Dance, symbolism and Pythagorean philosophy: The ritual of

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Transcript of Dance, symbolism and Pythagorean philosophy: The ritual of

American Journal of Humanities and Social Science (AJHSS) Volume 14, 2021
"Kanilitsa" in the Greek community of NeaVyssa
Filippidou Eleni, Postdoctoral researcher, School of Physical Education and Sports Science,
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
Koutsouba Maria, Professor, School of Physical Education and Sports Science, National and
Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
Tyrovola Vasiliki, Emeritus Professor, School of Physical Education and Sports Science,
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
Klidonas is one of the most known Greek dancing rituals, which is also celebrated in the
Thracian community of NeaVyssa under the name Kanilitsa. Though symbolism and dance
have been examined in various ways, yet their relationship through the Pythagorean
philosophy does not appear in the dance literature. This relationship constitutes the aim of
this paper. In particular, the aim of the paper is to study dance and symbolism in Kanilitsa
through the dimension of Pythagorean philosophy, and particularly, its dance forms in
relation to the musical and dancing tradition of NeaVyssa, as well as their symbolic function
within the ritual. Data was gathered through ethnographic method as this is applied to the
study of dance, while its elaboration with the comparative method. The dances of Kanilitsa
ritual was recorded and analyzed using the Laban notation system and the morphological
method. Finally, the symbolic function of the Kanilitsa dances was interpreted on the basis of
the Pythagorean philosophical tradition. From the data analysis was found that the dances of
the ritual do share common characteristics both in their form and in their way of
performance, and function in a symbolic way within the ritual that ratifies the magic-religious
ritual process. Dance within the ritual of Kanilitsa, in the base of symbolism through the
dimension of Pythagorean Philosophy, acts as a mean for preventing the evil, but also for
protecting the magic divination ceremony, through the protection of the sacred centre from
the evil eye and the devils.
Keywords: dance, symbols, Pythagorean philosophical tradition, Greece, Thrace.
Ritual is the performance of an established sequence of standard acts (Paradelis, 1995), which
repeated periodically, linking them to a metaphysical order of existence (Erickson &Murphy,
2008) and through which they are transmitted messages in symbolic ways (Chronaki, 2012).
The concept of ritual has monopolized the research interest of many scholars from various
scientific fields. Initially, the concept of ritual attracted the interest of scholars of religion
(Durkheim, 1915; Frazer, 1890; Fustel de Coulages, 1963; Gluckman, 1963; James, 1955,
Smith, 1894), who assigned a secondary role to the ritual, giving a primary role to religious
faith. However, later on, the concept of ritual began to be of interest to sociologists and
anthropologists alike (Bloch, 1975; Geertz, 2003; Leach, 1968; Levi Strauss, 1977a,b, 1981),
who, in recent years, recognize its symbolism dimension (Crumrine&Crumrine, 1977;
Douglas, 1970; Rodríguez, 1991; Turner, 1967; 1969; van Gennep, 1960; Wilson, 1954).
As constant channels of communication, symbols reflect the tactics by which ritual renders or
subverts social reality. On this basis, and according to Geertz, the importance of the symbols
in the meaning of human civilization is unquestionable (Geertz, 2003). Scholars therefore
consider symbols to be an important element of ritual, as the meanings in the ritual act
become meaningful through the use of symbols. Thus, they use symbols to reveal the
particular meanings of rituals and in addition they approach dance as a component of ritual
practices with emphasis on its symbolic dimensions (Broker, 1995; Buckland, 1995; Dunin,
1995; Grau, 2001; Hieb, 1974; Kaeppler, 1995; Lange, 1995; Snyder, 1986).
However, although researchers have dealt with the symbolism of dance in the context of
ritual practices, either at a purely theoretical approach or at an ethnographic level, is noted the
absence of their involvement with the symbolic dance through Pythagorean philosophical
tradition. This fact attempts to negotiate this study through the analysis of a dancing ritual
that performed throughout Greece at the birth day of Saint John the Prodromos (the
Forerunner) on the 24th of July.
In particular, one of the most known dancing rituals, which is celebrated on that day in
various versions in many regions of the Greece and is associated with the summer solstice, is
that of Klidonas. The word Klidonas has existed since the Homeric era and significated the
hearing of an omen or prophecy, as well as the combination of random or incomprehensible
words or acts during a divination ceremony, in which a prophetic significance was attributed
(Megas, 1963). The ritual of Klidonas is celebrated also in various communities of Thrace
prefecture in northern Greece. One of these communities is NeaVyssa, situated on the north-
eastern plain area of the Province of Evros and inhabited by refugees coming from Bosna of
Turkish Thrace, after the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey in 1923.
