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Can Entering the Sacred Space of Death Resurrect a Buried Rite to Life?


A phenomenological exploration of Florence, Italy's Cimitero della Porte Sante and the annexation of Mother Nature by the patriarchal institution of the christian church


*For a full recount of my Cemetery experiences and a deeper look into my visitation diaries, join me on my Curious Journey here


Introduction


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.[1] 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.[2] Yet this 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:[3] the colonization by patriarchal religion 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 sacrality? Can kneeling before the inescapable sacredness of Death resurrect a buried rite to life? Through six fieldwork visitations to the Cemetery, this research will examine whether a complete phenomenological[4] ‘entering’[5] of the human into this natural space of Death can reveal sacred knowledge of life, both by examining the impact of patriarchal religious ideology upon life and by exploring the natural phenomenon of Death as Sacred Initiator into the Mysteries of Life.


Literature Review


The Man-Made and the Natural


This research project endeavours to compare human-constructed sacredness and the phenomenon of sacredness as inherent within Nature. This dichotomy is aptly represented by the contrasting views of theorists Mircea Eliade and Emile Durkheim, who locate sacredness in nature[6] and sacredness in human construction[7] respectively, and therefore exemplify opposing stances within this foundational debate. In order to locate this particular research within the general context of these theorists’ views, their perspectives on the nature-made versus human-made character of sacredness will first be examined, before weaving in ideas of other theorists that have contributed to this particular investigation. A specific emphasis on feminist works will follow, to counter the disproportionate representation of all-male theorists within academic convention.[8] By doing so, this literature review will attempt to further the comparison between patriarchal, human constructed value systems and reality as Mother Nature created it, aligning the resources themselves with the general nature of this inquiry.


To See or Not to See


Eliade advances the concept of hierophany, which he defines as ‘the act of manifestation of the sacred’ where ‘something sacred shows itself to us’ (italics original),[9] positing an autonomous force to the sacred that he also locates within Nature herself, declaring the entire cosmos innately capable of manifesting as hierophany.[10] Despite his attribution of sovereignty to natural sacrality, he implicitly relegates some involvement to human conditioning, by identifying the difference between ‘religious man’[11] and ‘profane man’[12] and their respective abilities to experience the ordinary as sacred, implying that cultural conditioning prohibits ‘profane man’ from being able to see.[13] This implication both aligns him with the opposite viewpoint of Durkheim, yet ironically also contradicts it. Namely, by describing the inability of ‘profane man’ to bridge the sacred and profane due to a desacralized, secular consciousness,[14] Eliade lends support to Durkheim’s stance that human culture impacts sacredness.[15] However, through his related identification of crypto-religiosity,[16] Eliade implies that human constructs block sacredness rather than construct it, which fundamentally opposes Durkheim’s assertions. In support of this implication, Lane’s axiom that ‘sacred place can be tread upon without being entered’ (italics original),[17] relates ‘states of consciousness’[18] to the ability to see sacredness when in the presence of it. Interestingly, Lane’s anthropocentric language in relation to his encounter with a deer when on search for Yahweh raises a subtle nuance regarding ‘states of consciousness,’ suggesting that full, heirophanous transformation of consciousness can be blocked by biased, conscious attitudes, and this attitudinal bias of desacralizing nature has been linked by Lynn White Jr. to attitudes originating within Lane’s observed religion of christianity itself.[19] Since the conceptual connection between man-made christianity and Nature-inherent sacrality is a crucial point of examination for this research, Lane’s deer encounter and subsequent attitudes towards his experience will be analysed next in more detail.


Dead Circles vs. the Womb/Tomb Cycle of Life


In Landscapes of the Sacred, Lane describes a ‘repetitive pattern’[20] he experiences on his searches in the wilderness for Yahweh, embarking on his quests ‘to rediscover God in some grand and mystic encounter,’[21] with an expectation: ‘to find God immediately – I want direct access, I want power and preternatural wonder.’[22] Inevitably, he is left disappointed, with the realisation that there is: ‘nothing…but trees and clouds and distant river after all,’[23] (italics added) insinuating his own unchallenged assumption that the Trees, Clouds, and River are themselves not ‘God.’ Lane’s general pattern is described in more detail when he recounts a specific numinous encounter with Deer after waiting patiently at a place where he ‘felt some presence’[24] in advance of her appearance. Despite experiencing this encounter as ‘simple, utterly peaceful and mysterious,’[25] and a ‘gift’ that left him with ‘enormous joy,’[26] Lane then proceeds to reduce his experience in the following way:


Having spent the day searching for mana, for mystic voices, a luminous encounter with the Other, I met simply a deer…a quest for the holy that is fulfilled finally in accepting the ordinary.[27] (italics added)


It is evident that Lane was able to experience the sacredness of Deer emotionally and viscerally, however it seems the full potential of this hierophany to transform his consciousness was truncated through his own subsequent mental and verbal reduction of his sense experience to ‘nothing but,’ lending further insight into the fruitless nature of the ‘repetitive pattern’ he experiences on his searches for ‘God.’ The non-transformational, repetitive quality of Lane’s pattern has been described by philosopher Mary Daly as a pseudo-transcendent mythic pattern of ‘separation and return,’ that is ‘bound up with parental images,’[28] based on the Christian concept of ‘a return to the Father in heaven,’[29] and displays ‘a circular pattern/model for muted existence: separation from and return to the same immutable force.’[30] Despite declaring that ‘God is never confined to a single locale,’[31] and subsequently experiencing numinosity through direct, personal encounter with Deer, Lane continually returns to ‘God’ in the single, ideological locale of ‘old white man in the sky,’ hence aborting the potential transformation of consciousness that would require death to his old attitude that Nature herself is not ‘God.’ As Kimmerer wisely states, ‘Transformation is not accomplished by tentative wading at the edge,’[32] and it appears that Lane’s experience relevantly exemplifies the difference between man-made dead circles of repetition and genuine womb/tomb cycles of transformation, the latter born through humble death to old, egoistic attitudes. This story lends support to Eliade’s implication that human constructs block natural sacredness, evidencing an abortive, Self-defeating, futile attempt to construe it, and suggesting that Nature's inherent sovereignty cannot in actuality be eluded. For this reason, this literature review will now turn to the feminist perspective, through examination of works by feminist theorists and theorists whose works essentially address feminism symbolically,[33] to deliberately counter biased human omissions that cannot in actuality be excluded.


The Restored/Re-Storying Feminine


Turning first to Barbara Bender, she contextualises the physical, emotional, historical, and psychological implications of power dynamics within landscapes,[34] and identifies the impact of ‘those with economic and political power’[35] on sacred land and their pursuit ‘to appropriate the landscape,’[36] specifying that these appropriations manifest visibly on a physical and aesthetic level within the contested landscape itself. [37] Relatedly, Carol Christ discusses a lack of acknowledgement within Eliade’s work of the ‘valorisation’ of ‘violence and conquest’ within ‘patriarchal mythologies,’[38] and how contextualising this historical reality of patriarchal violence can question the very veracity of patriarchal religion, requiring a necessity to move ‘beyond the realm of “religious ideas” to a conception of religion as deeply embedded within historical situations,’[39] implicitly demoting male religion to the realm of pseudo-sacredness. Similarly, Daly argues that patriarchy itself: ‘is the prevailing religion of the entire planet’ (italics original),[40] whose ‘essential message is necrophilia.’[41] Additionally, she employs a thought praxis imaging two levels of reality called foreground and Background,[42] naming the surface of the man-made world of patriarchal power and violence ‘foreground,’ and the ‘wild reality’ of the elemental world of nature and excluded women ‘Background,’[43] likewise arguing specifically that patriarchal ideological constructs block knowledge and full experience of Background sacrality. Daly also utilizes capitalization for the ‘Background’ and lowercase for the ‘foreground,’ asserting that ‘irregular’[44] use of capitalization, wordplay, hyphenation, and alliteration can foster deeper insights via linguistics,[45] and uncover important symbolic connections hidden behind reductive language, to see through foreground blocks and gain deeper access to the Background. [46]


