Follow me on a Curious Journey...
Can entering the sacred space of death resurrect a buried rite to life?
Come with me on a curious journey into Graveyard Ground: Florence, Italy's Cimitero della Porte Sante, as I traverse the Realm of the Dead and re-verse the Realm of the Living, crossing boundaries and exhuming lies, to reveal buried secrets hidden in Plain Site....
A trail of breadcrumbs before we begin...
In Florence, Italy, situated on a hilltop above the famed Piazzale Michelangelo resides one of the many revered artifacts of human construction: the Catholic Institution’s Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. Surrounding and underpinning this Abbey is its cemetery, Cimitero della Porte Sante: an unavoidable inclusion by the church of the sacred sovereignty of Mother Nature.
Within the cemetery, we are confronted with undeniable evidence of one of the most natural rites of passage and sacred thresholds of all: the phenomenon of death. Inherent within this space is the implicit realisation of something truly beyond human construction: an autonomous force larger than the human that acts upon the human with inviolable sacred sovereignty. Yet this natural force is also the ultimate social phenomenon: encompassing burial rituals and practices of varying cultural significance, while unitarily equalising all humans regardless of social status, levelling all false privilege artificially bestowed within life, and returning all humans alike to the womb/tomb of Mother, an inescapable succumbing to the preeminent forces of Nature.
At the Cimitero della Porte Sante, we find a culturally pervasive example of contested space: the colonization by patriarchal religious construction of Mother Nature’s primordial womb/tomb cycle of life, and this juxtaposition creates a series of questions, along with the possibility of traversing and reversing various perspectives. Is the church really “alive” and the cemetery actually “dead”? Could the cemetery reveal life and the church dispense death? Do man-made attempts to construct sacredness entomb natural life? Can kneeling before the inescapable sacredness of Mother Nature resurrect a buried impulse for life?
My research will examine whether a complete phenomenological entering of the human into this natural space of death can reveal a sacred pathway to life, both by examining the impact of patriarchal religious ideology upon life and by embracing the natural phenomenon of Death as sacred initiator into the Mysteries of Life.
Day 1: The Initiatory Journey
Introducing Grand Mother Death and the church of the living dead at Cimitero della Porte Sante
Staircase 1 - 28 steps
Staircase 2 - 28 steps
Staircase 3 – 23 steps
Staircase 4 – 51 steps
There are 130 steps in total. Reducing:
1+3+0 = 4
Four. The 4 Directions, the 4 Seasons, the 4 Elements. Also, the preceding root 13, the number of the Goddess, which reversed under patriarchy became supposedly “unlucky.”
Of course, the inescapable realm of Mother underpins the artificial construction of the church fathers. I am unsurprised by the appearance of this synchronicity, because something told me to count the church steps for a reason in the first place. I ponder how the patriarchal mind is perpetually bound unconsciously to the very Nature Forces it seeks to exclude.
As I ascend the stairs, I am greeted on the third staircase by a visually disruptive sight of two men in uniforms harassing visitors to sign some forms. Formal forms; formal uniforms. I note the juxtaposition of their invasive colonization of the third staircase and the supposed sacredness of the site.
Ignoring this disruption, I make my way onwards and upwards towards the cemetery. As I stand at its threshold, at the very moment of my arrival the church bell tolls once. I accept this as permission from the Cemetery to enter.
Immediately, I notice a pink and white offering of roses to the first grave on the left. I walk up to them and touch them. They are fake flowers. There are signs of construction and barriers on my right along with a terracotta eagle on the left, a masculine, solar bird of prey. I reflect on his odd presence within a cemetery and contrast this with the absence of the relevant Vulture Goddess who adorned the Neolithic burial caves in Catal Huyuk.
I arrive at the statue of a child, huddled and kneeling in prayer, adorning the grave of a boy of less than one year old. There is an angel statue behind him. Both of their eyes gaze upwards, in supplication, idealized innocence, and subjection to an authority outside of themselves. I wonder how this child feels, immortalized in this way. The passivity is evident.
