Anna Bruno’s Blog
The viaticum: a journey to the Sacred
- Posted by: Anna Bruno
- Category: art education
In ancient Rome, anyone who decided to start a journey would carry their own travel bag with them: the so-called viaticum. Over time, this word, viaticum, ended up suggesting the journey itself. Not necessarily the physical one and not even the travels we normally consume better than undertake them spiritually. A journey was only the journey of the Soul, where the traveller experienced his physical or mental distancing from his own comfort zone, to proceed towards the first step of his long process of transformation: a wanderer in the forest of life, better an initiate.
But who was an initiate?
He was a homeless person, a pilgrim self, someone who would never have found his way back, without having overcome that forest. And each traveller, of course, had his own forest to go through. Yet, those forets were all comparable to Dante’s dark woods, where man experienced again his precariousness, confronted his own frailties and fed on falls and resurgences. He would consequently build enough courage for his metamorphosis, carving away the old and useless part of oneself so that beauty could eventually see the light. The goal was to improve himself, by finding his inner evolution.
And, in the name of man’s inner evolution, fairy tales and myths were created and told.
Thus, Little Red Riding Hood was sent to the forest to find her own transformation: that symbolic and regenerative death of puberty to enter adulthood; or Bacchus, who found loss in the woods, experienced the sweetness of wine but also its harshness, death and rebirth, joy and imprisonment, until he reached the island of Naxos, where he re-discovered the harmony of his ying and yang thanks to which he gained Salvation in the conscious universal union. Because only in that union, the Greek etymology of the word woods can it be said to have fulfilled its mission: the woods have nourished, fed, guarded. In the woods, the initiate has found the right sustenance, he has ascended Jacob’s ladder with determination, but slowly, step by step. And, he has revealed those “secrets” locked up in his own unconscious to himself first, in order to find the most human part of himself.
But in the end, what is a journey to the Sacred if it is not esotericism? And what is esotericism?
It is nothing but a journey through the occult, today still mostly confined in the hands and minds of Masonic lodges or secret sects. And once these latter have taken possession of the above precious words, they have materialized their meaning, creating, at the same time, a certain distance between us and them. However, artists and writers, poets and free thinkers have never stopped telling us about it over the time. Certainly often secretly, through the layers of knowledge and despite the risks of censorship, condemnation and persecution, ensuring that the red thread has come down to us, albeit patched here and there.
The word occult is the antonym of the word cult, from the Latin cultus, and cult means cultivating, taking care of. Consequently, all what is not cultivated becomes occult, something unknown, forgotten, neglected, obscured and therefore “secret”. And if anyone wants those secrets and mysteries to be revealed, they must undertake that esoteric journey towards the centre of his self. Something that children’s soul naturally contains but that unfortunately they lose while proceeding through puberty. Consequently, the greatest act of love for oneself, and also for the others, is to find that insight centre again.
Jesus says: “You will love your neighbour as yourself” (Lk 10, 27). He uses the future tense, and not by chance! As if you want to love your neighbour you will have to learn how to love yourself. Really a hard work that does not exclude the experience of moments of grief.
As for the word esotericism, deriving from the Greek word esoterikόs, it means intimate, internal. And an intimate place is where the divine resides, a divine having therefore nothing to do with the delirium of omnipotence, but rather with the infinite human potentials. If repressed, human potentials may lead to what psychiatrists call obsessive, depressive or compulsive disorder. Indeed, most of the time, when the path of self-knowledge is not undertaken, it develops insight imbalance, an unconscious panic state, anger and negative feelings such as envy, revenge, psychological compensation and so on…and only for lack of self love.
In Aristotelian philosophy, the word esotericism referred to the mistical teachings the masters normally reserved for a small circle of followers. A concept still maintained today in the world of esoteric travelers. In the Middle Ages, esotericism found its ideal habitat in the itinerarium mentis in deum of Christian origins. Throughout the Renaissance, the culture of esotericism was deeply studied inside the Neoplatonic intellectual circle, the New Athens, founded by Lorenzo the Magnificent, for which there were symbolic relationships between man, the cosmos and divinity. The circle was attended by enlightened intellectuals such as Poliziano, Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, inspired manly by the Holy books in Judaism: the Talmud (the laws aiming at making man a fair man), the Midrash (a series of old tales and legends aimed at nourishing man’s soul) and the kaballah (the Jewish mysticism). And so artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and later Borromini, Pirro Ligorio and many others diligently made good use of it. Albeit too often secretly … aware that, sooner or later, their “secrets” would be revealed somehow.
In any case, the word esotericism came into use in current language in the XIX century, thanks to a French occultist, Eliphas Lévi (1810-1875), who connoted it with the meaning we still know today.
Despite some differentiations, the path to the Sacred is the same for everybody and therefore universal. It can be seen in the drawings of the worldwide unwitting children. Thanks to the path towards the Sacred, it is possible to reach the apex of knowledge and re-approach the divine, as the “divine” Michelangelo still shows on his frescoes in the Sistine chapel. We should only “listen” to him!
If compared to other historical civilizations, the modern one appears as something anomalous: the only one to have developed in a purely material sense. Furthermore, recently it seems to be accompanied by a worrying intellectual regression, which is completely unable to compensate for the void created over the years. Consequently Politics and Science also believe they can do without narrative wisdom, philosophy, a correct historical review of the happenings and even do without the soul. Nevertheless, I wonder: without the breath of the soul, without critical minds, without a common sense of life, without feelings such as passion, empathy and compassion, will Politics and Science ever be able again to put man’s well-being and his potentials back to the center of their interests? And will Art and Nature – reduced to market objects – have enough strength to show the way how to overcome this exasperated imbalance between materiality and spirituality?
What do I think about all this? I do really feel that we should keep our guard up and look back towards that Holy Mountain, mentioned by Father Ernesto Balducci! Without forgetting that before we get there, and all together, it will be necessary to take our shoes off and step on it barefoot, like Moses did before stepping on the Promise Land. Maybe even limping, if this can help us to slow down and bring our soul back to wisdom! …
Here are my next cultural meetings on webinar https://www.periegeta.it/events/seeing-beyond-borders-our-paths-to-the-divine-through-art-my-cultural-meetings-between-november-2020-and-the-end-of-january-2021/
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- A spiritual journey through the Vatican gardens
- The Artist who Applied the Glow of the Divine with a Flat Brush: Michelangelo Buonarroti in the Sistine Chapel
- The viaticum: a journey to the Sacred
- The renewed garden of St. John in the Lateran’s cloister