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Samhain 2015

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My Samhain offerings at the local cemetery

I tend to view all the Pagan Sabbats as a “season,” with the official date of the Sabbat acting as the epicentre of the season with ripples into the days before and after. That’s one reason why I decided to hold my solo Samhain ritual on the Full Moon prior to Samhain, and why I didn’t actually hold any sort of ritual on October 31st itself.

WP_20151031_14_14_24_ProHowever, I did make some Samhain Soul Cakes yesterday, using my favourite recipe with added matcha (Japanese green tea powder). Matcha is interesting to work with – when used as an ingredient combined with other things, it only really looks green in the presence of moisture, so the dough didn’t look green until I added milk, upon which it turned a very vivid shade of green. Unfortunately, when the moisture evaporated on baking the cookies, they reverted back to mostly brown with only a slight greenish tint. I can see that if I bake with matcha again and want to retain that green colour, I’m going to have to use a lot more. But this in itself is tricky because matcha is a bit like saffron – it’s expensive and can have a strong flavour, so you don’t want to use too much, ideally. It went really well with the cinnamon and nutmeg I also added to the mixture (hint: don’t be afraid to use quite a lot of cinnamon!)

I used a wonderful set of “Day of the Dead” skull cookie cutters. These were a gift from my sister-in-law, and it was great to have such a perfect opportunity to use them.

My husband and I took the cookies to my parent’s house, where we were taking part what’s close to a “religious observance” for my Kiwi husband and Welsh mum – the Rugby World Cup final! (To my husband’s delight, the All Blacks were victorious). But keeping with the Halloween theme, my Dad had bought the biggest pumpkin I’d ever seen, carved it and hollowed it out, and used the innards to make delicious pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds. So even though I didn’t hold a particular ritual on Samhain Eve, it was still meaningful for me to spend it with my family and enjoying some very Halloweeny food!

Traditionally Samhain continues into November 1st, and so today my husband and I went walking in the local cemetery, where I placed my offerings originally given at my altar on the previous Full Moon for the deities of death, departed friends and ancestors. It was an absolutely perfect day to do so – overnight a mist had descended over the town, and the cemetery looked beautiful and very otherworldly.

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I found a moss-covered tree stump that acted as a perfect natural altar, and placed my offerings of a miniature pumpkin, garlic, soul cake and dog treats there, as well as sprinkling some incense. I also offered a fallen branch of rowan. My offering was not only to my own ancestors and loved ones, but to all those whose spirits rest in the cemetery. I hope they liked my gift.

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On our way back, I noticed something I had never noticed before, even though I have been in this cemetery many times –  a grave with a pentagram on it!

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The pentagram is a sacred symbol in Christianity as well, so it’s not particularly shocking to see one on a 19th century gravestone, but nevertheless it seems to be quite uncommon. I wonder why Sarah’s relatives had chosen this symbol for her grave as opposed to a more traditional funerary symbol? Were there Freemasons in her family? Or did they simply like the design? In any case, I am really surprised I’d never spotted this before and I was so glad to see this reminder of the connection between Christianity and Paganism in our cemetery. Perhaps the spirits within the mist, still dwelling in this world while the veil to the Otherworld is so thin, had given me the extra clarity to see it today!

I wish everyone a very Blessed Samhain!

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“A Darker Shade of Burlesque” with Vintage TeasE

The hypnotic Coco Deville. I hope she doesn't mind me stealing this image, from her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ms.coco.deville?fref=ts

The hypnotic Coco Deville. I hope she doesn’t mind me stealing this image, from her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ms.coco.deville?fref=ts

Last night I went to a local Halloween-themed burlesque show, “A Darker Shade of Burlesque,” by Vintage TeasE. It was the first proper burlesque I’d attended, and it was a fantastic evening. The performers were all women with a wide range of body types, styles and talents, and the majority of the audience were women too. It’s interesting and encouraging to see performances that, although historically intended to titillate men, now seem to appeal very much to women through their glamour, costumes and sense of empowerment of seeing other women with bodies very much like their own looking confident and sexy as they bare all.

All the acts were very entertaining. It was headlined by a very beautifully gothic Bonnie Fleur, who had not one but two acts – as a seductive Morticia Addams in one of the earlier acts, and an intense, vampiric Red Queen at the close, who swooped around in Isis wings designed to look like a huge red cloak, and ended by pouring “blood” from a chalice over herself. There was also Jeanie Wishes, who performed a sexy pole dance in the persona of a spider queen; a bride who hacked off her own chastity belt with an angle grinder (sparks flying and all); and a bizarre “werewolfess” who at the end sported a wolf mask and very little else.

