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Happy and blessed Winterfylleð (or Samhain, or Dias de los muertos)

This week (especially today, tomorrow, and Nov. 1) are holy days in my tradition and my House. We honor our dead of both blood and spirit. I’m not going to be writing much, because I still have to finish cleaning the ancestor shrine room for tonight’s ritual, but I wanted to wish everyone a blessed time of the ancestors. There are a number of holy tides that fall at this time, including Samhain and Dias de los muertos. Honor your dead as your culture and tradition suggest. May you be blessed in your devotions at this time.

our ancestor shrine from last year’s rites

I did want to share one cool thing pertaining to a group of the dead that I regularly honor: the castrati. My friend E. went to Sienna, Italy and brought me dirt from the grave of Senesino (1686-1758), a contralto and one of the favorite voices of Handel. His birthday is Oct 31 and the dirt arrived just a few days ago — just in time. Now granted, his actual grave was bombed in WWII so that was that, but my friend got as close as she could to where it would have been located. I’m delighted and he’s getting extra offerings tomorrow.

Senesino by Van Haken

A Fantastic Find and I’m Going to Brag

I don’t usually share things like this, but I am so excited about a recent acquisition that I cannot help myself. Y’all know that I venerate the castrati as a family of ancestral spirits (yes, I know, but it doesn’t matter that they’re not technically my blood ancestors; I love them and they are spiritual ancestors for me). Well, being the tactile person that I am, when I am learning how to honor and engage with a new family of spirits, it often helps to have physical objects. If I am learning proper veneration to a new Deity, I’ll set up a shrine for the same purpose(1). If I’m engaging with an animal spirit as a spirit worker, I want a tooth, claw, or bit of fur, and likewise with my ancestors whenever possible, I like to have a photo or some item that belonged to them. Is this a bit reductionist? Yes. Is it absolutely necessary? Not at all, and in fact, I’ve been honoring the castrati both as a group and as individuals for close to a decade now without having anything approximating a physical object, unless one counts the music they once sang. 

Well, today I can happily say that I now own a scrap of music handwritten and signed by one of the last of the great vocal castrati: Girolamo Crescentini (1762-1846) (2). He was equally regarded as a singer, teacher, and composer and what I acquired today was a bit of music written by him for a correspondent or friend (It is unclear from the provenance for whom he originally wrote the piece). Crescentini was a favorite of Napoleon, (who otherwise despised castrati) who knighted him in 1809. 

What is pictured here is an autographed six bar musical quotation of an arietta, in Crescentini’s own hand. Since he signed it ‘cav. (cavalier) Crescentini,’ we know it must have been written after 1809. There is a little note: Due note sol da mi fibra mi! Assai di piu assai di pire tene do no (You wish to receive just two notes from me, I give you more and more of them). Signed: carattere, e compisizione del Cav. Crescentini (Character and composition of Cavalier Crescentini). 

 I never expected to find something like this and in fact, last year I had an antique dealer who specialized in autographs and musical scores tell me it was nearly impossible to find anything written or signed by the castrati (a Meissen teapot owned by Senesino (1686-1758) came up for auction last year, I believe, but it was way, way, WAY out of my price league omg). I do have a couple medieval manuscript leaves. I pick up inexpensive ones here and there, usually at the medieval conference at Kalamazoo – their book room is heaven and the MSS dealers always have at least a bit priced low for grad students–because they are helpful when I teach. I find students become really engaged when they can actually touch a piece of history and hold it in their hands. It brings it alive like nothing else. None of leaves approach this 5.24×6 inch scrap of music. This is a personal connection to a family of spirits, to one particular spirit that I never, ever, ever expected to find and I am grateful to the Gods and ancestors that I happened to stumble across it (and that it was both relatively inexpensive – it’s small—and within my budget). 

