Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Anima Sola and Il Capitano: Calling on The Dead through bone and fire. Part 2: Il Capitano.

Modern day skull veneration, this spirit is being appeased with small gifts and trinkets, Fontanelle Cemetery, Naples, Italy.

Southern Italy has always been a place of magic and superstition. Desperately poor in many areas people have had much need for miracles and have turned to any spirit who can help them.

I'd like to talk about an interesting yet little known part of Southern Italian culture, the worship of the Dead. This post ties in with last post as it is closely tied up with the Anima Sola cults.

I'd like to talk about a particular type of Anima Sola known collectively in Italy as "Anime Pezzentelle" or in English "Tramp Souls" i.e the lost souls of the forgotten dead who reside in purgatory. In this blog post I shall be talking about a specific type of veneration directed at theses spirits; the practice of skull worship.

One of the most interesting cults to grow up around these spirits is the Fontenelle skull cult of Naples. An unorganised cult of the dead where adherents would (and still do) communicate to the purgatorial souls through venerating their skulls. One of the most famous skull spirits venerated in this cult is Il Capitano (The Captain).

To understand the Fontenelle Skull cult, first a little history;

Throughout Southern Italy charnal houses, catacombs and ossuaries are no big deal, given that Italians rarely bury their dead (prefering to brick them into walls, mosoleums or put them in ossuaries).

In 17th century Naples a little charnal house was born from the bones of the cities poor.

Starting out as a small cave known as Fontenelle cemetery, here corpses with no family or family too poor to have them properly intered, would be unceremoniously dumped.

By the late 17th century the cave was full to bursting with rotting corpses and bones, it was sealed and left well alone.
During heavy rain, Naples became flooded one year, resulting in the cave over flowing with water and spilling its contents out into the streets of the city, creating a macarbre and grisly display. Upset and ashamed by the poor treatment of the human remains (or perhaps frightened the disrespected Dead had refused to be forgotten and had decided to make their existence well known by washinig up on the sidewalk), the citizens gathered up the remains and returned them to the cave. Displaying the bones in a more dignified manner.

Fontenelle Cemetery proper was born.

From this point on the "cemetery" (more properly a vast carnal house) became a dignified resting place for skulls of the unknown and desperately poor to be put to rest. Where prayers to ease their suffering in purgatory and ensure their salvation could be offered by the living.

In 1837 a cholera epidemic hit Naples killing many people, Fontenelle cemetery exploded from a large carnal house to a vast necropolis of skulls.

Over the next few decades more skulls found their way into Fontenelle, and more believers came to pray for the skulls. Some came simply to give respect to the deceased who had been given no respect in life, some came to pray for the release of the souls from purgatory and some came because the skulls as representatives of individual purgatorial souls, where willing to respond to petitions and grant favours.

Our Lady assisting The Dead.

By 1887 Fontenelle was a huge city of the Dead. A chapel to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (who in catholic theology is said to help souls out of purgatory) had been erected at the gates of the cemetery.

 The Preist presiding over the church decided to give Fontenelle an overhaul, arranging the thousands of skulls in neat lines and piles. People where coming from all over Naples and Southern Italy to visit this curious carnal house and not only pray for the skulls but also to actually pray to the skulls themselves. As the skulls, grateful for attention and benediction from the living, where starting to answer the prayers of the faithful with gusto....

Organised skulls neatly arranged at Fontanelle Cemetery.

The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Fontenelle cult in the 20th and 21st Century:

To work with the skulls in Fontenelle, one must first adopt a skull. Originally a devotee would go to Fontenelle and sleep among the skulls, a skull would present themselves to the devotee and tell him or her their true name and where to find the skull in the ossuary. Once the devotee had physically located the skull then he or she would talk directly to the skull and the skull would answer back psychically. The skull would give advice and barter with the devotee to grant their requests in exchange of care and offerings.
If a skull did not appear in the devotees dream, no problem, particularly fervent devotees of the skulls (usually women) who where skilled in conversing with the skulls would be able to divine or ask the skulls on your behalf as to which would be willing to help you. This would be a personal relationship between skull and devotee, that particular skull being your first port of call when in need of any favour.

Small requests where rewarded with candles, prayers and small gifts of coins and flowers.

Ex voto shrine engraved with the mystically revealed names of spirits.

Engraving reads: "For Favours Received"

If a skull fulfilled a particularly generous request, the devotee would pay to have a box shrine made to house the skull, these ex voto shrines where made of either wood or marble and the revealed name of the skull (not the name of the devotee) would be engraved on the shrine.

