Author: Mja Principe
Date: Monday, 11 July
Contessa and I headed towards what was an unspoilt slice of heaven on earth, driving swiftly along the vie Nazionali, towards the Appenines of Emilia Romagna, stopping on the brow of the road to do a thanksgiving ritual in the whitewashed woods, the silence and the sound of its hush, and the tender whispers of pelting snow, making the Season alive.

Ravenna’s Duomo was like a starry celestial jewel box, glass mosaics from the Byzantine era and gold, adorning the dome of the church, and Bologna was aflame with Christmas decorations and the smell of roasting chestnuts on every corner.

We spent the day shopping in Bologna’s picturesque arcades with , lunch break during which we feasted on neat little handmade parcels of pasta stuffed with pumpkin, parma ham, parmesan and a generous sprinkle of nutmeg, ordered and consumed at Ristorante Diana, on Via Indipendenza, homestyle cooking accompanied by Lambrusco Amabile, followed by a double espresso doctored with good local Nocino and a delicate pastry filled with crema and glazed exotic fruits.

We were so mellow we sat in the car, soporific languor overcoming us, as the falling flakes of snow, hypnotised us into comfortable silence. Contessa let down the window and lit a cigarette, whilst we snuggled inside the fleece of our leather coats and decided to make an effort to reach the old man, who was five villages away, the following morning.

Corrado Moschi was near blind, over 70 and a healer. He lived alone with his cats in a rustic cottage, nestled between the old cemetery wall and the woods that sprawled up the mountain side and stood majestic against the wintery sky.
“Winter in this quiet corner of Italy is like a lone wolf who waits for the old man as he nears the forest to gather wood for his hearth; something is bound to happen and everybody knows that only one of them can survive.”
I shuddered. My great grandfather had died this way, carrying a satchel of letters and Christmas Cards to the villages in Serra da Estrela.

He told us how some folk accused him of being involved in stregonerie, but he swore high and low that he was not a stregone but a healer. On our way to him, Contessa and I had discussed one of the gifts that Grimassi mentions in his books on the Strega Tradition, that of the secret of signs, and we had assumed that they were like the mudras for the various Watchers or other entities the Strega (witch) conjured. No, Corrado told us, these were the secret signs and words a healer used to sort out sprains, contusions, herpes zoster (or fuoco di Sant Antonio), back ache, cataracts, parasites and many other physiological conditions.

Corrado was a "medgòuni”, sworn to secrecy by his Uncle who had left him “the gift of healing” just before he’d crossed over. In those days, the days to which these healing techniques were widely used, the doctor often was days away in some town or city and the only form of medicine were these age old remedies to heal and protect from the evil eye.

I had sprained my wrist hoisting my suitcase into the boot of the BMW and Corrado noticed it immediately. He joked and warned us that he had x-ray eyes. He lit the gas stove and placed an enamel mug containing water, telling me that he was bringing it to the boil, whilst he fashioned three crosses from straw he kept in a kitchen drawer. This straw had been collected at the harvest and was kept for the year, in order to perform ritual healing and signing. He prayed under his mustache and placed the crosses in a basin, turning the enamel cup to empty its hot contents into the basin and placed it over the three crosses, for ten minutes. He touched the cup and according to how much water had seeped under it and into the mug, he made his prognosis, before massaging the sprain and signing it.

Corrado then removed the mug, placed a cross on the sprain and poured water over the whole lot with his hands, signing himself and myself and allowing the water to run back into the basin, whilst he recited the secret words for healing to take place. Finally he took the basin, walked out into the courtyard and cast the water over his shoulder, to where the sun rose, and recited another one of his secret incantations.

“Did it work?” I nodded and felt his hands explore my surprised face. The pain had left almost immediately. “Insomma, these are the rituals of yesteryear, but they are also rituals of today. Yours the choice, if you want to believe in them or not.” He patted the top of my head and asked if we would drink a glass of wine with him, before inviting us to stay for the Veglione.
Corrado invited us to stay and experience the magic of a Veglione, for a modest meal of baked apples and fresh cream, at the end of a very long evening of ritualized celebrations which were a supplication for the return of the Sun, a ritual done for millennia in this part of the world.

“In the old days our people celebrated for 12 nights before the Winter Solstice, to ensure the return of the very, very distant solar orb. We are no longer so united as clans and villages, so we can no longer celebrate and feast for twelve days in a row. Back them, we would all contribute and there would be enough to continue feasting for twelve days. So, now we celebrate the start and the end of the 12 hours before the Winter Solstice with the lighting and snuffing out of red candles, ringing of bells, pagan prayers and decorating the kitchen and fireplace with holly and berries to keep away the wicked spirits.” He told us also that at the end of the night, the remainder of the candles would be handed out for folk to burn throughout the year, to keep at bay lack, illness and put an end to poverty.

“Our Celtic Ancestors believed that the Old Woman of the Snows held the Sun in her bony fingers (for the Sun literally stood still in the heavens) and that it would not return to warm up the Earth, if a sacrifice and feasting was not done in its honour during this period that lead to the longest and coldest night of the year. A log would be sacrificed in the hearth and the softest part of the pork belly and goats fat would be placed in the brazier as a sacrifice. I have sacrificed the pork and we shall eat the apples and cream. “

Contessa and I slept at one of the local guest houses that night. Albeit late we were overjoyed and untouched by the early hours of the following day, we stood on the balcony, under the Moon, and drank hot, black coffee, corrected with the best of local grappa. We knew I had to return to Africa but we swore to one another that it would not be long and she would come to visit our country, so that we could continue our magical adventures and engage in rituals that would change the face of the world.

Somewhere in the dark of the room a baby cried softly. Six months old and named after the African Sun, this child conceived in European barley fields, would become a great bond between my Contessa and I. We vowed to become a Clan. The Lunaguardia Clan.