Antwerp – The Cult of the Phallus…

Hidden behind its Catholic exterior, each medieval city hides another face. The face of its pagan origins. Before the Gothic Cathedrals, the religious paintings and the traditionally approved cobbled towns we see today, there existed other beliefs, other modes of life, other realities.

This was most apparent when, after visiting the current historic center of Antwerp, with its magnificently decorated Town Hall and its awe-inspiring Cathedral of Our Lady (described in my previous blog post), we made our way to the Het Steen, or Steen Castle, which is the oldest building in Antwerp, and which used to be the previous center of the city.

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The Het Steen, also known as the Fortress of Antwerp, was built in the Early Middle Ages, after the Viking incursions. It stands on the banks of the river, and serves as the current Museum of Archaeology. 

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As one walks towards this Medieval Castle, with its witch-hat capped towers and rounded windows, the first thing one is faced with is, funnily enough, an enormous statue of a man with a GIANT phallus. Other, smaller people gasping and pointing at the phallus are also part of the statue’s tableau. Honestly, when I saw it first I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It really jarred with the rest of the medieval atmosphere. It had nothing to do with the Catholic medieval town.

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Later, I was told that the statue represented the Scandinavian god Semini. He was a god of fertility and youth, to whom women traditionally appealed if they wanted children. To be honest, I found this quite strange as usually fertility deities tend to be female (for obvious reasons). However I was so speechless while being confronted with that statue with its… er… protruding parts, that I couldn’t really do anything except laugh. Anyways; it seems that Semini was the original god of the town of Antwerp, whose inhabitants were referred to as ‘the Children of Semini’. When the Catholic church established its hold on the town, they reviled Semini, and his cult. Of course, I imagine that the people continued to pray to their god in secret, and later on, when society permitted it, erected this statue in his ‘honor’.

After visiting the Het Steen, we spied the beautiful Standspark, a serene green park with a celestial lake and a number of tame waterfowl, and decided to take a walk and relax while surrounded by nature.

It was quite romantic and a much needed break our sightseeing.

 

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The Treasures of Antwerp Square

If you think about it, the Flemish mush have been very neat people. I say this because when I was in Belgium, each of the major Flemish medieval cities was structured in the same way. Be it Ghent, Bruges, Brussels or Antwerp – each of these cities, built during the middle ages, sprawls around one large main square which is surrounded on all four sides by important buildings built in a gothic architectural style. Each square in each city has a Town Hall, where decisions about the city were taken by the Town Major, important meetings took place, and where people even got married (and still do actually). There is also always at least one cathedral, usually sporting a very tall tower with a magnificently crafted large clock at the top.

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This is the Town Hall, or City Hall in Antwerp, also called the Stadhuis. It stands on the western side of Market Square and was built in the 16th century. Its facade is richly ornamented and quite impressive, decorated with various well-crafted statues. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually get inside the Standhuis because there was a private wedding taking place, and access was, of course, prohibited unless you were invited. So, we turned right around… to be confronted by the majestic Cathedral of Our Lady on the other side of the square.

 

Hauntingly gothic on the outside and beautifully baroque on the inside. I can never have enough of visiting Gothic Cathedrals! And no, I am not Catholic, it’s the art and architecture itself that I love. Those people invested everything they had in their cathedrals, it was the place where they went to dream and hope for a better tomorrow. In a world of misery, pain, and poverty, peasants had nothing else beautiful to look at. Imagine, even today, when we have all our geegaws, out plasma screens and hi-tech computers, when we all know how to read and write and are able to amuse ourselves, even NOW we are awed by these amazing gothic structures… now imagine people who have absolutely nothing – how THEY must have felt when entering a place of such incredible breathtaking beauty!

Anyways, hehe yes I love art and I love architecture.

 

Moving on, the Cathedral is full of paintings done by Rubens, the artist whose house I had visited just before (see previous post). And just look at that stained glass!

