Re-Membering Europa: An Initiatory Journey to Life Beyond the Patriarchy

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by Alessandra Bosco ©2017. All rights reserved.

Editor’s note:  This narrative essay was previously published in Immanence journal. When the author shared it with other participants in the Work That Reconnects Facilitator Development Program, I asked if I could publish it in Deep Times. The author  updated the narrative including news and events of 2017.  Although no direct reference is made here to the Work That Reconnects, the author’s exploration of patriarchy speaks to one of the central “power-over” elements of Business As Usual in the Industrial Growth Society–and its destructive effects in today’s world.

Previously published in Immanence Journal, Vol.1, No.2, Spring Issue, 2016.

Like the Cosmos

Dwell in possibility
like the cosmos does,
for sunset and dawn are colors painted

            Brush bathing in miracle.

The last time I was here was for a funeral. It was the funeral of an acquaintance and I was accompanying my mother. I remember the deceased’s home was turned into an open house for the day with dozens of people coming and going – only the elderly, local women sitting in front of the open coffin, crying softly for hours, their white cotton handkerchiefs always at hand. My mother and I stood in the room in front of the body, shook hands with some other visitors and embraced the deceased’s closest relatives. I remember the deceased’s spouse saying in a sudden, intimate voice we could endure suffering – the ultimate hymn of praise.

My mother and I went along with the procession to the church, then on to the cemetery. I especially remember the music, the excruciatingly sad music that the local band were playing – the deep, slow-paced, solemn tones of trombones and drums – and the musicians’ impeccable black and white suits and their tall, metallic hats. It hadn’t occurred to me that my homeland’s funerals had some anthropological relevance until I attended a funeral in New Orleans – but the music was rhythmic there and the people were dancing.

Today, I am back in Agrigento, the epicenter of ancient Greece on the island of Sicily. It is the middle of the summer, with temperatures reaching one hundred degrees and that raw sunlight that painters come from all over the world to capture. Meanwhile, the whole scene is blown by the wind coming from Syria and homes, bodies, trees and everything else are covered by sand from the Syrian desert: I am back in my mother’s birthplace.

This time the reason for being in Agrigento is an inaugural event, a birth – an act of creation. The MaterGea (MotherEarth) exhibition is opening, displaying the statues of Aphrodite and Isis. These statues, found on the west coast of Sicily some years ago, are now on the southern side of the island overlooking the African continent. I arrive in

Demeters Fields ©Alessandra Bosco

Agrigento from the western side after crossing hills and valleys of dark brown earth and golden wheat: Demeter’s fields are ripe for harvest.

During the train journey from Palermo to Agrigento across the fields of gold, I had the time to ponder over some facts about men. Before I talk about the MaterGea exhibition and the two goddesses, I am going to discuss some aspects of patriarchy. The first is the unbearable violence of men towards women. I am especially moved by the recent news about the four women killed by their male partners in ten days and for the same motive: her intention to leave him. One of them was burnt alive like a witch. So frequent is this deadly violence exerted by men on their female partners that a term has been coined to refer to this particular crime: femicide. Once a term is created, a linguistic space is carved for the phenomenon to happen: since 1974,  femicide has become an acknowledged category for a crime of our time.

Men’s violence towards women is not confined to Italy, nor is it circumscribed to that specific motive, of course. However, it is the literalism of the deadly, patriarchal violence towards women’s bodies that painfully strikes my psyche each time I attune into my native country’s energy field. Yet, Italy isn’t the exception in Europe: in neighboring France, one femicide is committed every two days, a number reaching twenty a day in Lettonia and Lituania.

The million voices joining as a single roar across all walks of life and industries, politics, academia and the media, raging enough!

The risk of being killed at home becomes the quasi-certain sexist discrimination, harassment, assault, rape at work. The pervasiveness of violence at work – the banality of this evil – is being unveiled by virtue of the million voices joining as a single roar across all walks of life and industries, politics, academia and the media, raging enough! – turning fear into fury across Europe, joining forces with women and LGTBQIA groups across North and South America alike. The river is deep and surfaced early in 2017 with the first historical women’s global strike on 8 March taking hundreds of thousands to the streets across Europe and in fifty-four countries globally. By the end of the year, the deep river and the roar were acknowledged worldwide: the silence breakers celebrated as person of the year 2017 by Time magazine points to the extent that a paradigm is ripe for change.

