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JANARE AND JANAS: THE ITALIAN SHAMANS
From Irpinia to Sardinia to recall some stories and traditions of magical women that mark the identity of my country. The origin of these figures begins with the cult of Diana and Isis.
This article aims to analyzes the figures of Irpinia Janare and Sardinia Janas including legends, stories, symbology, and folklore about them.
Female figures of ancient wisdom, priestesses of nature, herbalists, weavers, magicians, healers, with refined sensory abilities.
Through their arts they pass down ancient knowledge, symbols interpretation, codes and ancestral movements, recalling the hidden power of what is real energy that unites human beings beyond the visibility, sometimes even in an instinctive and intuitive way, offering it to the people honestly, most of the time for free.
These women pass on and write the history of our lands and are fleeting, like the wind blowing strong on their lands.
“Superstitions are religious forms that survive lost ideas. All these had as their main reason to be a truth that we do not know anymore or that has been transformed. It’s name comes from the Latin term “superstes” which means survival: they all are material remains of science and ancient opinions!” Eliphas Levi
“Breathing is the rainbow bridge between our sensory surface and the inner depth.” Gipsy Eagle
The origins of the Janare
Irpinia is the land of the “Janare”, women with magical powers. To better understand who they are and what they did we do not have to go far back in time for indeed in this land many, stories, legends and facts that are still being talked about today, are still alive in the collective memory of many.
But who are these women who, according to popular tradition, were born on Christmas Eve?
To understand this, we need to start from the origin of the word “Janare”.
The word “Janua” comes from the name Janus, the divine consort of Diana and often identified with Jupiter and confirmed by the study itself of the word Janua.
Janus was the Roman God of the beginnings and the transitions, from whom the first month of the year Ianuarius – January takes its name and with which every invocation and every sacrifice began.
He was the god who solved the crises of the beginning. The first moment of every act is felt critic in every culture, this is demonstrated by the phenomenology of passage rites.
Janus is depicted with two faces in the opposite direction, since the god can look at the past and the future, and, being the god of the door, he can look both inside and outside.
Actually Janus has a third face that looks at the present but invisible to those who observe him just because the present is an elusive instant.
From these few considerations we understand that Janus represents not only the Lord of the Threefold Time but also the Lord of Eternity.
Frazer about the origin of the Janua word linked to the Janare, writes:
“The regular word for ‘door’ is the same in all the Aryan languages from India to Ireland. It is ‘dur’ in Sanskrit, ‘thura’ in Greek, ‘tür’ in German, ‘door’ in English, ‘dorus’ in ancient Irish and ‘foris’ in Latin. Yet in addition to this ordinary word by door, the Latins also had the name of janua which has no corresponding term in any Indo-European language. The word has the air of being an adjectival form derived from the name Janus. I suppose it may have been a habit to put a picture or symbol of Janus at the front door of the house to put the entrance under the protection of a great god. A door thus guarded could be called janua foris, that is, a gate of Janus, and the term could, in time, become abbreviated into janua. From this to calling janua every door in general, the step is easy and natural.”
The history of the Janare originates with the cult of Diana and Isis and later also with the Lombards and their pagan customs. At the base there is the reverence for the feminine principle and every aspect of its expansion. The word Janare derives from Dianare or the followers of Diana.
The Janare were, and still are, women of ancient wisdom who through special prayers and the use of medicinal herbs gave an improvement in terms of physical or psychological health to those who requested it. Not only. For some there were also altered consciences that allowed her to guess where to go to act.
About that it is appropriate to read this short step by Gipsy Eagle: “It’s been decades since science tells us that we use only a minimal part of our mental resources. However, a voice has never been raised from that sector, a voice that says how to do, how to succeed in drawing on the royal fullness of our intellect; never a process seems to have been traced to a methodology of the Eureka, while there are full-bodied ways to enter the footsteps of intuition. The men of the archaic age discovered, in a correct psychedelic practice, the way to use the deep trance that ensued the raising of the intellect’s gaze, thus managing not only to respond to all their practical needs, but also to regain possession of the meaning of their existences, in intimate and profound connection with the Whole”.
Charles West Cope – The Night Alarm: The Advance! 1871
Medicine and folk magic
“There is no need to be a graduate in psychology to understand that it is precisely the belief in the act to predispose the subject to be conditioned to the point of lowering his level of vigilance and therefore suffering the consequences.” Francesco De Sanctis “Viaggio Elettorale”, 1875
“For magic to exist, society must be present.” Marcel Mauss, 1903
Folk medicine dates back to an ancient society in which popular classes put up specific defensive systems to protect their health and performed by the charismatic figure of the operator.
To interpret and understand it we need to eliminate our prejudices and what we believe are our knowledge and approach everything with a completely different vision. Accepting what we read and see and following it in the events.
Like other traditions, folk medicine is based on a magical – ritual activity and includes magic, divination, and healing.
