Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily

 I do not belong to the category of historians, I do not have the presumption to replace them, but I am characterized by a great love and a great passion for history. This book is, in fact, aimed at all those people who, like me, love knowledge but do not have the possibility (or the desire) to engage in long research or to read hundreds of books.

This modest work of mine is the result of a careful and committed analysis of various works which mainly concern the three sectors of Mythology, Archeology and Folklore. When I started writing it, my goal was to know the myths of ancient Sicily and to see how traces of some of them still influence our culture and our religion today. At present, I have only partially managed to achieve my goal. I should continue to travel all over Sicily, in order to find, among what are the popular demonstrations, the traces of a dying paganism that has not yet died out. In any case, I promise myself to reopen the discussion in the future, I hope not far away.

Among the authors studied and consulted by me, I can mention the classics such as Diodorus Siculus, Thucydides, Pausanias, Cicero, Herodotus, Plutarch, scholars of the past such as Fazello, Di-Blasi, Ettore Pais, Adolfo Holm, Giuseppe Pitrè, Salomone Marino, Emanuele Ciaceri, Biagio Pace, and also the authors closest to us such as Ambrogio Donini, Vincenzo Facchini, Bernabò Brea, Vincenzo Tusa, Ernesto De Miro, Paolo Matthiae and others. I would like to underline that this work is not just a simple summary of what other authors have written, but, on the contrary, there is, at the base, an intense work of "comparative analysis", which, together with the identification of a series of elements related to each other, in the three sectors subject to analysis, allowed me to identify relationships that had escaped the scholars of the past, not, certainly due to their inability, but because, at the time, they were not in possession of all the information of which, instead, we, today, we have, like the more or less recent archaeological discoveries that allow us to identify, with greater precision, the spread of certain cults. 

 This document was originally born as an appendix to another of my work, of greater dimension and commitment, namely the history of Sicily, also seen in terms of legendary tales. I realized, however, that as an appendix it was too bulky, so I decided to consider it as a stand-alone work.

The ultimate goal that prompted me to study history, and therefore also religion, was to learn more about human nature. Each man, taken individually, is, in fact, the consequence of many factors, especially environmental ones, which will accompany him throughout his life. He brings with him a baggage to the creation of which the surrounding environment, parents, school, important friendships, society, but also the type of religious education he received contributed (especially in his youth).

The extent and the way in which each of these external elements has contributed to the formation of our baggage will mark, whether we want it or not, our entire existence. Fortunately, every man will give a "personal" touch to his life, since, if it were not so, we would become mere and passive spectators of that film which is our very life. In this regard, a sailor friend of mine said:

".. if we realize that fate is our only director, what remains, if not letting ourselves be rolled down, through the apathy of living.. " 

 The "History" is made by man, by the single individual, and is the consequence of all his experience. Trying to understand man today, without having known his past, is like pretending to want to build the roof of a house without having laid the foundations. History is the man, is the consequence of his emotionality, his fears, his dreams, his love / hate towards his neighbor and, of course, his superstitions (religious and otherwise).

It is true that, when we talk about men, a good dose of scientific rigor is appropriate but it is equally true that we cannot talk about man regardless of his dreams, fears, superstitions and legends that have him always accompanied, as this would be tantamount to stripping humanity of the clothes it has always worn and will always wear. Moreover, the historical events that have marked the lives of many have often been the natural consequence of the dreams, fears and superstitions of a few.

 How can we fail to recognize that many literary works, artistic drawings and architectural structures of the distant past, which constitute our main cultural wealth, exist because they were born from the desire that man has always had to relate directly to God. Sicily does not only offer Sun, sea (... and mafia!), But also the grandiose temples of Agrigento, the splendid mosaics of the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, the superb Cathedral of Monreale, the Hyblean baroque (unfortunately little known) and that of Noto, and much still more, as a testimony of a past to be proud of, rich in faith, and in love for beautiful things.

 There is no doubt that the popular uses and customs of the time we live in bear the traces of religious thought handed down by our ancestors. Often what has changed is not so much the type of rite, but rather the divinity or saint to whom this rite is addressed. Of this the clergy of the past were aware that, if on the one hand they accepted that some very ancient beliefs continued to live, on the other they condemned, with the threat of excommunication for those who practiced them, those that degenerated into licentious and not at all Christian ceremonies.

The reason the Church accepted that certain pagan rituals be mixed with Christian religious ceremonies is quite simple. It realized that it would be impossible to completely strip a people of the customs and traditions rooted in their culture for centuries; if instead she had accepted some, not only would it have been easier for her to exercise control, but, at the same time, she would have avoided losing popular support.

 The fertile ground for the birth of religion probably began when Homo Erectus acquired the mental cognitions that justify the appellation of Sapiens, and therefore began to perceive himself no longer as a mere biological entity, but also as a subject endowed with psychic abilities.

Initially, according to the limited intellectual abilities of the first men, religious manifestations were inserted in a predominantly natural context. All those natural phenomena that cannot be explained and are difficult to understand for

the human intellect, were considered, in a certain sense, to be endowed with a soul and were, therefore, easily deizable. Thus, the sun, the moon, the wind, the planets, some rivers, mountains and volcanoes were considered.

At the moment when a rational explanation was found for those natural phenomena that had previously been deized, man began to look for something else, beyond normal understanding. Here, therefore, we are witnessing an anthropomorphic evolution of religion, in which the divinities cease to be mere expressions of natural phenomena, and take on a physical (and not only) appearance similar to that of man. At a certain point even this is no longer enough, and religion evolves from a polytheistic and animistic form towards a universalistic and monotheistic form, in which one great God takes the place of many divinities.

In truth, I don't think there has ever been a monotheistic evolution of religion in an absolute sense. The saints of the Christian religion, in fact, could have originated from that religious thought that sees a great God accompanied by a whole series of minor divinities (a classic example is given by the Greek religion, where Zeus dominates all the other gods of Olympus).

Beyond the intellectual and expressive differences that distinguish the paleolithic man from that of our day, and beyond the different philosophies that differentiate the various religions, religion, in a general sense, could be seen as "the attempt to reach the infinite ". An ancient Indian philosopher said more or less these words:

 ".. Religions are like rivers, there are many ways but the destination is unique, the sea .."

All religions have, therefore, a single purpose which is to get closer to God, understood not as Christ, Mohammed or Buddha, but as:

  Absolute, Infinite, Cosmic Truth

This way of thinking is not the exclusive monopoly of some Eastern philosophies. In 382 (a period in which the old pagan religious conceptions gave way to the new conceptions of the emerging religion), St. Ambrose, then bishop of Milan, and Quinto Aurelio Simmaco, Roman prefect and consul were opposed and between the two it was precisely the pagan Symmachus to show himself more tolerant towards religious pluralism, said, in fact:

"A single journey is not enough to reach the grandiose mystery of divinity".

Ignazio Caloggero


Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily by Ignazio Caloggero

Cults Myths and Legends of Ancient Sicily

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