But for me, there was one act that really stood out above all others, and that was a voodoo-inspired dance by the award-winning Coco Deville. She made her entrance to The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs,” dressed in an incredible outfit of a feather headdress, feather skirt and trailing cloak made from different fake fur prints stitched together. She was carrying a skull, which she placed reverentially upon a table with a red and black cloth and a lit candelabra, and knelt before it as if praying to the spirits of death. She then began her dance, with slow, hypnotic movements reminding me of those used in tribal bellydance. As she stripped off each layer of clothing, from her cloak down to her skirt, she toyed with a riding crop, bringing an element of bondage into her dance. Right at the end, she took one of the candles and poured the wax all over her now mostly nude body.

What was incredible about this intense act was the effect upon the audience. Throughout the show, we were all encouraged to clap and cheer during the dances as each layer of clothing came off. But for Coco Deville, the audience was spellbound into a respectful hush. Most of the cries that came from the audience were the kind of ululations you might hear women make at events of particular ritual or religious significance in the Middle East and Asia. Everyone else simply gazed, mesmerised by Coco’s preternatural grace and captivating presence.

That’s when I realised that what we were watching somehow transcended mere performance and entered the realm of ritual. This young lady, part-voodoo priestess, part-dominatrix, part-goddess, with her supreme confidence and talent, had the entire audience under her spell. Erotic it certainly was, but in a manner that re-enforced the connection between sexuality and the divine.

As a Pagan observer, I would certainly call the effect of this performance magic. It was a reminder that magic does not need to be performed by self-identified witches within a coven, or practitioners of ritual occult – a simple dance in a cabaret show, through the combination of music, movement, costume and the energy of the dancer herself – can invoke just the same level of power.

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Reflections on “Oriental Ghost Stories,” Lafcadio Hearn (compiled and edited by David Stuart Davies)

orientalghostWhy did I choose to read this book?

I really like the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural books, which are reprints of classic horror and gothic stories published cheaply by Wordsworth Editions. I have several of them – their collection of vampire short stories and their Edith Nesbit collection, to name a few – and I was delighted to see that they’d also released some of the works of Lafcadio Hearn. All erudite Japanese people, and a large percentage of people who’ve studied Japan, know the importance of Hearn – he emigrated to Japan in 1890 and was responsible for much of the West’s understanding of Japanese culture through his writings on Japanese customs and folklore. I’ve long been familiar with Hearn but have never owned a collection of his writings, and being a lover of all things Japanese, folky and ghostly, I knew I had to get this book. And with Samhain coming it, now felt like a perfect time to reflect on it!

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

This book compiles stories from Hearn’s books – Kwaidan, In Ghostly Japan and Some Chinese Ghosts – into one volume, with a very nice introduction by David Stuart Davies. The stories are essentially folktales – old, spooky “urban legends” that Hearn came across during his time in Japan, as well as a few other writings about China and Europe. All the stories feature elements of the supernatural, from ghosts to demons to inexplicable magic.

What did I particularly like about it?

To begin with, I LOVE the idea of presenting Japanese ghost stories first and foremost as simply that – horror stories. All too often, East Asian writings (and writing from other non-European cultures) get pigeonholed into “East Asia” or “Oriental” as a genre in itself, as if their literature cannot be appreciated alongside or compared with similar literature from the West. This adds to the myth that Japan and other countries are “inscrutable.” Publishing Japanese ghost stories alongside those by European writers as part of the Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural series, in a cheap, almost pulpy, paperback format, is an excellent way of introducing Japanese stories to the masses who may not have any initial interest in Japan, which helps to shatter that “inscrutable” image.

Then there are the stories themselves. Hearn is a wonderful storyteller, who manages to keep a balance of making these stories appealing to the Western reader and retaining their eerie and mystical atmosphere without completely losing their sense of “Japaneseness.” Naturally, I liked some stories better than others; some of the highlights for me included:

