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Tamata & Thamata


MY SENSE of humour was ailing. My friends told me that it would take a miracle to heal it whilst living in my present peripatetic, apartmentless state, sleeping on Yannis' floor with two dogs while my own apartment was being rented out.

"A miracle?" I said. "Great! I'll go get one!" Having been raised a devout Orthodox, I knew that miracles were had for the asking in all the Orthodox churches. You can get them by offering tamata.

Tamata are votive offerings or promises made of rectangular pieces of metal with miniature body parts shaped on them. They are made of tin, silver or gold, the choice of which depends on the amount of faith or the amount in the wallet. There is no actual record or evidence that a more costly tama is more effective than the cheaper tin one. I find this heartening.

When a loved one is ailing, modern ancient Greeks buy tamata. In Athens , you can find tamata ranging from ears to ankles and fingers to houses, but in the odd case they don't have the right body part for you, vendors can be inventive. For example, a friend of mine looking for a kidney was offered two livers.

Modern ancient Greeks then take the tama to the church of their choice and tie it with a ribbon to a horizontal pole under the icon or painting of their chosen saint. Tamata conveniently have holes at one end for the purpose.

Which saint? My grandmother chooses her saints from dreams. When my uncle was ill, she had a dream to hang a tama, offer some koulourakia (round coffee biscuits) and light a candle at the Panagia church near her home on the island of Andros . Lo and behold, my uncle recovered from his cold after a week. She has sent biscuits and money to this church once a year ever since.

If you want to do this, the procedure is simple. Buy a tama, hang it, light a candle, and if you wish, any offerings will be gladly accepted by the church.

Tamata are the symbols of the miracle of healing which is hoped to occur, or has already occurred. They are the vehicle in which we invest our faith. So they are an integral part of the miracle. Tamata are a link between the person and the Holy spirit.

Tamata made of clay have been found at ancient Greek healing centres and temples, such as religious sites of the Prepalatial Bronze Age around 3,000 BC, on Crete . They have also been found at 8th century BC sites, such as at Amphiarion where the majority were still made of pottery and wood, but also metal ones started to appear.

The major ancient Greek god linked with healing was Apollo, and, interestingly, in modern ancient Greece , most tamata can be bought from the Byzantine church supply shops on Apollonos Street near the Mitropolis church.

So I went searching for a miracle to cure an ailing sense of humour. Like my grandmother, that night I had a dream. But, in my dream, I was being chased by a packet of cigarettes up the steep mountainside to the Profitas Ilias monastery on the island of Hydra, which is three hours by ferry from Pireaus, plus two hours' uphill hike, and isn't open to the public. So instead I decided to go to my local church, Agios Ioannis Theologos, an 11th century Byzantine church in the Plaka which is full of miracles hanging under icons.

But first I had to buy a token miracle for myself. I started down Apollonos Street in search of tamata. Here's a typical conversation that took place during my search, translated from the Greek:

"To your health! (Yia sou)"

"To your health!"

"Do you have any miracles?"

"Of course. What kind?"

"I need a sense of humour."

"Sorry, I don't have any. What part of the body is that in?"

"Good question."

"I've got a head. Is it in the head?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe it's in the heart. I have a lot of hearts, different shapes."

"I don't know."

"Here, take the whole body. And pray. That will be a thousand drachmas."

I took the tama to Agios Ioannis Theologos, lit a candle, and said a prayer.

While I was praying, a priest came up.

"What can I help you with, my son?" he inquired, with concern.

"My sense of humour is ailing, Father."

"Surely that's impossible for a Greek. Tell me a joke and I'm sure it will be funny."

"A priest, a rabbi and a minister were out in a boat..."

At this point, he showed me the door. This lifted my spirits. My votive offering was already working! To make sure, I phoned my grandmother for advice.

"Granny, my sense of humour is ailing. I need a miracle."

"Don't be stupid," she hissed. "Get a job."

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