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Friday, August 28, 2015

Murano Glass

There are few things in this world as beautiful as Murano glass, an art steeped in history, centuries old. No one knows the exact date when the art of glass blowing in Murano began, but it is thought that it started in the 9th century. Murano’s reputation as a centre for glassmaking came to life when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction to the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291.

Murano's glassmakers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. They grew in social status as well as in wealth. By the 14th century, glassmakers were allowed to wear swords, they enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the Venetian state, and were able to marry their daughters to Venice’s most affluent sons. Because glassmakers were so highly valued, they were forbidden from leaving the Republic. Nevertheless, many took this risk, setting up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands.

By the end of the 16th century, three thousand of Murano island's seven thousand inhabitants were involved in some way in the glassmaking industry.

Murano’s glassmakers held a monopoly on quality glassmaking for centuries, developing or refining many technologies including crystalline glass, enamelled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicoloured glass (millefiori), 

milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones made of glass. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these century-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass and glass figurines to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.

Today, Murano is home to a numerous factories. A vast array of glass objects are sent enmasse all over the world.

The Museo Vetrario or Glass Museum in the Palazzo Giustinian, which holds displays on the history of glassmaking as well as glass samples ranging from Egyptian times through the present day.

The process of making Murano glass is rather complex. Most Murano glass art is made using the lampworking technique. The glass is made from silica which becomes liquid at high temperatures. As the glass passes from a liquid to a solid state, there is an interval when the glass is soft before it hardens completely. This is when the glass-master can shape the material.

Some of the Murano's historical glass factories remain today as well known brands, amongst them Venini, Barovier & Toso, Pauly, Millevetri and Seguso. The oldest glass factory is Antica Vetreria Fratelli Toso, founded in 1854.

Enjoy this video. It's a beautiful sampling of Venice, its glass artisans, factories, museums, and lovely products.

This post has been remixed from a Wikipedia article.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Love Letter from Pietro Bembo to Lucrezia Borgia

Lucrezia Borgia's greatest love was said to be Pietro Bembo, a famous poet of her time. I stumbled across a love letter that he once wrote to her and I thought I would share it here. Enjoy!

Eight days have passed since I parted from f.f., and already it is as though I had been eight years away from her, although I can avow that not one hour has passed without her memory which has become such a close companion to my thoughts that now more than ever is it the food and sustenance of my soul; and if it should endure like this a few days more, as seems it must, I truly believe it will in every way have assumed the office of my soul, and I shall then live and thrive on the memory of her as do other men upon their souls, and I shall have no life but in this single thought. Let the God who so decrees do as he will, so long as in exchange I may have as much a part of her as shall suffice to prove the gospel of our affinity is founded on true prophecy. Often I find myself recalling, and with what ease, certain words spoken to me, some on the balcony with the moon as witness, others at that window I shall always look upon so gladly, with all the many endearing and gracious acts I have seen my gentle lady perform--for all are dancing about my heart with a tenderness so wondrous that they inflame me with a strong desire to beg her to test the quality of my love. For I shall never rest content until I am certain she knows what she is able to enact in me and how great and strong is the fire that her great worth has kindled in my breast. The flame of true love is a mighty force, and most of all when two equally matched wills in two exalted minds contend to see which loves the most, each striving to give yet more vital proof...It would be the greatest delight for me to see just two lines in f.f.'s hand, yet I dare not ask so much. May your Ladyship beseech her to perform whatever you feel is best for me. With my heart I kiss your Ladyship's hand, since I cannot with my lips.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Aradia: Italy's First Witch - Her Story

I was born beneath a full moon in Tuscany on August 13, 1313, a date clearly chosen for magical reasons. August 13 was a feast day of the ancient Italian goddess, Diana. My father was a widower with four grown children from a previous marriage when he married my mother.

My mother had many miscarriages. Being a pious woman, she purchased numerous masses said on her behalf that she might have a child. She vowed in her heart that any child born living would grow up to be a priest or nun.

Supposedly, after one night of much fasting and prayer, my mother became ravenous. Having finished her vigil, she gathered and ate some walnuts from a tree in Benevento. Shortly thereafter, she discovered she was pregnant. She gave birth to me at the full moon.