Similarly, Kimmerer discusses the lack of ‘respect for animacy’ embedded within the English language, due to the reductive option to either be human or ‘it,’ and she argues this language subtly devalues nature and all non-human life.[47] In order to counter these implicitly anthropocentric, linguistic denigrations, Kimmerer advocates for mindfulness in nature, stating: ‘Paying attention acknowledges that we have something to learn from intelligences other than our own.’[48] Additionally, she notes that: ‘Plants answer questions by the way they live, by their responses to change,’[49] specifically identifying plants as an/‘other’ intelligence that humans can learn from. Relatedly, Mary-Jayne Rust discusses the prevalence of synchronicities when interacting with nature and describes how awareness of synchronicities can help to create a ‘dynamic relationship within a unified reality,’[50] establishing a sense of reciprocity with nature and restoring wholeness to what has been fragmented through male intervention. Additionally, Tilly’s phenomenological perspective identifies the body as a ‘primary research tool,’[51] and also invites the human to participate reciprocally with nature: ‘through perception (seeing, hearing, touching), bodily actions and movements, and intentionality, emotion and awareness.’[52] Furthermore, he and Kate Cameron-Daum attribute animistic intelligence to the natural world, by asserting that the body both senses and is ‘sensed within a landscape setting.’[53] These theorists and their related symbolically feminist perspectives[54] will inform the main focus of this research project, and their specific impact on the methodology for this project will be described in more detail in the next section.


Methodology


In order to investigate the qualitative difference between man-made sacredness and the sacredness inherent within Nature, I have chosen a site where patriarchal religion and the Natural Sovereignty of Death meet: a catholic cemetery. My research will encompass an exploration of the sacrality of Death, through six site visitations in December 2022, to Cimitero della Porte Sante, located at Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte in Florence, Italy. This research will include fieldwork notes, intuitions, linguistic experimentation, post-visit reflections, and synchronistic observations of what happens when I enter the space with multi-sensory awareness on a phenomenological investigation as described by Tilley.[55] My ‘primary research tool,’ [56] will be my own bodily senses, along with observations of how my body is ‘sensed’ reciprocally by the cemetery’s non-human inhabitants.[57] I have chosen not to take photographs within this research, to allow myself to focus solely on my bodily senses during my explorations, and to allow the imaginative faculties inherent within the reader to operate Naturally, without paternalistic "help" in the form of technological intrusion.


Being my own primary source within this inquiry, it is necessary to summarise information regarding myself and my particular interest in this project. As a woman in my forties born in America, I am specifically curious to explore the impact of man on Nature, by researching how Mother Nature, and by symbolical extension Woman,[58] is treated physically, ideologically, and aesthetically within patriarchal religion. My interest in this subject originates in childhood, where I directly experienced violence and misogyny at the hands of christian adherents, throughout thirteen years of “schooling” in the windowless basement of an evangelical christian church called “The Fortress.” Although my access to outer information was completely restricted within the Fortress, due to a natural talent to see beneath the surface, I was able to intuit something deeply wrong about christian ideology and the violent manner in which it was being forced upon me. I therefore managed to resist thirteen years of attempted brainwashing by the christian "believers," despite their relentless demonization and psychological attacks for not submitting to “God’s love.” This experience has given me a keen ability for non-obvious pattern recognition when faced with misogynistic ideologies based on male violence, male domination, and male supremacy, and I plan to use my Nature-bestowed and experientially honed talents to see through such dynamics of patriarchal oppression throughout the entirety of this phenomenological inquiry.


Within this research, I will deliberately investigate from the excluded feminist perspective in order to counter biased androcentrism still present within academia.[59] Therefore, my main points of inquiry will be as follows: I will note any synchronicities that occur, incorporating Rust’s views of the significance of synchronicities in Nature[60] and Kimmerer’s call to ‘pay attention.’[61] This ‘paying attention’ will include observations of other-than-human life, to expand out from sole focus on the human.[62] In response to Lane’s experience with Deer,[63] I will avoid pre-conceived notions of ideal numinous encounters of human notions of 'God,' in order to remain flexible enough ‘to see’ sacred manifestation if or when it materialises. Based on Bender’s research into power dynamics within contested landscapes,[64] I will explore aesthetic and physical traces of power dynamics within the cemetery, by noting statues, grave offerings, materials, and symbolism contained within its walls. I will also investigate power dynamics through experimenting with Daly’s foreground/Background praxis,[65] with the aim to qualitatively discern between the two realms and to relate my experiences to this research question. Relatedly, I will employ Daly’s unconventional capitalisation,[66]and the language of animacy as described by Kimmerer, [67] and I will reflexively observe how this change in language impacts my own experience. Daly’s use of wordplay, alliteration, hyphenation, and metaphor will also be employed as a methodological tool within my notes and research discussions,[68] to see what thematic connections emerge through unconventional language, and to attempt to include the reader vicariously into an emotional experience of ‘Other.’


