areas where our amazing local cook Maria plied us daily with Cretan delicacies and substantial meals of chicken, lamb, vegetables and salads - all local produce - and we drank organic red wine and raki made in the village. During the week we visited Pan's Cave high up on Psiloritis (with 4 x 4 off-road vehicles courtesy of the Mayor of the Valley of Amari - 26 villages); we climbed the hill at Syvritos with our local guide Ari to sit on Zeus's Golden Throne and to see where the pre-Olympian Goddess was worshipped, exploring the local flora and fauna as we went; and we drove to the dramatic Patsos Gorge to visit the cave where it is said that Hermes once lived, followed by a sociable Sunday lunch at the Taverna at the head of the gorge.

The brochure had promised: A practical course that brings together the sublime and the earthy in a celebration of the fullness of life, enriches one's unique individual voice and explores ways to increase the audience's engagement and response.  I'm delighted to say that it more than lived up to its word. 

Michael Harvey is a skilled and generous teacher as well as being an outstandingly good storyteller. He led us through a well-structured and progressive process that enabled each of us to work at our learning edges. The work was profound, subtle and hugely enjoyable.  All of us, from newcomer to professional storyteller, made great strides towards that elusive goal of finding our own unique and natural styles of performance.  We had all brought stories to work on that were untried and relatively new to us.  What we learned during the week enabled us to tell them with greater boldness, genuine wonder, authentic presence and a lively connection with the audience.

Michael complemented the storytelling sessions with an introduction to the Franklin Method: an easeful and non-strenuous form of bodywork that develops a more sensitive and embodied awareness of how our bodies actually want to move.  Like storytelling, the method requires the active use of imagination and visualization so that the internal gesture and the external movement become congruent.  I will certainly continue to use its techniques to prepare and warm-up for performances.

What makes a storytelling course in Amari unique - apart from excellent courses and superb teachers - is the whole experience of being there: drinking raki at the Taverna in the village square, walking in the hills, enjoying local food and wine, meeting the 106 year old man who planted the huge tree in the school courtyard when he was a child, enthusing with the Mayor about the economic and cultural benefits we bring as visitors as opposed to the casual tourists who occasionally pass through, telling stories in the landscape to which they belong.  I can think of no better place for a beginning storyteller to learn the basics or for an experienced storyteller to deepen, refresh and renew their craft.

As for me? It seems that I have become an honorary Cretan! The story I worked on during the course (The Widow Artemisia, a tale of life, love and gory death set in a Cretan Village 100 years ago) will form part of the programme of Cretan stories that Stella Kassimati and I will be telling at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh and the Scottish Isles, 21-30 October 2011 (http://www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk/).

Geoff Mead, PhD
Director, Centre for Narrative Leadership
(http://www.narrativeleadership.org/)
Writer, storyteller and executive committee member of the Friends of Amari
(http://www.friends-of-amari.org/

Michael Harvey - Mixing the Muses,
Amari, 1-8 June 2011

As I came back home from a bracing walk on the Sussex Downs just after Christmas my thoughts went back to June last year when I spent a week staying in the glorious warmth of Amari up in the Cretan Mountains. This magical place was the venue for the “Mixing the Muses” storytelling workshop. I can still remember the week vividly. It was very special for many reasons:

The first has to be our amazing facilitator, Michael Harvey. I would have liked to sit and listen to his stories all day, but his focus was very much on us and his informal style made learning easy. He was encouraging, inclusive and insightful, and incorporated both bodywork and storytelling skills in a way that helped me try out different storytelling techniques, but more importantly helped me see storytelling in a whole new light – both stay with me today and I enjoy telling stories more and more.

Special too, were the other participants - an eclectic mix of nationalities, experience and styles, who were mutually supportive and appreciative. Those who were already wonderful storytellers were generous with their help to others and eager to learn more themselves. We had some great conversations outside the workshop too – in the converted school that we stayed in with simple yet ample facilities and space. We breakfasted on local yoghurt and honey and fresh fruit outside in the sunshine; and our own local cook made us amazing lunches and dinners – the very best of local Greek cuisine – delicious and tempting.

We often gathered at the little taverna in the village square, where the locals gathered at lunchtime and at the end of the day including a gentle, dignified 106 year old man. We found photos of him age 6 when he had just planted the seed of a pine tree right next to the taverna. It is now about 60 foot tall. Visiting the taverna every day and drinking his raki he was happy to sit with us, smile and chat, have his photo taken and even pose for a portrait.

Last and definitely not least, Stella Kassimati looked after us so well, introducing us to locals from Amari and nearby villages, making sure we had everything we needed and even inviting us to her lovely home for a fabulous Greek lunch. She told us her own wonderful stories about the local history of the village and valley of Amari, and organised three fabulous trips with knowledgeable and colourful local guides – to Zeus’ throne, Hermes’ Gorge and Pan’s Cave. We felt we were in the very heart of the Greek myths…..

I had a great time, learnt a lot about storytelling, ate and drank too much, felt at one with the surrounding countryside and relaxed in the company of fellow storytellers. 2012 offers yet more enticing events – do go, you can be sure it will be a treat!

