We are beyond excited to introduce an entirely new journey to Southern Italia, taking place next fall, October 10-20, 2019. We are accepting reservations now on a first come, first served basis. Our Seven Sacred Sisters of the Cilento pilgrimage is limited to seven participants.
La Sette Sacro Sorelle di Cilento
The Cult of the Seven Sisters of the Cilento National Park is among our most treasured sacred traditions. These seven beloved madonnas all have roots reaching back to archaic times, all are evolutions, transformations that took place slowly across centuries. They each have still vivid threads connecting them to much earlier beloved Mothers, Goddesses, Divine Feminine personages of great beauty, strength, healing and protective agency.
The cult of the Seven Sisters has been kept alive for thousands of years through the great devotion of the people of the Cilento National Park and has in fact grown more vibrant through the centuries. The sancuaries that are home to these Seven Sacred Madonnas are situated on the same high holy ground, the same sacred place, as their predecessors. We honor them in a continuous unbroken tradition and in the same ways as our ancestors have done since long before the common era.
During this ten day pilgrimage we will meet, comune with, honor and make our prayers to Great Mother in her ancient personifications as Hera/Juno/Uni, Demeter/Ceres, Cybele, Diana/Artemis, Menrva/Athena and always, Maria. The truth is, most of these sites go back to ancient indigenous Italic tribal peoples and their Goddesses, in place long before Indo European and Greek contact. These are the Great Mothers venerated by our tribal ancestors, our grandmothers of long ago.
We will step into this ancient lineage together with deep soul purpose. You can expect a sweet nourishing, spirit filled journey that will also be lots of fun, include a few spontaneous side trips, art journaling, comaraderie, gracious hosts, fabulous food and great wine! We’ll be weaving together art, history, archaeology, Southern Italian folk medicine ways, prayer, plant medicine and magic, ancestral wisdom, the Divine Feminine and the magnetic,healing energy of a small group of people into a rare and beautiful experience that will be long treasured. Our time togeher will be relaxing, low key and deeply inspiring and restorative.
The Cilento National Park in Southern Italia, is one of the last true wildnerness areas in this world, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to vibrant, still thriving Old World culture, traditions and beliefs. Because of its biological and cultural characteristics, the park is also member of the World Biosphere’s Reserve, Unesco’s Man and Biosphere program. It is also the place of my origins, my ancestral home. My roots are here, my blood and bones are made from this land, these mountains and trees are my body and I am honored to introduce you to our ancient, deeply spiritual ways.
La Settle Sacro Sorelle di Cilento - During the month of October the weather is sunny, comfortably warm and beautiful, the skies are blue, the harvest is in, fresh fruits and foods of all kinds are in abundance and the tourists have all gone home!
Our base camp during the journey is located in our remote and friendly medieval village at the foot of our mother mountain, Mount Cervati, the largest mountain in our region. Your rooms are comfortable, spacious and designed with an eye toward maintaining traditional features. There is central heating in every room, fully modern bathrooms, a large comfortable and private balcony. Best of all, it's conveniently located with easy access to our parking area and is right down the cobblestone passageway from my own house. I can't wait for you to come and stay here with me in my beloved Italian village!
We're in the heart of the Cilento National Park and our village is also a protected World Heritage site. Our location puts us in very close proximity to the Grotto of Vallicelli, which was a thriving Bronze Age community, inhabited since the Paleolithic era, and home to some of the original inhabitants of this mountain area.
From time immemorial its unique geographical position has made this land a natural crossroads for the cultures that developed on the Adriatic, Ionic and Tyrrhenian coasts. The ancient Etruscan, Enotrian and Villanova cultures, Lucanian civilization and the later Greek colonization all met here. In fact this is the very center of ancient Magna Grecia. It is a most amazing and magnificent place!
Our valley was once the central location for Dianic worship in all of Southern Italia. We had numerous Healing Dream temples here as well. We will visit one while you're here in my valley!
This spiritual tone and sense of reverence for nature and all that she represents still permeates the hills and valleys as well as the lives of the people here. Life, and the sense of the divine, really hasn't changed all that much since ancient times.
This pristine, magical, and centrally located place is in the region of Campania, (formerly Basilicata until the unification of Italy changed our borders.) and we'll be in the midst of one of the most incredibly fertile agricultural areas of the world with a legacy of growing and preparing foods that goes far back into ancient history.
