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A circle on a crossroad

LEGENDS AND TRADITIONS OF CRETE

Crete is famous for its history and also for its legends. Those strange narrations of a mythical character, which are told around from generation to generation and spread a cloak of mystery and magic upon incidents and phenomena, difficult for mortals to explain , thus in need of being elevated to the sphere of the mythical.

A SPELL FOR LYRE PLAYERS - THE CIRCLE ON THE CROSSROAD

The “Circle on the cross road” is the magical process by which Cretan musicians learned how to play the lyre in abundance of art, probably the most representative of all musical instruments of Crete. According to this legend, whoever wants to learn how to play the lyre well, has to go to a deserted cross road around midnight and there, he has to draw a circle on the ground, using a knife with a black hilt. Inside this circle he has to sit and play.
Soon, fairies will come from all around and will surround him. Their aim is not of a good natureTheir intentions aren’t good, since they want to strike him down. But since they cannot enter the circle, they try, by using all means, to deduce seduce him and pull him out. They say sweet words and sing beautiful songs and dance around bending their beautiful bodies… being naughty! If the lyre player is wise, he then steels his heart and continues playing the lyre uninterested in them. 

“But you don’t know how to play it!” they say when they realize their games on him go on strain. 
“Why do you play and waste your time?”. 
“This is how I’ve learned, so this is how I play” he responds. “I cannot see why this has to be your business”. 

“Oh, well…” they say, “If you want, we can teach you play the lyre the way even the stones could start dancing…!”. And they plead him to come out of the circle.
But he shows no interest in them, as he has been told to do so. A little while later, they ask just for his lyre. He gives it to them, being very cautious not to stick his hand or any other part of his body out of the circle; otherwise it will be cut off, or he might even loose his mind. Then a fairy takes the lyre, she plays for a while in a magically beautiful way, then gives it back to him unwillingly and says: “Take it. Now that you’ve listened to us, do you still not believe? Why then don’t you come out and we will teach you”. 
But the lyre player is not listening and he stars playing the instrument again, poorly. The fairies, which want to harm him, keep on doing the same thing over and over again awaiting for him to stick his hand out of the circle for a while. At the end of the night, when the cock calls for the day to come, the fairies, scared that the light of the day might reach them, they ask for a part of his body, whatever that might be, in return for their knowledge.

And then, he sticks the end of his little finger out of the circle, which they cut it off immediately. But they don’t smile at him. They teach him how to play and then they disappear.

And this is why when people pay compliments to a good lyre player for his playing, he sometimes says: “Well, what do you think? I was taught how to play like that on the cross road”
According to this Cretan legend, the talented players learned the art of playing the lyre on the “circle on the cross road”, a fact that confirms the widely common faith of people to God-teachers and Fathers or Guardians of arts.

The perception of the divine descendance of music is placed between the beliefs of this faith. The first ever lyre is believed to be made by Hermes, using a turtle shell, the skin of an ox and the intestines of a lamb, which he gave it a s a present to Apollo and he, in turn, gave it to the son of Orpheus, who was able to enchant nature, animals and plants with his music.

Sometimes, dreadful and frightening demons take the place of those beautiful fairies, which in turn take on the role of the instructor. At the beginning, they all dance around the lyre player and at the end they go closer and start talking to him. However, he has to remain silent, otherwise, in case he talks, they will take his speech away and he will become mute. The demons are satisfied with his good turn, that is their dance being accompanied by the lyre, and want to return the favor. So, their leader approaches, takes the lyre off his hands, tunes it and returns it. From this moment on, the instrumentalist becomes a great hand at the lyre, so much, that someone might say that the hands are playing on their own!
In Rethimno, specifically at the Margarites village, there is a similar version of this legend, with the widespread idea of the “deal with the devil”, for the player master his art.

The spirits ask the player how many years he wants to play the lyre for. Responding to this question, many of them touched their hair, meaning as many as the hair on their heads, that is for the rest of their lives. It’s though being said that someone got confused and, by mistake, signed the ten fingers of his hands. So, exactly ten years later, when asked to play at the wedding of his niece, on midnight, when the deadline of ten years had passed, he disappeared from the dance floor and was found lying on a well, next to the fatal cross road. And above him the demons screamed: “Now you are here, the next time you’re in!”

Even for the top lyre player from Rethimnon Andreas Rodinos, it is said that he was taught the lyre at the cross road, having the demons as his masters - probably as an exchange to his life, as he died young, at the age of 22.

So, whoever finds himself during a moonless night around the Omalos area could be lucky enough to hear the heavenly melody of the fairy-taken lyre player. And if this person is charmed so much as to become willing to learn to play himself, with the same divine way, the secret is now known.

A cross road, a knife with a black hilt and a circle drawn by it on the ground. And the fairies or the demons won’t be late… 


Elina Metaxaki 

Full text (in Greek) in STIGMES issue no 76

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