Look. Look at the pretty thing. ^___^. (I’ve very inexpertly blurred my address bc I liked the photo and didn’t want to pull everything out to take it a second time when I realized my home addy showed).

musical notation, inscription, and signature of G. Crescentini. Personal collection of G. Krasskova

  1. At least, that is part of the purpose. The other part, of course, is that this is a space for veneration and a visual sign of welcome for that Deity into one’s home and life. 
  2. The very last of the great operatic castrati was Giovanni Velluti (1780-1861), a younger contemporary of Crescentini. 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 5 (So Far Away)

This week, I want to talk about a group of men that I honor as ancestors, even though they never had physical children. For years now, I have honored the baroque castrati as a group of honored dead on my ancestor shrine. I love them, I truly do and they’ve become an integral part of my spiritual practice of honoring the dead.

Music has always been an important part of my life. I spent the first quarter of my life as a professional ballet dancer (retired in my early twenties due to injury). That was the first way by which I was introduced to ecstatic spirituality. It was the first way I ever touched the sacred. It’s an art intimately connected to that of music. One of the first really famous ballet dancers, Marie Salle, who was herself a gifted choreographer, worked with Handel and his castrati in London. Ballet and opera evolved one from the other. There’s a lineage there and in a very small way, I was part of that. Even now, when I listen to music it takes me out of myself and brings me to a place where I throw myself far more deeply into holy work. It’s a visceral, full body experience. It roars through my blood and then carries me to the spirits and worlds I seek. It was from the castrati that I really came to understand what an important journey maker music has always been for me. Now I use it consciously in my work and often under their auspices. I am grateful.

Anyway, for those who may not know – since I do have a number of new readers –the castrati were singers, first in church choirs and then in the opera, who were castrated before puberty to preserve their voices. So, they were adult men with the chest and lung capacity of adult men, but the vocal chords of prepubescent boys. They were sopranos, mezzos (both classed as “soprano” in their day) and altos and their voices were ethereal wonders. We don’t know exactly what they sounded like. There is a recording of the very last famous castrato, but he was well past his prime during the recording, had never been an operatic virtuoso, and turn of the century recording technology lacked the capacity for recording the fullness of his voice. What we get is warped and thin. The same thing occurs with female opera singers who were recorded in the first decade of the 1900s too. All we really have are descriptions from those who heard these men. They were the rock stars of their day. One woman, upon hearing the famous castrato Farinelli sing was moved to such ecstasies by the sound that she burst out with an enthusiastic, if slightly blasphemous, “one God, one Farinelli!”

Now, we usually think of the castrati as belonging to the the baroque era but they worked roughly through the 16th to 19th centuries. In reality, even longer — the first castrated singer that I’ve encountered (thanks to the work of scholar Neil Moran) is the 5th century Brisson, who was choir master in the Byzantine court of Empress Eudoxia. We know that the Byzantines had castrati in their choirs though there is no indication of an industry that castrated boys purely for their vocal potential. That comes later in the 16th century in the Vatican states where women were forbidden from performing on stage (because of a prohibition in Paul). The last well-known castrato was A. Moreschi who died in 1922. He’s the one who was recorded. Today, their repertoire, which created opera as we know it, is usually performed by women or counter-tenors. I prefer the latter (I like lower female voices, probably because I’m a tenor myself and higher male voices. Female sopranos tend to annoy me—the quality of the sound is different from a man singing in the same range. I’d rather listen to a female contralto but in the end, I’m glad for all the vocal instruments we have). By the way, that Byzantine choir master Brisson was a bad ass. He is recorded (by the 6th c. historian Socrates) as getting into fist fights with religious heretics lol.

Anyway, I consider these men, men like Atto Melani, Cafarelli, Carestini, and Senesino to be part of my ancestral house. I honor them regularly. They have immortality like the heroes of old, and it is up to those of us who recognize the beauty and sacrality in what they did to serve the function of progeny: that of remembering those who came before us. So, I hail them, regularly and very soon, I will complete a small novena book for them too. I will conclude this with one of the prayers I give them. May they always be remembered, valued, and praised – both those who were famous, and those who broke in the process.

Prayer for the castrati
By Galina Krasskova

Your predecessors haunted the courts and choirs of Constantinople.
The enchantment of your voices was heard from Italy to Spain,
England to Germany, and well beyond even to farthest Russia.
The ghostly memory of your glory haunts every operatic stage,
everywhere in the world today and that is good. We should not forget.
We should never forget the debt our artists owe to each of you,
with every voice lifted in song, every note resonant in modern throats.