Electric coloured rubbish bins interrupt the space, juxtaposed next to artificial, neon-yellow fake flower offerings. At that moment an elderly man with a professional camera comes to photograph the architecture directly in front of my view. Perhaps he is searching for the “perfect shot.” Otherwise, all is quiet except for the distant sound of traffic, the distant sound of police sirens, the distant sound of an iPhone notification, the rustling leaves, the chirping birds, and the stirring of plastic tape around a constructed white and red barrier, while the police sirens drone on in the distance.
The wind is energy, life breath, peace, despite its audible stirring of the nearby construction tape.
I wander the cemetery exploring statues. So many female eyes look down, passively immortalized in stone. So many male eyes look out, direct, active.
I am unable to settle; I have not yet found my place within the space. The residues of man-made artifice and falsehood, both physical and ideological, break the sacredness for me. I spot a row of cedar trees with a bench beneath in the distance. I know instantly that I have found my place. Cedar enveloped, I gaze at the graves. Despite the modern intrusions at the cemetery, a deeper sense of peace still prevails here. Though I wonder what the incessant sound of traffic feels like to the deceased? To the trees? Music is playing somewhere in the vicinity, a further refusal to allow any real respite, even for the dead.
Inevitably, I begin to feel the cold, and I take this cue from my body that it is time to leave. As I search for the exit, I spot the tail of a Mysterious Animal scurrying away between gravestones. I break into a smile and immediately take chase trying to find her, feeling like Alice suddenly in Wonderland! Is she a squirrel? A fox? I imagine she is a witch soul coming to greet me and welcome me on this mysterious journey. She is telling me perhaps that things are not as they initially appear here. My curiosity and sense of adventure is instantly awakened. I have the sense that I have suddenly crossed an invisible threshold, by Invitation Only of course, from the dead realm of the false facade of so-called “life” into the Living Realm of the Magical: a parallel universe, a parallel reality hidden within the cemetery, where both the dead and the living exist side-by-side, but in the precise reverse of that which is expected.
While I wander trying to find my Initiator, I notice a sobbing woman statue, her cloaked head buried in her hands, with apples beneath her left as an offering. I contemplate the significance of the apple to the Greek goddesses and smile at this ancient symbol of seduction and beauty, before jolting back to the reality that I am at a Christian cemetery! The apple, Eve, the garden, the violent reduction of Woman to endless confessions of false guilt at the feet of men. At this moment of realization, my Mysterious Initiator reveals herself to me. She is Cat! We lock eyes, and I speak an excited “hello.” We connect to each other’s presence for a few pregnant moments. Materializing with her Official Welcome, she de-materializes just as sovereignly, tempting me onwards.
I walk away feeling elated, and I recall Belden Lane’s encounter with the deer. Yet, unlike him, I recognize that I have not “just” seen “a cat.” I have seen Cat, the Witch Familiar, and she has invited me into Her World. Let the adventures begin.
Enlivened with Cat Sight, I make my way to leave and spot a male-order priest imitating Mother in a white dress to the left as I approach the exit. A single ominous bell tolls. I hear this warning message from Cat, Moon, and Grand Mother Death to be careful here of the maleficent forces surrounding me. Not of the dead, of course, but of the so-called “living.” When I turn around, the counterfeit is gone.
I note their warning with a chill, and I mindfully exit my day one.
Day 2: The Virtue of Disobedience
I understood instantly, intuitively, that the sisterhood is part of this process; in fact, they are inseparable from it. Diary entries of my cemetery visitation immediately fly off on brooms into the night, sending messages to Sister Witches. They are interwoven into the process immediately; I wonder what tapestry of revelation we will all unfurl together.
It is approaching time to journey to the Cemetery, and I reflect on Christopher Tilley’s idea that creating relationship to space requires daily visits, yet my body is tired from the previous day one. I contemplate going anyway to “try out” his “method,” before questioning this reflexively obedient assumption. Under patriarchy, is disobeying the body and obeying tidy male formulas really experimentation and expansion into the “new”? I connect psychically to Cat in the Cemetery. She suddenly “smells a rat.” Her Cat claws scratch beneath the surface. What she unearths is more dead repetition of the same old pattern of obedience designed to kill off organic feminine Creative Life, by forcing female biological sovereignty into subjection to artificial, male-ordered mental constructs.