Pope Francis had it right when he condemned all forms of violence towards girls and women across the world and called out against those hands that humiliate, those greedy hands. I appreciate the literal and metaphorical way he used these words, for all is said, all is contained within them: the violence of unbridled patriarchal capitalism’s hands grabbing bodies as they grab lands and reify, rape, extract and kill people and Earth in their insane addiction to destructive power, domination and control.

I don’t belong to his church; yet when I read Pope Francis’ words against violence towards girls and women, I am moved by his role modeling of a compassionate masculinity, his inspiring way of being in the world and the peacefulness he radiates. Himself, the Dalai Lama and other men who embody a non-violent, conscious masculinity, are the wise heroes around whom men can heal their patriarchal wound, integrate the call of their heart, walk the path of wholeness and find their own authentic leadership, their power to care.

In this regard, I am also reminded of Pope Francis’ ecological encyclical On Care for Our Common Home, his indeed Franciscan way of addressing our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and the deep connections he makes between the integrity of Earth, justice for the people and the current economic system that is shattering both. Both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are heard and addressed in a systemic way that speaks truth to economic power. What is at stake is an authentic conversion that has us all speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world.

The patriarchal malady isn’t exclusive to men.

The hearts invited to a profound inner conversion are those of men and women alike. In fact, the patriarchal malady isn’t exclusive to men. As a psychological condition, it strikes both genders albeit each in a distinctive way. In this context, in an intriguing twist of history, the first South American Pope was granted the Charlemagne prize for his commitment to European values and identity – an opportunity he seized to denounce the egoism of nationalisms and the greed of the market in front of the entire European political élite who had convened for the occasion.

Indeed, while I ponder about patriarchal capitalism, I am aware that those hands that grab, those greedy hands are the same that starve Greece, turning it into a debt colony and resurrecting European north-south ethnic divides that it had taken fifty post-war years of European integration to sublimate. The European project has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow, and it wasn’t the Greeks who did it– wrote Paul Krugman in July 2015 after the Greek people’s clear ‘no’ to austerity expressed at the referendum was humiliated by a handful of Heads of State and government in a fatal coup for Europe. One year after that coup, the International Monetary Fund published a report acknowledging that Greece is being used as a scapegoat in the Euro crisis to save French and German banks and the latter’s trade surpluses.

In July 2015, during the week I spent in Athens in solidarity with Greece, I remember the dignity and the calm, fierce determination with which the Greek people responded to the violence of the European institutions and the opening we felt in Athens’ central square where hundreds of thousands of people convened the night the referendum was won and everything was possible. I remember walking through the streets of ancient Athens wondering about the history we were writing, the bifurcation, the emergence I was witnessing, and what could possibly be engendered once the European peoples were out of the decade-long economic, existential depression and could awake as liberated subjects. For one night in Athens we openly breathed that liberation. One year later in the UK, the European country housing the North-Atlantic brand of capitalism within a profoundly different social tapestry than the Greek’s, it is not surprising that people’s pain rendered into Brexit.

There is a way in which statistics normalize evil.

If  Europe died in Greece, its soul was lost to Turkey and Libya. Today, the violence of the De Bois’ color line runs deep in the Mediterranean Sea between the African, the Middle Eastern and the Sicilian shores and the Greek Islands nearby. This slice of MareNostrum is where a genocide is taking place. It is estimated that fifteen thousand bodies have drowned between 2011 and 2016 whilst fleeing climate change, war and destitution attempting to reach the other side – black and brown bodies of men, women and children left at sea, at night, within sharks’ sight. We are told that, since 2014, on average eleven bodies each day are lost at sea, failed to be rescued. We are told that, in 2017, three thousand people died at sea. There is a way in which statistics normalize evil. The Syrian war is here next door in our small sea, failed African states are right on the other shore, but we aren’t told the stories, seldom told the names, rarely shown the faces of fellow humans crossing. At times a photograph of a child seems to break down a wall, then I am unsure if it really did at all.