You rose up from the ashes of Rome,
glittering jewels in the crown of the world,
bright, hard, glorious, unbreakable.
You shone like the sun
with the glory of the moon at your backs:
magic, allure, erotic power.
Your voices tore open the heavens
and left frenzied desire in their wake.
No king was ever more feted.
No saint ever more reverenced.

Let us taste anew that frenzy–
pouring ourselves out in offerings to you.
White, cold and unyielding,
beautiful angels,
with hearts hungry
and less than angelic,
each of your voices a blade,
inviting longing, revealing desire,
leaving ecstasy in its wake.

I praise you today and every day.
Your names sanctify my lips.

(from the forthcoming “Viva ‘il coltello: In Honor of the castrati” by G. Krasskova, Sanngetall Press).

The closest we can get is the modern counter tenor. Here are three of my favorites.

Andreas Scholl singing Bizet’s “Habanera” (he’s known for his interpretation of Bach and his voice is exactly the same vocal range as the castrato Senesino. He also went to the same conservatory in Basel as my adopted mom. I just get a kick out of him singing “Carmen” so I chose that one instead of Bach).

Michael Maniaci singing Mozart’s “Exsultate” (written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini).

Philippe Jaroussky singing Gluck’s “Che faro senza Euridice” (originally sung by the castrato Gaetano Guadagni).

Jakub Jozef Orlinski singing Hasse’s “Mea tormenta, properate!”

The Consequences of Post-Modernism (Part I)

I follow a historical channel on facebook that often posts really quirky or interesting facts about various periods in history. I’ve actually learned a few things from their articles and it’s one of the more enjoyable sites that I follow. Yesterday, they posted a clip of A. Moreschi, the last castrato. He was never a major operatic voice, but a well-respected singer in the Vatican choir. There are recordings of him made in 1902. They’re not great. Recording technology at the time lacked the capacity to record the fullness of a singer’s range. One sees the same issue with female sopranos who were recorded around the same time. The result is weird, thin, and reedy. Still, we have these recordings and they are an interesting nod to a group of men who transformed the musical world.

So, many of the commenters were unfamiliar with castrati and since this is pretty much exactly what my entire dissertation is going to be on, I jumped in and we were talking about it, except the women (and it was all women with whom I was conversing, something that, given the topic, surprised me) with whom I was conversing couldn’t get past “you’re disgusting” if you find beauty in this. The idea of transcendent beauty, of sacrificing oneself for something better, for an art that will impact generations, of considering an art worthy of self-transformation was completely beyond their comprehension. They could not get past, “that’s horrific and you’re disgusting unless you agree with us wholeheartedly that it’s awful.” Well, I don’t think it was.

The names of these men are sacred to me. When they were very young they (there are cases of individual castrati requesting it. I believe Caffarelli was one such) or their parents chose castration in service to Art. Instead of progeny, they reached for immortality. Instead of poverty, they chose a path that would, if they succeeded even at a modest career, elevate the standard of living and status of their entire family. They chose a path that transformed them into conduits for an awe-inspiring, transcendent beauty. I mourn the loss to our world of their living presence.

I think in a world poisoned by the post-modernism, where our idea of Art is to throw paint on a canvas and call it such, where we no longer connect the arts and the sacred, where we are, in fact, deeply suspicious of anything holy or sacred, and where we consider the human individual the height of majesty it can be very, very difficult to comprehend a time, a place, and people who have other standards. Art is the best and highest expression of who we are as a species. It is better and more important than any single one of us and those who sacrifice themselves to its fire should be honored. I was a ballet dance, professionally for a time, which means I started a career that left a brutal imprint on my body – one I still struggle with in terms of ongoing injury and chronic pain—when I was a child. This was my choice. In fact, I did it against my parents’ desires. So to say that a child cannot know what he wants, cannot make the choice to devote himself to a craft is nonsense. Children do this every day.

We have no problem today with celebrating children ranging from three on up who choose to take hormone blockers, pharmaceuticals, and to prepare for extremely painful surgery and who run the risk of rendering themselves permanently sterile to shape their bodies in accordance with their inner vision. How is this any different?