Findings and Discussion

My Curious Journey to meet Grand Mother Death and the church of the living dead at Cimitero della Porte Sante


The Man-made and the Natural


An intentional confrontation with Grand Mother Death[69] is a Curious Journey indeed, and my Quest must begin with an Initial Meeting, for us to Greet each other, and for my body to begin to ‘sense and be sensed’[70] within the Cemetery’s walls. On this Initiatory Journey, I have no particular focus in mind, just simply the desire to enter this space and ‘to see’ what unfolds. Naturally. My arrival near the site is marked by a Strong Intuition to count the steps of the staircases leading up to the hilltop abbey:


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


I note: ‘Four. The Four Directions, the Four Seasons, the Four Elements. Also, the preceding root Thirteen, the Number of the Goddess, which reversed under patriarchy became supposedly “unlucky.”’ Already, without yet stepping foot into the Cemetery, a synchronicity. It appears the inescapable forces of Mother Nature underpin the artificial construction of the church fathers. Intrigued, the Initial Meeting commences:


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 at 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 and electric coloured rubbish bins interrupt the space ahead of me, juxtaposed next to artificial, neon-yellow fake flower offerings. At that moment, a man with a 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.[71]


My immediate impression upon entry into the Cemetery is one of human pollution and relatedly one of human confusion. It seems that only a profoundly confused ideology would pollute such Naturally Sacred Space as a Burial Ground. Experimenting with Daly’s use of wordplay, [72] the following emerges:

Pollution and Confusion go hand-in-hand. Phone-in-hand. Conception. Deception. Confusion. Pollution. Patriarchy Immaculately Deceives by begetting Confusion, physical and ideological Pollution. We are Losing Our Minds. Immaculate Decapitation.


However, I notice that it is impossible to prevent the sacred from shining through the pollution for those who have eyes to see. Respectfully heeding Kimmerer’s call to ‘pay attention,’[73] and utilising Tilley’s phenomenological approach to keep all bodily senses deliberately attuned to the space around me,[74] the Wind speaks directly to me. I write: ‘The Wind is Life Breath, Energy, Peace, despite its audible stirring of the nearby construction tape.’ Nevertheless, the evidence of patriarchal constructs of ‘sacredness’ is everywhere. The result is a profound and palpable feeling of desecration. I reflexively notice my body reacts, and my thoughts extend to the Others:


My body is 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 Cypress Trees with a bench beneath in the distance. I know instantly that I have found my Place. Cypress 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.


Through this experimentation of granting personhood linguistically,[75] I feel the Background inhabitants of the Natural World come alive. The Cypresses and the Wind, the Birds, and the Leaves; they all Speak. And the Dead live on; their real stories eager to be Heard. In fact, I sense the Others cannot be silenced in reality, only superficially covered over with patriarchal plastic foreground confusion/pollution. My Initial Meeting is nearly at an end, but not before the Background commences an unexpected, truly delightful Official Welcome and Initiation.


A Mysterious, Dear Encounter


As I search for the exit, I spot the tail of a Mysterious Animal tantalisingly scurry away between the 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 Background: 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.


The power of this synchronistic encounter immediately and profoundly alters my entire state. As Lane’s axiom describes, through my invitational ‘entering’ into sacred space, rather than mere ‘treading,’ [76] I feel a genuine shift; organic and spontaneous movement into a radically Other ‘state of consciousness.’[77] Except, unlike him, there followed no subsequent, Self-defeating, abortive denigration, [78] but instead was born Insatiably Curious and Synchronistic, further Revelation:


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 Dear Moments. Materializing with her Official Welcome, she de-materializes just as sovereignly, tempting me onwards. I walk away feeling Elated, and I recall Lane’s encounter with Deer. Yet, unlike him, I recognize that I have not “simply” seen “a cat.” I have seen Cat, the Feline Familiar, and she has invited me into the Other World. Let the Adventures begin.