The psychosocial sciences and cognitive neurosciences state that extrasensory abilities are mostly a peculiarity of the female brain, but this does not mean that there are no male healers. According to some scholars at the origin of the abilities of the so-called witches, there would be an alteration of the levels of consciousness, Giovan Battista Della Porta was one of the first to hypothesize this consideration. Georges Lapassade writes about altered states of consciousness and of the transe particularly: “The transe is above all a different motor behavior than usual. For the western observer, it is a psychopathic symptom. But elsewhere, rationally, in religious and popular culture, it is either the ecstasy of the body, or the intervention of a god, a spirit, a “demon” that rides the body of the possessed. It is a normal phenomenon whose basis is neurophysiological, corporal. On this basis, every culture imposes a content and a meaning. Moreover, culture, and more precisely the social imaginary, can provoke the transe, it can put the body in transe.”
The operator often identifies the origin of the disease in elements external to the person who has become ill or in causes that he tends to personify; with an extraordinary intuition, he attributes the establishment of evil to the fall of his defenses.
Of ritual types are also the numerous preventive therapies that popular medicine uses as amulets, little dresses, herbs, lucky charms, remedies against bills and evil eye, and more.
All these actions and rituals, very suggestive, put into motion psychosomatic mechanisms in the person and so the importance of the healing process became increasingly recognized. We must also consider the paranormal effects of the healer that sometimes without even knowing it, is a psychic.
In some populations the figure of the shaman rightly combines the religious function, as a mediator between the worlds and that of a therapist, he has the function of having contact with other worlds and request help and support to heal.
In the popular tradition the ability to heal is transmitted to another person who’s considered appropriate. The passage takes place during the Christmas night by mouth, communicating the signs and words. Naturally, the healer must keep the oath to commit, being generous in helping those in need and keeping the secret of the words to be said during the ceremony.
Paracelsus, after taking note of the knowledge of folk medicine, has understood the importance of healing witches claiming to have learned more from them than from all the books of famous doctors.
No real healer asks for money in return, so there are no parcels, but only possibly free gifts. The chosen healer is full of strength and optimism, must be able to instill confidence and reassure them. Stay away from those who want to sell something or promise miracles.
In the general theory of magic, the magic agent and the group within which he works share the same ideological tension, the same ‘faith’.
The popular magic has as its central focus the protection from the presence of the risks of the existential crisis facing the manifestations of the negative; as long as there is in fact the need for protection any conflict between members of the society could take place. The magic, therefore, represents stability and inside there are myths, magical ritual forces, powerful gestures, ceremonial words, fascinations, possessions, invoices, and exorcisms and the operator/healer becomes an institutionalized figure within the society.
Mircea Eliade declared in 1966: “Now we are dealing with a problem of the utmost importance … that is, the question of the reality of extrasensory capacities and of paranormal powers attributed to shamans and to medicine men. Although research in this regard is still in its infancy, a rather large number of ethnographic documents have now established the authenticity of such phenomena beyond any doubt.”
We must admit that there is a scarcity of ethnographic reviews regarding the observations of apparent paranormal phenomena and is underlined by Wolman who quotes in his text “The Universe of Parapsychology”: some articles by Humprey of 1944 and Pobers of 1956, the most precise ethnographic reviews are those of Lang of 1900 and of Vesme of 1931. Three chapters of Oesterreich in 1966 describe the possession and the trance among the primitive groups and the author discusses their possible parapsychological relevance. De Martino and Bozzano have published extensive reviews of ethnographic reports suggesting the operation of a possible psi factor. Some interesting descriptions of psychic events in Elkins Australia in 1944, Trilles Africa in 1914, Williams’ Jamaica in 1934, and Haitian in Huxley in 1969.
Today’s studies on Janare
“Witchcraft has no offspring. It is as old as life “ Emily Dickinson
The scholar, journalist and writer Antonio Emanuele Piedimonte defines them as: “Good women fairy heirs of the Nordic traditions then tragically demonized”. But why?
The popular tradition after the arrival of Christianity has turned them into bad witches able to enter the houses through the doors even with a slight gust of wind, jump on the chest of people during sleep to suffocate causing the sleeper the strong feeling of oppression on the chest. They provoked abortions and palpitations, flying on the broom and mating with the demons under a walnut tree. In short, they have been transformed into everything that recalls ancient occult fears of the profound human.
Most beliefs of popular traditions have ties with the ancient world. The name of these evil witches was actually Megaere, a name linked to Greek mythology.
Megaera was one of the three vindictive Erinyes, infernal deities born from the blood of Uranus, cast on earth after the emasculation by Kronos, and known in the Latin world as Furies. The triad of these sisters had the task of taking revenge on crimes against relatives and parents and blood crimes.