Though my mother adored me, her only thought was one day I should become a nun, a dedicated bride of Christ. Yet one day, while looking from my window, I spied a nest of baby birds chirping loudly for their mama and papa. I asked, "Mama, one day I hope to have a nest full of babies like that mama bird."

My mother firmly said, "No!" and explained, "You, my child, are promised to become a bride of Christ. There is no higher calling."

I stamped my foot and declared I had made no such promise. At that point, my mother became so angry she gave me a cuff. I blinked back my tears and said boldly that on no account would I ever be a nun. My mother was very angry.

I fled and appealed to my father. My father, however, had already paid two handsome dowries for his two daughters from the previous marriage. He had no desire to pay for a third. He told me he had only enough money to pay for the lesser dowry that the church took--and that I should be content with the life of a nun if that was what my mother desired.

I did not like what my father said. I declared to both my parents haughtily that I hoped to be married like others, dowry or none. "Mind your tongue unless you want to be locked in your room," my father ordered. To which I replied, "Whether you lock me up or beat me, I will still find some way to escape. You will not make me a nun against my will."

My father was not pleased with my haughtiness. However, at hearing this proclamation, my mother was seriously frightened, for she knew my spirit. She feared force might eventually push her precious maiden into the arms of some rake, ruining me and causing a great scandal.

Turning it all over, my mother thought of an elder cousin, though some say aunt, related to my father through marriage and now a widow. She was a woman well known for her wit, learning, and somber virtue. "Such a governess," my mother thought, "will induce my daughter to become pious and fill her head with devotions."

Eventually, I sought the aid of a priest who might intercede on my behalf with my parents on the subject of becoming a nun. Instead, he admonished me for my sin of disobedience to my parents and then rambled on about the parable of the foolish virgins. In the end, he instructed me to pray for guidance.

In the meantime, my parents appointed her as my governess and she became my constant companion. The lady did not encourage me to become a nun or vex me with pieties. Though I was reminded to say my prayers, I was largely instructed in practical pursuits such as weaving, sewing, spinning, dying cloth, the making of candles and soap, the names of plants and herbs, etc., which might be useful in either a convent or household.

One night when the moon was full and round, I thought I heard my elder cousin's voice speaking or singing softly to someone. By the open window, I spied my kinswoman kneeling in the moonlight, apparently praying, but praying no Latin prayer of the Church.

Much later, when we were alone, I confronted my governess, who first denied everything. At last, she promised to explain all if I would vow secrecy.
"I, like you," she explained, "was brought up to worship an invisible god with contrition and prayers. Yet why give adoration to a god, his son, and their martyrs, who never appear nor give any comfort in this world of misery? There is the Moon, visible in all her splendor and you should worship her. She is the Great Diana, the goddess of the Moon, and she will grant your prayers. Invoke and praise her. If you, too, desire to learn this sorcery, I will teach you the old ways and how to worship Diana."

I converted to the worship of the Moon. My governess required me to learn many charms and conjurations before she would teach me the conjuration to bring admirable suitors. I invoked the Moon, requesting young men of stations suitable to my father.
My mother was distraught that a parade of unknown men suddenly showed an interest in her virgin child. She sent my governess away. She complained bitterly to my father that I was willful and wanton. Angrily, he shut me away in a tower used for storage, with nothing but a stone floor to sleep on. "You will remain in the tower until you become sensible and accept vows to be a nun," he commanded.

I prayed with tears to the full moon for deliverance, and a great storm came up. During the storm, I escaped, for the house shook with wind and the door to my chamber opened. Some say Diana threw a spear of lightning at the tower. Others say a lamp fell over, setting a tapestry aflame. The fire burned a large portion of the house including the tower where they kept me. My father and mother thought I had perished in the flames and they mourned my death.

I hurried away through the night, not knowing where to go. After the storm passed, a brutish fellow spied me and followed me with the intent of doing me harm. Seeing I was followed, I started to run, but tripped on my dress and fell. I looked up at the moon between the clouds and said, "I have no one to defend me. Diana, you alone see me. Therefore I pray to thee!"