In NeaVyssa the ritual of Klidonas is known by the name Kanilitsa, which probably is a
version of the word Kalinitsa derived from Kali nifitsa (good bride), as on that day, young
girls used to dress up like a bride (Papachristodoulou, 1929; Thrakiotis, 1994). Kanilitsa is a
female dancing ritual, which is celebrated on the 23th, 24th and 29th of June in various
neighbourhoods of NeaVyssa and consists of a sum of symbolic actions that aim to the
revelation of the identity of the future husband of single women through magic-religious
rituals (Filippidou, Koutsouba, &Tyrovola, 2009).
Till the 1980s, the inhabitants of the community associated the birth day of Saint John the
Prodromos with the summer solstice on the 21st of June and practiced water divination
attributing to Saint John a divinatory capacity. Nevertheless, many of the NeaVyssa customs
were devised for a way of life very different to the one lived today. So, after the 1980s, the
ritual of Kanilitsa has not the same significance. After then, according to the inhabitants
comments, perform the ritual of Kanilitsa for keeping past memories alive, as well as, for
pleasure and entertainment.
The review of literature related with the Thracian dancing ritual of Klidonas, showed that a
number of researchers have studied it (Apostolidis, 1962; Kavakopoulos, 1959; Kiakidis,
1960; Kourtidis, 1897; Loukatos, 1978; Megas, 1963; Papachristodoulou, 1929;
Papaioannidis, 1929; Thrakiotis, 1994; Vozaklis, 1956; Vrachiologlou, 2000). However, the
majority of these studies have looked at the ritual as a survival of ancient religious practices
or as folklore, while reference to the accompanying dancing is only general and fragmentary,
while in some cases, there is no reference in dance at all. Moreover, as far as we know, the
study of dance symbolism in the Kanilitsaritual from a Pythagorean philosophical point of
view has not been found in the existing literature.
Based on the above, the present study attempts to transcend the mere description of the ritual
and to render value to the role of dance within it. Thus, the aim of the paper is to study dance
and symbolism in the ritual of Kanilitsa, through the Pythagorean philosophical tradition, in
order to define the dances performed during it and their particular characteristics in relation
to the overall musical and dancing tradition of NeaVyssa, as well as their symbolic function
within the ritual.
In order to examine the aforementioned, the methodological process consisted of three steps,
namely data collection, analysis and interpretation. Data were gathered through the
ethnographic method as this is applied to the study of dance (Buckland, 1999; Sklar, 1991)
and based on primary and secondary sources. Primary sources refer to data gathered through
fieldwork that was carried out at the region of Thrace, and particularly at the community of
NeaVyssa from December 2000 up to June 2019. Oral history was used as a method, through
which everyday memory is projected as a quest of social history (Thomson, 2002). The
overall course of field research was performed by the dual experience of the local culture
with reference both to the habitants of this particular community (carriers of the local
culture), as well as to the researchers (Erixon, 1967). Secondary sources refer to the review of
the related bibliography (Lampiri-Dimaki, 1996) that had been collected through archived
ethnographic research (Gefou-Madianou, 1997; Stocking, 1992) and includes analysis,
evaluation and integration of the published literature (Thomas & Nelson, 2003).
Collected data were classified according to the van Gennep methodological model (1960),
which can be implemented in all the manifestations of social life that function as custom
processes or rituals. In more detail, van Gennep was the first to describe three phases in all
rites of passage, underlining the importance of symbols in phase delimitation. In this way he
set a new direction in the approach of rituals, which until then were regarded as a simple
practice of traditional societies. According to the model, all rites of passage dispose of a
threefold structure and include three phases (van Gennep 1960): a) phase I: the preliminal
rites (rites of separation), b) phase II: liminal or threshold rites (rites of transition) and c)
phase III: the post-liminal rites (rites of incorporation). Though a number of other models
have been developed after the one of van Gennep, as it has already been mentioned, yet, the
choice of the particular model was in purpose. And this, because the model was applicable to
the data gathered while its threefold structure fit to the performance of the specific ritual.
The analysis of the data concerning dancing within the ritual of Kanilitsa was based on the
following parameters: the particular dances performed during the ritual, the dancers, the
dance paths, their music accompaniment and tempo, their context as well as their function.