They are often represented with snake hair, whips in their hands, and wings to unleash their fury. They are the protectors of the moral order and embody the propensity of man to avenge crimes that went unpunished. Alecto – she is the one who never leaves, Tisiphone – is the avenger of death, Megaera – is the treacherous. Megaera in particular was in charge of envy, jealousy and induced to commit crimes and matrimonial infidelity.
In popular culture it is said that the Megaeres went into the stables to weave the hairs of horses and had the power to turn into animals. The people knew, and still know, that to stop them it was necessary to grab them by the hair to drive them away.
To defend itself, a broomcorn broom or a pile of salt at the entrance ofthe house was positioned, and many still do it nowadays. The Megaera that wanted to enter stopped to count the twigs or the grains and often lost the forced count to start again until the sunrise, after that they fled away. In fact, the light was a deadly enemy.
But how did the Janare act to give healing to those who requested it? Often their magic borders with Catholic worship, with the sacraments and the liturgy intersecting with popular tradition. The Protestant writers make references to the religious life of the South of an ongoing paganism and of a Catholic church that would be pagan. Ernesto De Martino quotes the work of Th. Trede on the paganism of the Roman church, which would be the most significant reflecting this criterion: the thesis is that the Church did not win the Greek-Roman paganism but, on the contrary, paganism has won the Church: “the old wine has remained in the wineskin, only the label has changed”.
In all cases concerning the healing in which the Janare acted, the ritual repeats, narrating and mimicking, exemplary myths. Some examples are the elimination of a sublingual cyst by a silver key accompanied by a well-defined spell. Silver is a noble metal, a symbol of well-being, and able to protect from demons and from this representing the disease. Another case is the elimination of intestinal worms in which the gesture of the cross that was done with the hand by the operator on the sufferer’s belly was accompanied by an adjournment and repeated several times to neutralize the evil. The cross is the most universal of elementary symbols and the union of apparent opposites.
Ties and knots
“In an uneven number heaven delights” Virgil Eglogue VIII
Witches and Janare in their rituals often use knots and the major Tradition scholars know well their importance in the rituals. René Guénon in Symbols of Sacred Science writes about the symbolism of the nodes:
“Each node represents the point in which the determining forces act, the condensation and the cohesion of an ‘aggregate’ that corresponds to this or that other state of manifestation, so that one could say that it is the knot that maintains the being in the considered state and that its dissolution causes immediate death to such state; on the other hand this is expressed very clearly by the term ‘vital node’. In the symbolism of weaving, the crossing points of the warp and the weft threads, from which the whole fabric is formed, have a similar meaning, given that these threads are in some ways the lines of force that define the structure of the Cosmos.”
The node represents what sets the being in a certain state. The peculiarity of the knot is the union of two elements and its function is to keep them together. Nodes and plots were used, for example, to create love spells by symbolically uniting a man and a woman.
Another example was the knot on the trousers of married men that meant making them impotent.
In ancient Egypt the knot appears as a “knot of Isis” and a symbol of eternity.
For the creation of knots, ties, spells, weaving, and other manual handicraft activities the use of the song within the ritual is of fundamental importance, in fact without the song no functional interweaving is achievable.
The ritual song made of ancient words and sounds makes the movement harmonious, imparting in the action, and the worked material emotions, energy, and much more of invisible.
Origin of the cult
The Egyptian cults reached even the Irpinia lands. Isis, the Great Mother, mistress of the magical arts and the otherworldly world was worshiped also here. The emperor Domitian erected a temple in her honor in Benevento and at the Sannio Museum there is a room dedicated exclusively to this goddess. Her symbolism is superposed to that of Diana and afterward to that of the Lombardic divinities.
The latter during their domination despite the arrival of Christianity kept the pagan traditions alive for a long time, adoring the trees, the female deities linked to the earth, to fertility, to peace and even to a particular animal: the two-headed viper. The link with Egypt here is also evident, in fact Isis among its many powers had that of controlling the snakes. A statue depicting this goddess was found in 1903 by the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, in the underground Treasure Chamber of the central sanctuary of Knossos Palace (Island of Crete) dating back to around 1500 BC. – 1600 BC.
The figure represents a woman with discovered breasts to indicate the abundance and fertility associated with the two animals that adorn it. A clear reference to creation and generation. The arms are open, facing out and in her hands there are two snakes and on her the headdress a cat, a symbol of love and fertility. Both animals connect to the Egyptian cults.
Obelisco in Piazza Papiniano, Benevento. Foto Marisa Menna
In the city centre of Benevento there are the two obelisks coming from the great temple dedicated to Isis erected by Emperor Domitian between 88 and 89 AC. The place where the temple once stood has not yet been precisely identified. According to the German Egyptologist Hans Wolfgang Müller in the Samnite capital town there was the largest center of Egyptian discoveries, outside of Egypt. He also elaborated on a reconstruction of how the cult and temple of Isis evolved over time. These hypotheses were then reviewed and enriched by other scholars.
