August 2012

In the presence of Minerva

We spent our second day in Rome walking in the heat amongst the throngs of tourists. But we are not really tourist stock and we usually prefer observing people and eating good food than sightseeing. We did sit in the shade of the Colosseum and debated whether to go in or not. Waiting in line in the heat discouraged us some. As I sat on a stone wall looking at the structure, I realized that the very ground I was standing on was soaked in blood. This structure that everyone was marveling at was built of stone and blood: blood of slaves and martyrs and prisoners. Blood for entertainment. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be in its walls anymore.
Every ancient structure was essentially re-baptized and converted to a Christian devotion towards the end of the Empire. We visited the Pantheon that used to be a temple to Roman deities and had been re-consecrated as a Christian Church. It is built according to divine proportions and respects sacred geometry. Lets just say that the ancient ones knew what they were doing…
Our bus was leaving in 2 hours and we weren’t sure where to go to escape the heat anymore. By chance, we passed by the Museum of Ancient Rome. We decided to seek refuge there. It was a stark contract to the outside world: it was cool and only a handful of people walked its halls. A lemon garden grew in the middle. We walked among marble statues of ancient Roman families. You would think that after a couple statues they would all look the same. But I couldn’t get enough of it. These were the remnants of families, of heros, of real people. And they looked so much like me: the same neck line, the full hips, the small stature. I felt like I knew them.

My husband took a picture because he thought she looked like me.

There were sacred bathing vessels. At one end, I saw what was supposed to be a devotional home altar. I put my hand on it and withdrew it right away. I realized that I had no idea what had been offered on it. Despite its marble whiteness, I felt that there might have been blood sacrifices. Not human, I don’t think, but likely animal ones.
The most impressive piece at the museum was a 10-foot statue of Minerva. The inscription said that due to its size, it must have been a cult statue in a temple as opposed to a house statue. I could only dream of all the ritual, offerings and devotions that this statue must have witnessed. I felt the sacred priestesses dancing in front of it. Objects retain the events that they have witnessed. This statue was still alive from all the greatness it had witnessed. I came away from the museum feeling like I had found a piece of truth about myself, reconnected to a forgotten part of my own experience.

After three weeks of resting, we flew to Italy to join my parents in my father’s native village. I spent most of the summer of my youth there and it felt like I was coming home. I had to get over the shock that I was in fact no longer seventeen (yeah, it hurt a little) and that I had two children to chase around. But we relished in the mountain air, the pizza and the ice cream.
My husband and I took a night off for a lover’s vacation to Rome. We walked for two days in the heat along with the thousands of tourists and saw most of the piazzas, the Colosseum, and we stopped by the Vatican. The line up to get in spanned at least a couple of hours and since we had both been there before, we didn’t enter. It always felt more like a museum to me than a place of Worship. I look at the Vatican and what stands most prominent are the two statues in front: Peter and Paul. It is essentially a shrine to Peter and Paul and this girl will not bend the knee. Sorry. There is a statue of Jesus way on top amongst all the others, and basically no women amongst the throngs of other statues. Anyhow…
My husband went to sleep early, suffering a little from heat stroke. I decided to go out again to St-Peter’s. Seeing the basilica at night was a different experience. It felt quieter, more joyous, like it had to stop pretending… As I walked around I noticed stones at my feet. On the ground around the obelisk, were the cardinal points with the names of the winds associated with them.























I also found a line of stone with the sign of the zodiac and the solstices. The holy site was showing me a different side that I had never knew. I went to the north wind and started to walk my circle. I went to the east and before me rushed the great boulevard which made it’s way to the gates. I could picture the sun rising up the boulevard as the city bustled slowly to life. I continued  around to the south, invoking the strength and courage of Michael. As I walked the few steps from South to West, I heard the following phrase in my head: Whatever rises must set. As I looked up, I saw the Vatican standing in all its glory. Whatever rises must set. Something rumbled deep inside me. Some things must not be allowed to go on. Some things must not be excused. Some things cannot be endorsed. Some things have to stop.
I was never one to take on a violent approach against the Church or the Church doctrine and I never will. But more and more, I am conscious of it. Where I used to be more nonchalant about it, feeling that it was just the way it is, I am starting to stand up and think: No, it shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t buy dogma for truth if it was made up by popes dead for hundreds of years (and some not even that). We can buy dogma for symbolism, teaching or mythology, but not for absolute truth. No amount of politicizing should justify actions that go against our Christian morals, like cheating, lying or stealing. The Church should help its people stand up and shine, not crush them under a rule of guilt and shame. Some things have to stop.
I’ve said before that I would never have a hand in destroying the faith of millions and I stand true to that. I had a discussion with a priest about the history of the Church and its Dogma. He is a little bit of a revolutionary (I pick my guys!) I asked him: ‘So, what do we do? Do we listen to the Pope on everything that comes out of the Vatican?’ He looked at me: ‘You have to listen to your conscience.’ Being in Rome, on St-Peter’s square, that’s what it boiled down to. Stand by your conscience.