 

Oh and by the way, did I mention all those other historic medieval houses around the square? Today, most of them are restaurants and pubs, but they still contain their original magic. Imagine having a drink in a 600 year old bar!

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In conclusion – 10 points to Antwerp Square!!

Important Churches in Valletta

Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a real testament to Malta’s Catholic faith. Built by the Order of the Knights of Saint John, which was a Catholic Military Order, the city became the capital one year after its construction was completed, that is, in 1571. A jewel of historic architecture, Valletta boasts more than 25 churches and chapels, most of which were originally first built during the 16th and 17th centuries, and which contain innumerable and priceless works of art.

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First and foremost among these, one must surely mention Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. Found in Saint John Square and built in the 1570s, this co-cathedral is a distinct architectural treasure designed by the famed Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, and decorated internally by the well-known Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti. Although its intricately ornate interior is Baroque in style, the co-cathedral’s exterior is of the Mannerist style. It contains nine rich chapels, as well as notable works of art attributed to such painters as Caravaggio, as well as a number of medieval artifacts and tapestries. The floor is covered with inlaid marble tombstones, commemorating the more illustrious knights of the Order of Saint John, as well as a number of Grand Masters.

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The Church of Our Lady of the Victories, situated in South Street, is not just the oldest Church in Valletta, but actually the first building to be completed in the city. Built to commemorate the victory of the Maltese and the Knights of the Order over the Ottoman invaders in the Great Siege of 1565, it was chosen by the Knights as their Parish Church at the time.

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When one looks at Valletta’s imposing silhouette, one of the most visible features is surely the large round dome belonging to the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Originally dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation, this church was given to the order of the Carmelites in the 17th century, after which it received its present patronage. The original structure was seriously damaged during the Second World War, leading to the facade being re-designed.

Although almost all churches in Valletta are Roman Catholic, one cannot fail to mention Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, to be found in Independence Square. This Anglican Cathedral, commissioned in the 19th century, is one of three such Cathedrals within the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe. Its 60 meter-long steeple is a landmark in Valletta, and it is predominantly neo-classical in style.

This article of mine was published on LivinginMalta.com – to read the rest of it, go here.

Easter Celebrations in Malta

Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, this means that most Maltese follow and adhere to a yearly religious calendar which gives importance to a number of recurring feasts and traditions. Among these, Easter is one of the most prominent periods, since it not only has a specific religious meaning, symbolizing the rising of Christ, but also coincides with the beginning of Spring, which also serves to bring new life in nature, better weather, a flourishing of crops, and add energy and verve to the life of each individual in general.

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During this time, numerous processions, plays, marches and celebrations take place throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo, since here, Easter celebration can be said to be at a par with Christmas. As in most Mediterranean countries, Malta starts to officially celebrate the Easter period with Palm Sunday, which this year will be on Sunday 9th April. Many activities take place even before that, during Holy Week, which technically commences on the Friday preceding Good Friday, when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta and many other towns and villages. This is a historic and traditional demonstration, where penitents who have made certain vows or asked for intercession from above, walk barefoot through the streets behind the procession, with chains and shackles tied to their feet as a symbol of their guilt and willingness to atone for their sins.

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Prior to Good Friday, many believers also celebrate Maundy Thursday or, as it is known in Maltese, ‘Ħamis ix-Xirka’, whereby most churches are decorated with flowers, models of the last supper, pennons and other specific decorations. During Maundy Thursday, it is traditional for the devout to perform ‘The Seven Visits’, or ‘Is-Sebgħa Visti’, which entails visiting and praying at seven different churches. Maundy Thursday is also referred to as Holy Thursday or the Mass of the Chrism, since on this day, the Archbishop of Malta blesses the Holy Oils during a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral in Valletta.

Good Friday, which is a National Public Holiday in Malta, is considered to be a serious and solemn occasion. Churches are adorned with dark colors, and several processions occur throughout most towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, where priests or devout carry different statues symbolizing the Passion of Christ. Most villages also prepare short dramas or plays, enacted by devout dressed as characters from the Bible. Processions are almost always accompanied by marching bands, playing funeral marches or religious songs.

