A Hidden Sicilian History is a historical novel based on an old manuscript which was found in the city library of Enna, Sicily.
In the second edition I have improved the style and added a few details about Sicilian culture and Marian Sanctuaries.
The Sicilian proverbs and prayers are written not only in English but also in the Sicilian language.
The background of the book is Sicily and other countries: India, France, Belgium, Russia, Australia, and Mexico.
Vincenzino, the main character in the novel, travels across the world to find an answer to the eternal human question: is there life after death? In the end, he will find a way out of his dilemma.
A Hidden Sicilian History will give the reader useful information about traditional processions, prayers to remove roundworms and hexes, life in the sulfur mines and in the public whorehouse, and so on.
The birth of John the Baptist coincides with the summer solstice. On this day people start bonfires, which are symbol of purification, and pluck special herbs, above all, the hypericum, also called Saint-John’s-wort.
In Sicily, it was believed that on the eve of Saint John’s day it was possible to make predictions about the future. Girls of marriageable age performed some rituals to get to know the man they would marry and his job.
One of the rituals was the following:
The evening before the night of Saint John, they took three broad beans. They then peeled one, left another intact, and peeled only half of the third broad bean. Before going to sleep, they put the three broad beans under their pillows. The morning after, as soon as they woke up, they took out one of the broad beans under their pillows at random. If it was the peeled one, they would marry a poor man; if it was the one half-peeled, their marriage would be so-so; finally, if it was the unpeeled broad bean, they would have a happy marriage!
Do girls perform such rituals these days? I don’t think so. Perhaps, even marriage has become an obsolete institution!
Life and death pose a timeless mystery in the powerful fictional work A Hidden Sicilian History: Second Edition.
“Countless people over the years have wished to know their destiny and future. For that reason, there have been astrologers, magicians, wizards, and oracles to consult.” There have also been written histories to contemplate.
At the public library in Enna, Sicily, a young man notices an ancient scroll drift from a shelf to the floor. It appears to have slipped from between two volumes about the Spanish Inquisition.
Although he expects the scroll to be related to life in Sicily at the time of Spanish rule, instead it tells of a drama performed long ago at the deconsecrated Church of Santa Croce in Enna. It also hints of many other things.
The young man translates the lost manuscript into English and publishes it. Throughout its pages flow descriptions of traditional feasts, tips on how to remove hexes, and describes life in Enna’s public whorehouse. But one theme is common throughout: the yearning to understand the meaning of life.
When the Second World War was over, most women in Enna didn’t work outside the home … You saw ladies dressed in black in the streets … If a child had been lost, the woman dressed in black for five years. If a sibling had passed away, his or her sister dressed in black for three years. If the dead person was the husband, the widow dressed in black the rest of her life … As for men, the duration of mourning was much shorter than that of women. They usually wore black suits for a few days.
“This spellbinding story ponders the question: Is there life after death? The scroll found in the book spans many years of Sicilian history and cultural traditions, but the book is also a murder mystery,” said Lynn Eddy, VP of Acquisitions, Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Company.
The first time I had come in contact with meditation was twenty-six years ago, when I joined an esoteric group.
At that time, we sat silently for a while watching our breathing and then we stood up and formed a chain. Each member held hands with a brother or a sister, making a circle. There was an exchange of energy among us to create egregore, a group spirit that arose from the sum of wishes, thoughts, ideals, and feelings of the members. To create egregore we had to connect with the deceased grand masters and with one another. While making a chain, we were asked to concentrate and direct our energy into helping a person who was sick or suffering at that moment.
I left the group and it was ten years before I came across meditation again. I was searching on the Internet for work as a volunteer when my eyes fell on a Buddhist community living in a castle in England. I applied for a position and was accepted. I helped in the kitchen, but in return I attended their meetings and learned their way of meditating.
They had twenty-one objects of meditation: our precious human life; death and impermanence; the danger of lower rebirth, and so on. We contemplated the object and then concentrated our attention on it.