Recently, whilst walls and wired fences tower Hungarian borders and neo-Nazi’s marches swarm Poland, European governments failed to take responsibility to share amongst themselves a mere one hundred and sixty thousand refugees within a five hundred million people continent, as the European Commission proposed. Instead, they unanimously agreed to outsource to Turkey and Libya the management of the flow of refugees – much like toxic waste turned invisible to European consciousness. This was done in exchange for a good deal of money paid to the Caliph and to Libyan sordid armed militias, human traffickers and slave traders under official coast guards‘ clothes, and a flat acquiescence to their  methods.

In the summer of 2017, France, Germany and Spain and Italy celebrated the European colonial zeal in Libya as one saving Europe’s honor. Such endeavor consists in financing Libyan coast guards to intercept migrants in the Mediterranean and take them back to Libya’s terrifying prisons, whilst turning solidarity into a crime – the humanitarian crime enforced on NGO’s performing rescue operations at sea.  By virtue of this policy, it is estimated that more than a million people from across Africa are detained in Libya, of which a half-million in critical conditions.

By the end of 2017, whilst Amnesty International pointed to the dark web of collusion and European complicity in violations, the same European policy was called out by UN High Commissioner on human rights for its inhumanity – and the detention centers in Libya an outrage to the conscience of humanity. It is in these concentration camps that ‘the wretched of the earth’ – as Frantz Fanon would call them – are arbitrarily detained, made object of extortion and trafficked, starved, battered, raped, tortured, killed. Filmed by the CNN in mid-November, a 21-year-old Nigerian young man named Victory recounts to have been repeatedly auctioned off and asked a ransom payment to be released and invites to look at peoples’ bodies – if you check their bodies, you see the marks. They are beaten, mutilated. The UN High Commissioner on human rights reported that UN monitors were shocked by what they witnessed: thousands of emaciated and traumatized men, women and children piled on top of each other, locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic necessities, and stripped of their human dignity.

In recalling these facts about patriarchal capitalism my heart aches with pain.

In recalling these facts about patriarchal capitalism my heart aches with pain.  The house is burning, the saying goes. How did we get here? Didn’t they see it coming? Perhaps I had some sense of foreboding when, already at the turn of the century, I thought the signs were clear as to where we were heading: the deepening of the social dimension of European integration was taken out of the agenda in the name of the neoliberal ‘third way’, sustainability was taken over by the market forces, the single currency was institutionally ill-designed, while Europe seen merely as a large trade area prevailed over the vision of European political integration and, like a tsunami arriving in town, the financial markets made their presence known within the European institutions in Brussels. As a result, the social fabric crumbled, solidarity was lost. I remember how I grew apart, back then in Brussels, thinking these thoughts and putting these views forward inside the institutions.

I look outside the window of the train taking me to Agrigento and I gaze at the Earth, her golden fields, the olive trees passing by, the cobalt sky. How distant the disintegration of Europe is from the nature I see across the window, how estranged patriarchal hands are from life and Earth. I wonder how to make sense of the patriarchal condition and I think of the imperial mind as David Korten calls it, to Vandana Shiva’s monoculture of the mind, to the conquistadores of the Americas’ wetiko as Jack Forbes named it. All these concepts point to the fundamental fact of separation, the Pindaric flight of disconnection and othering – culture/nature; mind/body; male/female; civilized/savage, to name a few – whereby the second term is constructed as inferior and made disposable. Patriarchy is killing life on Earth.

Valley of the Temples ©Alessandra Bosco

My train arrives in Agrigento. I take a walk through the old streets of the town; I am familiar with the musical accent of the people and their Middle Eastern outlook. Then, as soon as I arrive at the Valley of the Temples, I walk through the Greek vestiges and I am filled with these ancient forms. Some of the temples are fully standing in their integrity. It is as if their majestic presence entered my inner space. Here, I am reminded of the depth of time and the vastness of space, of mysteries of life and death and cycles of return far greater than my small ego can possibly grasp. Here, I am filled with silence.

