Campania

The Magic of Italian Lullabies

I didn’t ever think of lullabies as magic until I saw Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino play live for the first time. Before they played one of their songs based on a traditional Salentino lullaby, Mauro Durante took the stage and introduced it by explaining to the audience that a mother who sings her child a lullaby is not just trying to make her child fall asleep. Instead, Durante said, she is weaving a powerful spell of protection against the powers of illness and misfortune. 

Ever since then, I have been fascinated by the magic of lullabies. Even if you don’t remember it now, there was someone in your life who held you when you were a baby. You used to fall asleep safe in someone’s arms. The lullaby reconnects us with that past moment moment in the eternal present. It also connects us with the moment when our mothers were held by their mothers, and so on and so forth, stretching back through time to the first mother, who some may identify with the Black Madonna. Even lullabies that you didn’t grow up with can still be emotionally powerful for this reason. 

What magic can you do with a lullaby? 

  • Sing it to protect a small child, animal, or other vulnerable spirit in need. 
  • Play a recorded lullaby in the dark, right before bed to dream deeper. 
  • Learn the meanings of the lyrics. Visualize the unusual images and see where they take you. 
  • Play it while making offerings to your distaff line.

The lullaby I will share with you today is from Cancello Arnone in Caserta, Campania. It is sung in the Casertano dialect of Neapolitan, which you can tell from the way the infinitives end in -ane: for example, “addevenane”. I’m extraordinarily excited to share this song with you, as I believe it is the first time the lyrics have been published. It is certainly the first time they have been translated into English. 

Lyrics

Casertano 

Noo.. nonna nonna, a nenna mie, l'angele l'addorma
Noo.., si l'addorme mò ch'è piccerella
quanne è grosse s'addorme sulella.
Quanne nasciette ie nasciette a mare,
nasciette fra li Turche e fra li More,
me pigliave e me metteve m'bracce
chi me riceve figlie viene a me.
Vene na zenghere p'addevenane
"Figlie pe te ce sta nu monte d'ore"
Pigliaie la zappe e me mette a zappane
nù truvaie l'argente e manche l'ore.
Vurria turnane n'ata vote n'fasce
pe' vasane a chi vasaie a me
"Zenghere nu sapiste addevenane
chi nasce afflitte scunzulate more"
Noo, nonna nonna, a nenna mia a nonna vo fane
noo, si l'addorme mò ch'è piccerella
quanne è grosse addorme sulella.
E nonna nonna e mò vene Mammone
mò vene u vicchiarielle m'briacone
m'briacone che m'briaca lli ggente
m'briacheme a sta nenne nu mumento
E nonna nonna nonna, suonne e crisce
mò vene o mare che porte li pisce
porte li pisce e porte li dunzelle
Vire sta nenna mie quante è bella
Noo.. nonna nonna, la nenna mie, l'angele l'addorma
noo, si l'addorme mò ch'è piccerella
quanne è grosse s'addorme sulella.
Mamma toie tu vuleve n'tussecare
quanne sapette ca vulive a me
Pigliete a chesse ca te vonne rà
che 'cchiù acconce e 'cchiù belle e me
pigliatelle acconce e aggarbatelle
nu poche accurtulelle de cinture
che si le fa po' qualche gonnelle
sparagne file e sete e cuseture
Noo.. nonna nonna, la nenna mie, l'angele l'addorma
noo, si l'addorme mò ch'è piccerella
quanne è grosse s'addorme sul'ella.
Vurria ca lu mare m'annegasse
e nove de me nun ze n'avesse
e roppe n'anne l'onne me cacciasse
n'coppe a nu scoglie mangiate re pesce.
Tante da puzze nisciune s'accustasse
sule ninnillu mie nce venesse
Lui venesse e ie me resuscetasse
cchiù belle che nunz'eve me facesse
Noo.. nonna nonna, la nenna mie, l'angele l'addorma
noo, si l'addorme mò ch'è piccerella
quanne è grosse s'addorme sulella.
Lu sabbete se chiamme allegre core
pe' chi ce tene na bella mugliera
chi tene a bella mugliere sempe canta
chi tene li renare sempe conte.
Ie puvurielle nù cante e nù conte
brutte m'aggià pigliate e senza niente.
Noo.. nonna nonna, a nenna mie a nonne vo fa
Noo.. nonna nonna, a nenna mie, l'angele l'addorma