My complete phenomenological surrendering to the sacred teachings of Death requires wholesale rejection of all forms of man-made artificiality. Of course, I obey my body and the psychic link it now has to the Cemetery, after being invited into the parallel realm of the Magical within the cemetery by Cat from day one. We are connected, and the psychosomatic, psycho spiritual answer to today’s visitation from Her to me is a clear “No.” I notice proudly that I have no need to “make sure” or to go “test it out” in order to see if Tilly is “right,” and my own senses are “wrong.” My obedience is to the process, to Cat, to Moon, and to Grand Mother Death as genuine Creatrix of Life. Tilley loses.
Day 3: The Site of No-Sight
I descend the stairs of my apartment tower in the dark, deliberately disobeying the false commandments of Father Industry, declining “help” in the form of sensory-depriving, artificial light. I choose to navigate via Cat Sight.
At the threshold to the outer world, I see that it is raining. I welcome the challenge. Yet with a single step onto the cobbled street, I notice immediately that I am not in my body. A profound floaty, derealization envelops me. I wonder if I should be grounding and protecting before departure? I contemplate whether this is safe to be doing every day. My thoughts spiral. Is this safe to be doing at all? After all, I am treading graveyard ground. Traversing and conversing with the Realm of the Dead: the killer colonizers of all that is Naturally Alive; the man-ufacturers of all that is artificial, lifeless, soul killing, Mother killing.
I begin my upwards hike towards the Abbey, dodging tourists in plastic umbrellas profoundly unaware of their surroundings. Umbrellas. Another false commandment? I contemplate the amount of broken umbrellas in landfills, a thought that had previously never crossed my mind. A quick google tells me 33 million are sold annually in the US alone; a projected 5-billion-dollar industry by 2025. Already, Grand Mother Death’s sobering Powers of Revelation extend far beyond the boundaries of the Cemetery. I am deeply grateful for my hood now, feeling suddenly like I am shrouded in an Invisibility Cloak, undetectable to eyes deliberately clouded by Father Industry.
Arriving at the main road beneath the Abbey, I spy a crosswalk to the right, the man-made “right way” slightly out of my way. I opt to stay put. Waiting for the cars to pass, I cross the road and ascend the staircase to the left.
To the left, to the left, everything you own in a box to the left.
There are no tourists at the Abbey today. The rain brings emptiness, energy, darkened skies, birdsong.
I decide to investigate the lower cemeteries first, orienting myself due North, the direction of the Earth element, the element of Mother. My compass leads me to a statue of Mary with a crucified Jesus draped over her leg, his entire dead-weight crushed upon her body. Instead of eyeballs, there is a white expanse of absence where her eyes should be. Staring empty-eyed off into space, Mary clearly cannot see the full weight of her affliction. Her sculptor, more accurate than perhaps was even understood, rendered Mary blighted with no-sight in the most revealing way. I think, of course the church fathers need Mary eyeless, sightless. If she was allowed in-sight, the whole jig would be up. Through patriarchal sleight of hand, man-moulded Mary is unable to see her own degradation. Raindrops trickle from Mary’s eyes exactly where her tears should be. I am reminded of the Umbrellas. It seems that under patriarchy, the Sleight of No-Sight prevails.
With a shiver, I tighten my Invisibility Cloak around me. A single church bell tolls.
For whom the bells tolls? Time marches on.
Beautiful Bruna calls to me from a memorial. She has sharp cheekbones, dark hair, penetrating eyes, characterful depth. Yet, she looks off to one side, sombre, haunted. She is depicted next to her husband: moustached, smug, entitled looking. He accepts his right to gaze directly into the camera. His mediocrity is as evident as her complexity. I wonder if she went to her grave never accessing it?
I continue my wander through the lower cemeteries and pass a plastic broom to one side, conjuring immediate memories of the Witches. The millions of women murdered by the church fathers. The Seers. Under patriarchy, you can only survive if you have no eyes. Only plastic now remains. The priestly counterfeits in white dresses. The eyeless.
Eventually, I make my way towards the main Cemetery, crossing the threshold to arrive back at the familiar site of plastic barricades, electric rubbish bins, odd eagle, fake flowers. The space is empty today except for one woman. She is carrying an Umbrella. I get the immediate sense that she is displeased by my arrival. She heads in the opposite direction. Perhaps she does not yet See who the Real Enemy is.