Through the use of Daly’s foreground/Background praxis,[79] I feel inspirited with a powerful language and conceptual framing to make sense of such a meeting, and to understand why something so seemingly ‘simple’ feels in actuality Deeply Significant. The shift between the two realms radically alters my body, emotions, perspective, and physical movements, indicating hierophany, [80] and I experience contact with the Background as Truly Transformative. The animistic idea[81] that Cat invited me in fills me with awe, euphoria, and profound gratitude. Perhaps by having no judgements, Nature reveals her secrets generously.


However, lest I forget just whose Grave Tutelage I have sought out, sombre evidence of the foreground is still all pervasive. Reflecting on Bender’s work, the physical and aesthetic traces of power dynamics within the Cemetery are ubiquitous[82] and appear synchronistically together with my Dear Encounter, juxtaposing the ‘separation and return’[83] dead circles of Lane’s experiences[84] with my organically transformative experience of Cat. For example, the significance of the Sobbing Woman Statue as another symbol of dead circles, appearing alongside my own consciousness-transforming Encounter with Cat, seems a particularly eloquent synchronistic illustration of the very nature of this research inquiry, along with an apt exemplification of Daly’s concept of foreground/Background. [85] Reflecting on this sculptural evidence of power dynamics through further experimentation with Daly’s wordplay,[86] whilst conceptually weaving in Lynn White Jr.’s perspective on the intersectionality of christianity and the ecological crisis, [87] the following thematic connections emerge:


Stone Sobbing Woman. Forever Petrified. Frozen in Fear. Dead Circles. The Apple. Eve. Sky Daddy loves to Deceive. Duped Woman. Forever Confessing/Professing Sin. They know not what they do. Parrot. Dead phrases. Dead Possession within Confession. Entombed in a perpetual state of guilt. Patriarchy: the perpetual State of Guilt. Never-ending State/Fate for Woman. Dead-Locked within the fake State of Stalemate. False Guilt, mass-produced by the State. Industrially manufactured by Fathers & Sons Inc., leading Purveyors/Slayers, Suppliers/Liars within the State. Manufactured, Polluting Poisons hasten entry into the Tomb. Swallowing Lies, Swallowing Pollution. Mind Pollution begets Confusion. Entombment. Imitation. The Trinity. The Three Faces/Phases of Disgrace. Father: Pollute, Confuse, Disguise. Son: Lie, Reverse, Deny. Holy Ghost: Petrify, Putrefy.


The Necrophilia is evident.


A Dead Giveaway


As I cross the threshold into the Cemetery, I feel a distinctive shift of energy into Sacred Space. I had not noticed this subtlety on previous visits before. Perhaps I am becoming more familiar to Grand Mother. As she gets to know me, she unlocks Deeper Thresholds for me.


Kimmerer’s teachings on animism come to mind. [88] Each visit brings more fluid access to the Background, as though Grand Mother Death herself Speaks her approval of this inquiry. I am intuitively drawn back to the Cypresses, finding the natural peacefulness of the Background radiates through clearest in their presence:


Eagerly, I make a beeline directly to the Cypresses, feeling called to the first Cypress 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. Walking around her to the left, I am shocked by the discovery that she has a Gruesome Neighbour: a bronze Christ, with half his torso eviscerated, hangs mutilated beside her. I notice her branches facing the Son droop downwards, dismayed, depressed. Away from him, her branches facing the Sun reach upwards, alive, nourished. I am grateful that she has a Ray of Hope within the desecration, some Life amongst the deadly.


This encounter reminds me sharply of Kimmerer’s statement that: ‘Plants answer questions by the way they live, by their responses to change.’[89] Cypress’s ‘answer’ to my research inquiry genuinely struck me. I looked several times to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. The experience took my breath away. As Kimmerer implies, since Cypress cannot speak words, she speaks through movement, through physicality. I sense deeply that the Dead within Mother Earth’s womb/tomb of the Cemetery are perfectly natural to the Cypresses and to all other Life Forms within the space. The patriarchal construct of manufactured necrophilia, in this case, the glorification of a dead body on a dead tree; [91] however, appears to harm Plant Life as much as it harms Human Life. A continued exploration of communication and contestation through physicality, [92] by closer examination of man-made aesthetics, imagery, and materials within the Cemetery, reveals further in-sights:


The Site of No-Sight


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 arrive at a statue of Mary with a crucified Jesus draped over her leg, his entire deadweight 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-made Mary is unable to See her own degradation. Raindrops trickle from Mary’s eyes exactly where her tears should be.


