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
"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
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
, 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
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
. 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
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
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
. 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
, most tamata can be bought from the Byzantine
church supply shops on
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
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?"
"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
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
"Don't be stupid," she hissed. "Get a