We'll be traveling the ancient roads and pilgrim trails of our ancestors and be presented with numerous opportunities to learn about the ancient lineage of Great Mother, the plants and trees long associated with her, and to understand the depth of her roots in human culture. We'll pay homage to her in her still living guises as the Seven Saced Sisters of the Cilento. We will also take a beautifull cruise ship along the Amalfi coast to visit the Black Madonna of Positano as an extra bonus, because you cannot come this close to her without paying your respect!
The full cost is of the Sette Sorelli di Cilento Pilgrimage is $5,400, and includes all transportation from Boston to Naples and return, travel from Naples to our village and back, as well as all daily transportation during our pilgrimage, each day's generous breakfast and a fabulous dinner - also included are all entrance fees to sites visited during the journey. You will be responsible for providing your own lunch. Please place your $500 non-refundable deposit to hold your place using the button above, if you'd like to join us. Full payment for the Seven Sacred Sisters Pilgrimage is due by August 1, 2019.
These are the Sette Sacro Sorelle:
1 Madonna dell'Annunziata, Moio della Civitella, Salerno – This village has remote origins, dating back to the so-called Enotrian age (Bronze Age). The Inotrians were regarded as a mythical people by the Greeks and across the centuries they became the Lucana tribe. Traces of a sacrificial altar and a lustral basin have been identified on the Civitella hill and since at least the fourth century BC there was a Greek settlement here. The Inotrians honored a Mother Goddess here on this spot, as did the ancient Greeks who came much later. Today we honor this Great Mother as Madonna dell’Annunziata. While in Salerno we will also visit the beautiful Gardens of Minerva, medieval gardens on four terraced levels overlooking the Bay of Salerno. La Giardino della Minerva was the first medicinal herb garden in all of Europe and part of the Salerno Medical School.
2 Madonna del Granato – Madonna del Granato – Madonna of the Pomegranate The Cilento is filled with pomegranate trees and in fall we celebrate a great abundance of this ancient, sacred fruit that speaks of the fertility and renewal of the earth and all of life. The sanctuary of the Madonna of the Pomegranate is built on an ancient site of devotion to the Goddess Hera and before that to Juno, her Roman counterpart. The sacred plant of both of them was the pomegranate and their animal totem was the peacock. Their earlier Etruscan counterpart was Uni, mother goddess and protector of women. All have been revered here on this magnificent site through countless milennia. We will also visit Paestum today, an ancient Greek settlement on the coast with some of the best preserved temples in the world. You’ll walk the Via Sacra to the temple of Hera where together we will make prayers and offerings. We’ll also visit the intimate museum just outside the ancient city walls that houses all the artifacts recovered from the site; amazing frescoes, vases, scultpture and more. We’ll end our day trip with the most delicious gelato!
3 Madonna del Sacro Monte –The Black Madonna of the Sacred Mount Viggiano - Maria Santissima del Sacro Monte is the Queen and Patroness of Lucania Her shrine is placed on the very top of Mount Gelbison at 1705 m above sea level and is the highest Marian shrine in Italy. From here one enjoys an extraordinary panoramic vista - almost all of the Cilento area, with the Alburni Mountains on one side and the blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea on the other side and, farther south, even the massif of Pollino. Beyond the Amalfi coast, you can see Ischia and Capri. The large forests that cover the slopes are home to rare and precious animals like wolf, marten and black peak. Madonna del Monte is a Byzantine icon with a brown, elongated face and slender figure. She is revered as a powerful healer.
4 Madonna Della Stella – Omignano Capoluogo. The sanctuary building dates back to about 1000 BC, but reverence for this Madonna, located at one of the highest points in the Cilento, is much, much older than that. On the way we will stop to visit an amazing folk artist and poet in his 90's who lives in a neighboring village.
5 Madonna del Carmine – Carmello Agropoli - Our Lady of Mount Carmel gave us the sacramental cloth scapula and told us to wear it, pray the rosary and life a simple life. This particular shrine dates to the 1100s, but again, the site itself has roots going much farther back in time.
6 Madonna della Neve – Sanza – Our Lady of the Snow. She is particularly special to me. We are going to drive up her rocky trail, all the way to the top of Mont Cervati, our sacred mountain. We will climb up the steep hill and then climb down the ancient rock staircase leading to the Madonna’s cave. We will peer into the cave to see her and leave prayers and offerings in this high, holy place.