Returning to the Lombards, over time, they also began to worship male deities of warlike inspiration like Odin. In Nordic mythology, in fact, one of the two divine lineages, the Vanir, associated with the earth, fertility, and to the growth of wealth.
Therefore, the worship by the Janares for the trees and to all that belonged to the earth has a very ancient history.
The walnut tree
“The choice between magical thought and rational thought has not yet been concluded.” Ernesto De Martino
In the popular culture the walnut tree was represented as a meeting place between witches and demons in which the banquet was performed accompanied by orgiastic rites.
Those who had witnessed these rituals could be the victim of an evil eye and to avoid it they had to use St. John’s wort as antidote.
But where was this famous walnut tree? All written testimonies refer to the banks of the Sabato river.
Some researches and studies have supposed that it could be a few kilometers from Altavilla Irpina, in the ” Stretto della barbe “ (Strait of the Beards) (provincial road 88, ex ss 88) that runs between the territory of Irpinia and that of Benevento. The choice of the area is not casual, in fact the banks of the river Sabato were rich in medicinal herbs that caused trance and hallucinations.
The debate on the exact place where the walnut tree was located continues today, according to other theories it was located in Benevento or surrounding areas, given to the existence of the well-known formula: “Unguento, unguento mandame alla noce di Benevento” (ointment, ointment take me to the walnut tree of Benevento); the doctor Pietro Piperno (we are in the 17th century) claims that the tree is located two miles from the city on the property of Francesco De Gennaro.
But why is the walnut tree so important? It represents the link between magic and the ancient world. In many fairy tales and legends it plays the role of a container that contains mysterious goods and has a deep symbolic meaning because it strongly defends its precious content.
The adoration of a tree like the walnut one dates back to the Druidic and Celtic culture; it was the house of the fairies and witches in which they took refuge in situations of danger.
The powers of this tree have always been of fundamental importance for the Janare. For example, women who wanted a child were advised to go to the walnut tree during the night of San Giovanni and bathe their private parts with the dew on the grass.
In the Irpinia area the cult does not stop exclusively on walnut trees. In Torella dei Lombardi there is a huge chestnut tree called “il Castagno di Spolecastroleca”. The name would be linked to the story of a peasant woman who went to sell the milk to the village. She was killed by brigands of passage and to keep the crime secret they decided to bury her at the foot of the chestnut.
From that day on stories began to be told on Christmas nights claiming that it was possible to hear the paesan complain and sing along with witches who gather under the tree.
Sotto a l’acqua Sott’ a lo vient Sott’ a lo castagno Re li turrienti… (under the water Under the wind Under the chestnut tree King of the torrent)
Irpinia has a vast repertoire of traditions and stories and for its importance a network of researchers worked in this area since the nineteenth century looking for mythical stories, religious, tongue twisters, and fairy tales. They discovered an oral literature, distant from the educated literature, which contained an enormous repository of local knowledge and life stories.
The Herbs of St. John
The night between the 23rd and 24th June is defined as the night of Saint John or even the midsummer night and is the magic day par excellence.
This day contains ancient esoteric, religious, and popular traditions also due to the strong bond with the close summer solstice of June 21st, the longest day of the year. The term “solstice” comes from the Latin “solstitium”, word composed by “sol”, that is “sun”, and “sistere” that is “to halt”, and in fact it seems that the sun stops in this position before resuming its path descending, rising and setting always in the same spot until June 24th, the day on which the recurrence of St. John falls.
It is the beginning of the summer and a period of incredible fertility. It is symbolically the victory of light over the winter’s darkness. It is the time of acting after the moment of stasis and preparation during the cold months.
These days are the days when the sun reaches the highest point and is known in all the traditions that this night between the 23rd and 24th is the night when the herbs reach the maximum of their phytotherapeutic effects. It’s the night of wonders, witches, it’s the night when the air gives us the feeling that everything can happen and that everything can come true. That’s why the herbs gathered during this night take on the role of powerful magical herbs.
In the work La figlia di Iorio (Iorio’s daughter) by Gabriele D’Annunzio, Ornella tells Aligi:
E domani è Santo Giovanni, fratel caro: è San Giovanni Su la Plaia me ne vo’ gire per vedere il capo mozzo dentro il Sole all’apparire, per vedere nel piatto d’oro tutto il sangue ribollire. (And tomorrow is Saint John, dear brother: it is Saint John On la shore I’m going to go to see the head stub inside the Sun appearing, to see in the gold plate all the blood boil).
This passage refers to an ancient Abruzzese tradition: the girls woke up at dawn to watch the sunrise and the first to see the face of Saint John in the luminous and “blood-red” disk it would be happily married within the year.
During this night a particular water was also produced, the Water of San Giovanni or Dew of the Gods. Herbs and flowers were collected and left to macerate at sunset outside the house and throughout the night so that the magic dew could be deposited on it. The next morning face and body were washed in a ritual handed down for years, with the result of preserving the body from diseases, treat and strengthen the skin, promote fertility and drive away the evil eye.