Italiano

Noo... nonna nonna, la bimba mia l'angelo l'addormenta
Noo..., se l'addormenta adesso che è piccolina
quando diventa grande s'addormenta da sola.
Quando sono nata nacqui a mare
nacqui tra i Turchi ed i Mori
mi prendeva e mi metteva in braccio
chi mi diceva "figlia vieni a me"
Viene una zingara per fare l'indovina
"Figlia per te c'è un monte d'oro"
Presi una zappa e mi misi a zappare
non trovai l'argento e nemmeno l'oro.
Vorrei tornare un'altra volta in fascie
per baciare chi baciava me
"Zingara non sapesti indovinare
chi nasce afflitto muore sconsolato
Noo... nonna nonna, la bimba mia la nonna vuole fare
Noo..., se l'addormenta adesso che è piccolina
quando diventa grande s'addormenta da sola.
E nonna nonna adesso viene Mammone
adesso viene il vecchierello ubriacone
ubriacone che ubriaca le genti
ubriacami questa figlia in un momento
E nonna nonna dormi e cresci
adesso viene il mare che porta i pesci
porta i pesci e porta le fanciulle
vedi la bimba mia quant'è bella
Noo... nonna nonna, la bimba mia l'angelo l'addormenta
Noo..., se l'addormenta adesso che è piccolina
quando diventa grande s'addormenta da sola.
Tua madre ti voleva intossicare
quando seppe che volevi me
Prendi quella che ti vogliono dare
che è più brava e più bella di me
pigliatela brava e molto garbata
un po' corta di cintura
che se poi le devi fare qualche gonnella
risparmi il filo di seta e la cucitura
Noo... nonna nonna, la bimba mia l'angelo l'addormenta
Noo..., se l'addormenta adesso che è piccolina
quando diventa grande s'addormenta da sola.
Vorrei che il mare mi annegasse
e notizie di me non si avessero
e dopo un anno l'onda mi cacciasse
su uno scoglio mangiata dai pesci.
Dal fetore nessuno si avvicinasse
solo il mio ragazzo ci verrebbe
Lui verrebbe ed io resuscitassi
e più bella che non ero mi farei
Noo... nonna nonna, la bimba mia l'angelo l'addormenta
Noo..., se l'addormenta adesso che è piccolina
quando diventa grande s'addormenta da sola.
Il Sabato si chiama allegro cuore
per chi ha una bella moglie
chi ha una bella moglie sempre canta
chi ha i denari sempre conta
Io poverello non canto e non conto
brutta me la sono sposata e senza niente
Noo... nonna nonna, la bimba mia la nonna vuol fare
Noo... nonna nonna, la bimba mia l'angelo l'addormenta

English

Nonna nonna, my little one, the angel puts her to sleep
if the angel puts her to sleep now that she is small
when she is big she will fall asleep on her own. 
When I was born, I was born at sea
I was born among the Turks and among the Moors, 
The person who said, child come to me, 
took me and picked me up in their arms. 
A gypsy came to foretell
“Girl, for you there is a mountain of gold” 
I picked up the hoe and I began to hoe
I didn’t find silver and not even gold. 
I would like to return again to swaddling clothes
in order to kiss the one that kissed me
“Gypsy, you didn’t know how to divine
who is born afflicted, dies desolate”
Nonna nonna, my little one wants to go to sleep
if I put her to sleep now that she is small
when she is big she will fall asleep herself. 
Ninna nanna and now comes Mammone
Now comes the old man drunkard  
A drunkard that makes people drunk
make this child fall asleep right now
And nonna nonna, sleep and grow
Now comes the sea that brings fish
brings the fish and brings the damsels
Look look how beautiful my child is
Nonna, my child, the angel puts her to sleep
Noo, if he puts her to sleep now that she is small
When she is big, she’ll sleep herself. 
Your mother wanted to upset you
when she found out that you chose me
Take this woman that they want to give you [as a wife] 
who is more graceful and more beautiful than me
take her graceful and gracious
a bit short from the belt
if she makes her some skirts
she saves on silk, threads, and sewings
Nonna nonna, my child, the angel puts her to sleep
if he puts her to sleep now that she is small
When she is big she will sleep alone
I would like that the sea drown me
and news of me there would not be
and after one year the wave would send me away
on top of a rock, eaten by the fish. 
So much of the stench nobody would come near
only my little boy would come
He would come and I would come back to life
Would make me more beautiful than I was
Nonna, my little girl, the angel puts her to sleep
No, if he puts her to sleep now that she’s small
when she is big she will fall asleep herself. 
Saturday is called happy heart
for he who has a beautiful wife
who has a beautiful wife sings all the time
who has money always counts
Poor me, I do not sing or count
I have chosen and ugly one without anything. 
My girl, go to sleep
The angel puts her to sleep. 