A cloud passed over the moon and a white shadow appeared and said, "Rise and go thy way to the safety of my wood. This one shall trouble thee no more." Under the cover of darkness, I ran toward a group of trees. As I reached the shadows of the trees, the moon came out from behind the cloud. I turned and saw the form of my attacker standing still as stone under the cold moon. I hurried on through the woods.
I walked much that night. I rested by an open field until the next evening.
There, when I was alone and without companion, I sat far from human habitation. As fireflies danced over the open field, the moon arose. The fireflies slowly faded away. From the moonlight, there appeared moon white shining ones, thousands of faeries as beautiful as the light of the moon.

"What are you?" I asked the shining ones.

"We are the children of Diana. We are children of the moon," they replied.
"You are lovely," I said.

"You are like us, because you were born when the moon was round and full. For those born under a full moon are children of the moon."

The voice of Diana said to me, "It is true indeed that you, a spirit, are, but you were born to be yet again a mortal. You must go to earth and become a teacher to women and men who seek to learn witchcraft."

Later, I came to a small vineyard and house, with a face crudely carved in a tree stump outside it. There I traded my costly dress for food and the clothes of a peasant.

In my time, many peasants and serfs lived as slaves. In those days, many slaves were cruelly treated. In every palace tortures. In every castle prisoners.
Many oppressed escaped. They fled to the country, to the wood of Diana. Thus, they became thieves and desperate folk. Some had robbed their masters and slew them as they slept, so they dwelt in the forests and mountains as robbers and assassins, all to avoid oppression. They had escaped into the hills and the forest. These people gathered into outlaw bands, living like gypsies and thieves in order to survive.

Dressed as a common woman, I sought them out. I lived with them for a time, practicing my healing craft. They hid me near Nemi, an ancient site for the worship of Diana. In ancient times, a runaway slave, if he were brave, strong and desperate enough, could seek asylum at the grove of Nemi.

In the wood, I heard the plight of these people. The great lords, wicked masters who abused them, evilly treated many, casting them from their homes during a poor harvest. Virtuous girls used as playthings were outcasts as ruined. One girl, Margherita, was branded on the cheek for having an affair with a nobleman's son. After this lord's son refused a pre-arranged marriage, Margherita bore the lord's wrath. Convicted of sorcery for giving her lover a spiced wine philtre, the court, at the lord's insistence, decreed Margherita's nose be cut off if she returned to the area. Some suffered persecution from the Church, ejecting them from the district of the parish, because they kept to the old ways. From those who kept the old ways, I learned as much as I could about the follettos, fauni, sylvani, monachettos, linchettos, and any enchantments I did not yet know. Among these outlaws, I came to know the good women of Diana who believed and professed they had ridden at night upon certain beasts with a hoard of women and Diana, the goddess of the pagans, all in the service of their mistress.

I had such a passion for witchcraft, and became so powerful, that I could no longer hide my greatness. But the lords, who disliked the large band of assassins and thieves, sought us out. One day, while I gathered herbs before dawn, soldiers of the nobility came upon the band. Everyone scattered.

I obtained a pilgrim's dress that I might hide in the open as a pious pilgrim, wandering between Christian shrines--but in truth I sought the old places of power, some of which the Church had built upon. I traveled everywhere. When I slept in people's homes, I would give them charms or perform healings.

To those who wanted to learn the truth of sorcery, I taught its secrets. I taught them to bless and to curse, to cure diseases, to make a good vintage and fine wine, to cool a fever, to stop blood, to make those who are ugly beautiful, to know the secrets of herbs, to know the secrets of hands, to divine the wind, to divine with cards, to tame wild beasts, to converse with spirits, to conjure the spirits of priests who died leaving hidden treasures, to call tempests with lightning, thunder, hail and wind.