All the dew-soaked grasses during the night of San Giovanni increased their medicinal power, often they were collected and tied in a bunch with a cord or a ribbon with 7 knots (the number is not always random) and positioned at the entrance of the dwellings to defend from evil eye and spells.
During the magical night it is also common to collect nuts for the traditional production of homemade “Nocino” (walnut liquor). The liqueur is also called obviously witches liquor.
Eric Neumann in his book The Great Mother writes: “In nearly all primitive peoples the female part is the one that prepares the inebriating drinks; the elderly woman who is the custodian of therapeutic herbs and poisons still lives today in the conception of the reality of the herbalist witch and of the woman who prepares poisonous potions “.
Below is a list of June herbs accompanied by a brief excerpt with some of their respective properties. The purpose of this list is to stimulate those who want to approach and deepen the ancient herbal art.
Its name in Greek means “worthy of the king’s house”, a clear reference to its pleasant aroma. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is useful in case of difficult digestion, halitosis, anxiety and migraines
The presence of mucilage makes it a plant with emollient and antiphlogistic properties, as well as tonic and diuretic. Facilitates the lowering of fever and adds to the bathwater decongest and cleans the skin.
Used in ancient Egypt, it is one of the most potent natural bactericides, as well as expectorant, antiseptic, and hypotensive. Facilitates blood circulation and purification. It is useful against poisons, intestinal parasites. According to popular tradition, it keeps vampires, sorcerers, and even madness away. In Sanskrit the word “garlic” means “killer of monsters”.
Called also drove devils, was considered a holy herb. It heals sores and is an excellent remedy for burns. In the Middle Ages it was used to treat sword wounds. The oil is useful for massages and frictions against sciatica, arthritis, and rheumatism. Some researchers at the University of Pisa have found that the active ingredient of the plant protects the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin from juvenile diabetes and inflammation.
The flower was used to perfume water, in fact the Romans placed the bunches in thermal baths. The infusion added to the bathwater is antidepressant and gives help in case of excessive emotionality. The flowers contain therapeutic, antispasmodic, diuretic and soothing properties
Rich in essential oil, tannins and mucilage. The infusion is used in cases of vertigo, to stimulate appetite and as a remedy for excessive fatigue. It is a skin stimulant, so it is recommended to add it to the bathwater. The pure essence is considered as psychotropic and not very toxic. It has antinervine properties.
Rich in mucilage, it contains potassium, calcium oxalate, vitamins, and pectin. It has laxative, emollient and ophthalmic functions. Useful in case of irritation of the mouth, stomach, intestine, and in case of painful menstruation. Lavages and compresses are used for inflamed eyes and conjunctivitis.
Together with the belladonna and the datura stramonium in the Middle Ages it was considered the grass of the “witches” because it was endowed with hallucinogenic power. In fact potions of all kinds were made out of this plant. It has narcotic and sedative power.
Rich in vitamin C, it is expectorant and sedative. The infusion and tincture are an excellent remedy for nervousness, headaches, toothache, painful menstruation, and phlegm.
It is expectorant, carminative and digestive. Dried and spread on food it facilitates digestion. The infusion is suitable for nervousness, ventral pain, irregular menstruation. Mint tea is tonic and refreshing.
It is said that Artemis discovered this plant. Pliny in his works urged to take it with him on journeys against fatigue. The active substance of artemisinin is currently studied as a potential anticancer
It is tonic, stomachic, antiseptic and expectorant. The infusion or the wine is used to stimulate the functions of the stomach, to solve headaches and colds.
It has antiseptic, balsamic, and bactericidal properties. The bunch was burned to disinfect the air and remove the diseases and epidemics. Tincture in rinsings is used for toothaches, and massages for headaches. The infusion combined with the bathwater has a stimulating effect (even sometimes aphrodisiac when mixed with mint and sage).
The flower carries with it the symbol of the cross, it was used in fact for exorcisms. In the tradition of Irpinia, a bag was placed with grass on the chest to prevent the Megaeras approaching. Chased off vipers, insects, and mice because of its pungent odor. For the alchemists he had the power to control the mind. The oil used in massages reduces joint pain, neuralgia, and cramps. It should be administered under control for its toxicity.
The Egyptians used it for embalming practices together with other herbs. It has antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic, astringent properties. The Janare used it against nightmares. Useful in case of laryngitis and cold.
It has antiseptic, anesthetic, and digestive properties. Increases liver and kidney activity. Chewing a fresh leaf helps overcome any hiccups.
Balsamic, antiseptic, antifungal, stimulant, tonic of the nervous and digestive system. It has antibiotic properties. The infusion can be used in lavages for sores and small wounds and as gargle for throat inflammation.
Decoction and infusion are used for neuralgia, liver failure and to stimulate milk secretion. Useful in case of anemia and in case of accumulation of uric acids. It is considered the “grass of all evil” and also used to make wishes for love.