  • “The Story of Mimi-Nashi Hoiichi” – The opening story of the book, which has as its protagonist one of Japan’s most fascinating stock characters; a blind lute-player.
  • “Yuki-Onna” – The legends of the mysterious and potentially deadly “snow woman” are well-known to lovers of Japanese folklore, and this version is full of elegance and mystery.
  • Jiu-roku-zakura” – A short but moving tale of a man devoted to his cherry tree. It reminded me a little of Oscar Wilde’s beautiful “The Nightingale and the Rose.”
  • The Dream of Akinosuke” – Something of a mystery story. The real meaning is revealed at the end, but clever readers might be able to guess what’s going on before then…
  • “A Story of Divination” – A neat and somewhat spooky tale exploring the idea of predestination.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Oriental Ghost Stories has a very eclectic feeling, with strange little essays and extracts included among the stories which add variety. Some people might be put off by this “jumbled” feeling, but I rather liked it. The rather archaic language (especially the old ways of romanising Japanese words) might be a bit jarring to some, but again, I thought this added to the book’s charm.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

I actually learned an awful lot of things I didn’t know about Japanese religion from these stories (I suppose that’s not so surprising – folktales can sometimes offer the greatest insight into spiritual beliefs). Due to the nature of the stories, most of the religious elements described are Buddhist (as Buddhism is associated with funeral rites in Japan), which I liked because I am less familiar with Buddhism (especially on the popular level) than Shinto in Japan. I also learned a few things about Shinto that I didn’t know – for example, I had no idea that incense is considered “unclean” in Shinto and isn’t generally burned at Shinto shrines until reading this book! This made me re-consider my current practise of occasionally offering incense to Inari Okami.

Additionally, I was fascinated to read about the concept of “nazorareru.” Hearn claims that this word “…cannot be be adequately rendered by any English word” but describes it as “…to substitute, in imagination, one object or action for another so as to bring about some magical or miraculous result,” for example, laying a pebble before the image of Buddha instead of building a Buddhist temple in order to evoke the same feeling of piety. I immediately realised that what Hearn is describing is the very same “sympathetic magic” that forms the basis of the theories in The Golden Bough! I realised that the concept of sympathetic magic exists in Japan (as it does in all human cultures), but I had no idea that the Japanese had their own term for it. I was really excited to discover this.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes – whether you want to read it to learn more about Japanese folklore, or simply want a good scare, I’m sure you would enjoy this book.

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My New Pagan Altar

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We’ve been in our new house for a couple of months now, and my new Pagan altar is finally starting to take shape.

We’re lucky enough to have an amazing cellar in the new house, which is being used as a wine cellar, entertainment room and my “altar room.” It’s great that I now have a whole room dedicated to Pagan worship! I also like the fact that it’s rather hidden, below ground level – it gives it a real feeling of mysticism, as well as having the practical advantage that it’s one of the most private rooms in the house, being very much blocked off from the other rooms.

The big Green Man scarf forming the backdrop of the altar is the one I bought from the local shop Impact. It’s actually hiding a really horrible Totteham Hotspur badge that the previous owners of the house had painted there beforehand!  (I will have to get round to painting over it eventually). It also has some of my most precious altar tools, including my athame, chalice and pentagram, as well as my tiny Goddess/God figurines that are so small they’re hard to see (I’ll have to get some larger ones some time). And for Samhain, I’ve added a skull, pumpkin, Grim Reaper and a male and female skeleton pair that represent the Death aspects of the Goddess and God.

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Below the main altar shelf is an alcove in which I keep some of my other tools, my Book of Shadows and my Pagan-related literature.

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Finally, there’s one more little alcove in the cellar, in which I have set up a tiny “Death” shrine, in honour of the spirits of Death. As a Goth, I feel very drawn to death deities and so it feels proper that I give them their due respect. This shrine was partly inspired by some of the skull shrines I saw in Naples on my holiday last year. The box actually contains graveyard dirt and a “vampire’s tooth” that my Dad bought from Romania! Whether it’s a real vampire tooth of not is of course debatable, but it is an incredibly interesting little artefact. I plan on leaving some offerings here at Samhain.

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Reflections on the “Spiral Music” Collection

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I was really excited to learn that Spiral Music, a small, independent record company in the UK that made some really unique New Age/Gothic/Celtic music in the late 80s and early 90s, has decided to re-release four of its most popular pieces on CD! I still prefer owning physical CDs to files, so I was especially pleased to hear this.

I have grown up with Spiral Music (you could find the CDs in shops like the famous Star Child in Glastonbury) and even today, I use it for meditation and rituals (as well as just listening to it for pleasure because they’re really beautiful). They’re from very much a lost era of music – back when producing commercial electronic music was pretty hard work, and when musicians often saw electronic music as being a low-cost “substitute” for hiring real instruments, rather than being treated as an instrument in its own sake. Philip Le Breton, the producer behind the re-released CDs, certainly seems to have seen it this way – he’s tried to make lots of the electronic sounds as “natural” as possible (for example, electronic choral pieces stay within human vocal ranges), and indeed he mixes lots of real instruments into the work as well.