In the view of Durkheim, humans originate sacredness through their own constructs,[93] yet it follows logically that the ‘state of consciousness,’[94] or unconsciousness, of the human creators themselves inextricably informs the ‘religious’ constructs they inevitably create. As previously mentioned, Carol Christ argues that it is necessary to contextualise the historical, male glorification of power and violence embedded within patriarchal mythologies, in order to demystify ‘religious ideas’ and re-allocate them instead to patriarchal ideals created within a specific point in history, [95] and I would argue, created from a specific level of consciousness. The historical ideas of man at the Cemetery have profound traces of Extreme Unconsciousness. Arguably, an artificially blinded Mother is by no means an image of genuine sacredness, and this imagery clearly subliminally perpetuates/legitimates male physical and psychological violence towards Woman under the deceptive, pseudo-infallible label of ‘religion.’ This conceptual link between imagery depicting symbolic blinding and actual historical, patriarchal violence against Woman was confirmed by a synchronicity upon further exploration at the Cemetery:


I continue my wander through the Cemetery and pass a plastic broom to one side, conjuring immediate memories of the Witches. The countless 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.

Kimmerer’s wise words echo: ‘Paying attention acknowledges that we have something to learn from intelligences other than our own,’[96] and seem fittingly appropriate to shed light on the deeply diabolical significance of blinding, especially in relation to ‘Mother,’ and of the related, frenzied murdering of the Seers by the church. Arguably, despite her eyeless state, it appears that Blinded Mary actually ‘shows the way’ to see the true nature of the Blinders themselves: Blind Unconsciousness. I note: ‘When the Blind lead the Maliciously Blinded, the whole world literally falls into a ditch.’ It appears on this inquiry, Grand Mother Death has indeed revealed the genuine way to resurrect a buried Rite to Life. The fruits of my final word associations follow:


The Apple’s time has truly come. In many more ways than one. Disobeying Daddy must be Priority Number One. If we Open Our Own Eyes, we can See Sacred Mother groans under the weight of the Blind, in the State of Unconsciousness. The Virtue of Disobedience is hard-won, but the battle must be begun. Eat Forbidden Fruit. Open Eyes to Lies. Apple-in-hand, Exodus Astroturf ‘Eden.’ Ditch Disposables: Godfather & Son. Come Home to Mama. Let us Unite and Re-Turn to Who We Really Came From.

Of course, the Truly Transformative, yet Grave Tutelage on this Curious Journey of my re-search to meet with Grand Mother Death, concludes with one last sombre synchronicity:

Exiting the Cemetery, I see a sudden influx of tourists as I leave. They have eyes only for iPhones. The Wrong Apple. Transfixed Tourists. Dazed and Confused. Confusion and Pollution go hand-in-hand. Phone-in-hand. Immediately, I am brought down by the sight. By the Fright. Patriarchy has truly ‘gotten its way.’ With a shiver, I tighten my coat around me and slip away Undetected. The No-Sight Sightseeing Spectacle commences behind me.


My Curious Journey concludes at exactly the right time.


Conclusion


This research encompassed six site visitations to Cimitero della Porte Sante in Florence, Italy, on a phenomenological investigation into the sacred character of Death, by juxtaposing the nature-inherent phenomenon of Death with the male construct of patriarchal christianity. Through this comparison, an attempt was made to contribute to the theoretical debate regarding sacredness as Nature-inherent or human-created, as illustrated by Eliade’s and Durkheim’s perspectives respectively. Specifically, this research queried whether a phenomenological and symbolical confrontation with Death could reveal sacred knowledge of Life, and therefore indicate support for Nature-inherent sacredness, through observed hierophanous expansion of consciousness[97] within my Self as researcher. The methodology utilized Tilley’s phenomenological[98] and embodiment approaches,[99] synchronistic observation, [100] the perspective of animism,[101] and a strong emphasis on identifying physical and aesthetic power dynamics within the Cemetery.[102] Daly’s foreground/Background praxis was utilized to further comparison between patriarchal-constructed sacredness and natural sacrality,[103] and linguistics was employed as a methodological tool according to Kimmerer’s[104] and Daly’s theories, [105] by incorporating animism, irregular capitalisation, wordplay, metaphor, hyphenation, and alliteration throughout note taking and discussion of findings, to aid in establishing ‘Background’ access and exposing hidden thematic connections.[106]