Credits 

The English translation for this lullaby comes to us from Anna Scognamiglio, a scholar of Neapolitan language and culture who teaches online Italian and Neapolitan lessons. As I've discussed in previous posts, she is an incredible teacher, and has contributed a lot of material and perspective to this blog. 

The lullaby itself was originally recorded and transcribed by Alberto Esposito, whose YouTube channel is not to be missed by anyone passionate about Southern Italian culture. Mr. Esposito has been an extraordinary source of wisdom concerning these living traditions for both Anna and myself. His kindness and generous spirit deserve to be honored publicly. Pestered by us to share something about his life, he writes: 

Born in Cancello Arnone on January 21, 1952, the first studies in college years went badly. Graduated at the Liceo Scientifico with difficulty (8 years) for a creeping artistic vocation to the point of getting out of stock. Militancy in the late 1970s in the extreme left and relative disillusionment that led me to leave everything, girl, country, family and work projects. London in '77, along with artists, made me resume artistic activity and drawing, but the art of reference is the body-art that has lived on the street. Naples and several trips, then for a couple of years I worked as a shipyard manager in Naples in the popular neighborhood of the "Miracoli" for the reconstruction of the 1980 Earthquake and then also at Vietri di Potenza. Family problems brought me to the country where I had the space to paint. I gradually immersed myself in the culture of the country, taking photographs focusing on people (faces, posing expressions), collecting popular songs, interviewing subjects on the last war also done in Collaboration with Federico II Sociology with Prof. Gribaudi. I curated the publication of Gen. Domenico Branco's "Diario di guerra del 43", lieutenant pilot at the time of the events. Collaboration with the University of California through professor and researcher Ferruccio Trabalzi for a qualification and re-evaluation course both in terms of structures and economics in my region. A small collaboration with Carlo Faiello on the traditions of buffalo farms published by "Squilibri Editore". Collaboration on Paola Cantelmo's video on popular dances and more in the Vesuvius territories for video editing on a regional blog structured by the publisher "Squilibri" (editor publishing the early records of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia). I published at my expense "Canti raccolti a Cancello Arnone", the "Lettere" which are my parents' correspondence during the first postwar period, followed by the "43 racconti del 43" a book on war stories. My videos on the war are published on the University site even though I should retrieve other tapes. Public "Documenti di Cancello Arnone", plus four volumes on the criminal processes of Cancello Arnone since 700 AD from the Museo Campano di Capua, the transcriptions of these processes in which the ancient way of life of the entire Mazzoni area, the marshy and malarial area up to the 50s, then recovered with huge and heavy reclamations. I published "Londres Scafa e Ponti", a booklet that identifies in the Volturno passage the pivot on which the process of emancipation of the whole Mazzoni area is engulfed and prospects a future belonging to the nation, which without roads and bridges was first blocked. Another book on ancient documents from 600 AD, 700 AD and 900 AD on the behavior of the religious in the various centuries, but I am denied the publication from the Biblioteca della Curia di Capua. The book then "Ri Cunte" collected in Mondragone, a town located on the borders with the Mazzoni area, collecting single-person tales that make this book particularly original, also valid from a linguistic point of view, since Mrs. Teodora Bertolino used the dialect of the Sant'Angelo district, the oldest in Mondragone. I curate the publication of a book of dialectical poetry by Francesco Di Napoli, "Quanne il suone addeventene parole". The overall sense of most of these research projects is centered on wanting to give all the elements that can give answers to the culture of a single territory: photos, songs, stories, ancient documents about the religious, various experiences (such as those of my parents, General Branco), etc. However, throughout this period I have nevertheless been creative in the contemporary art scene with installations, video shows, etc. which are the other face of my artistic experiences. Illness and other problems today lead me to living in Rodi Garganico.
Friend of Italian Folk Magic Alberto Esposito