The better the skull worked the more elaborate the shrine, as it could draw more followers to pay to build grander shrines and receive more offerings. Some skulls had many followers who would petition the skulls directly or write out their requests on scraps of paper and stuff them into the skulls eye sockets.

Modern offering of prayer to a lone skull at Fontanelle.

By the 20th century many of the skulls had garnered reputations as being good at different things. For example one skull was highly prized for granting fertility, this skull would often be fought over by women desperate to conceive, asking little in return other than to be carressed. This skull became shiny and polished through years of being stroked.

Many skulls where gifted at revealing lottery numbers to their faithful. A group of skulls who had revealed themselves as a group of monks where especially sought after for this. It is said that Saturday was the day the Lottery was drawn in Naples, but on Friday night the lines to get into Fontanelle where massive as the living went to petition and appease these skulls with precognitive powers, hoping they would give them lottery numbers.

Fontanelle Cemetery. Catacomb leading to the main altar.

During the war the cult of the skulls reached its height as death and desperation was all around, inciting people to pray for themselves and their loved ones. Fontenelle cemetery, now over 30,000 square metres in area and home to 8 million bones, was also being used as an air raid shelter and peoples whose homes had been destroyed also sought semi permanent shelter there. Turning to the skulls for comfort and hope. Many ex votos in Fontenelle are from devotees giving thanks to the skulls for protecting them and giving them shelter.

In 1969 The Archbishop of Naples had enough of the skulls and their devotees. He decided he would single handedly stamp out the skull cult, his rationale being the cult was pagan, satanic and evil.

Though in truth, he was probably just lacking faith and was simply embarrassed that his diocese was becoming famous for magic talking skulls that granted wishes. This made the members of his flock look retarded among stuffy church officials and caused him to be butt of jokes at vatican get togethers.

The Archbishop promptly closed Fontenelle cemetery to the public in the summer of 1969. not only cutting 1000s of devotees off from their beloved skulls, but also hiding one of the most beautiful and sacred memorials in Europe away from the world.

Cardinal Ursi, Archbishop of Naples 1967-1987
Disliked skulls.

The closing of Fontenelle cemetery did not deter the devotees. Die hard skull worshipers would still visit the gates during its closure to slip petitions through the door. Others would visit the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel where they would prostrate themselves on the floor and bang with their open hand to gain the attention of the skulls. They would then whisper their petitions hoping the skulls would hear them. Lights and prayers would be offered to the skulls in the church itself.

For nearly 4 decades the skulls lay hidden in the catacombs, unseen by the living bar a local Satanic group breaking into the necropolis once or twice to perform rites of black magic (much to the excitement of the local press).
In 2006 the public was allowed back in Fontenelle for a few days of the year, after a 4 year renovation when the local council decided the place was of historic interest.

On the day of its reopening an old woman appeared at the gates, she called out; "Pasquale! Pasquale! where is my Pasquale?"
The renovators looked puzzled and asked her who Pasquale was.

She told them it was her beloved skull who she had not seen for almost 40 years. The renovators shrugged when the old woman said she could hear her beloved Pasquale calling to her amongst the thousands of skulls. But she followed his voice and to the renovators suprise headed straight to a pile of skulls and unearthed a skull sat in an ex voto with the name "Pasquale" carved upon it.
Today a bronze replica of Pasquale The Skull sits at the entrance of Fontenelle, keeping a watchful eye on skull devotees coming and going.

The local government had failed realise the skull cult hadn't entirely died out, after a few years campaigning by the bone worshipers, they finally agreed to open Fontenelle full time to the public in 2012.

Fontanelle Skulls, not gone and not forgotten.

Those who remembered their skulls started to come back in droves.....bringing their children and grandchildren with them.


Modern day offerings of religious trinkets to the Dead.

It is encouraging and heartwarming to see, that even though the skulls are not venerated with the same fervour as before Fontenelle closed, their popularity is steadily growing as people come to realise the place is not gone. The cemetery have been open over a year now and many of the old skull venerators have come back to petition their skulls and a new generation of devotees has started to grow up, evident by the candles and gifts being left everyday. Many tourists come also to wish the skulls well and hopefully be blessed with a little luck too. It will be interesting to see how the skulls fare once news of their revival gets around in the next few years.

