Others instead found inspiration and the time to work on projects which had been bubbling away in the background and could then be brought out into the light of day.
One such project presented back in August 2021 was – the “La Sirena tra Ermetismo ed Alchimia ” – “The Siren between Hermeticism and Alchemy” with the subtitle of ” Divinità e simboli ancestrali” – “Divinity and ancestral symbols” by Manuela Bollati. (article here)
She has been working on the image of the twin tailed mermaid and elaborating the theme to encompass other themes and concepts.
Today in Barga that work has now been transformed in a two day festival – il Ritorno della Sirena
The bare breasted twin tailed mermaid
Twice a year just before the sun sets it shines right through the main door of the Duomo and lights up an area on the left hand side which is for most of the year is kept in shadow and unlit.
A small bas relief carving near to the top of the dividing wall now becomes very visible. Once upon a time it would have been even more noticeable as the outline would have been surrounded by black inserts but at some time in the past, the dark material has been chipped away and cleared leaving the carving more or less invisible for most of the year.
And what is startling image it is – a bare breasted twin tailed mermaid or Melusine.
This creature is associated with numerous stories and legends, and is imbued with symbolic meaning in alchemy. The most common iteration of the siren is as Melusine, a creature from medieval legend. Melusine (sometimes, Melusina) was, according to legend, beautiful woman with a disturbing tendency to transform into a serpent from the waist down while bathing; it is the discovery of this nature that triggers calamity.
Manuela Bollati talking (in Italian) about her work in Barga Vecchia this afternoon.
As the story is most often told, the cursed maiden is discovered in the forest by Raymond, the Duke of Aquitaine, who begs her to marry him. She agrees, on condition that he never disturb her on a Saturday, when she bathes. Raymond eventually grows suspicious of his young wife, and spies on her- and his shocked reaction to her true appearance reveals his betrayal to Melusine, who transforms herself into a dragon and departs in a shrieking fury. This story can be viewed as a metaphor for sexuality, and the contradictory duality of the female nature as viewed through medieval eyes.
The same dual-nature symbolism is also at work in alchemy, which employs the siren as a more benevolent emblem of enlightenment- the siren of the philosophers. Alchemically, the siren’s two tails represent unity -of earth and water, body and soul- and the vision of Universal Mercury, the all-pervading anima mundi that calls out and makes the philosopher yearn to her.
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects points out that a double-tailed siren, a baubo siren is a cross between a mermaid and a sheila-na-gig and according to them, the suggestive pose refers to female sexual mysteries and the lure of temptation for any simple-minded fellow. The sheila-na-gig is rooted in paganism and the worship of evil spirits.
Put the name Selma Sevenhuijsen into the search engine on barganews and up come a whole series of articles dating back to 2013
Selma Sevenhuijsen a researcher from Amsterdam, Holland arrived in the city to specifically see for herself the image of the twin tailed mermaid in the Duomo back in 2013 and has returned many times since.Her relationship with the sirena took a new turn when she discovered her image in the Vatican, above the tomb of Matilda of Canossa, the only woman buried in the Basilica of St. Peter.
She then followed her curiosity and travelled across Europe visiting the places important during her lifetime.
According to Selma, the image of the double tailed mermaid is a perfect example of a symbol. The literal meaning of the word ‘symbol’ is ‘bringing together’ or ‘connecting’: a symbol connects the visible with the invisible which is difficult to express in words. And that fits exactly with the role of the sirena as a ‘traveller between worlds’, between the human and the divine realms, or the material world and the ‘mundus imaginalis’.
She has already written two book on the subject and this week comes news that the third book – Il Ritorno della Sirena has just been published.
Selma Sevenhuijsen talking (in Italian) about her work in Barga Vecchia this afternoon.
So what has Starbucks “lewd logo” and the Duomo in Barga got in common ? – 2012
International interest in the bare breasted twin tailed mermaid – 2013
Selma Sevenhuijsen – mermaids and Matilda di Canossa – 2014
Selma Sevenhuijsen – Signora della Porta del Cielo – 2019
Selma Sevenhuijsen – the return of the Siren – 2020
La Sirena tra Ermetismo ed Alchimia – 2020