So I thought I’d take the opportunity of this re-release to share my thoughts on these wonderful musical works, in the hope that Spiral gets a bit more recognition!

MagicalEncounters1Magical Encounters 

This was Spiral’s first releases, and it’s a firm favourite among fans – it’s also one of my favourites as well. Inspired by Celtic legends, it’s designed to evoke images of ancient standing stones and mystic lakes. There’s a lovely pathworking text included to aid with meditation to this music.

Reflecting its early origins (like all of Philip Le Breton’s works for Spiral, it started out as a cassette first), it has two tracks – “Side 1” and “Side 2.” My favourite of these has to be Side 1 – it’s really Gothic-sounding with a bell tolling throughout the beginning. You can hear a bit of Track 1 on the Spiral Music website. The sounds of the bell and choir are coupled with birdsong, creating an atmosphere that’s both eerie and serene at the same time.

Track 2 is nice as well – the sound of running water coupled with mystical sounds, and I really like the finale, which has a dreamlike smallpipe solo.

KnightsDestiny A Knight’s Destiny

Spiral’s second release, A Knight’s Destiny, is one of the less popular releases, possibly because it’s one of the weirder ones. But that’s why I really like it! Based on the Arthurian legends, the music is really strange and dreamy. Listening to it feels like going on a strange, spiritual journey (a Grail Quest, even!), starting with the gloomy, atmospheric opening of “A Wounded Traveller” and going on to the more mystical-sounding “Merlin” and “The Unborn Child Galahad,” finally ending with wild “Dragon.” It’s accompanied by a pathworking text that’s as strange and mystical as the music, evoking both the mysticism and the tragedy of the knights of the round table. Definitely one of the more challenging CDs, but recommended for this very reason.

Special bonus – both “Magical Encounters” and “A Knight’s Destiny” have specially-commissioned artwork by renowned Celtic artist Courtney David on the cover, which is pretty special for any fans of modern Celtic art.

GreenMan The Green Man

By the time The Green Man was released, New Age music had become a pretty big industry. Reflecting this, The Green Man is a little more commercial in sound, attempting to incorporate some of the same sounds that lots of other popular New Age artists were using – pan-pipes, drumming and twinkly bells. The first track is pretty standard-sounding New Age music to me – nice, pretty, but not so distinct. However, the second track is really special – it includes an amazing drumming sequence accompanied by a dramatic bagpipe solo that I always look forward to every time I listen to it. I also really like the pathworking text in this one – it explores the possible “character” of the Green Man and has a nice environmental message. Oh, and you’ve probably seen the cover before – this painting by Aaron Gadd of the Green Man has become iconic.

AtlantisAtlantis

In this CD, Philip Le Breton departs away from Celtic folklore and into the legend of Atlantis. Both Atlantis and whale song were popular New Age motifs at the time, and this music incorporates both. The first track (which is the more “oceany” one) features lots of natural Humpback Whale song. I’ve listened to a lot of music incorporating whale song, and what I really like about this one is that it doesn’t stray into the over-sentimental or schmaltzy background music that you get with lots of other music featuring whales; it’s mysterious, mystical and has a “lonely” quality that really evokes the ocean depths. If you like the strange, eerie music from the old Ecco the Dolphin games, you’ll probably like this. The second track doesn’t have any whale song, but I really like it because it really seems to evoke the ancient myths of the magical Greek city of Atlantis. It has some nice, ghostly seagull calls as well. I find Atlantis the most relaxing of these four CDs, and really enjoy it.

If you want to listen to some really unique, atmospheric, magical and beautiful music from the proto-New Age era, I really recommend getting some of these CDs. Whether you want to use them for rituals or simply want to listen to them to chill out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them if you have an appreciation for early British electronica as well as all things Celtic and mystical!

You can find out more about these CDs, listen to some sample tracks, and of course buy them at http://spiralmusic.com. Just bear in mind the Spiral won’t be making any more copies of these CDs once they’re all sold out, so get in quick!

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Farewell to Sir Christopher Lee

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 604703d ) 'The Wicker Man' - Christopher Lee 'The Wicker Man' film - 1973

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 604703d )
‘The Wicker Man’ – Christopher Lee
‘The Wicker Man’ film – 1973

Hail and Farewell to Sir Christopher Lee, who gave us such fantastic characters as Dracula, Scaramanga, Saruman and, of course, Lord Summerisle. He always demonstrated a deep understanding and respect for folklore, magic and the occult in his art, which captured the love and imagination of millions, both Pagan and non-Pagan alike.