Il Capitano: (The Captain)

The Captain!
Now. Amid all these 1000's of skulls, one skull spirit has gained noteriety over the years for his supernatural power that is both feared and sought after. Like some sort of Italian version of Baron Samedi. The Captain rules supreme in Fontanelle Cemetery, he is the stuff of modern legend.......more on him soon!

To be continued....

Disclaimer: Sadly I do not own any of these wonderful pictures of Fontanelle Cemetery, they are courtesy of Google. No copy-write infringement intended, if any of these pics are yours and you don't want them used, please email me and I will take them down.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Anima Sola and Il Capitano: Calling on The Dead through bone and fire. Part 1: The Anima Sola.

 Well it's been a while, so many spirits so little time...plus sometimes life gets in the way. So apologies, I'd like to get back into this blog and what better way to start with two interesting spiritual entities of Italian origin that capture my imagination and heart. The Anima Sola and The Captain.

These two entities are related as both are part of Italian style worship of the dead in Southern Italy.

The Anima Sola:

The image of the Anima Sola is probably familiar to you if your frequent botanicas, a pretty young lady stood admist flames holding her hands and head up in supplication. "Anima Sola" is Italian for "Lonely Soul".

The two most popular images of The Anima Sola

The image represents all the lone souls who have died in venial sin and therefore after death atone for said sins in the flames of purgatory. These poor souls are too good for Hell and are destined for Heaven, however they must suffer in fire so they can be purified before entering Paradise, as there can be no bad things in Heaven.

Now, the catholic cult of The Holy Souls of Purgatory is far beyond the scope of this blog as its traditions, beliefs, theologies, rituals and customs are truly vast. So this post will focus on the folk aspects of this image and how the Anima Sola can help you.

I'm unsure of where the two main popular images above come from, I'm guessing they are Italian as they are found in and around Naples as well as the art style (particularly the image on the right) is typical of modern Italian religious art.

However Italian or not the image is popular in many cultures and spiritual traditions, especially Hispanic and south american ones.

The Anima Sola has also been syncretised with many spirits:

In Haitian Voodoo she is syncretised with the fearsome Marinette Bwa Che a powerful and much feared Lwa (Voodoo Spirit) associated with fire and werewolves.

In Lucumi she is syncretised with Eshus Alaguana (a devilish tricky crossroad spirit who is a camino of the Orisha Elegua).

In Puerto Rican Sanse she is considered a Misterio, where she may take possession as a benevolent entity who will give healing and guidance.

In some traditions the image is taken to be Maria Celestina Abdenago, who may be a pious Jewish woman trapped in purgatory or an evil witch in Hell (depending on who you ask.....more on her later.)

In some Italian forms of black magic she may be syncretised with the damned souls of suicides, these spirits are souls burning in Hell (not Purgatory) for the sin of self murder. They are employed by a sorcerer/sorceress in dark rites who will turn them against an enemy causing their enemy to commit suicide themselves and so increase the legions of lost infernal souls. 

The list goes on, as she provides a mask for many fiery "hot" spirits.

Some people confuse the Anima Sola with "The Intraquil Spirit" it is important you recognise these are not the same entities.

Folk Customs relating to the Anima Sola

The Anima Sola is amongst the more mystical and magical of the folk saints (if something that doesnt dwell in heaven can be called a saint).

An image of the Anima Sola can be placed in the house and offered water to quieten unhappy ghosts and help them pass on.

An Anima Sola spirit package made by me as a gift for a family member.

The image can also be used as a focus for pretty much any petition to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Suffering the intense flames of purgatory The Poor Souls welcome all prayers and in return bestow large favours and graces in gratitude for those willing to trouble themselves with prayers to cease their suffering and get them into Heaven faster.
In the spirit of the Anima Sola being willing to grant any request an interesting little folk tale has grown up around her:

On the day of the crucifixion as Jesus of Nazareth was carrying the cross to Golgotha, he fell to the ground from thirst, a young woman was in the crowd holding a gourd of water. Jesus begged the young woman for a sip of water to wet his lips so he may continue his journey and die for her and all humanities sins. 
The young woman scoffed at him and refused him a drink. When the young woman died, God in his mercy did not damn her to Hell. Instead he condemned her to purgatory until the day Jesus returned to Earth, whilst in purgatory she was ordained to help, as best she could, any living human who asked her a favour, no matter how big or small, to atone for the sin selfishness towards someone trying to perform the ultimate act of selflessness.

