Photojournalist Annalisa Marchionna is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘The Year’s Wheel’. To see Annalisa’s body of work, click on any image.
“If you go to the creek watch out for the Hook: it is a hand coming from below who might drag you into the water: Many children died in this way. And at night you should not go out: hooded men will be around”.
These are the kind of stories my grandmother used to tell to scare me as a kid. I was terrified and fascinated at the same time. When I grew up I forgot these tales – and refused them. I was sure the society I grew up in did not have time to evoke spirits, to believe in alchemy or in witchery. We are too modern, too rational. And instead, while Catholicism is declining in Italy and people swing between atheism and the need to believe, there are women and men who feel differently.
Eventually, I found out that our forests resonate with vibrant shamans’ drums. The long Druidic trumpet recalls worshippers for Oestara and other feasts of the Year’s Wheel. Medicine Women heal with herbs. Witches and warlocks gather to celebrate sabbath and enchantments, while on the sea priestess celebrate the Great Goddess.
They are called neo-pagans, because of the feeling that takes back to nature, toward a pantheon of deities and spirits.
It is not known how many they are. They are thought to be tens of thousands people, but along my trip in the Italian spirituality there is no region where nothing is happening. From North to South, from Venice to the islands and the Alps: Everywhere there are people who call themselves neo-pagan.
What emerged was a portrait of a country – Italy – that started feeling again the need for magic, divination and elements control, the urgency to live according to nature cycles again, to produce the sustenance for propitiatory rituals. Most important, for women this might mean a moral and spiritual revenge: Taking back a role too often refused by secular religions.
God is often feminine, as much as her priestesses.
July 2017. Briosco, Lombardy. Irene and Angelo are getting married according to a shamanic ritual from Togo. Calixthe, the shaman performing the marriage ritual, is pressing under his feet red ribbons that represent negativity. Between the two, Irene was the first following Togolese Shamanism. Born in Apulia, she felt Catholicism was not enough for her. Along the years she followed different spiritual paths and she eventually founds her own path in the syncretism between Catholic, neo-pagan and Togolese shamanist elements. Angelo is from Sicily and practices ancient magic rituals from his own land. Even though his background is more rooted into Catholicism than his wife’s, Angelo always joins her during neo-pagan celebrations and is fond of Togolese shamanism’s principles.
February 2017. Iseo Lake, Lombardy. The Italian Great Druidic Lodge celebrates Goddess Brigit, the Druids patroness. Imbolc feast, the first festivity of the Wheel of the Year, is dedicated to her. Brigit is the triple goddess: she is represented by the fire that enlightens inside and outside and that brings life back during the cold time of the year. This ancient feast has Nordic and Celtic origins. It was absorbed by Christianity and called Candelora. During these days, worshippers from any pagan or neo-pagan spiritual paths celebrate Imbolc. Despite slightly different rituals, they all celebrate the light and Goddess Brigit.
September 2017. Salvo Lando (whose full name is Salvatore Landolina) struggles in defining himself. If he had to, he would call himself a Contemporary Shaman. Born in Agrigento, Sicily, a year ago he met by chance a powerful Mexican shaman: An encounter that changed his life. He was supposed to stay in Mexico for five days but eventually stayed for six months. “On November 12th I was born again”, claims Salvo. “After my initiation into a healing path, I strongly felt a call to spend some time in the Mexican jungle. That day I reached a waterfall and spent a long time under the pouring water. When I opened my eyes, I had the feeling that names where falling from things around me. In that moment I felt that everything is part of a whole, and my own body was part of a whole as well. I looked at myself: I was wet and covered in mud. The earth had gave me birth again, I was reborn with a new consciousness”. Today Salvo travels trough Italy to share his experience and to teach people a path of self-healing and harmony.
June 2017. Santa Severa. Lazio Maya Vassallo is an Aphrodite priestess and founder of the Temple of the Great Goddess in Rome. She is at the sea to offer a ritual to Aphrodite, whose element is indeed the sea. The big brazier is nourished by offers to the Goddess and by chants and sacred dances performed by the priestess. The paintings on her body represent ritual draws, recalling elements connected with Goddess Aphrodite.
November 2016, Val D’Aosta, Les Combes. Anna Saudin, a Siberian shaman, is reactivating the thousands-years-old cupels altar with some offers. Cupels are cup-shaped engravings in the rock, peculiar of this and other ancient altars. Around two-thousands years BC, these engravings were used to collect worshippers’ offers to gods and spirits. Anna’s ritual consists in a series of summonings towards the four cardinal directions, followed by ritual offerings to the spirits of the place. Anna was born in Val D’Aosta but she regularly travels to Russia since she was in her twenties. Thanks to her knowledge of Russian, in the 80s she was the first interpreter for the Italian Universities who started studying the anthropological aspects of Siberian Shamanism. The encounter with this world drove her to shamanism. She started practicing it but did not abandon Catholicism. Since decades, together with her partner Costanzo Allione, she has been raising awareness about shamanism in the world through conferences and documentaries.
March 2017. Eco-village Le Trune, Piedmont. The common kitchen in the Eco-village Le Trune. Many neo-pagans meet in this place. Here many festivities of the Wheel of the Year are celebrated.
May 2017. Anna, Alessandra and her husband Daniele are moving according to ritual moves during a spell. They practice Wicca, the most widespread form of modern witchery. Wicca is also the main neo-pagan current. The ritual practice might be performed both individually as well as with other members. In this case the spell is performed inside a house. Wicca is a mystery and initiatory religion, meaning that the whole set of beliefs, religious practices and their true nature, are revealed only to initiated members and they are obliged not to reveal the mystery, that must remain untold.
November 2016. Ventan, Val D’Aosta. Anna Saudin, a Siberian shaman, gives her offers to Ovaa. This is the only Tuvino three-trees shamanic altar in the West. Siberian shamanism originates from Siberia and it is today especially practiced in the region of the Baikal Lake. According to shamanic tradition, worshippers’ offers nourish the altar. Beside rice, milk and something to eat, three stones should be placed below the altar and filled with prayers. Along the years, these are the rocks that actually support the Ovaa. Its shape is constantly changing. At the end of prayers and offers ritual, worshippers tie on the three trees a ribbon, whose color depends on each person’s birthday.
May 2017. Massarano, Piedmont. The highlight of the Beltane celebration is starting. This feast is connected to the return to life and light as well as to the encounter of feminine and masculine, including the power of sexuality. Besides the members of the Druidic Circle who organize the Beltane celebration together with the Old Oak, there are also many members of historical groups who revive the Celtic and Druidic myth. All together, they head to the pyres that will become fires to propitiate abundance. “We are the new Keepers of the Forests and we promote the development of a new consciousness that will make individuals rediscover the sacred and divine inner soul of the Nature, Mother and Teacher of the whole mankind. In this way, they will be able to work with Her and for Her and to take care of Life and Harmony. We meet in wild places, according to the Festivity Calendar shared by many neo-pagan movements, and we celebrate and honor seasonal cycles”, This is what Druidic Circle members say of themselves.