Friend of Italian Folk Magic Alberto Esposito

Signor Esposito's familiar spirit 

Signor Esposito's familiar spirit 

Magic Beverages for Summer

Many Americans traveling to Italy, whether to explore their roots or just enjoy the scenery, are taken aback by the country’s devotion to food and the socializing that occurs around mealtimes. Take, for example, the rituals surrounding aperitivi and digestivi—that is, alcoholic beverages consumed before and after meals, respectively. Aperitivi can be thought of as similar to happy hour drinks. They are usually enjoyed as a way to unwind after the work day and stimulate digestion before the evening meal. They are sometimes accompanied by light food because dinners in usually start later in the evening than they do in the US. Digestivi are often taken along with the dessert course. 

In this post, we’ll be talking about some popular aperitivi and digestivi and how to make them yourself. We’ll also speculate on possible magical applications of these beverages based on their ingredients, so you can serve up some blessings to your summer party guests! 

APERITIVI

Spritz

This aperitivo can be made with either Campari or Aperol. These liqueurs have similar tastes and are both made by the same company, but Campari is stronger than Aperol: more bitter and twice as alcoholic. 

  • Prosecco 
  • 1 shot Campari or Aperol 
  • 1 glug club soda 
  • 1 orange slice 

Fill a tumblr with ice. Fill the glass 2/3 full with sparkling wine. Add the Aperol. Top with club soda, stir well, then add the orange slice. 

The magic ingredient: amaro

Campari and Aperol are both examples of amaro, a broad category including several Italian liqueurs. Amari are bitter; that’s what amaro means in Italian. And some of them are bittersweet. But they are all delicious. Bitter herbs such as those used to manufacture different amari often have trans-cultural reputations for developing psychic powers. Dandelion and wormwood are notable examples. 

Campari and Aperol have the added magical bonus of being colored a vibrant red. Red is believed to be lucky in many parts of Italy. Cornicello and mano cornuto charms were traditionally made of coral, which the Greeks said was the blood of the Gorgon Medusa. Half of her blood was said to heal, and the other half was said to poison. Perhaps because of this history, these charms are still red today, even when they are made of plastic. The color is said to repeal evil, especially the mal’occhio or evil eye. 

Peach Wine

Known as perzichi ’ntru vinu or pircochi ‘e vinu in Calabrese, peach wine is an old-fashioned treat throughout Southern Italy. The core concept is similar to Spanish sangria, but the use of peaches is a regional delight. 

  • 1 kg peaches (especially percoca peaches) 
  • 1 liter wine (should be a light-bodied red; avoid tannins) 

Wash and peel the peaches. Fill a pitcher half-way with wine. Cut the peaches into large, irregular chunks and add to pitcher. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve cold. 

The magic ingredient: peaches!   

Peaches were brought to Italy by the Persians. They were initially cultivated in ancient China, where they were known as the fruit of immortality. This places them in a category similar to the apples of immortality tended to by the Norse goddess Idunna, or the ambrosia consumed by the Greek gods. And, since ambrosia itself was sometimes consider wine or some other red nectar, we might think of this drink as our own glass of ambrosia. 

DIGESTIVI

Limoncello

Making your own limoncello is an easy way to impress your friends at your next party. Or a bottle makes a great gift for your favorite host/hostess! 

  • 10 lemons 
  • 750 ml vodka 
  • 3 1/2 cups water 
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar 

Using a potato peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips. Be careful to avoid peeling off the pith—that’s the technical term for the bitter white stuff no one likes in citrus peels. Place the lemon peels, without the pith, in a large pitcher or jar. Pour the vodka over them and cover with plastic wrap. (Note: if you are using a mason jar, keep some plastic wrap under the metal lid, otherwise it will corrode.) Steep for four days at room temperature. 

Make simple syrup by storing the water and sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Allow it to cool completely, then add it to the vodka and lemon peels. Cover and let stand overnight at room temperature. Strain through cheesecloth or a metal strainer and discard the peels. Transfer to bottles and store in refrigerator. Serve cold and enjoy within one month of preparing. 