A few years later I went to a yoga ashram in the countryside near New York City. The day started by performing a Fire Ceremony. It was an old Vedic rite dedicated to peace in the world. The aim of Fire Ceremony was to purify and charge the atmosphere positively. Moreover, it was helpful to meditation. On the left side of the meditation room was an old fireplace. One of the persons in the room sat down next to the fireplace and kindled some dry cowpat. Then, he poured a sort of butter called ghee into a small saucepan and poured it into the fire to rekindle it. While the fire was blazing, we chanted mantras in Sanskrit to create a union between us and the cosmic energy, the Absolute Consciousness. We meditated until the fire burned out.
No one had told me how to meditate, so I did my meditation by watching my breathing. One day, while I was meditating with my eyes closed, I saw a green meadow and a figure similar to Jesus.
In India, I visited a few ashrams: Osho’s ashram in Pune, Sai Baba’s ashram in Puttaparthi, Amma’s ashram in Kerala, and Ramana Maharashi’s ashram in
Tiruvannamalai. They were places rich in spirituality. Of note, the dynamic meditation I did at Osho’s ashram helped me to get rid of the childhood conditioning I had acquired from my family and society.
The ashram where I stayed a bit longer was that of Ramana Maharshi. According to Ramana Maharishi, the most effective meditation consisted in looking inside oneself and asking, “Who am I?”
When I arrived at Ramana’s ashram, he had been dead for a long time. In the early morning, I used to go to the cave where he had meditated and I tried to put his teaching into practice. I closed my eyes, looked inside myself, and asked, “Who am I?”
After I left Ramana’s ashram, I spent some time in Goa. On day, while I was meditating facing the ocean, I had the feeling the Jesus was suggesting a new kind of meditation to me.
“Open your heart to everybody. That is the best meditation,” he said.
I tried this new meditation as the days passed – it was very powerful. I sat silently on the beach and focused my attention on opening my heart to all living beings, both friends and those unknown to me. After a while, I felt my body and my mind purifying. I named this this discovery ‘open-heart meditation’.
The following year, I attended a Zen Buddhist meditation centre in the woods of a Korean mountain. The Zen master told me how I should meditate, and for this purpose he gave me a Koan (key words to meditate on). My Koan was “What is this?”
I looked inside myself for almost one month and asked myself the Koan continuously.
Along with practising the Koan, I read a lot of books about religion and enlightened masters.
In conclusion, I found the best way to know myself, others, and the meaning of life is by writing. I don’t want to say that meditation, my esoteric experience and reading books have taught me nothing. Not at all! I just want to stress that what I have achieved through my writing I couldn’t get from other sources. In my opinion writing is more powerful that psychoanalysis. By and by, as I wascreating a book, not only did I discover something new inside myself, but I also understood human behaviour a little better. My writing helped me understand how to overcome my shortcoming, difficulties, and fears.
Despite my efforts, I have not attained the ultimate truth. In my life I have just tried to be honest and consistent with myself and my writing. I have never written in one way and then acted in another. This has been enough for me to be satisfied with what I have done.
Sebastiano and I ate our meals on normal plates, but the farmhand ate more than we did and put his meals on his special dish called a lemma, which means “big bowl” in Sicilian. The daily dish was pasta with cabbage and potatoes seasoned with olive oil. Meat was too expensive and not easy to get. Only when Sebastiano killed a rabbit or a bird did we have meat. On special occasions the farmhand wringed a chicken’s neck. In any case, we couldn’t preserve meat because we didn’t have a fridge. To keep cool, we put a watermelon or a melon into a basket and put it down into the cistern where the water was quite cold. The only thing that could be preserved for a long time was cheese, which was yellow because of the use of saffron in its preparation, and stuffed with black pepper grains.
“I’ll prepare macaroni with tomato sauce, eggplants, and salty ricotta.
“Can you give me the recipe? If you don’t mind.”
“I chop the green onions into small pieces and fry them for a few minutes with olive oil. Then I add salt, peeled tomatoes, and a half teaspoon of sugar. This small amount of sugar is very important, because it removes the sourness of the tomato. Finally, I season the sauce with two teaspoons of raw olive oil and some basil. Our traditional Sicilian basil has small leaves. The fragrance of this basil is unique. But the real secret is these three things: first, to have good ingredients, second, to love cooking, and third, to love those who you are cooking for. In the end, love is the basis of everything, including cooking!”