Junos Temple ©Alessandra Bosco

I find the MaterGea exhibition nestled between Concordia’s temple and old olive and palm trees, on the side of a small hill overlooking the sea. In this in-between land and sea, in this liminal time, it feels like Isis has been here all along –  re-collecting pieces, re-weaving worlds, re-membering all. Her statue exudes unspeakable sovereignty. In its presence, I can hear Apuleio’s words echoing –in the silence of the night, in the mystery of that loneliness, I felt the sovereign majesty of the goddess, I recognized that all human events are governed by her providence.

Before Isis, in the silence of the night and the circling shape of time, the funeral I came to attend here in Agrigento and was moved to recount at the opening of this text, becomes a metaphor of the dismemberment of the masculine, the unmaking of Isis and Osiris’ divine couple and the beginning of her journey toward the new hierosgamos. The heartbreaking news about femicide, the disintegration of Europe, genocide and peoples’ pain, the crumbling of the dreams dreamt after the second world war and the making of new wars, they may appear under a different light now – ripples of deep time, profound initiations.

At the core of destruction and suffering, in the midst of the broken heart of the world, in the still, dark night of the soul, there may come, at last, some fresh, compassionate new dawns. By virtue of her redemptive power and acts of grace, Isis’ great work of metamorphosis is accomplished, the patriarchal masculine remade and ascended to the more refined state of whole humanness.

Isis ©Alessandra Bosco

So Isis heals, Medicina Mundi in her solar and lunar powers, Isis the mystical rose, source of spiritual life, and the Great Alchemist who resurrects a transmuted masculine and grants humanity a new level of divine life. In Apuleio, the queen of life, death and destiny speaks: I am nature, the universal mother, sovereign of all the elements, origin of all generations throughout the centuries, sovereign of all spiritual things, queen of the dead, queen of the immortals, I am.

While I am immersed in these impressions, the MaterGea exhibition’s inaugural event opens and Mozart’s O Isis and Osiris fills the air; through the notes of the Magic Flute, we are invited to enter the mysteries of rebirth and redemption, and the ever-deeper spiritual knowing that bestows upon us. It feels as if Isis and Osiris mysteries were being played in syncretic force with the Eleusian mysteries of this Sicilian land, the mysteries of the return, Persephone’s reunification with Demeter, nature’s cycles and the advent of the seasons.

I am nature, Isis says and, as the inscription in her statue in her native Sais in Egypt recalls, I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my robe no mortal has yet uncovered. From the depths of time, Isis’ voice is sovereign: just like the feminine cannot be tamed by patriarchal dominance, nature’s mystery cannot be uncovered by scientism’s hubris and reductionism. Already Leonardo Da Vinci exposed the abbreviators and Goethe later exhorted us to respect the mystery, don’t gaze at her (at nature)longingly. So the scientist as artist encounters the mystery, so reverently learns the way of nature and participates in life. So the path of understanding turns into a dance.

Prelude ©Alessandra Bosco

And so, as soon as Debussy’s Prelude notes start singing in the warm Sicilian summer evening, our senses are charmed, raptured in aesthesis– breathing the world in, a state of grace sets in. It is as if a dance was being danced reconnecting our bodies to our earthly lives, opening our hearts to the enchantment of the starry night, smoothing our gaze, softening our boundaries and making us welcome to one another again. We feel we are no strangers anymore, we feel we belong to each other in some ways, we feel our common humanness, we feel a homecoming, Aphrodite bringer of peace.

I look at the statue, at the translucent white marble unveiling the Goddess. Aphrodite portrayed in her bath at sea evokes her ritual immersion in life’s waters and joyful ceremony of renewal – life regenerating into blooming new spring. So she heals her Mediterranean Sea and shore alike, for she knows the love that begets life and renders everything whole again. As she immerses herself, we merge with life itself; Aphrodite points to the embodied consciousness that love is the nature of life.  

For indeed what is a world good for, when deprived of her presence – a world of necrophilia? Perhaps the problem of unbridled capitalism killing life on Earth is an affective problem: Aphrodite has been confined to the private realm and to the intimate expression of the arts, precluding her access to the world. Already Apuleio, in a world whereby Eros is wounded by Psyche, has a seagull speaking to Aphrodite and say the result is that pleasure, grace and wit have disappeared from the earth and everything has become ugly, dull and slovenly.