The magic ingredient: lemons! 

Everybody loves lemons! In American folk magic, they have a reputation for cleansing which probably inspired the popular association of their scent with cleaning products. Nicholas Culpeper in his enormously influential herbal places them under the planetary rulership of the Sun and claims they are an excellent remedy for poison. Other European folklore associates the lemon with love magic, perhaps because the lemon is both sweet and “bitter” (i.e. sour), like love itself: pleasure and pain in equal turn. 

Theres also a famous charm involving a lemon ("Scongiurazione al Limone appuntato un Spille") in Charles Leland's Aradia, Gospel of the Witches. While the accuracy of that text is suspect, I have seen so many folks refer to it that I think it may have its own magic at this point. 

Feasts of the Seven Sisters: Madonna of the Advocate in Maiori

Today is the feast day of the Madonna of the Advocate (Madonna dell'Avvocata) in Maiori, Costiera Amalfitana. She is one of the Seven Sisters, the famous Black Madonnas of Campania. 

Madonna dell'Avvocata
"Madonna of the Advocate"
Monday after Pentecost
Website

Her sanctuary in Maiori was first conceived of in 1485, when a shepherd boy named Gabriele Cinnamo fell asleep while tending his flock on Monte Falerzio. He dreamed of the Madonna, who told him to build an altar in that location. Inspired by the dream, Cinnamo became a hermit and began raising funds to build the chapel. 

In 1590, a small statue of the Madonna was brought into the church as a protector of the sailors from the surrounding coastal towns. Since then, many extraordinary events have been attributed to the statue, including it shedding tears, exorcising those possessed by demons, and curing those suffering from terminal illnesses. You can get a sense for the intense devotion directed at this Madonna in the video below. (As an aside: the hymn they are singing is very simple and perfect to learn, particularly if you plan to attend a festa in either Italy or an Italian-American parish in the US. I am posting the full lyrics below, but the only part you usually need to know is: "Evviva Maria, Maria evviva... Evviva Maria e chi la creò!") 

O Maria, quanto sei bella,
sei la gioia e sei l’amore,
m’hai rapito questo cuore,
notte e giorno io penso a Te.
M’hai rapito questo cuore,
notte e giorno,
notte e giorno io penso a Te.
Evviva Maria, Maria evviva.
Evviva Maria e chi la creò.
Quando il sole già lucente,
le colline e il mondo indora,
quando a sera si scolora,
ti saluta il mio pensier,
quando a sera si scolora
ti saluta,
ti saluta il mio pensier.
Che pien di giubilo oggi t’onora.
Evviva Maria, Maria evviva.
Evviva Maria e chi la creò.
E un bel giorno in Paradiso,
Grideremo: Viva Maria!
Grideremo: Viva Maria!
Grideremo: Viva Maria,
Viva Lei che ci salvò.
Tutti t’invocano soccorritrice,
Evviva Maria, Maria evviva.
Evviva Maria e chi la creò!

But more specifically than this hymn, the Madonna of the Advocate is associated with a particular style of tammurriata drumming. For the reason, I feel especially close to her. She was perhaps the first of the Seven Sisters that I learned about from my music teacher, Alessandra Belloni, who told me stories about her: about how people would travel from around the countryside to come and make the pilgrimage up Monte Falerzio. How often, these people were in their 70s or 80s, but they still found the strength to make the pilgrimage up the mountain in bare feet!

In Alessandra's classes, she taught us the distinctive drumming pattern you see in the video below. In the two years I have trained with her, I have seen dozens of new students learn to drum tammurriata for the first time, and this is always the pattern they resonate with the most. It has a unique strength which recalls the wild retinue of the goddess Cybele. As a woman learning to drum, it breaks through whatever socialization has taught you to be quiet and unobtrusive. It is simply too wild and loud to allow such restrictions on the body to remain in place. In that way and many more, it is an important medicine for us. 

Feasts of the Seven Sisters: Madonna of the Baths in Scafati

Background

Today is the feast day of the Madonna of the Baths (Madonna dei Bagni) in Scafati, Salerno. She is one of the Seven Sisters, the famous Black Madonnas of Campania. 