7 Madonna della Pietrasanta is located between the villages of Vibonati, Ispani and Santa Marina. There is an old walking trail and also new drive way right to the top where we climb another ancient stone staircase. Iodine lamps illumine the whole area making the shrine look like a lighthouse that guards the Gulf of Policastro.
This coastline is the home of the ancient and mysterious sirens. The Sirens originally had the bodies of birds and the faces of women. Homer described their voices as "golden-sweet above the sound of wind and wave, like drops of amber floating on the tide." Euripides refers to them as “winged maidens, virgin daughters of Gaia.”
These beautiful, supernatural sea nymphs, believed to inhabit the ocean waters all along the western coast of Sud Italia, were the subject of many of the legends and myths of Old World Sud Italia and ancient Greece. Sirens were goddesses of nature, specifically of the sea and oceans. They were believed to be wild, unpredictable, born of the primordial sea, dangerously seductive creatures capable of luring sailors to their deaths with their enchanting songs. Some scholars suggest a pre-Greek origin of the word siren and others connect the name to the Greek word, seirá meaning “rope, cord". The etymology of the Italian words, sirena, sírena, siréna, and sirenas all refer to mermaid and also to sounding the alarm. In the indigenous, pre-Greek, Sud Italic view, the sirens appear to have been gatekeepers, magical protectors who lived in and sang from the sea. Their sacred healing songs still ring from the sea here and we will hear them.
8 Maria Assunta – Positano – We will take an exquisite cruise along the gorgeous Amalfi coastline to Positano. This will be a very special trip to visit the Black Madonna of Positano. Although Maria Assunta is not one of the Seven Sacred Sisters of the Cilento, she is one of the Seven Sacred Sisters of Campania, and no trip to our area would be complete without paying homage to her. We’ll have lunch on the beach, listen for the sirens and maybe also do a bit of shopping.
At each of the Seven Sacred Sisters shrines we visit we will trace the roots of the annual pilgrimage tied to that site as form of devotion, the traditional offerings made there as well as learn an ancient song or prayer associated with this particular Madonna. Some of these annual pilgrimages have been going on for so many millenia, their origins are blurred…it may have begun to honor the diety of the forest, a river, a rock, a tree, a sacred mountain or a thaumaturgic deity.
During our Sette Sorelli pilgrimage we will be joined on number of occasions by Italian-American painter Melinda Borysevicz, who lives and works in a small nearby village. Melinda will be opening a beautiful new dimension to our sacred journey; the opportunity to deepen our experience of the ancient places we visit and to get in touch with or expand our innate creative nature through the artistic practice of the sketchbook.
Melinda will furnish each journey participant with a kit consisting of a high-quality 6x9” sketchbook suitable for wet and dry media along with a selection of drawing/writing pens and pencils and a basic watercolor and gouache set with travel brush, all gathered in a handmade antique locally-produced hemp-cloth bag.
“There are two main reasons for me to travel with a sketchbook,” says Melinda. “One is that, stopping to draw/write/scribble, we are required to slow down and to observe in a very intimate way. Our understanding is inevitably deepened and we are no longer just “seeing” a place, but experiencing it. The second reason is about igniting/allowing the creative process. I think of creativity as a call-and-response kind of practice: we see/hear the call of beauty/inspiration and we respond as best we can - we practice believing in our ability to express ourselves creatively.”
In addition to taking home a camera full of photos, you’ll have this very special art book – a tangible and personal reflection of our pilgrimage together to the Seven Sacred Sisters of the Client.
Gail Faith Edwards is an internationally respected herbalist and author with ancestral roots in the Cilento. She leads journeys in Southern Italia twice a year.
Melinda Borysevicz is a New York native, received a BFA in Painting from Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA) magna cum laude. She was an active part of the Savannah art scene for nearly 20 years, with both her painting and her small art school. In 2015, a chance encounter led her to her a small town near her ancestral home in Italy, where she now lives and paints, focusing primarily on narrative portraits and figures. Awards received for her work include a coveted Certificate of Excellence in the Portrait Society of America’s International Competition in 2013 and she has exhibited in New York, Georgia, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Texas, and numerous locations in Spain and Italy.