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The mood of the celebrations starts to change on Saturday evening. This is known as Holy Saturday and while starting in a somber manner, culminates with a celebration whereby all churches are illuminated with candles, lights, song and the tolling of the bells.

Easter Sunday, starts with a procession which commemorates the Risen Christ. The most famous of all such processions which take place around the island is surely the one which takes place in Valletta, and which is organised by the Confraternity of the Risen Christ, which traces its origins to the 17th century. The procession is a festive one, accompanied by beautiful traditional tunes and statues. Children also form an important part of the procession, carrying traditional foods and sweets, of which the most important is surely the ‘figolla’. This is a Maltese sugar and almond pastry which can only be found served in Maltese bakeries and confectioneries during the period of Easter, since it is synonymous with this feast.

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This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to view the complete article go here.

Order

In the beaming of the Moon
the stars go on arolling
under his patriarchal eye
healthily aglowing

A stream, a glade, a shallow reef
they all spread out on yonder
beneath his benign fragile gaze
in fearful harmony and wonder

Nothing could ever break that look
surrounding them, so strictly
Nothing could ever distort the order
regimenting them so thickly

For his stern paternal gaze
is what keeps them in line
willy-nilly, it’s always there
ever controlling their shine

For what would happen without the Moon
in the dark of the endless sky?
What would the twinkling stars do
all alone up above so high?

How could their light reach over it all
with no shepherd there to guide them?
How could they find the way to go
with no sergeant to deride them?

It would be chaos! It would be wild!
There would be no end to it!
How they would dance, jump and cavort
for sure the globe would be too brightly lit!

No no, such things are not to happen
no play or song, no laughter or brightness, ever
The Moon is there as it has always been
Set the clock, turn around, yes forever

©M.A

 

What to do for Midsummer?

Midsummer will be with us soon. Litha, the Summer Solstice, when all the world celebrates the passion of living. The fertility of Mother Earth reflected in the purity of the bonfires. Sweaty bodies gyrating in the indomitable spirit of life. The incessant heartbeat of the planet, drumming on in every plant, every particle, every follicle, every being.

And I have no idea how to celebrate it.

21 June will be a Sunday. Right now I’m living with my boyfriend who is not a Pagan/Wiccan and does not celebrate the spokes of the Wheel. In any case, I would feel better celebrating outdoors of course. There are two problems however.

Problem 1 – The people. Malta is a very small island and on Sundays, Saturdays and any day really, people swarm everywhere. There isn’t any nook or cranny where one can meditate or just sit in silence for a while. Especially now, when even beaches are full to bursting everywhere (in winter at least these are semi-deserted in certain hours of the day/night). This issue is always present, however usually I try to do something inside or on the roof, but right now that’s not possible. It will not be a problem once we move to the new house, where I will have a special space/study/library, but for now… hmm..

Problem 2 – All my celebratory altar-related things and tools, candles, incense, etc are packed in boxes in another locality. Except for my BOS ofc. And to be honest at the moment I don’t have money to spare to buy new stuff, so I truly have to use only normal everyday things to celebrate. As such this is not really a problem though… some wine and essential oils will have to be enough.

And still, I do not know exactly how I can celebrate it this year. I wish we were already in the new house – would be a marvellous time for a cleansing by fire of the new area (which is not as pyromaniac as it sounds lol).

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The Cult of Sacred Wells: Introduction

Awesome article. Visited a couple of wells when I was in Ireland and the atmosphere of peace and spiritual purity around them impressed me.

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  “There is no superstition stronger in Ireland than a belief in the curative power of the sacred wells that are scattered over the country; fountains of health and healing which some saint had blessed, or by which some saint had dwelt in the far-off ancient times. But well-worship is even older than Christianity. It is part of the early ritual of humanity, brought from the Eastern lands by the first Aryan tribes who migrated westward, passing along from the Mediterranean to time Atlantic shores,” (Wilde, Holy Wells).