Information for many of these parameters was gathered from the recording of the dances with
Labanotation (Hutchinson, 1977;Koutsouba 2005), as well as from the analysis of the their
structure and their form, as methodologically suggested by the IFMC ethno-chorological
group (I.F.M.C., 1974; Martin &Pessovar, 1961, 1963), as well as from the analytical
structural-morphological and typological model, as proposed and used in the analysis of
Greek traditional dance (Filippidou, 2011, 2019; Koutsouba, 1997, 2007; Tyrovola, 1994,
2001, 2010). Finally, the symbolism of dances in the ritual of Kanilitsa and more specifically
the symbolic meaning and the secret features of numbers 3, 4 and 7, as well as the figures of
circle and cross, which are appeared in the ritual are interpreted according to Pythagorean
philosophical tradition (Tyrovola, 2006, 2012).
Specifically, the relevant arguments are developed on the basis of the fundamental principles
of Pythagorean numerology presented in the most comprehensible way, using primary
bibliographic references from the saved works (biographies and treatises) of important forms
of Pythagorean and neo-Pythagorean philosophy, such as NicomachosGerasianos,
Iamblichos, Porphyrios, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius et al., from indirect or direct references
to other later Pythagoras philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, as well as to neo-
Platonists, such as Stoaios, Proclus and Plotinus. At the same time, Greek and international
bibliographical references (secondary sources) are used, coming from contemporary scholars
of Pythagorean philosophy.
In particular, the interpretation of the data with reference to the symbolic dance of the
Kanilitsa dances was based on the principles of philosophical research (Thomas & Nelson,
2003; Dimopoulos&Tyrovola, 2008; Tyrovola, 2012), and historical research (Hobsbawm,
1998). Philosophical research was developed in the context of critical exploration and
evaluation with the aim of examining reality through the use of stochastic procedures rather
than practical tools of empirical science. Philosophical research has followed by the process
of stochastic technique, which is necessary in measuring and analyzing concepts and values
as they are perceived by humans (Thomas & Nelson, 2003; Dimopoulos&Tyrovola, 2008;
Tyrovola, 2012). Historical research has been based on the identification of relevant primary
and secondary sources. In particular, it was based on the critical examination and reading of
written sources that give us information about the past, treated as an attempt to restructure
and interpret the past for the purpose of interpreting the present (Braudel, 2001).
The ritual of Kanilitsa
The ritual of Kanilitsa in NeaVyssa is celebrated for three (3) days that correspond to the
three phases of van Gennep s model. The first day includes the rites of separation, the second
the rites of transition, whereas the third the rites of incorporation. All phases take place at the
well or the fountain of every neighbourhood of the community, or generally wherever there is
of June, by finding the right persons to participate
in the ritual as importance is given to the girl that will embody the Kanilitsa, namely the
bride who has to be sibling, single and different each year. Each neighbourhood -there are
four in total that still perform the ritual nowadays, has its own Kanilitsa, who dresses a
wedding dress, a veil over her face and a twig of basil over her right ear. A different type of
preparation takes place on the eve of the ritual, on the 23 rd
of June, which is a phase of purely
sacred character and includes the agermos (group visit paid to houses) and the
klidomatoumastrapa (“locking” of a sort of brassware mug).
Figure 1: Kanilitsa ritual in 1960 and today
In particular, during the agermos on the eve of the feast of Saint John the Prodromosand after
the vespers service, four (4) single girls stand in front of the well of seven (7) houses in total
of Kanilitsa of every neighbourhood, holding a white sheet from its four corners over their
heads and sing at the same time: «…Κανιληζαμοςππωηοζηθανεμναμ’, μ’
ζηειλεγιακπονεπκαιγιαδποζεπ, ναποηζοςμεηοβαζιλικκαιηομπανηο…» [My Kanilitsa,
first married, my mother sent me to get some cold and fresh water, to water the basil and
amaranth plants...]. After they finish the song, the landladies draw a bucket of water from the
well and pour it over the sheet.
Figure 2: The agermos
On the evening of the same day, the klidomatoumastrapa takes place. Kanilitsa draw down
from the well the “unspoken water”, puts it in a mastrapas (sort of brassware mug) full of
flowers and carries it to the place where the ritual will be performed. The water is called
“unspoken” because the girl who draws it must not talk to anyone until she leaves it to the
specific place. Following, the girls who will participate in the ritual of Kalinitsa throw inside
the mastrapastheir simadia (signs), i.e. jewels tied to a thread, close, i.e. “lock the
mastrapas”, with a red woven napkin and leave it open in the countryside during the whole
night, so as the stars could see their simadia, and cast a spell on them, thus acquiring
divinatory qualities in order to foretell the things that will come.
