Monday, September 8, 2008
A Trip to Siena
The Catholics understandably get a bad rap for a lot of destructive behavior over the years, but there's one thing I have to hand to the Mother Church: the preservation of some form of Goddess worship in a patriarchal world.
This was so obvious at Siena's famed cathedral, Il Duomo. Started in the 1300s and worked on for 500 years, this large shrine to the Virgin Mother was breathtaking and the site of some profoundly spiritual moments for me.
The floors of the cathedral are all done with stone inlay that depicts different biblical events, but also some serious pagain imagery. Included in this are the seven Sibyllae (the Sibyls), prophetesses from all over the ancient world. They're present here, because according to legend, they heralded the birth of Christ (or at least a figure of great love who would bring much change to the world). Interestingly, the Sibyl of Cumana, outside of Naples, gave one of these prophecies to the ancient Roman poet Virgil (composer of the Aeniad, the Ecologues and the Georgics), who was also initiated into the cult of the great Mother Goddess, Cybele.
These images still resonate with power that I could feel travelling up from the stones and into my body, and, of course, they are works of incredible beauty.
Scattered throughout the Duomo are other amazing pieces, including this triple goddess image holding a serpent. I stood with mouth agape at this piece for quite a while, stunned by the brazenness of this pagan image in this "Christian" church.
After some intense experiences with the Goddess and being dizzy from the incredible energy of the place, I was happy to wander the streets of Siena, purposefully avoiding the cermaics store (how on Earth would I get that huge serving bowl home) but not even thinking of avoiding the gelaterie in town.
It was truly a divine experience to eat gelato in the Piazza del Campo under a clear, stunningly blue sky. I'm pictured here with my gelato buddies and workshop friends. (I got two scoops of gelato - one was hazlenut and the other was panna cotta - if I had time, I would have gone back for another until I was sick with the heavenly delight!)
The same day we went to two other sites, collectively called San Galgano. The first was a ruined and unfinished monastery from the Middle Ages, and while here, we played ancient Italian songs to the Black Madonna and danced one of the healing dances among the still-standing walls.
Then we headed up a hill to a smaller chapel where Saint Galgano, one of the Knights Templar, returned from the Crusades and swore off war by thrusting his sword into a stone. The sword in the stone (one of many throughout Europe) was still there, in the center of the chapel honoring the Black Madonna, and I finally realized what this was all about. I saw it as an incredible spell-working for peace - turning a weapon of death into a kind of sacred marriage, phallic symbol in the womb of the mother - a testament to keeping the ways of love as opposed to violence.
I could feel the power of this magickal act still resonating in the earth below the chapel, and the energy flowed into the countryside surrounding it. So incredible!
This was also the place where a small shop sold lots of wonderful goods, and I swept up jars and jars of local honeys - honeys from gira sole (sunflowers - the Italian word comes from the verb for "to turn" and "the sun", therefore, turning toward the sun), lemon, acacia, rosemary and corbezzolo (a type of Mediterranean tree, the Latin name is Arbutus unedo - a picture is below). I also picked up some bee pollen from the region to use in some upcoming ritual work, keeping me connected to the experiences I had in Tuscany, the things I learned there about myself, and the commitment I have going forward to continue the work of the Black Madonna and the deep power of the Tarantella.