Lydia's Recapitulation (9)
Pia, Called "the Raven," Late Italian Renaissance
I, Lydia of Damascus, am a diviner and dancer of fate. I will now explain the recall and recapitulation of past lives. Memories of past lives may arise episodically, and come spontaneously to anyone, but are often not recognized as such. In the Mysteries, we were trained to retain such memories in a coherent sequence, called a catena or chain-memory. Additional to taking instruction from the Organic Light, the gnostic seers of the Antioch cell and other Mystery Schools regarded coherent past-life recall as a mark of nous authenticos, authenticity of knowing. We relied on recall to determine the authority of voice within the group. In other words, the veracity of any member was measured by what he or she could remember.
The hallmark of veracity was recall of nine lives in sequence, present to past, with graphic detail of the time, characters, and setting, confirmed by historical, archeological, and artifactual evidence. Among the telestai, "those who are aimed," the nine-life sequence gave unique authority to the person who attained it. I do not expect this criterion to be observed today, and I claim no authority but that of my own experience, but I warmly challenge anyone to demonstrate the ninefold recapitulation.
I have been instructed to command not by authority, but by beauty. With that intention, I now commence the ninefold recapitulation.
Born in Naples, 1565
In the slums of the port of Naples lived a family of seven, the parents, four sons and a daughter. When the neighborhood was destroyed by a fire, only the girl survived. At four years old, she was taken into the care of nuns from a convent in Eboli, on the coast a few miles south of the city. No one knew her original name, but it soon became evident that she had a devout temperament, so the nuns called her Pia, for "pious."
Pia grew up in Eboli, and played with ordinary children, but she hardly had a normal life. She was obliged to participate in religious rites and to maintain silence while doing repetitive chores around the nunnery. Her piety was evident, less in the way she responded to religious rituals, than in her tendency to fall into prayerful silence, as if in a swoon. But Pia also had an independent, adventurous nature. She loved to take the long walk along the shoreline from Eboli to Naples and back, and the nuns exceptionally allowed her this freedom, giving her messages to deliver or errands to perform along the way.
Along the curving coastal pathway, Pia could see large villas that occupied the hillside of the bay of Naples. One villa lay at the end of a well-kept carriage drive not far from the path. It was a stately place with large balconies, a garden, carriage house, stables, and a large round pavilion where Pia often saw men and women in fine attire gathered to chat, dance, and eat. Sometimes the woman played lutes and sang. Carriages of soldiers came and went. These were the Spanish officers of the regime that occupied Naples and Sicily, called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Pia often stood by the tall caste-iron gate and peered inside, sometimes catching the eyes of the ladies in elegant gowns. She imitated their refrains and sang quietly to herself as she walked back to Eboli.
When Pia reached the age of twelve, the nuns were intent upon inducting her into their way of life, but she was more and more attracted to the activity of the hillside villa. She lingered often at the gate, making herself noticed by the women on the manicured grounds. One day, a woman strolled down the driveway to talk to her. She was older than the other ladies of the villa, certainly over forty, and she had a stately confidence about her. She greeted Pia with curiosity and struck up a conversation. The woman listened closely as Pia described being an orphan taken into the care of the nuns of Eboli, then she questioned her about her interest in the life of the villa. Pia said that she loved to sing and dance, which she could not do among the nuns. The woman, whose name was Donna Dominica, observed Pia closely, noting her long hair, her striking dark eyes, her coloring, and her physique.
Donna Dominica invited Pia to see the villa and carefully explained that, if Pia wished, she could live there as a servant, but eventually she could also learn how to sing and dance like the other ladies. Pia agreed with great delight. The lady then told a soldier to go to Eboli and inform the nuns that she had taken Pia into her service. The soldier laughed heartily, as if he had been told a good joke. He carried authority from the Spanish government that would certainly not be challenged by Italian nuns.
Learning and Lust
Pia grew rapidly into adolescence and her body blossomed. By the time she was sixteen she had a sturdy, attractive figure. Her long hair, which came down to the base of her spine, was jet black and lustrous as coal. Pia had a gift for imitation and a love of learning. She recited poems and songs and took lessons on the lute. The ladies of the villa nicknamed her Perdita, "the lost one," since the name Pia was hardly appropriate in that place. For almost five years, Perdita never went upstairs, but she watched the ladies and officers come up and down the grand staircase. She heard cries of joy, protest, revelry, sharp screams and moaning come from the upper rooms. She did not know how the sexual act was performed.