The “magical” walnut is rich in vitamins A, PP, and B group, oils, and tannins.The infusion, the syrup or the wine are used for fatigue, rickets and purification of the organism. The juice of the husk is used against warts. The compresses and lavages are useful for the milk crust, skin irritations and inflammation of the eyes.
With the walnuts harvested on Saint John day we can produce an excellent homemade liqueur.
The walnuts must be harvested ta few days before Saint John day and then produce the nocino immediately after that day.
Below, the recipe of a Janara, very dear to me, who kindly allowed me to publish it.
For each liter of alcohol, combine:
– 24 walnuts cut into pieces
– 2 pieces of cinnamon
– 4 cloves
– 20 coffee beans
– 2 peels of oranges
– 1 nutmeg
Everything must be left to infuse for at least 40 days and everything must be stirred from time to time.
After those days we can proceed to the preparation of the syrup by melting 500 gr. of sugar in ½ l of water and let it then cool.
The nocino must then be filtered and poured into the warmed syrup, stirring well. It must be decanted in the bottles and kept in the dark until Christmas.
Mediterranean Atlantean Land
There are holes in Sardinia that are houses of fairies, dead who are guilty of vampire women, sacred fumes that cure bad dreams and secret waters where the moon mirroring itself reveals the future and its deceptions. There is a Sardinia like this, or in front of the chimneys it is said that there is, which is the same thing, because, in a land where silence is still the most spoken dialect, words are places more than the places themselves, and generate worlds. Here everything that is told is there, and what is kept silent exists because one day someone will tell it. “ Michela Murgia
Talismans and amulets. Photo taken at the National Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum G. A. Sanna of Sassari
I was lucky, a few years ago, to make my first trip to Sardinia to visit places far from tourist circuits. In fact I was almost convinced to make this trip for my attention at that time was dedicated to the history and symbolism of the Nordic countries. Thrown in this adventure, I faced the journey leaving the doors of my mind open without expecting anything trying to better document myself about their history.
You are never ready psychologically to leave for those places that were not taken into consideration, there is a kind of resistance and friction due to strange reasons dictated by logic. The moment arrives promptly when that place, which you had deliberately or unconsciously discarded, calls you and for some strange reason and irony of destiny, the meeting takes place at the least expected moment.
If we know how to listen and see the geometries of events from above, these places, where we find ourselves “by chance”, give us the sensation of being connected with an invisible thread to a person, a painting, an ancient church, an archaeological find of the place, a dance, a feeling that we will try or see. Rediscovering the link the feeling that logic is rather limited for the expansion of our emotions is obvious.
If you face certain journeys with joy, respect, and a pinch of ingenuity, the host land rewards the traveler by showing himself in all his power and giving special experiences.
In the days in Sardinia I had the feeling of being taken by the hand from this land and carried around to visit particular places in a sometimes unknown itinerary. Impervious, steep, hidden, and other places that seemed unattainable because they are located in the deepest Barbagia but all gave me a link with my land. Every place has been able to make me feel at home, I learned from people the feeling of feeling like a people with the responsibility of defending the ancient history, often kept hidden by the sands of time and by those who can not understand. The places visited were many, some with perfect geometries that the current human engineering would not be able to reproduce and last over time, others of the sense of the profound rite and Tradition.
In all these places I approached knocking and making no noise, as I was taught, and the reception was evident even to the most skeptical person. Initially, thinking of me as an Irpinia girl in Sardinian land could be almost funny but studying this land gave me some surprises instead. I found some deep analogies with my land, in fact among the many testimonies of the prehistoric architecture of the ancient Ichnusa there is the Domus De Janas (in the photo Domus De Janas near Sassari), which in Italian has been translated into “Casa delle Fate” “(the Fairies home). When I heard the sound of this name for the first time it was natural to connect it to the countrymen Janare, already just for the root of the common name.
The Janas are creatures of the Sardinian folk tradition, they are fairies, half-human, and half-divine. Divine because their knowledge is sacred and great. They were also experts in the use of herbs and ointments to heal and reach altered states of consciousness. The root of the name Janas also recalls here Janus, the two-faced god, guardian of the living and the afterlife, but it is also possible to correspond with the word Gianna which in Sardinian means “door”, because the Janas are openings that connect to more worlds. The minute aspect of these great women allowed her to live in the dwellings built in the rocks, the Domus, in fact. They possessed a geometric rigor in the weaving of fabrics and carpets, and an expert use of knots and ribbons.
Gino Bottiglioni in his “Leggende e tradizioni di Sardegna” (Legends and traditions of Sardinia) writes:
“The Gianas lived not far from Aritzo in certain holes in the middle of some rocks. They were no more than 25 cm tall in height. The life they passed was miserable, because they were very shy and dressed in raw hides and fleeing from tall men, they ate wild fruit and raw meat sometimes, when they pursued them, they made their lair in the woods and in wild places, for to not be seen.”