Like a newborn turtle longs for the sea, like the moon moves the oceans’ ebbs and flows and the galaxies swirl open, so the returning Aphrodite is bare nature true to herself. Not to please anthropocentric, nor androcentric gazes – for a rose blooms of herself. Indeed, her wholeness is self-contained, utterly sovereign. And so it is only when the gaze is pure that she is there, as soon as the perception is healed, only then she appears -golden awe weaving the fabric of the world. So that we may remember the luminous consciousness of our belonging to the web of life, and the hand that grabs, the utilitarian hand, becomes a caring, reverent hand.

Aphrodite ©Alessandra Bosco

So I sense the return of Aphrodite as the re-emergence of the consciousness that life is revealed in the dynamic of love, that only love brings worlds forward. From love, ethics flourishes, generating coexistence in the community of all beings. So Aphrodite holds beauty, love, ethics and justice together. I think of the ancient Greeks who knew this well since in their language, ethics and aesthetics merge in one term – kalosagathos – containing both, as did the Romans with bellus and bonus sharing the same Indo-European root. So beauty and justice coincide for a longtime in history, and return to us, to the light of our consciousness, as from the Sicilian shore, the land where Africa, the Middle-East and Europe meet, the land of encounter.

Aphrodite’s beauty is not vain instrumental exteriority; rather, she is beauty going the irresistible path toward the principle of life.  Aphrodite is the beauty of the body of Earth that embodies soul, breathing the breath of the cosmos, Anima Mundi.

While Debussy’s music keeps playing under the warm Sicilian night sky, entranced, something seems to come alive at the horizon of my own sight. Suddenly, I see the white bull that once was Zeus, now transformed: no violence is left in his entire being, no need for greed nor grabbing, no thirst for blood, no taste for death. In the midst of the centripetal forces of destruction, he heeded the calling for change. No more in denial on the edge of the abyss, he undertook a journey to the core of his patriarchal wound while it cracked open and went through the initiations. Indeed, he found himself to have no other choice than to befriend his own dismemberment. It is as if a stronger force was driving the course of change, an irresistible river flowing beneath, a deeper truth.  With courage, he surrendered to that greater force, he took in his own hands the pieces of his violent, toxic masculinity and transmuted them, patiently re-weaving himself anew. Along the way, many wise men provided comfort, offered leadership, pointed to a vision. They provided some sense of home, too.

He is back as a conscious being now, more refined, wholesome. He finds himself at home in his own heart and stands still when emotional waves hit the shore. He dwells on the planet in reverent love for life and in joyful service of the Earth. Earth is mother, sister and lover and herself – she is mystery and beauty and whatever else. He is beyond duality and control. In his earth-walk, he considers his task to be tending to Earth’s beauty and life’s unfolding and he complies to his mission with a whole heart, whole mind and soul. He envisions a future of cooperation amongst fellow humans and of reciprocity with all of life; he is crafting that future already now.

And so I see the white, caring bull meeting Europa in mutual rapture. So beautiful is he that she is moved to get close. She is attracted to this wise, whole masculinity for she knows that he loves life and is going to be gentle and protective towards her. Enchantment sparks between them as a golden, honey glow and flying white dove. She weaves rose petals and scented leaves around her beloved’s neck, she embraces his body and then lies on his back, whereupon they immerse in a sea of love of human, animal, spiritual communion – the feminine, the natural and the divine reunited. They are back to where they belong, cosmos bound.

A love ancient like time is revived, a love of equals, a partnership with life.  

Works Cited

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Apuleio.  Metamorfosi (L’asinod’oro). Oscar Mondadori. 1988. Book 5:203; Book 11: 427; 431.

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Alessandra Bosco, MA, is an independent research scholar, a narrative journalist, a photographer, a poet. At the intersection between social and ecological questions, art and spirituality, her work situates in the tradition of Renaissance intellectuals. She devoted the first decades of her path to social justice and the project of a social Europe within the European institutions in Brussels and Paris – whereupon she began traveling the world deepening alternative ways of living and knowing as well as dwelling in the forest and the country. Recently visiting UC Berkeley, her interests also include systems thinking, ecofeminism, ecopsychology and sacred activism.

 

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