I had been taught to work all witchcraft, how to destroy those men of evil, those oppressors. At a well, two young children were drawing water. The older, a young girl, gave me a drink and invited me to their home. Their mother, the mistress of the house, was abed, because her feet and legs pained her greatly. I applied goose grease to the woman's aching limbs, rubbing the flesh vigorously. Such was the power of my healing that the woman rose, walked, and prepared a supper in gratitude.
At another household where I stayed, horrendous nightmares plagued a little girl, Lucia, daughter of the cook. Lucia had grown ill from lack of sleep. The cook said, "It has been such since her father died. She says the things in the dark frighten her."

I gathered a fresh branch of rue before dawn. In private, I prepared a wreath of rue, bound with ribbons of yellow and red. In the evening, I brought it to Lucia, who lay in bed. I said, "Look through this garland and see with clear sight. When you dream, you will see with clear sight that which frightens you and you will see it cannot harm you." I sang the child a song of power, a song of night, which soothes sleep. I hung the garland over the bed and the child slept peacefully.

A maiden complained to me that her betrothed had abandoned her to court a wealthy widow. Tearfully, she asked me if there was any way she might cause him to return to her. I said, "Perhaps, he never loved thee."

"No," replied the maiden, "look, he gave me a lock of his hair as a love token."
I sat at the maiden's spinning wheel. I took soft, white, carded wool and began to spin, fashioning a thread beautiful as moonlight. I handed the maiden the spool of thread I had spun. "Bind his lock of hair with yours using this thread and bring to him cakes of honey. He will forget this widow and return to thee."

There was a man who owned a small vineyard. Strangers knew him for his kindness, even if his harvest had been poor. His household received me as a wandering pilgrim. As payment, I went out to the vineyard taking a horn of wine. I drank from the horn, murmuring softly in the light of the slender, crescent, waxing moon. Later, this old man had an abundant harvest of grapes, which yielded a good vintage.
I became known as La Bella Pellegrina, the beautiful pilgrim, so renowned for my beauty, and wisdom, and healing arts. Some said I was an angel or a saint. To have La Bella Pellegrina abide in your home was a blessing, for it was known folk had sometimes entertained angels unaware.

Those I taught in secret called me La Maestra, the teacher. Eventually it seems tales of La Bella Pellegrina reached the ears of my mother, who was now a widow. She sought out authorities and had them arrest me as a wayward daughter.

She greeted me joyfully in prison, claiming God had sent a blessing by restoring her beautiful child alive and returning her as a holy pilgrim. She then asked if I was at last ready to embrace her true vocation as a nun.

I responded stiffly, "It is not possible for me to be a nun. I have left the Catholic Church, and become a worshipper of the Moon. I have no mother, except Diana."

"In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Church, what are you saying?" exclaimed my mother.

"Your God, his son, and the Church are three devils!" I answered.
Thus, my pious mother gave me up as lost and abandoned me to be put to the torture and death as a heretic.

I prayed at the window by the light of the full moon to Diana that I might be delivered. In the morning, I was not found in my cell. No one will ever know how I escaped. It is as though I evaporated with the moon's dew.
Later, south of Rome, I was captured again and a lover aided me so I might pray again in the light of the moon.

While she imprisoned in the dungeon of the palace, a great storm came up. A terrible tempest, which overthrew and swept away everyone in it, all the evil overlords. There was not one stone left upon another.

After that, no one knows what happened to me. Some believe I died there. Others say I escaped alive and traveled North, where I was worshipped as a goddess and lived to a great age. The legend of my existence lives on to this day.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Great Italian Swindler - Count Alessandro di Cagliostro

Count Alessandro di Cagliostro (2 June 1743 – 26 August 1795) was the alias for the occultist Giuseppe Balsamo (also called Joseph Balsamo), an Italian adventurer. Alessandro Cagliostra was born to a poor family in Albergheria, which was once the old Jewish Quarter of Palermo, Sicily. Despite his family's precarious financial situation, his grandfather and uncles made sure he received a solid education, He was taught by a tutor and later became a novice in the Catholic Order of St. John of God, from which he was eventually expelled.

During his period as a novice in the order, he learned chemistry as well as a series of spiritual rites. In 1764, when he was seventeen, he convinced Vincenzo Marano, a wealthy goldsmith, of the existence of a hidden treasure buried several hundred years prior at Mount Pellegrino. Alessandro's knowledge of the occult, Marano reasoned, would be valuable in preventing them from being attacked by magical creatures guarding the treasure. In preparation for the expedition to Mount Pellegrino, however, Cagliostra requested seventy pieces of silver from Marano.