In some countries it is believed that they also had the gift of prophecy and determined the destiny of men.
And again, always quoting Bottiglioni, in the legend of Nuragus it is said that the gianas went out only at night, for fear that the sun would blacken them; some pastors interviewed said that the dwarf fairies were coming out of their holes only after midnight, sewing and embroidering.
According to historians the origin of these buildings seems to date back to more than 5,000 years ago, Sardinia and there are about two thousand Domus de Janas throughout Sardinia.
Currently they are designated in the tourist itineraries as funerary caverns and some are located one beside the other to form a necropolis. Following particular rites, the deceased was transferred from his home to the Domus and painted with red ocher, a color similar to blood, to give an eternal continuity of his being.
All these burial areas were once magical and sacred places inhabited by the Janas but after the advent of Christianity they withdrew to isolated and remote places.
They will then be described in popular tales as horrible and monstrous women that populated the rocks. Here, too, another common point with the Janare of Irpinia.
The memory of the Janas among the Sardinians is always alive and connects them with their oldest tradition, in fact these women are defined as healing women, creative, skilled weavers, and queens of the secrets of the sea.
The myths associated with witches, the “cogas” and the “strias”, which bear witness to the shamanic past of this land, are also present in popular culture. To protect the entrance of their home from these beings it was necessary to place a sorghum broom or an upturned rake. The witch, attracted by the straw or metal teeth, and unable to count more than seven, would spend the night losing count and starting over until dawn which would kill her if she did not escape. But in addition to the famous figure “sa femina accabadora” is also present “sa pratic” the woman doctor and priest at the same time who knows the mysteries and secrets of nature, healer, shaman and above all called to heal the person in the grip of a particular form of Sardinian tarantism.
«My dream is that at the entrance to every museum and school there may be the inscription ‘it does not matter if you do not understand, just follow the rhythm’» Maria Lai
In Sant’Antioco, in the south-east of the region, I had the pleasure to meet the only byssus teacher in the world, Chiara Vigo. A woman with a magnetic gaze capable of peering inside you in every hidden corner of the soul.
Thanks to her art, handed down orally by generations from her family, the art of weaving the byssus survives, a fiber derived from Pinna Nobilis, an animal currently protected.
The byssus is also called the silk of the sea and is the result of a complex ritual work that associates to gestures the prayers, songs, and secret formulas handed down from mother to daughter through the oath of water that prohibits the sale.
In fact, it does not belong to those who work it, it remains to the sea, and it is used as a means of uniting people. It’s not sold and bought; once finished a work it is donated to one of the museums of the earth to become a heritage for all.
This silk is very ancient and worn since the time of the pharaohs.
At the beginning of her work, the teacher thanks to the sea, she weaves all the textures of the drawings with her fingernails and she is the guardian of ancient knowledge that, thanks to oral tradition, has gone through centuries.
On the door of his museum a very clear sign “THE FRICE DOES NOT LIVE HERE”. Currently the museum has been moved to another location due to an eviction by the municipality. It happens especially in Italy that the true art is underestimated and that according to some everyone has access to it, even by unprepared people or those only interested in commercial exploitation, thus erasing the message that Art brings in within.
A Master has the function to preserve what was, what is, and what will be and for this reason the true Masters must be defended and supported.
Chiara Vigo is one of the characters of the Sardinian territory that could be defined as a modern Janas. She hands down and teaches with honor respect, firmness, and special regard to children, to whom we are leaving a world on the brink of the abyss.
For those who want to deepen the knowledge here, you can find a brief excerpt of her art “The Soul of Water“
Another fascinating character that I was able to study is Maria Lai, an artist and woman of great intelligence.
To fully understand the magic and strength of this woman I transcribe some parts of the article by Arianna Di Genova published in the Manifesto “I fili scuciti del Mondo” (The unstitched threads of the World): “As a child, Maria Lai had learned to walk suspended in the air along with a group of gypsy acrobats who had stopped in the country where she lived for long periods with her uncles. Solitary, did not attend primary school, but spent the afternoons drawing with coal. Until the day the gypsies arrived. She liked very much to look at the clear sky of her land, so that when the jugglers decided to leave, she joined them, crouching inside the caravan that was leaving. It was only the first of her escapes: many others followed in her life because, she said, one must always keep the right distance from others to remain oneself (“nothing would have distracted me from my well”).”
And again, about knots and ties:
“Maria Lai, called to design a war memorial, refused the public commission and instead proposed her action: a ribbon (26 kilometers of denim cloth) would tie the houses and their inhabitants one by one up to the mountain. To realize this, we had to talk to people and convince them to overcome very old grudges, enmities rooted over the years. She succeeded, inventing a language of the tape: it would have passed straight where the families did not talk to each other, knotted where there was sharing of affections, with a party bread hung if there was love. Nobody, looking out among those Sardinian rocks, up there, forgot that special day that ended with dances and songs at night; a day filmed by Tonino Casula and etched in the film by Piero Berengo Gardin.”