Eagerly, I make a beeline directly to the Cedars, feeling called to the first Cedar on my right. With a touch, I sense instantly that she has absorbed tremendous pain here. Not from natural processes, of course, but from the Unnatural. As the church bell tolls, I channel as much healing energy into her as I can, but strangely, I feel as though her soul is dead. I walk around her to the left and am jolted by the discovery that she has a Gruesome Neighbour: a bronze Christ with half his torso eviscerated, hanging beside her. I notice her branches facing the Son droop downwards, dismayed, depressed. Opposite him, her branches facing the Sun reach upwards, alive, nourished. I am grateful that she has a ray of hope within the desolation, some life amongst the deadly.
I wander over to my favourite bench beneath the Cedars, drawn intuitively to strong energy in this particular place. My intuition is confirmed by a congregation of Feathered Familiars in the space, thoroughly animating it with activity. The air here is infused with the sound of music. Except today, no man-made compositions interrupt the space; the concert is fully Feathered Symphony. The Birdsong is industrious, spirited, electrified. Their energy is contagious. I understand immediately that they are the true Caretakers of the Cemetery, Bird Bathing the energy, cleansing, rejuvenating. I am delighted by this in-sight.
I turn around to the sight of an ebony Raven traversing the sky above me and smile at his appropriateness: the bird of Odin, a dying/rising precursor to Christ. Odin sacrificed one eye in order to be able to See. Christianity, by contrast, takes both eyes away. No-seeing is Believing.
I take a final wander through the Cemetery, allowing Cat Sight to guide me as I explore more statues. I see a man in marble looking ahead, with a woman’s body carved into the supportive pillar beneath him. She gazes so far up at him; her eyes disappear into the back of her head. Another man in stone stares directly at me. A female angel drapes across him; her eyes closed as she reverentially kisses his forehead. All the men look straight out; qualified, eyed, self-satisfied. I note the irony of an eyed-tribe wholly blinded by their privilege.
As I make my way towards the exit, a single Feathered Familiar lands directly in front of me. Inspirited, my body instantly becomes aware that I have been sent a Tiny Messenger from the parallel reality within the Cemetery. We look directly into each other’s eyes, Soul Seeing. Melodically, she sings her Acknowledgment to me. I accept. She flutters away. Bird Sighted and delighted, I begin my departure.
Exiting the Cemetery, I float towards the stairs thoroughly uplifted by my encounters with the Feathered Familiars. There is a sudden influx of tourists as I leave. They are all holding Umbrellas. Immediately, I am brought down by the sight. I tighten my Invisibility Cloak around me and slip away undetected. The No-Sight Sightseeing Spectacle commences behind me.
I came and went at exactly the right time.
Day 4: The Immaculate Deception
The Thunder, Perfect Mind
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time. Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.
For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I awake to tempestuous skies, wild, elemental, commanding. I am instantly transfixed. I smile at Mother making her supremacy known, on this day of her celebration. Yet the air paradoxically feels still, infused with reverent energy both hushed and wholly animated. I can feel every nerve ending in my body alive, electrified. I observe the clouds as they promenade the skies purposefully, processioning to the tune of birdsong encircling me. The whole of Nature acknowledges Mother’s day today, they dance and sing her praises.
I prepare my breakfast fully enchanted by the atmosphere, feeling my resolve to visit the Cemetery intensify in tandem with each stormy moment. An immaculate glare suddenly descends upon my kitchen, sterilizing the moodiness of the morning in a flash. Blinded by the light, it takes me a moment to adjust. Clearly, the Son has come out, positively killing the vibe. I contemplate how the Son is always outshining Mother, forever stealing Mother’s thunder. The Thunder, Perfect Mind of Mother echoes:
Give heed to me.
I am the one who is disgraced and the great one.
Give heed to my poverty and my wealth.
Today, Mother’s day is a paradoxical one. On the Day of the Immaculate Conception, the church fathers celebrate their rendering of Mother: “purified” by Jesus before she was even conceived, reverse-birthing her through her own son, a mental-gymnastic-marvel of typical patriarchal absurdity. I choose serpent earrings to honour Mother in her original Sovereign State, before her own creation claimed credit for her conception, colonizing her first and debasing her, before con-cock-ting the pretence of “saving” her. An immaculate deception indeed.