There was a public whorehouse in Enna until 1958. Afterwards, all brothels were suppressed throughout Italy by an act of the national parliament. Enna’s public whorehouse was located in the upper town, which looks onto the nearby town of Calascibetta, but it was not far from downtown. Of course, Enna is a small city lying on a plateau, and the distances between one side and another are not long.
The brothel was run by a brothel keeper, but the building belonged to a wealthy Enna family and had been leased to an ex-prostitute who had made enough money from her “work.” Brothel keepers were often called “queens”, and were usually unmarried. If it happened that one of them was married, her husband was called the “king.”
One room of the whorehouse was left for a police officer, who had the task of keeping order and checking the personal documents, above all the ones regarding the customer’s age. In fact, entrance was forbidden to young men under eighteen years of age. Nevertheless, the brothel keeper controlled everything in advance and kept order. She was always present at the entrance, and was very strict with both the prostitutes and the customers.
The brothel’s main door was kept ajar till late into the night. A wide red curtain separated the entrance from the rest of the house. Over the curtain there was a hall. The queen’s room was on the right, and on the left two steps led to a corridor. At the bottom was the room for the policeman; on the left there were two wide bedrooms, and on the right two waiting rooms.
From the hall, a staircase led upstairs where there were three more rooms for the girls, the medical room, and another waiting room reserved only for high-class people or someone that wanted to hide his identity, like a priest, a monk, or a married person. The entrance to this waiting room was regulated by the queen, who ordered the doors to all rooms shut, except the one reserved for the police, in order to let in the person that had asked to remain anonymous. The meeting between the girls and…
After the dead body had been kept in the room for two days, the moment of separation came. Two gravediggers entered carrying an empty coffin. At that moment, everybody cried and screamed with pain. My grandmother blocked one of the diggers and tried to prevent him from taking away her loved one, but unfortunately it was not possible.
The coffin was carried by my grandfather’s friends on their shoulders to the Church of San Cataldo nearby, and after Mass it was set on a hearse dragged by two black horses.
There were thousands of people at the funeral, and all of them followed the hearse to the cemetery. At that time there were not many cars in the streets, so whenever there was a funeral the streets were closed to traffic. Sometimes the municipal band played a funeral march for very rich or special people.
After the funeral we had a tasty dinner. For eight days we were served breakfast, lunch, and dinner by our close friends. All the families gathered around the table. In Enna, you could not make the time of mourning at your will. It had to last eight days. During this time, besides being served delicious food by our relatives and close friends, we received visits from our neighbors and acquaintances.
The food we received was more delicious than anything I had ever eaten before—so much so that a doubt arose in my mind: “Is this a time for mourning or a party?”
In Sicily, the duration of mourning varied according to the kind of relationship with the dead person, but usually were observed the following criteria: if the dead person was an uncle, a cousin, or someone not a close relative, the woman dressed in black for three months. If a child had been lost, the woman dressed in black for five years. If a sibling passed away, his or her sister dressed in black for three years. If the dead person was the husband, the widow dressed in black the rest of her life. I never saw my grandmother dressed in anything but black. She lost two children and her husband. As for men, the duration of mourning was shorter than that of women. They usually didn’t dress in black suits for a long time, but confined themselves to wearing a black tie, an armband, a narrow band around their jacket collar, or sometimes they wore a black button on it.
After I left Ramana’s ashram, I spent some time in Goa. One day, while I was meditating facing the ocean, I had the feeling the Jesus was suggesting a new kind of meditation to me.
“Open your heart to everybody. That is the best meditation,” he said.
I tried this new meditation as the days passed – it was very powerful. I sat silently on the beach and focused my attention on opening my heart to all living beings, both friends and those unknown to me. After a while, I felt my body and my mind purifying themselves. I named this discovery ‘open-heart meditation’.