Palermo show looks at Sicilian spells and charms
A new show here aims to explore the possible links between Christianity and pagan rituals and superstitions, through a series of charms and spells from Sicilian tradition.
The exhibit, Il Potere delle Cose: Magia e Religione (The Power Of Things: Magic And Religion), features over 150 items and documents from a special collection housed in Palermo's Pitre Museum.
Most of the objects date back to the 1800s and early 20th century. At the time, many - particularly the documents - were banned by the Catholic Church, which considered them the 'devil's work'.
The exhibit covers a wide variety of items, from 'scientific' objects, through charms and spells used for white and black magic, into traditions connected to the church itself. Alembics, an old device for distilling liquids, amulets and special jewels and rocks are among the items used for "practical" purposes, together with masks that were thought to ward off evil.
The documents include a range of detailed recipes for potions and charms, as well as the ingredients and actions for several spells.
While such items would be common to most European countries, there are also a number of curiosities typical of Sicilian tradition. A half orange, made of clay, with a little wax baby inside was meant to promote fertility, while a small cloth bag filled with grain, indicating abundance, was used as a charm for wealth. A length of string, with a complex series of "love knots" in it, was considered a spell for binding an errant or unwilling loved one.
The show also looks at the darker side of magic. For example an egg, the symbol of life, is pierced with a series of pins as a way of bringing bad luck and harm to an enemy. A separate section looks more closely at the links between Christianity and paganism, with a series of religious items blurring the boundaries between "acceptable" and "non-acceptable" forms of worship.
Among these are several votive offerings and stained glass paintings, created as a way of expressing thanks for a saint's intervention. There are also devotional prints, plaques and some of the special costumes worn by brotherhoods, asking the visitor to step back from the everyday familiarity of religion and view it from an outsider's perspective.
The exhibit's organizers have brought a local architect on board, Antonio Di Lorenzo, in order to create an atmospheric setting for the finds, which are displayed along a series of shadowy corridors and twisting passageways.
The exhibit runs in Palermo's Historic Archive until May 19. It is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 9am to 7.30pm and Sundays from 9am to 1pm.