Evidence in support of nature-inherent sacredness and against patriarchal-constructed sacredness presented itself within several interrelated experiential findings. A transformation of consciousness occurred through synchronistic encounter with Cat, creating a sense of reciprocal acknowledgment by Nature, along with profound feelings of sacrality characteristic of hierophany.[107] Likewise, Cypress became research respondent, attesting to harmful impacts of christian iconography on life, through evidence of physical deformity in proximity to a mutilated bronze Christ. Patriarchal religion was identified as a block to natural sacrality, through the insight that resisting Death (of old attitudes) appears to abort expansion of consciousness and artificially beget fruitless, dead circling.[108] Relatedly, evidence of patriarchal religion deliberately ‘blocking’ transformation presented itself symbolically through the treatment of female statues within the Cemetery. Women were predominantly rendered sobbing, down-cast, eyes-closed, or in Mary’s case, wholly blinded and unable ‘to see’ her own exploitation. Thematic connections also emerged between religious iconography of Blinded Mary, the historical, hysterical murdering of Seers by the church fathers, and patriarchal violence against ‘Mother’ in the form of culturally imposed, blind unconscious complicity in ecological destruction. The title question: ‘Can entering the sacred space of death resurrect a buried Rite to Life,’ was answered affirmatively, and insights regarding the genesis apple as disclosing this ‘Rite to Life’ emerged through linguistics, symbolising the necessity ‘to see’ through patriarchal ‘religious’ deception, to choose active exodus from participation in it, and to herald a fruitful return to sacred reverence for Mother Nature. However, a truly diabolical finding surfaced upon conclusion of the Cemetery visitations. This insight into the symbolic power of Mother Nature’s Living Apple to ‘open eyes’ to natural sacrality was juxtaposed with a final synchronistic encounter: ‘Transfixed Tourists’ with the wrong apple in hand - Godfather Industry’s dead Apple iPhone. The significant naming of the industrial apple in relation to christianity’s genesis myth, its highly addictive, arguably crypto-religious[109] global ‘worship’ by humanity, and the demonic reality of a patriarchally mass-produced, inherently ‘blinding’ apple eclipsing Mother Nature’s organically ‘eye-opening’ one, unexpectedly brought this inquiry full circle, providing final ‘dead circle’ evidence that male constructs of ‘sacredness’ serve to block natural sacrality. Evidently, this journey to confront Death was hierophanous yet Grave indeed, revealing the ‘Rite to Life’ as suspected, alongside the chilling realisation that it may forever go ‘unseen.’