From a Christian Witch point of view, it was nice to be in a place where fields grow. Rural Poland still has a very ‘Old religion’ feel in spite of the prominent place of the Church. My husband and I would go for a walk every day. I loved the road-side shrines that were falling in various states of disrepair.

The statues of our Holy Mother looked so different than what we are used to seeing. She is depicted as short and stout, as if she has just come back from working in  the fields. It is a stark contrast to the usual Renaissance depiction we have of Her.

Central motif of Our Lady in the church in Wislica

Pagan elements are still present in some folk celebrations, like the lighting of lanterns on the summer solstice. When we were married, the priest blessed our rings with a straw broom. Not to say that they would acknowledge this as pagan, but it is quite plain to see to whoever has her vision on. It makes for a fun treasure hunt.
We spent a few hours in Cracow, which I believe is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In 1999, I spent a month there to study Polish. It always felt special to me, especially a specific spot on the main square. This was before I heard the legend that the city held one of the seven sacred stones that regulate the energy of the earth. I really encourage anyone who is passing through eastern Europe to take a moment in the main square, right between the Cloth Hall and the clock tower and see how you feel…

And here is the whole family in Warsaw’s old town

That spot next to the clock tower is me and the kids sitting on one of the chakras of the world.

So, we left on the 22nd of June to visit my husband’s family in Poland. I had just finished work a few hours before, picked up my son from his last day at school, zipped the suitcases and we were off! No time to think about what I hadn’t done or what I hadn’t packed. We took to the air and left everything behind.
We spent three weeks sitting in a little village, living to rhythm of somewhere else. We really went back to basics. There was a romantic charm to the daily routine: warming up water to wash ourselves and do dishes, doing the laundry early so it would have time to dry in the yard, having our tea together, washing and scraping the earth caked potatoes straight from the fields for lunch. After lunch, we would go to the river to swim. In the evening, we would play cards while nibbling on sandwiches and drinking beer. The routine, which essentially rotated around our basic needs: keeping clean and fed, was surprisingly soothing. Why is it that back home these things are such chores? Obviously, when you work all day, this becomes just ‘extra work’. Keeping house is a full-time job. I believe in the kind of feminism that strives for the recognition of what was typically seen as female.  I think that if those tasks were valued, we would find a way to make sure that a family can survive on one salary, since one of the parents (and I am not saying necessarily the woman) has full-time work taking care of the family’s basic needs.
It also dawned on me that there was something comforting in knowing exactly what you were supposed to do. Dishes had to be done, laundry had to be hung and food had to be prepared. There was no questions as to what to do. There were no decisions to make. Having leisure time is a relatively new occurrence. Our grandparents spent essentially all their time providing for their subsistence, whether by baking bread, making cheese, candles, butter, sewing clothes… Since the fifties, we have more time and we have to constantly decide what to do with that time. The options are endless and the responsibilities as well. We have to make decisions on educational activities for the kids, shop for life insurance, make eco-conscious choices, do yoga, be aware of world politics…. It is a never-ending stream of decisions that we have to make the minute we have a second to spare. It was nice for things to be simple and clear: bathing, laundry, food, rest…. We should try not to forget that life isn’t as complicated as we make. Of course, it is always easier to do that when you are on vacation!

A few hours after writing my last post, I boarded a plane that took me and the family to Poland for three weeks of family time. If you recall, my last post was about the celebration of the solstice and the acknowledgement of the transformation of the sun god figure from Helios to Elijah to Jesus.

As I opened up my meal tray in the plane, I found myself staring at this symbol on a packet of salt:


I closed my eyes and took in this magnificent gift. I felt like I had just said something and the Almighty was just casually talking right back. We often feel like we are doing all the talking. If only God would talk back, right? S/He does. We just have to speak the right language. I felt like It was telling me: ‘You’re unto something there. You are on the right track. Interesting point.’ As if I was talking to a colleague or a friend. We should never doubt that we are in an ever flowing conversation with the Divine. We just have to do as much listening as talking.