At sixteen Donna Dominica informed Perdita that she was no longer in her service as before, but, if she wished, she would become her honorary daughter and join the other ladies of the villa. They held a ceremony and dressed her in a luxurious gown of green silk and ivory lace. Then Donna Dominica led her to a room in the west wing on the upper floor of the villa, overlooking the bay and the island of Capri. In that room Perdita spent two weeks with two ladies who groomed her hair, face, hands, and body and showed her what men do with women for pleasure. They pretended to be men and imitated all the acts that she would be asked to do. They broke her hymen with a phallic stone from a ruin in the mountains near Sala Consalina, a place sacred to Pan. They said that Perdita could always come to them for her own pleasure, but she would accept the duty of pleasuring men because that was what Donna Dominica taught them to do.
Perdita's first suitor was a stern young officer from Valladolid stationed with the Spanish garrison at the port. He acted polite and formal at first, but became crude and boisterous with drink. Perdita was not prepared for his violent fumbling and she fought him off, arousing his anger. When she continued to resist, he slapped her around and with one hard blow broke her nose. Perdita's nose was the proudest ornament of her beauty. It was aquiline with a slight bump a third of the way down from her forehead, and broad in the nostrils. With her high cheekbones, huge black eyes, full lips, and her face framed in jet-black tresses parted at the middle, she was a dazzling beauty. When the house doctor reset her nose, only a slight irregularity showed, and everyone thought it added something exotic to her dark gypsy-like looks.
For Perdita, the breaking of her nose set a boundary that she would guard ferociously. She stomped the next man who mistreated her with high-laced Spanish boots, breaking three of his ribs. After that, Perdita stripped naked for the men who bought her services, but always kept on her high-heeled boots imported from Sevilla. She gained a reputation as the most fiery and desirable lady of the villa. Because of her ferocious allure, with the strong aquiline profile and no hair on her body except the long black tresses that fell on her shoulders like wings, she came to be called La Corvia, the Raven. For ten years she was the most celebrated courtesan in Naples. Officers and dignitaries came from all over Spain to take their pleasure with her, and many of them got more than they bargained for.
The Calabrian Rebel
The native population of southern Italy was burdened by the oppressive rule of the Spanish military, who provided most of the clientele for Donna Dominica's villa. In 1597 when La Corvia was thirty-two, rebels inspired by Tommasso Campanella mounted a conspiracy against Spanish rule, but the movement had already been percolating for several years. The insurgents came from the Calabrian hills and gathered at their risk in the more seedy parts of Naples, frequenting taverns where they danced and drank to let off steam. Due to her reputation, La Corvia had exceptional freedom. She was Italian and did not hide her sympathy with the insurgents. She defied the Spanish authorities by visiting some of the night spots known to be frequented by rebels. There, at the age of twenty-nine, she met a Calabrian named Angelo who attracted her instantly. He was the first man she ever had for the satisfaction of her own desire, and he was to be the only one. They kept their affair totally secret.
In her defiance, La Corvia did not realize that she was in a compromising situation: servicing the Spanish military while having an affair with one of the Italian insurgents. Or if she realized, she simply did not care. Politics meant nothing to her. It seemed to be nothing but vain posturing. Although she was in a position (frequently prone) to gather information from the Spanish officers and pass it to the rebels, it never crossed her mind to do so. Her body was a object of commerce, certainly, but not a tool of espionage.
Campanella was a visionary inspired by the prophetic notion that a new age would begin in 1600, as predicted by the Italian mystic Joachim of Fiore, and confirmed by his own astrological calculations. But in that year two comrades in the movement betrayed him, and he was imprisoned at the port tower in Naples. He pretended to be insane, which allowed him to escape execution, but spent the next twenty-seven years of his life in the port dungeon.
With the capture and imprisonment of Campanella, the Calabrian rebels lost their figurehead and became desperate. At the same time, the Spanish moved fast to crack down on the movement. Angelo and others were caught and taken to the same garrison where Campanella was held. Clearly, they would not be spared the death penalty.
When La Corvia heard about the captured rebels, she went hysterical. She commanded a carriage and was driven immediately to the port garrison. The soldiers and officers there, who all knew her well, found her state of distress extremely odd, if not amusing. She rushed past the guards and into the large main rectangular courtyard where executions were performed. Angelo and the others were there standing in chains, awaiting their immanent fate.
La Corvia had only one thought on her mind: Angelo would think she had given something away to a Spanish officer, allowing them to capture him. She rushed to the chained man and threw herself at his feet. The attending officers watched her spectacle of weeping and screaming with some bafflement. It was known that she viewed the rebels as popular heroes, as many people did, but this show of emotion was excessive. The Spanish military had no idea that she even knew this man.The attending officers stood back to see what might be revealed as the scene played out.
