(Essay 2) Red Poppies Among the Ruins by Mary Saracino

How far we humans have strayed from our homeland. How long we have wandered alone in the desert of our amnesia. Have we learned nothing? Vivo and morto. The circle of life embraces the round mouth of the cave, the red O of the uterus. It births mysteries that can save and sustain us, if we will heed its call to silence. Where there is tyranny, how can there be love? Or peace?

For more than 7,000 years humankind has borne the scars of violence. That legacy began around 5,000 BCE when the early Indo-European, nomadic Kurgans emerged from the Russian steppes and launched incursions throughout northern Europe. Eventually these warrior people broadened their territory, invading the Aegean and Adriatic regions as well. Scholars, including the renowned Marija Gimbutas, tell us the Kurgans rode horse-drawn chariots and worshipped storm gods of vengeance and battle. Peaceful Neolithic peoples, whom the Kurgans encountered along the way, were ill-equipped to combat such aggression. Even during the early Bronze Age the nonviolent Neolithic societies, such as the Nuraghi of Sardegna, fashioned metal and stone into tools and utensils and later into jewelry, cooking vessels, urns, and other life-sustaining implements. Their lands, often rich in silver, zinc, copper and obsidian, provided ample raw materials, which were traded among groups of people over vast distances. The Kurgans traded with these peaceful societies, fashioning the raw materials into swords and spears, turning the metallic fruits of the Earth into weaponry to use against those whose cultures were imbued with the values of social harmony, whose principles embodied the beliefs of the sacred female.

The Kurgan legacy survives to this day. From sports icons to corporate raiders and political strategists we laud and celebrate the principle of conquest. Our history books teach war, not peace. We learn of military campaigns, famous battles, esteemed generals with their prowess of might and destruction. The progress of civilization is measured in lives lost, blood shed, peoples oppressed. The more ancient legacy of peaceful coexistence is silenced. How did it come to be that 7,000 years of violence could wipe away 50,000 years of accord, erase it from our collective memory? Where are the chapters about peaceful resolution of conflict, about cultures co-existing in harmony, or tales of societies like those of the early days of Tharros or of the Nurgahi of Sardegna, people whose day-to-day living made no room for slavery, social stratification, or inequality between men and women?  History chronicles the exploits of the conquerors, not the subaltern ways of the silenced.

Pace Peace sign, Rome, 2004
Pace Peace sign, Rome, 2004

In Rome, en route from Sardegna to my life in America, I walked the city streets in June 2004, mere days after a visit from George W. Bush. Everywhere, hanging from windows on buildings large and small, from wrought-iron apartment balconies, the facades of public office buildings, the stone arches of church entryways, I encountered rainbow-colored banners waving in the smoggy breeze. In white letters, against a prism field of hope (bright rows of violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and red) blazed the word Pace. Peace. A clarion call for sanity in an insane, out-of-control world. A prayer for harmony, for humanity, for grace.

The Pace flags mirrored the hearts and minds of people seeking to create a different resolution, establish a new pathway, disinherit humanity’s 7,000-year-old Kurgan legacy. On city walls throughout Rome, red and black graffiti screamed its resounding outrage. Unambiguous, stark images leapt from stone walls and the sooty sides of buildings; war, and warmongers, were not welcome.

Stop Global War; Bushladen; Bush Go Home; Bush Terrorista, No War for Oil; No Justice No Peace; No Bush, No War.

I stood on street corners, reading these spray-painted messages, my heart pounding with urgency. The memory lives, I heard myself say.

In Sardegna, I had waded through a field of knee-high grasses to reach ancient tombs and gaze upon graffiti of another kind: ochre-red carvings, symbols etched into the rock thousands of years before. The spears of thistles pierced my socks, lingered like acupuncture needles, touching the essential points of Qi, conjuring vitality, coaxing life back to essential balance. Eco-activists tell us the Earth is out of balance. But the human spirit is awry as well. We cannot begin to save Mother Earth, and all her rich bio-diversity, until we save our own souls.

Red poppies at Tharros
Red poppies at Tharros

Among the ruins at Tharros and the cave-tombs of Montessu, I began to remember a time as real and as tangible as breath. There was an age, before this violent one, in which the peoples of the Earth fashioned metal into useful tools and jewelry, not weaponry. There was an age before this one when men and women lived in harmony with one another and with animals and plants. On that island in the Mediterranean, I beheld a four-thousand-year-old olive tree embracing the sky and burrowing its thick roots into the deep belly of the Mother and I remembered that there was a time before dogma reigned when Spirit was not separate from Body, when eyes shone with certainty and ears rang with sustaining lore. Rippling streams coursed through the parched land, giving sustenance to all. The waters of the turquoise sea lapped the shoreline, caressing beaches under the push and pull of the moon tide. Stones spoke to the wind, the sea and to every willing listener.

In Sardegna, beneath layers of sediment, eons of submission, the stony lips of ruins loosened, howling their stories among the tasseled grasses. Slowly, steadily, memories erupted with insistent defiance. Once, we humans could read the stars and portend the future. Once, we could witness the seasons, accept our place within the larger, all encompassing circle, and reflect the Divine back to our receptive faces.

Under the Sardegna sun, on a cloudless day, I sat among the ruins and listened to the songs of the stones, the stories of the poppies, those blood-red tongues of memory. I know in my bones that this is so: there is hope for the human race. The ruins ask us to embrace the mystery, seek a different way, remember a time when peace was possible. The poppies mark our path home.

Read more of Mary Saracino’s work.

“Red Poppies Among the Ruins,” was originally published at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, Issue 6, September 2007/ http://www.triviavoices.net/current/saracino.html

Author’s Notes

I wrote “Red Poppies Among the Ruins” in 2004 a few weeks after I had returned from a two-week Dark Mother Study tour of Sardegna, led by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum. Our group had traveled throughout the island visiting sites sacred to the Dea Madre (Mother God). We immersed ourselves in Sardegnan culture and learned more about the ways in which that island is imbued with Her memory. I was to discover that God the Mother resides not only in the island’s rocks, rivers and trees but also in the hearts and consciousness of its people. For the final few days of the tour, our travel group stayed in Rome. We arrived in that city a few days after George W. Bush had come and gone. The war in Iraq had been going on for a little more than a year by then, and from the multitude of rainbow-colored peace banners and spray-painted graffiti we saw throughout Rome, it was clear that the US involvement in Iraq did not enjoy popular support. The juxtaposition of the visceral connection I had felt to the Dea Madre on Sardegna and the anti-war sentiment I encountered in Rome reaffirmed my belief that the Dark Mother’s values of justice with compassion, equality and transformation are alive and well on the planet—even if the world’s political leaders fail to heed the clarion call for peace.

About the author

Mary Saracino, author of The Singing of Swans (Pearlsong Press 2006), offers Writing and the Art of Healing classes and teaches workshops on the Divine Feminine. The Singing of Swans was named a 2007 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in the Spirituality category. Mary is also the author of No Matter What, Finding Grace, and Voices of the Soft-bellied Warrior. Her work has appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, both online and in print. For more information about Mary visit www.marysaracino.com. To learn more about The Singing of Swans, visit www.pearlsong.com.