May you Rest In Peace in the Summerlands.

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Trip to Castell Coch

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“Castle Coch from A470” by RJMorgans – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This bank holiday Monday, my husband and I went to Wales with my parents to visit relatives. On the way, we dropped into a local landmark that I’ve passed probably hundreds of times but to my memory have never visited – Castell Coch. Located high up on a hill and surrounded by forest, my parents used to tell me as a child that it was Cinderella’s Castle, and you can see why! It is in fact a 19th century Gothic Revival castle built on top of ruins of a medieval by the Marquesses of Bute, one of the wealthiest men in Britain, who commissioned top architect William Burges. The castle looks just as magical and Gothic on the inside as it does on the outside – take a look at some of the pictures I took:

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The dining room

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Statues of the Three Fates of Greek mythology in the Drawing Room

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Lady Bute’s bedroom

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Finally, I was amused to see that the Crystal Ball in one of the child-friendly exhibits was “Out of Order.” No clairvoyance today then!

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Ophiuchus

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A series exploring how the qualities associated with the signs of the zodiac can manifest in Goths!

After finishing the series with Pisces, I decided to do one more to represent Ophiuchus, for all those who follow the 13-sign zodiac (although I’ve never met anyone who actually does). I enjoyed the opportunity to use some more colours and try and draw something Japanese-inspired, anyway!

Now, do I include Cetus as well??

You can view the rest of the series so far and my other artwork here:http://trellia.deviantart.com

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Pisces

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A series exploring how the qualities associated with the signs of the zodiac can manifest in Goths!

We finally get to Pisces, the final sign of the classical Zodiac. Pisces seem to be the archetypal Romantic Goths to me – dreamy, melancholy, artistic and mystical.

And so this spells the end of the Goth Zodiac series…or does it??

You can view the rest of the series so far and my other artwork here: http://trellia.deviantart.com

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Naples Trip Part 4: Shadows and Skulls

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Skulls in the Fontanelle Cemetery

Our final full day in Naples delighted my inner Goth, as we spent the whole day exploring Naples’ fascination with darkness and death.

Our first stop was la chiesa delle cape di morte – the Church of Skulls. When you first enter it, it looks pretty normal for a Neapolitan church – beautiful art and architecture with a few discreet skull motifs here and there. But for a small fee you can enter the lower church..which is just incredible. Unfortunately photos are not permitted in the lower church but you can view them here. The lower church is starkly monochrome, with no colour anywhere and an enormous black cross painted on the wall. You then descend a stairwell into a crypt filled with the skulls of those who could not afford a proper burial. People leave these skulls offerings of money, flowers and religious artefacts as part of the cult of anime pezzentelle (poor souls), in which followers “adopt” skulls and pray for their soul. The most famous of these skulls is dubbed Lucia, after a neon sign of the same name left by her. She wears a tiara and was supposedly a teenage bride. Nowadays young brides leave her offerings as they see her as their protector. As a newly-wed myself, I left an offering of a few cents hoping to receive Lucia’s blessing on our marriage!

After this, we went on to the Catacombs of San Gennaro, where the patron saint of Naples was interred in the 5th century. The tombs are in the form of alcoves in the walls – those of the wealthy are of course larger and some have beautiful frescoes. Here are a few pictures:

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Finally, we went to the Fontanelle Cemetery, which was my favourite part of the day. Like the Church of the Skulls, it’s a site of the cult of the poor souls, in which skulls are adopted by followers and offered money, flowers and prayers. However, it’s much bigger than the Church of the Skulls and a guide is not necessary to explore the cemetery.

Fontanelle Cemetery is beautiful, with a darkly peaceful atmosphere. I loved seeing how well the skulls are cared for by visitors, who treat them in much the same way they treat the street shrines to the saints. I thought it was really positive to see death being venerated in this way – in Britain, where death is very much taboo, such a cult involving offerings to skulls would be unthinkable, which is a shame. And again, I was struck by the similarity between the shrines of the skulls in the cemetery, and the shrines to the old Pagan gods in Pompeii. It was wonderful to see how the Pagan traditions still continue in Naples, albeit in a Catholicised form. I think Fontanelle Cemetery represents a really wonderful expression of syncretism, folk religion and ancestor worship.

Here’s some of my favourite photos from the Fontanelle Cemetery…

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