Madonna dei Bagni
"Madonna of the Baths"
Sunday after Ascension
Website

This Madonna is particularly associated with the healing waters found near her sanctuary, which harken back to pre-Christian rites. Here is a beautiful traditional invocation sung in her honor by Marcello Colasurdo: 

Magic

'O Bacile cu 'e rrose 

If you can't make the trip out to Scafati this year, consider cleansing yourself using this traditional folk recipe, courtesy of the Santuario Madonna dei Bagni Facebook page. This practice is still done in the comune of Angri in Salento, Campania. 

Before it gets dark on the Vigil of the Ascension (that is, the day before Ascension), gather fresh roses and mint. Remove the rose petals and mint leaves; combine with water in a basin. Pray that the water will be blessed; you can pray from the heart in your preferred language, or use this traditional prayer to the Madonna of the Baths in Neapolitan: 

Maronna re’ Bagn
Maronna gioiosa
Beneric chistu’ 
facile e acqua che scuri e che rose, 
Puort l’ammor e
Santific e Purific
chistu core

(Giovanni Borriello) 

Leave the basin with the water and flowers out overnight on a balcony. (Or, if you live in New York and balconies are hard to come by, a fire escape or rooftop works.) It is believed that in the night, an angel, or Jesus, or the Madonna will come down from heaven and bless the water. In the morning, wash your face with the water. 

La Pennellazione

Another traditional blessing which occurs in honor of the Madonna dei Bagni is the pennellazione

The person giving the blessing—typically, an old woman—dips a hen feather in blessed olive oil, then traces the sign of the cross on the forehead and throat of the person to be blessed. As la Contrada Madonna dei Bagni - Scafati remarks, the hen in Italian folk magic represents death and resurrection (cf. the Madonna of the Hens, another one of the famed Seven Sisters) because she scratches at the earth, penetrating into the chthonic kingdom of the dead. But, for the contadini italiani, death is intimately related to life: From the death and burial of the seed, comes the life of the plant. From the death of the flower, comes the life of the fruit. 

Feasts of the Seven Sisters: Castle Madonna in Somma Vesuviana

Today is the feast of the Castle Madonna, or Madonna di Castello in Somma Vesuviana. She is sometimes called the Mamma Pacchiana, "pacchiana" meaning gaudy, uncultured, or otherwise peasant-like. She is one of the Seven Sisters, the famous Black Madonnas of Campania. 

Madonna di Castello, aka Mamma Pacchiana
"Castle Madonna, aka Peasant Mother"
May 3
Website

History 

A structure has stood where her sanctuary is now since 1269, when Charles of Anjou, then King of Naples, built a castle there with a chapel to St. Lucy inside. It passed through several hands, a few times being abandoned and later rebuilt. In 1622, the Venerable Don Carlo Carafa, founder of the Congregation of the "Pii Operai", bought the grounds. On the ruins of the old castle, he built a house for his community and restored the ancient chapel of St. Lucy, where he placed a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was called the Castle Madonna, in honor of the location's history. 

Carafa would later sell the property, entrusting the church to a hermit, with the instruction to light a lamp to the Madonna on a daily basis. On December 16, 1631, a terrible eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed everything, including the church and statue of the Madonna. After the eruption, only her head was found in the ashes. It was brought to a sculptor in Naples, who ignored it for some time, placing it away in a chest. But one day, the sculptor's daughter, who was bedridden due to illness, began to hear the voice of the Madonna calling her. The voice told her to get up and free her head from the chest. The girl found that she was able to get up and move again. When her father returned, he sculpted the Madonna a new body in thanks for the miraculous healing of his daughter. 

Traditions

The Castle Madonna is celebrated using many of the same elements common to other Southern Italian feast days, including pilgrimage, ritual song and dance, banquets, and ex votos dedicated to the miraculous statue. You can see these elements in the video below: 

Due to her personal encounter with the might of Vesuvius, this Madonna is particularly associated with fire and volcanic eruptions. Like San Gennaro, she is prayed to for protection from the destructive power of the volcano. Her feast begins and ends with fireworks. The following video shows footage from an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1943 mashed up with a traditional tammurriata, or ritual trance song in honor of one of the Black Madonnas, dedicated specifically to the Castle Madonna. It is an excellent accompaniment to your own trance work. 