The castrati were not, despite efforts of queer theorists to use them as such, transgender. They were men, men who gave themselves over to something much bigger and more important than their individual selves. In doing so, in creating bodies capable of containing and producing a glorious, angelic sound, they transformed their world and ours. I think we must affirm their choice to shape their body as their will intends, or where is the freedom of the individual we so cherish today?   Beauty at that level is always horrific. That is why it is sacred. I, for one, praise it. Moreover, I’d like to see more people willing to give their all for Art, and most of all, for their Gods.

castrati

I did a thing :)

This semester I participated in the Medieval Music group run by Fordham’s Medieval Studies and Music departments. I’d never sung in a group before (as a female tenor, it’s complicated) but did this as an act of devotion for the castrati, whom I honor as part of my spiritual ancestor house. I think it went well, we all had a good time, and performed to a full house on Nov. 29. Here’s an article I wrote with pics. 

A few prayers I wrote last weekend

These are more formal prayers written while listening to a lecture in Plotinus, Augustine, and Platonic Beauty.

For my Castrati

May the beauty of your voices
Lift me up to my Gods.
May it strip away all pollution
And may all the fractured pieces of me
Resolve in the harmony of the sound
You, my beloved spirits, sing,
A song irrespective of time and memory.
May they resolve in the glory of Being
Summoned by your god-born voices.
May I be held to the lips
And in the mouth of my Gods,
Gnawed upon and rendered
The beauty of bone
And a soul stripped bare
Transformed by the fullness of sound
And glory.

 

Prayer I

Teach me oh my Gods
To know my place before You.
Let not my human hubris and need,
My venal sufferings and hungers
Turn me from You.
Lift me up and purify my soul.
Let nothing else remain.
Let my life bea prayer,
An invocation and hymn of praise
To You, oh Glorious Ones,
Without Whom nothing would be.
Fill my senses with Your beauty.
Lift me up, I pray.
Keep my feet on the road of piety,
Oh most merciful Ones.
Corral my irreverent heart
And drown me in you
Until I am made of nothing else.

 

Prayer II

You are beautiful, oh my Gods
And it nourishes my soul.
May I know my place before You I pray.
Illluminate my mind
That I might know the rightness
Of honoring You.
Render my heart,
That only adoration of You remain.
Like an arrow, barbed and sharp,
Pierce me, open me to Your bite.
Infect my blood, make feverish my brain
And little by little drawn me to You.

 

Prayer III

I wander paths very far from my Gods.
I subsist on pollution
And move amongst the blind,
Yet always You are there.
I seek You with each step.
I serve You on each meandering road.
Hunger and longing tie me to You,
And You are the fulfillment of every desire.
I flee You to find You.
I serve You in dark places,
Illumined by Your fiery light.
You have set my feet on this path
And I shall find You at its end.
There is nowhere I can go
Where You are not.
Open me, Oh my Gods.
Let me never forget –
I am hunting my way to you,
But You have found me and claimed me
Long ago.

 

by G. Krasskova

Painting Updates

For the first time in months i got to my painting studio, first last weekend and then today. I rarely paint much during the spring semester (for some reason it always seems so much more exhausting than the fall) and with my summer placement at the uni, I’ve been too busy working to get to any art classes, so the past two weekends have been a special treat.

Starting last week, I began work, which I finished today, on an icon of Apollon. In my work with the castrati and their cultus, two Deities had stepped forward, Dionysos and more recently Apollon. The castrati seem to have taken Them as Patrons and I’m not going to argue with them over it! When I started painting, I had no clear thought that this was for their shrine, but before I got too far in, I was flat out told that when the icon was finished it would be theirs, a way of honoring Apollon in their space, i.e. their shrine. They also insisted that He have black hair (I wanted to make Him blond and got told ‘He’s Italian. Give Him black hair,” very firmly, which made me laugh because of course one can be Italian and blond, not to mention He’s a god, but I did it). This is their Apollon, Apollon as God and Patron of the castrati (or as a friend pointed out, perhaps a castrato horsing Apollon). Either way He is there, present in the eyes.