When the time came for the two to dig up the supposed treasure, Cagliostra attacked Marano, who was left bleeding and wondering what had happened to the boy—in his mind, the beating he had been subjected to had been the work of djinns. The next day, Marano paid a visit to Cagliostra's house in via Perciata (since then renamed via Conte di Cagliostro), where he learned the young man had left the city. Cagliostra, accompanied by two accomplices, had fled to the city of Messina. By 1765–66, Cagliostra found himself on the island of Malta, where he became an auxiliary for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and a skilled pharmacist.

Cagliostro claimed to be the son of the Prince and Princess of the Anatolian Christian Kingdom of Trebizond, orphaned and reared by the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta and, for several years, in the household of the Sheriff of Medina, who raised him as a Christian.

In early 1768 Cagliostra left for Rome, where he worked as a secretary to Cardinal Orsini. The job proved boring and he soon started leading a double life, selling magical "Egyptian" amulets and engravings pasted on boards and painted over to look like paintings. Of the many Sicilian expatriates and ex-convicts he met during this period, one introduced him to a fourteen-year-old girl named Lorenza Seraphina Feliciani, whom he married.

The couple moved in with Lorenza's parents and her brother in the vicolo delle Cripte, adjacent to the strada dei Pellegrini. Cagliostra's coarse language and the way he incited her to display her body contrasted deeply with her parents' deep rooted religious beliefs. After a heated discussion, the young couple left.

At this point Cagliostra befriended Agliata, a forger and swindler, who taught him how to use his talent for drawing to his advantage. This meant he would teach him how to forge letters, diplomas and a myriad of other official documents. In return, though, he sought sexual intercourse with Balsamo's young wife, a request to which he acquiesced.

The couple traveled together to London, where he supposedly met the Comte de Saint-Germain. He traveled throughout Europe, especially to Courland, Russia, Poland, Germany, and later France. His fame grew to the point that he was even recommended as a physician to Benjamin Franklin during a stay in Paris.

He was prosecuted in the affair of the diamond necklace which involved Marie Antoinette and Prince Louis de Rohan, and was held in the Bastille for nine months but finally acquitted, when no evidence could be found connecting him to the affair. Nonetheless, he was asked to leave France, and departed for England. Here he was accused by Theveneau de Morande of being Giuseppe Balsamo, which he denied in his published Open Letter to the English People, forcing a retraction and apology from Morande.

Cagliostro left England to visit Rome, where he met two people who proved to be spies of the Inquisition. Some accounts hold that his wife was the one who initially betrayed him to the Inquisition. On 27 December 1789, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo. Soon afterwards he was sentenced to death on the charge of being a Freemason. The Pope changed his sentence, however, to life imprisonment in the Castel Sant'Angelo. After attempting to escape he was relocated to the Fortress of San Leo where he died not long after.

He was an extraordinary forger. Giacomo Casanova, in his autobiography, narrates an encounter with Cagliostro who was able to forge a letter of Casanova despite being unable to understand it.

Occult historian Lewis Spence comments in his entry on Cagliostro that the swindler put his finagled wealth to good use by starting and funding a chain of maternity hospitals and orphanages around the continent.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Quel Mazzolin di Fiori

Some of my earliest memories are of this beautiful Alpini song. I remember after weddings or family get togethers, entire tables of people singing and harmonizing this song, while staff urgently cleared tables around us.

My uncle, Pietro Basso, comes from near the Bassano della Grappa region of Italy. My father, Dolfino Sichirollo, is also from the area around Venice, and so these songs were popular in their paese.

It is definitely a mountain song, traditional to the Alpine soldiers there. The words are so simple, yet so beautiful, their poignancy stirs emotions every time I listen to it.

It brings back some of the happiest memories of my childhood. It is such a poignant song and I was thrilled to find a version of it on You Tube for your enjoyment.

Now I will sit back and let this beautiful song transport me into the past.

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