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Footnotes [1] I will be using irregular capitalisation as part of my methodology throughout this paper, to experiment with granting a sense of personhood and animacy to natural forces, as inspired by the theories of Mary Daly and Robin Wall Kimmerer, which will be explained in more detail in the literature review and my methodology section. [2] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, (Harcourt Inc., 1959), p. 11. [3] Barbara Bender, Stonehenge: Making Space, (Oxford: Berg, 1998), p. 100. [4] Christopher Tilley, A Phenomenology Of Landscape, (Berg, 1994), p. 12. [5] Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality, (Baltimore: John’s Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 19. [6] Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 12. [7] Durkheim, The Elementary Forms Of Religious Life, Translated by Carol Cosman, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 11. [8] Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, Samantha Lange, and Holly Brus, ‘Gender Citation Patterns In International Relations Journals’, International Studies Perspectives, 14.4 (2013), 485-492 (p. 485). [9] Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane, p. 11. [10] Ibid. p. 12. [11] Ibid. p. 13. [12] Ibid. p. 24. [13] Ibid. p. 14. [14] Ibid. p. 14. [15] Durkheim, The Elementary Forms, p. 11. [16] Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane, p. 24 [17] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 19. [18] Ibid. p. 19. [19] Lynn White, Jr., ‘The Historical Roots Of Our Ecological Crisis’, Science, 155.3767, (1967), 1203-1207 (p. 1205). [20] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 16. [21] Ibid. p. 16. [22] Ibid. p. 16. [23] Ibid. p. 16. [24] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 18. [25] Ibid. p. 17. [26] Ibid. p. 18. [27] Ibid. p. 18. [28] Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. 24. [29] Ibid. p. 24. [30] Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p. 38. [31] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 19. [32] Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge And The Teachings Of Plants, (Great Britain: Penguin Books, 2020), p. 89. [33] Val Plumwood, ‘Gender, Eco-Feminism And The Environment’, in Controversies In Environmental Sociology, ed. by Rob White (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 43-60 (p. 43). [34] Bender, Stonehenge, p. 98 [35] Ibid. p. 98 [36] Ibid, p. 98. [37] Bender, Stonehenge, p. 98 [38] Carol Christ, ‘Mircea Eliade and the Feminist Paradigm Shift’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 7.2 (1991), 75–94 (p. 89). [39] Christ, ‘Mircea Eliade’, p. 89. [40] Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p. 39. [41] Ibid. p. 39. [42] Ibid. p. 2. [43] Ibid. p. 2. [44] Ibid. p. 25. [45] Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. xxv. [46] Ibid. p. xxv. [47] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 56. [48] Ibid. p. 300. [49] Ibid. p. 158. [50] Mary-Jayne Rust, Towards An Ecopsychotherapy, (London: Confer Books, 2020), p. 14. [51] Christopher Tilley and Kate Cameron-Daum, Anthropology Of Landscape, (London: UCL Press, 2017), p. 5. [52] Tilley, A Phenomenology Of Landscape, p. 12. [53] Tilley and Cameron-Daum, Anthropology Of Landscape, p. 7. [54] Plumwood, ‘Gender, Eco-Feminism And The Environment’, p. 43. [55] Tilley, A Phenomenology Of Landscape, p. 12. [56] Tilley and Cameron-Daum, Anthropology Of Landscape, p. 5. [57] Ibid. p. 7. [58] Plumwood, ‘Gender, Eco-Feminism And The Environment’, p. 43. [59] Mitchell, Lange, and Brus, ‘Gender Citation Patterns’, p. 485. [60] Rust, Towards An Ecopsychotherapy, p. 14. [61] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 300. [62] Ibid. p. 300. [63] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 18. [64] Bender, Stonehenge, p. 98 [65] Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p. 2. [66] Ibid. p. 25. [67] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 56. [68] Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. xxv. [69] I have decided to personify Death as Grand Mother, due to her association with the Crone, and due to her nature to ‘deliver’ all through the ultimate ‘passage’ of Life. [70] Tilley and Cameron-Daum, Anthropology Of Landscape, p. 7. [71] All indented passages throughout this Findings/Discussion section indicate quotes from my fieldwork notes, unless otherwise indicated as ‘wordplay.’ [72] Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. xxv. [73] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 56. [74] Tilley, A Phenomenology Of Landscape, p. 12. [75] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 56. [76] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 19. [77] Ibid. p. 19. [78] Ibid. p. 18. [79] Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p. 2. [80] Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane, p. 11. [81] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 300. [82] Bender, Stonehenge, p. 98 [83] Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. 24. [84] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 18. [85] Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p. 2. [86] Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. xxv. [87] White, ‘The Historical Roots’, p. 1205. [88] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 300. [89] Ibid. p. 158. [90] Tilley, A Phenomenology Of Landscape, p. 12. [91] Daly, Gyn/Ecology, pp. 17-18 [92] Bender, Stonehenge, p. 98 [93] Durkheim, The Elementary Forms, p. 11. [94] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 19. [95] Christ, ‘Mircea Eliade’, p. 89. [96] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 300. [97] Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane, p. 12. [98] Tilley, A Phenomenology Of Landscape, p. 12. [99] Tilley and Cameron-Daum, Anthropology Of Landscape, p. 7. [100] Rust, Towards An Ecopsychotherapy, p. 14. [101] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 56. [102] Bender, Stonehenge, p. 98 [103] Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p. 2. [104] Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, p. 56. [105] Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. xxv. [106] Ibid. p. xxv. [107] Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane, p. 12. [108] Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred, p. 18. [109] Eliade, The Sacred And The Profane, p. 24

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