Dressed in a flowing gown of russet and jade with a laced-up, low-cut tunic that emphasized the curves of her upper body, La Corvia was a tantalizing site, all the more so because she had entirely broken down, her mask of proud ferocity dissolved in hot, gushing tears. She clung to Angelo's legs and pulled herself up his body, inch by inch. She begged him to believe she had nothing do with his capture. The officers watched keenly. Angelo remained passive, looking straight ahead with hard, narrowed eyes. She reached for his shoulders and pulled herself up so that her eyes were level with his chin, sobbing so hard she could hardly get words out of her mouth. Then she shook him desperately to get a response. He lowered his head slowly, met her eyes, held them for a moment, and spat emphatically in her face. "This woman is a whore in the service of my people's enemies," he said in a harsh, steady voice. "I do not know her and would never have spoken to such a base creature, if I had met her." He told the officers to pull her off him and get her out of his sight.
The officers hesitated for a moment. Who were they to believe, the man about to die, who was indeed a hero to his cause, or the hysterical woman who had perhaps had a crush on the hero, as did many women of Naples in that day? The act of spitting in her face was decisive, they thought, for it absolved this woman of any involvement with the rebellion. They pulled La Corvia away to her carriage, literally dragging her across the sandy floor of the courtyard.
After Angelo's execution, La Corvia went into retreat. Donna Dominica and the other women of the villa wondered if she might kill herself. She was completely locked in her emotions and hardly able to speak. Months passed. Finally, Donna Dominica decided that La Corvia had better leave Naples and get away from anything that reminded her of Angelo and what had happened. She called upon the help of a count from Tuscany, a lifelong friend who had a huge estate north of Florence. He kindly offered his domain as a retreat for the broken-hearted woman.
La Corvia arrived in Tuscany in the spring of 1601, when was thirty-five years old, and lived there until the end of her life, in 1620. The atmosphere of the estate was conducive in many ways to her recovery, but there were sinister influences at play, as well. Many types of people came and went, including artists and intellectuals. La Corvia's reputation preceded her, leaving people to wonder if she would take up her former profession. But her view of men was not generous, and her carnal desire had suffered a lethal blow.
She found herself attracted to a recluse who lived in a shadowy tower on the edge of the estate. He was a somber scholar of the Hermetic arts, including necromancy, consultation of spirits of the dead. La Corvia became involved in séances and other pursuits of salon satanism, extremely popular at the time. Satanists in that time and setting were not devil-worshippers, but self-declared enemies of the Catholic Church who ridiculed and blasphemed the faith in theatrical rituals and games they invented, largely for their own amusement.
La Corvia never thought about religion after she left the shelter of the nunnery at the age of twelve, but now it made sense to her that people would deny the omnipotence and authority of God, because God could obviously not be trusted to lead human affairs to a just and happy ending. If God existed, there must be a way to know the truth of the world, but who could she know the truth of Angelo's last gesture? For La Corvia, the truth was that she wanted him to acknowledge her, even if it meant she would die with him, then and there. If she had believed in God to arrange such matters, she would have felt betrayed by her faith. As it was, she was attracted to those who defied and ridiculed the ways of faith, even feeling a certain triumphal reassurance in their company.
The main social event at the Tuscan villa was the bal masqué, or masquerade party. Participants assumed elaborate costumes and paraded themselves in the guise of ancient pagan gods and goddesses. The parties went on for days and often led to lurid orgies. It was all spectacle and artifice, with some satanic elements in the mix, including sadomasochistic rituals where La Corvia was called upon to play a dominitrix. Dressed in leather straps and halters, she assumed the guise of terrible witches such as Hecate and Cybele, and put men through gruesome ordeals for the privilege of licking her boots; yet more ordeals for licking higher. These activities provided a release for her rage and despair, but in the long run they kept her captive to her darkest emotions....
La Corvia also enjoyed some cheerful and elevating relationships with young men who looked upon her as a sort of infernal Beatrice, the version of the celebrated muse of Dante. In their eyes she was the true whore-goddess, incarnated in a ravishing woman. She engaged in long conversations about sexuality and desire with several men who visited her for years without ever presuming on her sexual favors. These relationships were comforting to her, but ultimately they could not prevent her from slipping toward an abyss of sadness and abandonment.
La Corvia always dressed in full elegant attire, with a flowing dress, elaborate, low-cut top, long felt gloves and, of course, her high-laced, high-heeled Spanish boots, even when she was merely strolling through the extensive gardens of the estate. She frequently sat alone near a square pool overlooked by a statue of a fawn chasing a nymph. The lush gardens around it were carefully manicured, the fruit trees and shrubbery visited by many birds and bees. There, sitting alone on a stone bench in the late afternoon of a glorious autumn day, she wept until she died.
27 June 2008
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.