Anne-Marie Harrison, from the GuestHouse storytellers, Newhaven

 

Testimonials of 2010

"Friends of Amari is working to re-vitalise one of the most beautiful valleys in Crete by filling it with song, story and music, drawing people from many corners of the world and transforming them with the richness and depth of its own culture" Hugh Lupton 

"Thank you for a wonderful, inspiring week. The chance to work and live with other storytellers in this very special, nurturing environment is one I wouldn't have missed for the world. I'll definitely return for more!" David Ambrose

"This course in Amari was special. The work and Stella's vision and presence are warm and incredibly humane. I hesitate to mention how wonderful this stay is - it is not about making Amari another tourist destination. It would be wonderful to have a continued association" Gauri Raje

"This was not a course like any other - the design of it was so simple and the things that came out of it so rich and unexpected. A huge privilege to work with one of the world's best musicians as well as one of the world's best storytellers. A chance to learn how to root my stories in place, rhythm and experience. It will take me a while to realise what I've got from this course" Marion Leeper

"For me, the Amari experience, in a nutshell, was .... Gold" Annejet Rümke

"I have great admiration for Stella in her efforts to revitalise the Amari Valley through cultural and artistic exchange, and wish her every success" Liz McGowan

Going to Amari is a journey into timelessness, into a place where Gods still speak their own stories through rocky mountain vista's strewn with mighty weather mood changes. The stories simply ran through us!" Taprisha Seifert

"You arrived at the beginning of the week full of expectations. I left with a treasure, probably not the one I expected, but a treasure anyway. Grounded, calm, knowing I've got great stories to tell - not all of them mythical but none the less magical" Janneke Tanya

"Being in Amari on this course has been a challenging experience for me personally. It has helped me greatly to develop as a storytelling person" Mike Forbes

"One visit to Amari is just not enough" June M. Wells

"Open your ears to the cockerels at sunrise, open your eyes to the mountain of the Gods and experience the wonder of Amari!" Emily Parish

"A dreamer is dreaming a dream about Amari. It is such a good dream that the dreamer doesn't want to wake up. Perhaps when, at last the dreamer awakes, the dream will have come true..."Sharon Jacksties

"Learning in Amari is a unique and beautiful experience - you become part of a community inhabiting an ancient and mythic landscape. I feels like anything can happen" Bridget Cousins

Testimonials of 2008

"Amari is somehow the place held at the edge of my mind, that I always wanted to visit but knew not where it was. A true heart-destination and the starting point for the next stage of my life" Fiona Eadie

"Bernard Lievegoed's ideal ‘Create culture islands where people's souls can be nourished, healed' that is coming to being here in Amari" Taletta Bierens

"I came with an open mind, and left with an open heart, all senses nurtured and refreshed" Roisin Murray

"The biographical course and being in Amari was a heart warming experience of beauty and connection, of culture, magic, wonder, excitement, hospitality, sisterhood, brotherhood. I really felt a whole human being. It deeply touched my heart" Annejet Rümke

"A wonderful enriching experience in authentic Cretan time, beautifully facilitated from the heart" Wallace Murray

"Crete is a magic island of ancient beauty and stories. At Amari this is treasured and nurtured" Polly Ballantine

It strengthened me, moved me ... and made my heart sing with joy ...That there are places like Amari in the world and also that there are people with beautiful visions that invest their heart and manifest them!" Naamah Pinkerfeld

"Peace Love Amari. Amari the Place of the Speaking Wind" Michelle Solly

"You can get out of it and contribute to it according to your individual interests and talents" Jan Van der Weerd

«Τρεις βδομάδες στο Αμάρι
η ψυχή μου ανοίγει πάλι
και χορεύει πεντοζάλι
με'στου κόσμου την αγκάλη» Μαρία Παπαδογιάννη-Κουράντη

« Φως σε σκοτεινό αμπάρι
οι ιστορίες μας στ'Αμάρι
Φύγαν οι καρδιές μας πάλι
Απ'της κεφαλής την ζάλη» Μαρία Παπαδογιάννη-Κουράντη 

 Friends of Amari.
The Moon in the Pomegranate tree,
Looked kindly on our festivities.
Right full she smiled to see us feast
On words, and tales and much to eat.
She eclipsed her laughter and made it dark
as we walked past olive groves, hearing dogs bark.
She rose behind mountains, was with us by day,
Was she sad as we were when going away?
We were taught by a Master, and led by a Star,
Twelve people journeying came from afar.
We danced with each other, with tears and with laughter.
We climbed through the rocks and all felt looked after.
We saw much of beauty and heard such pain,

Amari, Amari, I’ll come back again.  by Polly Ballentine 

 

Testimonials of 2006:

"Amari is simple, beautiful and untainted by the big world. A place to reconnect to ourselves and the earth."

"Abundant, delicious simplicity."

"Greek mythology was brought to life. To keep pace with the myths AND have a sensory experience eg. treading grapes. Simply wonderful."

"Storytelling in the land of the Gods, treading the grapes with Dionysus, exploring the cave of Pan, walking in the company of Hermes. We loved every minute of our time at Amari and nearly two years later still feel connected with this magical place as if by invisible multi-coloured silk strands!"
Geoff Mead

"Meeting the gods in their own landscapes, hearing and telling many stories, we shared and were content -- a week full of warmth, surprise and delight."
Kathleen van der Weerd


"Each time I return to Amari, I experience it in a different way. It is a place of infinite wonders for body and spirit."
Deirdre Stiles

Amari also inspires poerty:

The wild thyme stirs,
The goats stop to lift their heads.
Leaves rustle in the trees,
The light breeze of a longing heart
Spreads across the valley and surrounding mountains.
Spirits awaken from their slumber,
For it takes only one true seeker
to unlock the gate to other dimensions.
Always trust your truth.
Know it.
Breath it.
Live it.
Revel in it.
When you sing your song
you free yourself,
and you offer hope to others.

by Jo C