My journey took me next to mainland Italy. In an archaeological park outside Naples, I stood in the cave of the Cumean sibyl. The cave – Antro della Sibilla – is a trapezoidal passage 130 metres long, cut out of volcanic stone along the side of a hill. The innermost chamber echoes with secrets and prophecy.
The day I visited, access to the cave was restricted, but a sympathetic attendant allowed me in through a side entrance, and I walked slowly along the passage (dromos) to the rough-cut chamber at the end. The rock hummed, and the soft light filtering down through light wells made it a dream-like experience.
The tunnel is like a long birth canal, with womb cave at the end (or the beginning). Carved on a rock face outside the entrance are two groups of vertical marks – ancient calendars. The first calendar comprises 20 vertical marks followed by 9 other marks in a row below. A few metres to the right, there is a second group of 13 marks, and another group of 13 marks on the inner side of the passage entrance. Alongside these is a large spindle-shaped (vulva) design. Similar to other prehistoric and ancient markings found in the Mediterranean, these are all lunar calendars, possibly etched into the stone around 600-400 BCE. The fertility rites at Cumae were likely dedicated to Hera, Isis, and Artemis.
Between Cumae and Naples lies Lake Averno, yet another fabled entrance to the Underworld . . .
Beneath the old city of Naples winds a labyrinth of ancient tunnels and caves. A guided tour revealed Roman aqueducts, Greco-Roman excavation sites, and Paleochristian chambers, but there was no sign of Goddess. At the end of the tour, I walked through the gift shop and spotted a red figurine reminiscent of Mother Goddess statuettes. I asked about it and was told that it was the “ghost” of the tunnels . . .
From Naples to Rome and an early morning visit to the Sistine Chapel to study Michelangelo’s Sibyls. It is intriguing to see five pagan women up there on the ceiling with the Old Testament prophets. What was Michelangelo thinking? There has been much scholarly discussion about that, but for me the images represent the continuity of Goddess and pagan philosophical thought in the Renaissance. The Sistine Chapel is a long way from the deep silence of the Sibyl’s cave, yet there She is . . .
I also visited with Her in Rome’s museums:
The Luigi Pigorini National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography is home to the Grandmother of Savignano, a greenstone figurine dating to the Upper Paleolithic and one of the largest Great Mother statuettes. Also here is “La Marmotta”.
In the National Roman Museum at Palazzo Altemps, is the so-called “Ludovisi Throne”, an ancient sculpted block of white marble hollowed at the back and carved with bas-reliefs on the three outer faces. The central relief may represent either Aphrodite (rising from the sea helped by two attendants prepared to veil her with a cloth they jointly hold) or Persephone rising from a cleft in the earth. The marble block has been associated with a temple site at Locri in Calabria, where Aphrodite and Persephone were celebrated together around 500-200 BCE. After sitting at the temple site in Locri in 2014, I thought that the carving might also represent an initiate being welcomed by both Goddesses . . .
Beneath the triumphal arches and celebration of patriarchal conquest, Rome is still personified as Roma: Goddess as one of the oldest political-religious symbols in Western civilisation.