It is worth mentioning the video performance by Maria Lai “Legare-Collegare” (to tie – to connect) of 1981.
Regarding the Janas Maria Lai said: “The Janas are doors, the fairies bring us a little ‘universe because it does not escape us”.
I hope that the ancient Ichnusa is defended as it deserves.
These people have a strong identity and it can be perceived by listening to the history of every inhabitant that you meet along the way.
In their eyes there is the energy of history, ritual, and tradition that can not be written but must be felt and lived with them.
Thoughts on tradition and conclusions
“Our deep essence is very different from what we believe it is.” Gipsy Eagle
The Janare and the Janas are not bad witches but healthy carriers of our traditions; they are those who reinterpret through their art the whole, sometimes even in an instinctive and intuitive way, and offer it to the people, often in a freeway or by requesting at most a voluntary donation of the needy. They are those who do not pretend but are concentrated exclusively on their art, their healing, their dance, the processing of the fabric, and everything that can be useful to mankind to improve himself. Their gestures are the means to pass on ancient knowledge.
They reinterpret symbols, codes, movements and they do it in an honest way, keeping their umbilical cord firmly with the past and the face projected to the future, just like Giano.
Despite the de-motivating facts of modern life, from the bureaucracy to jealous characters who would steal methods and techniques to appropriate them only for vanity or money, they go on without being corrupted; they follow a very precise line that only a few can recognize, because healthy.
Why this article? Because I’m the grandnephew of a Janara who healed and helped many people, especially children and it is right that it contributes to bring clarity to the history of all these women who felt the purpose of helping, without feeling the need to receive anything in return.
Wellness workers through the nature and the potential of the human being to improve the living conditions of those who addressed them.
They felt and feel a strong bond with the invisible and the Mother Earth and the need to protect the secrets of their archaic tradition.
The ancestral gestures, repetitive and hypnotic, recall the hidden power of what is real energy that unites human beings beyond the apparent visible.
These women pass down and write the history of our lands and are fleeting like the wind.
Campania has deep and hidden territories and sometimes I believe these places were created precisely to keep alive and defend the knowledge and rituals of the ancient oral tradition from the confusion and frenetic rhythms of perdition of the big cities. The message of art must remain pure, unaltered, and protected, in fact it is perched on the mountains.
It is necessary that certain secrets are defended.
The doors are naturally closed to protect secrets from confusion in the name of an oath.
Almost two years ago I decided to write an article dedicated to my land and its inhabitants. A long time passed before I could sit down and fill out this work. Two intense years of readings and insights on the major authors who have treated the subject and the studies of the phenomena related to it. I could not insert everything. I will continue to deepen the subject, so if among those who read me there are authors and writers on the subject I invite you to report any studies and important references in this regard so as to enrich this document.
I dedicate this writing to my great-grandmother and to my maternal grandmother, thanking them for having looked after me and grown up with stories, songs, legends, and recipes for a healthy approach to life and to myself.
I thank my land, hard and silent. My greatest teacher.
Accabadora, Michela Murgia, Einaudi;
Calendario lunare delle semine e dei lavori, Giunti Editore;
Dallo sciamano al raver, Georges Lapassade, Edizioni Urra;
Erbe che curano, Giunti Editore;
Fiabe e racconti d’Irpinia, La Ginestra, Avellino 1995;
Guida insolita ai misteri, ai segreti, alle leggende e alle curiosità della Campania, Claudio Corvino, Edizioni Newton & Compton;
I guaritori di campagna, Paola Giovetti, Edizioni Mediterranee;
Il Ramo d’oro, James G.Frazer, Bollati Boringhieri;
Il Vangelo delle streghe, Charles Godfrey Leland;
Ischia Esoterica, Ugo Vuoso, Edizioni il Tirso;
L’Universo della Parapsicologia, Benjamin B. Wolman, Armenia Editore;
La Grande Madre, di Eric Neumann, Edizioni Astrolabio;
Leggende e tradizioni in Sardegna, Gino Bottiglioni, Edizioni Ilisso;
L’Eclisse della Ragione all’alba della Scienza Moderna. La strega, il medico e l’inquisitore, Paolo Aldo Rossi e Ida Li Vigni, Edizioni Virtuosamente;
Nella terra delle Janare, Antonio Emanuele Piedimonte, Edizioni Intra Moenia;
Poesie esoteriche, Fernando Pessoa, Guanda, Parma 2000;
Psichedelia. Un ponte verso l’infinità, Gipsy Eagle, Venexia Editrice;
Simboli, Garzanti Editore;
Simboli della Scienza sacra, René Guenon, Gli Adelphi;
Storia della Magia, Eliphas Levi, Edizioni Atanòr;
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