Another version of this folk tale is found in parts of South America, where the name of the Anima Sola is given as Maria Celestina Abdegno. A pious woman who went to Golgotha to offer water to the crucified, she gave water to the 2 thieves but not Jesus out of fear of The Saviour.
Other folk tales tell of Maria Celestina Abdegno actually being a witch who spat in the face of Jesus as he passed her in the street on the way to be crucified. In this guise she is often invoked in black magic spells along with another Anima Sola or Damned Soul (depending on tradition) called Juan Minero, who, legend has it, is currently busy mining coal on the celestial planes to keep the fires of Hell and Purgatory burning.

One of the most interesting things that have come out of the folk cult of the Anima Sola is the prolific use of the image in love magic.

The Anima Sola can be used in spells to return a lover, the flames in the image are seen as flames of passion not punishment, she is seen not suffering from penal fire but tortured by the heated pangs of love. Petitions of this nature request the Anima Sola causes the estranged lover to burn with desire for the jilted partner.

Another, much darker, practice of love magic involves the Anima Sola in one of the most desperate of love spells. Folk Legend has it the woman depicted in the flames of purgatory is a woman who shunned the eternal love of God for the temporal love of a man on Earth, landing her in purgatory when she died. Suffering horrifically day and night with flames continuously burning but never consuming her, she will out of desperation cause anyone to fall in love with you. For a price.
Upon entering a contract with her, she will deliver unto you your hearts desire, though your part of the bargain is that once you die you must take her place among the flames of purgatory and suffer the rest of her sentence ontop of your own, making you the new Anima Sola.

How to work with The Anima Sola.

There are lots of ways to work with the Anima Sola. Heres a few ideas;

Print yourself out a nice picture of the Anima Sola and frame it, or even better get a statue. Lay out a white cloth and place a crucifix at the back and place the image in front of it. You may also like to put images of St Michael and Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the space too (both saints associated with assisting the Poor Souls). Place a white candle on the shrine along with a cool glass of water to soothe the spirits sufferings and give them a medium to travel through. Pray to God for their release from purgatory.  Offer them white flowers and kananga perfume. Pray to God often for them also talk to them offering them kind words of encouragement and asking them to pray to God for you as you have prayed for them.
Temporary shrine for spiritual working.

If you would like something more dramatic and "heated" to gain a more intense relationship with them build a large shrine decorated with red, orange and gold cloths. Place broken chains and skulls on the shrine along with red and orange candles. Have a crucifix and the images of the saints mentioned above along with a large dramatic image of the Anima Sola. Other saints associated with the holy souls may include St Gertrude or San Paolo Della Croce of the passionists. Add a large brass censer and offer up incense with your prayers, perhaps keep a lamp burning with Anima Sola oil in it.

Some say Monday is a good day to pray for them, other say you should offer hard spirits like rum and cigars. Do what your personal tradition dictates.

Prayers to the Anima Sola.

Hear mortal men, the cries of the imprisoned soul, alone and abandoned in a dark prison.
O Anima Sola, soul of peace and war.
Soul of sea and of land.
I desire that all that I have lost be returned.
O Anima Sola, you who are alone and abandoned,
I accompany you in your grief.
  I take pity upon you.
  For I know of the grief and suffering you must endure within your harsh and long imprisonment.
I offer you this prayer and glass of water because I desire to lessen your pain and quench your thirst.
Sad Soul, Lonely Soul, no one calls you, But I call you. 
No one looks for you, but I seek you out. 
No one loves you, but I adore you. 
No one remembers you, but I keep you in my heart. 
I offer you this lit candle so that you may find your way into the light.
In this moment I offer to you my meritorious labour, and all that I have suffered, suffer and will suffer in this life, even though it can never compare to yours.
I humbly pray that you finish paying for your mortal sins of the flesh so that you may find the grace of God, and be lifted from your imprisonment,
With your grace you shall be my benefactor. 

Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

Anima Sola of Heaven and Earth,
Anima Sola of sky and sea,
As you are in the midst of the Blessed Virgin put me in the heart of N, N.  

May s/he not drink, or sleep, or take enjoyment in pleasure without me. 
I turn to you in faith and hope, may you look down on me in good grace. 
By Jesus Christ at the foot of the cross on Maundy Thursday. 
N, N I conjure you again and again,
  so you do not take any pleasure in this world with any man/woman other than me,
under the divine protection of Jesus Christ.
Anima Sola we are united as we are both Lonely Souls.
Grant me my petition, I implore you as you understand the measures that I can not at this time achieve myself