Feasts of the Seven Sisters: Madonna of the Hens in Pagani

Today is the Sunday after Easter (domenica in albis). This is the day we celebrate the feast of the Madonna of the Hens, or Madonna delle Galline in Pagani. She is one of the Seven Sisters, the famous Black Madonnas of Campania. 

Madonna delle Galline
"Madonna of the Hens"
Sunday after Easter
Town website

Legend 

Popular legend has it that an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was found buried beneath the earth. It was located by a flock of hens in the 16th century, who scratched persistently at the soil where the icon was located until it was dug out. Between 1609 and 1610, eight miracles were performed by the icon, including the healing of a cripple who was visited in a dream by the Madonna.  

Tradition 

The miraculous image is displayed year-round. However, the wooden statue, seen in the film below, is only revealed during this feast and another in September. The doors of the sanctuary are closed from Easter until the feast day while the statue is unveiled and a throne set up in her honor. The feast begins when the doors to the sanctuary open. 

The procession occurs on Easter Sunday. The statue of the Madonna is placed on a chariot which is driven by motorbike. Devotees, either people of Pagani or pilgrims, make offerings to the statue. The traditional offerings are live birds, such as hens, doves, turkeys, or peacocks; or rich peasant food, including savory torts made of salami and eggs. Mothers bring their children to the Madonna to be blessed and protected by her. The procession, including the statue now covered in live birds, moves throughout the city streets and alleyways. It passes by shrines called toselli, such as the ones seen here and here, which are set up in honor of the Madonna. These are often draped with satin and lace, and sometimes contain paintings or small statues of the Madonna to whom prayers and food offerings are made. 

Of course, throughout the feast, the tammurriata is played and danced in honor of the Black Madonna. 

In this documentary, Madonna delle Galline tra sacro e profano ("Madonna of the Hens Between Sacred and Profane") by Michele Pelioso, you see all of these elements of the celebration: the altars, the offered birds (hens, doves, even a peacock!), food, and the tammurriata. 

Magical elements

So, what's up with all those birds? 

As Peter Grey explores in Lucifer: Princeps, birds have been associated with the souls of the dead residing in the underworld since ancient Sumeria. The Epic of Gilgamesh describes them thus:

They are clothed like birds with wings for covering, they see no light, they sit in darkness. I entered the house of dust and I saw the kings of the earth, their crowns put away for ever; rulers and princes, all those who once wore kingly crowns and ruled the world in the days of old.

The emphasis on hens is particularly interesting, given the association that some traditions draw between the the older woman and her hen in the presepe with the agricultural goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, maiden goddess of the underworld. This association between Demeter and the Madonna of the Hens has at the very least been commented on by Protestant writers such as Theodor Trede, who wrote about the ritual similarities between Southern Italian Catholicism and Greco-Roman paganism. 

In African-American folk magic, hens' feet are used to protect against harmful tricks because of the scratching they do in the ground. If someone has laid a harmful powder or charm against you in your yard where you are likely to walk over it every day, thus poisoning yourself through your feet, the scratching of the hens (literally or magically) helps to tear that power up out of the earth. It would be a stretch to say this practice and the Madonna of the Hens share a common point of origin. But the image of the hens' feet digging magic out of the ground resonates nicely with the popular legend of the hens clawing at the buried icon of the Madonna. 

San Rocco in Frigento, Avellino

From the official website of the Comune di Frigento:

The statue of the Saint is taken in the streets of the town with a procession. Some women who are devoted to the saint put on their heads the “mezzetti” which are large wooden containers that contain roughly 30 kg of wheat.

The “mezzetti” are decorated with weaved wheat, colored ribbons and plastic flowers.

Tammurriata

Above: A mosaic from Pompeii which appears to depict the tammurriata being played and danced in Antiquity. 

"The arms are held in front of the body with the elbows outward, and the movements that they make are basically two, inspired by agricultural activities. The first is a downwards gesture of sowing. The second is an upwards gesture that resembles the movements made when collecting fruit from trees. The steps of the tammurriata follow the rhythm of the drums and are characterized by mirrored movement of the feet, side-to-side, back and forth, or toe-to-heel of the two dancers. All in all, the dancers move in circles." - Arianna Sacco