The great regard that the people of Ireland had for wells is so great that, at one time, they were referred to as The People of the Wells. Within Ireland and Wales, many sacred wells dotted the landscape, each coveted for their holy powers of magic, insight, and healing. From ancient times, to the spreading of Christianity into the British Isles, and even…

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No more Patriarchal Religions! We need to go back to our roots and true balance!

Two days ago I randomly picked out one of those books which you bought coz it looks so interesting, and you know it is, but always start and never manage to finish anyways. This time I got along a little further than the last time – it IS good. This passage struck me particularly as it encapsulates one of the main tenets which bugs me about most structured popular religions and sects nowadays (and by nowadays I mean which cropped up during the last couple of millenia).

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‘For tens of thousands of years feminine symbols represented the universal  life force known as God. For the past 3,500 to 4,000 years, masculine imagery has represented God. All thinking people know that the source of all creation is neither male nor female, but the choice of imagery has had the effect of unbalancing the psyches of individuals and of civilisation. A balance in the symbolism of the archetypal force that represents God needs to be brought into the consciousness of every man, woman and child so that humanity will not destroy our Earth Mother. The Goddess and the laws of Nature embodied in her worship need to be brought back into consciousness so that a balanced order can prevail on this planet and on all the life forms living on it…’

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‘… The Great Goddess… was the Creatrix of all life – her realm included the entire cosmos. All the functions of the Goddess represent aspects of the total qualities of that deity. She was a reflection of the cultural and spiritual life of the peoples who worshipped her, the source or perpetual renewal, supplying all their needs and hopes, inspiring their value system.’

– From ‘The Sacred Whore: Sheela Goddess of the Celts’ by Maureen Concannon

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Church Massacres 7,000 in the name of Catholicism

No, it did not happen today. It did not happen yesterday. It happened more than 800 years ago in 1209. Does that make it ok?

While we still bemoan awful events like the 9/11 twin tower bombings and the disappearance of Madeline McCann, society in general seems to have conveniently forgotten the atrocities done in the name of Catholicism, preferring instead to foist all the blame and religious fanaticism on Islamic belief.

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In 1209 the then-current Pope declared a ‘crusade’ against a sect of the Catholic church known as Cathars, branding them as heretics because of their differences in practiced creed. Papal knights and delegates were sent to Southern France to exterminate and eradicate all of the Cathars (of which there were thousands), while confiscating their properties, palaces and money.

When they arrived at the outskirts of Beziers, a city in the County of Languedoc, the Papal legate wrote a list of 222 names and sent it to the Mayor, demanding that these people would be sent over to him to be hanged, or else all would die. The city as one refused. After a siege, the ‘Papal knights’ entered the town slaughtering men, women and children right and left. The routiers rampaged through the streets, killing and plundering, while those citizens who could run sought refuge in the churches — the cathedral, the churches of St Mary Magdalene and of St Jude. Yet the churches did not provide safety against the raging mob of invaders. The doors of the churches were broken open, and all inside were massacred. It is estimated that 7,000 people died in the Church of St Mary Magdalene alone.

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The building of the church itself was not even respected as sanctuary… which goes to show what the ‘Papal legate’ and his ‘knights’ were really after.

After the massacre it came to the distribution of the city’s spoils. The crusader knights became enraged that the rabble of the army had already taken the plunder. They took control of the situation, chased them from the occupied houses and took their booty away. In turn, the angry and disappointed soldiers responded by burning down the town.

Nice.

Real religious and brave.

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The cherry on the cake? The papal legate himself knew that there were many innocents being killed – that is, non-Cathar worshippers. He is known to have told the knights to kill everyone anyway. His famously cited words were:

“Kill them all, God will know His own”

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I will be going to the Languedoc region and visiting Cathar castles and other related places next month. Can’t wait to learn more about them.