Castrati Apollon

I used a variation of the Apelles palette (I added ultramarine and i’ll admit i cheated a bit with the laurel crown and at the very end using iridescent gold) and gave Him skin tones that look almost as though He has the remnants of stage paint on. The eyes in this one haunt me, and did for the entire week until I finished the painting today. The highlights in the eyes are usually the last thing I do prior to varnishing a painting, but not with this one. His eyes brought the painting to life for me.

I’ll make a prayer card out of this one and if there’s interest, I’ll sell larger prints, but the original is going on their shrine, for them to honor a God that understands the great sacrifice they made for their art.

IMG_6979

I also have a painting in progress of Ariadne in the labyrinth. This one is maybe half finished, but it’s already sold. Here is an in progress photo. I’m painting Her as one of my strange shaman figures.

Oh, there is roughly another week left for the Asklepios agon. If you’re thinking about submitting something, now is your chance.

That is all for now.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

commedia dell’arte

Love is a strange thing.
I throw myself into them,
these spirits so fierce,
their presence so strong,
and they catch me
and lift me up with their song.

I fall in love with voices I cannot hear.
I ache for these men
who served that Muse far better than I.
Through that longing,
I see their world.
When I cannot touch them
pieces of my heart flutter away
like snow.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Two More for My Spirits

A small note

For those of you
whose voices shattered in the making,
who failed to enchant
the world’s stage,
who struggled away
in church choirs …
or worse:

I remember you.

It is a small thing, but I remember you.

You served that Muse
that exquisitely demanding daimon.
Though it drank your marrow
warm and new and young
you served it still –
bloody mortar
securing its awesome edifice
for another generation.

It is worthy work,
a worthy sacrifice,
and I remember you,
always.

 

The God of Sacred Monsters

A face used to masks
I see You twice over:
lounging and languid,
slender, sculpted,
all smooth alabaster
and smoldering hunger,
ash and lust.

I can never look for long,
though desperately I want to,
want You.
I am too aware
of those perfect lips
and that sly smile
remote, exquisite
perhaps a little cruel—
pain is necessary after all
for such perfection—
and all it promises.

I see You, Enorches,
a wicked knot of movement
dancing a harlequinade
whispering in dulcet tones
“Everything I am
take to yourself
and my mouth,
full of honeycomb,
will pour nectar for you”*

Divine and noble
You have feasted upon Your own heart.

No one sees the strings,
unforgiving as ivy,
when You take them.
Like a paper thin stiletto between the ribs,
You slide in,
pouring Your sweet voice
through that flesh.
like honey
like nectar
stained with blood.

final_cover

(line adapted from “La Calisto” by N. Cavalli. Image by Δ from the cover of “Toys of Dionysos” by H. Jeremiah Lewis)

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Trio

I.
I don’t know which one spoke.
I have my suspicions.
I was lighting candles,
offering prayers,
thinking of angelic voices
born in blood and pain
when clear as a bell I heard:
‘You have progeny;
we have immortality.’
And part of my heart broke
exploding in the sweetness of music
that wrenched its stony casing open.
I thought of Achilles
gifting Hektor with immortality
and of Patrokles
and how those heroes have nothing
on the bitchy, sarcastic angels
who now haunt my every breath.
I have no voice to sing
but I praise them still
and always.

II.
I long for that sound
as they swarm around me.
I long for their voices
cold and clear
and oh so very pure.
Exquisite agony.
I sit shivering,
having exhausted hands and breath
in the new art they have me following:
baroque music and alto recorders
and flutes and things
that make my hands ache
and my chest pant as I gasp for breath
after practicing.
I’ll learn just a whispering shadow
of what they did: to control the breath
for music, for sound, for the promise of more.
I’ll learn and they will hold me to it–
hold me in that seat until my hands cramp
and I beg for release from the sessions of practice…
All for the music and for them,
that one day it won’t just be whispers anymore that I hear
but their song.

III.
Only in the sound of those who inherited your music
men who sing with the faintest echo of your sweetness,
do the jagged pieces of my mind and soul
resolve into a single brilliant note.
Only then am I whole.
Then I hear my Gods without impediment.
Lineage, longing, and sacrifice,
maybe that is why I ache for you.
It is from these things you were formed.

farinelli_con_amici

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.