Phase II: liminal or threshold rites (rites of transition)
The performance of the second phase of Kanilitsa begins on the morning of the following day
and finishes late in the afternoon. That time, also married women, relatives and neighbours,
join the company of the single girls, in order to act as witnesses of the divination process.
Likewise, that phase also has an exclusively sacred character and includes the mazoxi
(gathering), the xeklidomatoumastrapa(“unlocking” of the brassware mug) and the dance.
In particular, during themazoxi,the girls of the neighbourhood, aged between 9 and 12 years
old, who will participate, gather in the house of Kanilitsa where the ritual will be performed.
Along with them, there are six (6) Kanilitsoudia, little girls between 5 and 8 years old. After
the girls gathering, Kanilitsa, with two friends of hers holding her one from her right arm
and the other from her left, come out of a flowered garden of a neighbouring house. The three
(3) girls walk towards the house of Kanilitsa, singing three (3) specific songs.
When Kanilitsa comes, the older girls and the Kanilitsoudia form couples and place
themselves in two homocentric circles. The six Kanilitsoudia stand in the interior circle
forming three (3) couples, while the exterior circle is formed by the older girls and Kanilitsa
sitting in a chair. In the centre of two circles the mastrapasis placed with the simadia inside
and according to the informants, “this is the spot where Saint John also stands”. Following, a
just married and sibling girl, opens the mastrapasand stirs the simadia with her right hand
singing the following: «νοιξεΚλδωμ’ νοιξεν’
ανοξειηοπιδικμαρκιζακαληερΒενεηιρλανα ’ναιδικμαρ» [Open, my Klido, open, so that
our fate will open and may all the goods of Venice be ours]. Then, all the girls sing together:
ναμαρακοζοςνοιμοπθερκαιηαπαλλεκαποδια» [They opened the mastrapas for us, to sing
the songs, so that the pretty girls and young men would hear us].
Afterwards, the first married girl “unlocks” the mastrapas, i.e. the xeklidomatoumastrapa,and
recites a mane -a song of four verses of mocking and humoristic character that refers to
passion, love and marriage; meanwhile, she takes out of the “unspoken water” the first
simadi, which is considered to be of great importance, because it is believed to bring luck to
its owner. Right afterwards, all the couples of participating girls successively sing their own
mane, while they pull the thread out of the mastrapasand take out a simadi. The procedure is
repeated until all the simadia to be taken out of the mastrapas. In that way, the “unspoken
water” does “speak” and foretells the fate and the future of each girl that takes part in the
ritual through the singing the mane, while she is being commented by the rest of the
participants. After the end of this procedure, Kanilitsa takes the mastrapasand the simadia to
her house, and she keeps them there until the beginning of the third phase of the ritual.
Figure 4:The xeklidomatoumastrapa
Right afterwards, a closed circular singing dance is performed exclusively by the participants
of the ritual in the space where the two homocentric circles occupied before, around the
mastrapasfilled with the “unspoken water”. The dances performed are the following three
(3): syrtos (stavrotos), 7/8syrtos and kasapikos, danced in the order mentioned; every dance
is danced in form of three (3) circles. Following, the girls go to the well, cover their head
with a towel, and then try to recognise the face of their future husband by looking at the
bottom of the well.
Phase III: the post-liminal rites (rites of incorporation)
On the eve of Saint Apostles day on the 29 th
of June, Kanilitsiat’ka feast is celebrated; that is
the feast of Kanilitsa, which has a merely secular character. At this point, it should be pointed
out that, according to the sayings of the informants, the secular phase is celebrated one week
after the sacred week, due to the fact that it coincides with the Saint Apostles day on that
date. Moreover, as that period also coincides with the harvest time, people try to organise
celebrations whenever there is a feast day, even in the case of insignificant ones, with the aim
to propitiate the saints in order to contribute to a good crop. This is the reason why there is
such a long time distance between the third phase and the rest of the ritual. This phase
includes the Kanilitsiat’ka and the dance.
During the Kanilitsiat’ka, since early in the morning, all the mothers of the girls that
participated in the ritual gather in the Kanilitsas house, where the ritual has been performed;
each one of them brings ingredients for making the milina (a sort of twisted cheese-pie), as
well as fruits and vegetables. When the preparation is completed, the girls who participated in
the ritual arrive to the house, bringing some coin that will offer so as to take back their simadi
in exchange. In this phase the dance has a purely festival character as it constitutes a secular
event for all the women of the neighbourhood, whether they participated or just acted as
witnesses in the second phase. The dancing repertory includes the dances of…