AT THE WELL OF INITIATION
Aki Cederberg, 2012
As I sit and drink wine on the balcony of my hotel, watching the summer sun set in the Atlantic Ocean in the horizon, it is very quiet in the village of Sintra, Portugal. Save for dogs barking, occasional cars driving by, and bells ringing somewhere in the distance, the cobblestoned streets are empty and silent. This magical blue hour, l'heure bleue, is very different from the morning and day when the main streets are invaded by hordes of fat and noisy tourists, who crowd the numerous shops and restaurants selling overpriced trinkets and bland food. But by evening, the tourists mostly shuffle away, and the streets die down. Completely oblivious to all of this, high upon the mountain above and somehow seemingly apart from time, hovers the majestic, slightly melancholy ruins of the moorish castle. Eyeing the terrain below, beyond the picturesque pastel-hued houses and cobblestone streets, I can see mansions and palaces sprout throughout the resplendent green valleys; in a certain light, they resemble golden phalluses or rockets standing erect, ready to blast off and ascend into the heavens. As the sun sinks into the sea and the sky slowly fades into a deepening array of reds, lilacs and blues, a gentle mist settles upon it all. Subtly, a gentle but clearly mountainous breeze runs through the dark terrain. And there in the distance, white-silver-gray and shrouded in green, lies the reason for my pilgrimage here: the mysterious and magical Quinta da Regaleira, one of the foremost hermetic landscapes in all of Europe.
In The Lusiads, L.V. de Camões wrote of Sintra, "...where every pool and stream has Nymphs in it's waters." Indeed, there is a definite air of the otherworldly in this quaint little village, apparent even if one is not the least bit familiar with its history. High up on the serra, it's brooding fairytale castles, it's numerous magnificent palaces and pastel-hued quintas (country villas) are archetypal in their mythic storybook presence, surrounded by equally moody and magical nature- mountains with lush and dewy forested valleys strewn with giant boulders of rock, exotic species of flora and fauna, botanical gardens and winding pathways on the hillsides. This added to the fact that a cursory glance at the history of Portugal and Sintra will reveal a land steeped in the myth and magic.
The larger area of Sintra, meaning roughly the area from Sintra-Vila in the serras, to the coast of Cabo da Roca, the westernmost edge of the European continent, has been inhabited since prehistoric times. As long as anyone can remember, it has been connected to the idea of a terrestrial paradise, of a mythic Arcadia, home of Pan. This is attested to both by its rich oral tradition, as well as archeological findings and a later literary tradition. It has been claimed that Cynthia, goddess of the moon, was worshipped here. And it is said that it is from her that the place derives its name: from Cynthia comes Cintra (Sintra), connecting the place strongly with the goddess. Another claim is that "Sin" is a Hebrew word for moon, and "tra" is a word referring to a tripartite goddess, while another theory purports that the name is derived from "Suntria", the first syllable of which is the Indo-European root word for the sun. Whatever might be the truth behind these etymological theories, it is undeniable that the locality is strongly linked to the dual divinities of the sun and the moon, as well as the sea - all of which are interconnected. Mythical sea-creatures, Tritons, monsters and mermaids prevail in the tales and history of the area since pre-historical times. In fact, so well were the tales of sea-gods established, that at the time of Tiberius Caesar a local delegation travelled to Rome to inform the Emperor of their existence. These links to ancient divinities of the sky and sea abound in the landscape of Sintra, alive even to this day in folklore, literature, art and architectural design.
While strolling along the little alleys and winding narrow lanes of Sintra-Vila, soaking up the surroundings, along with copious amounts of sangria and wine, this atmosphere was tangible. It seemed to be alive with a sense of wonder and of myth sprung to life. Not surprisingly, romantic Sintra has historically been the refuge of Portuguese royalty, and local as well as foreign artists, writers and composers. Lord Byron wrote of Sintra- Vila famously as "a glorious Eden", while Hans Christian Andersen invoked it as a "a true vignette of the Thousand and One Nights, a fairy-tale vision”. Richard Strauss described one of its Palaces as the "Castle of the Holy Grail". Overlooking the valley, with the castles and palaces hovering in the clouds above, it was easy to see why.
It seems that even the "Great Beast" himself, Aleister Crowley, found the atmosphere of Sintra appealing to his occult interests. Although the details of his visits are unclear, it seems Crowley did explore and enjoy the village and its surrounding areas through his friendship and correspondence with the famous Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Pessoa, a man with his own esoteric leanings, had made a translation into Portuguese of Crowley's "Hymn to Pan". Apparently Crowley arrived in Portugal in September of 1930 along with his then-current girlfriend. As Autumnal Equinox of that month was approaching, speculations of planned rituals abound, but whatever these plans were, they were nevertheless abandoned after a quarrel with his would-be "Scarlet Woman", resulting in her leaving the country. Following this, there are entertaining stories of Crowley planning a false suicide to unnerve the woman who had so abruptly left him during their journey. According to the story publicly expounded by co-conspirator Pessoa, who was clearly in on the joke, Crowley vanished and left a suicide-note to be found at the cracks of Boca di Inferno, "Hell's Mouth", an impressive ravine by the sea, some distance from the village of Sintra. There was a police-investigation of the mysterious case and repeated mention of it by the local newspapers. Rumors abounded of possible foul play, homicide and ghost- sightings, again fueled by Pessoa himself. It seems both men were quite the tricksters. Whatever the factual truth behind these stories might be we may never know, but it is undeniable that they have left their mark on the more recent folklore of Sintra. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine old uncle Al in the company of Pessoa, sitting at a quiet village-café, perhaps playing a game of chess, laughing in their beards while plotting their mischievous pranks.
More recently, Sintra has again garnered more to add to it's already vast occult history. On the winding pathways of the mountainous terrain, my girlfriend and I came upon a lane and a mansion that seemed oddly familiar, as were some places of the Vila. It was only later that we realized and learned why these sites seemed familiar: Sintra was the location where Roman Polanski filmed part of his occult-thriller film The Ninth Gate. In the story the main character (played by Johnny Depp) seeks to authenticate a rare esoteric book whose author is supposedly none other than Lucifer himself. Things take an unexpected turn as the protagonist ends up questing for the mystery himself, and, after having copulated with his female daemon, receives some kind of Luciferian illumination or initiation. The nature of this illumination is not expounded upon any further in the film, but merely hinted at, as in the last scene the protagonist enters the opening gates of a castle and the picture dissolves into brilliant light.
ENTERING THE GATES
It was precisely this "questing for the mystery" that had brought me here, and that had indeed been the driving force behind my initiations and numerous pilgrimages of the past. But rather than a theory or ideology set in book or stone, my guide had been a deep inner impulse to seek out illumination, a desire for the holy and eternal, a desire for the revealing of divine presence and wonder itself, to be experienced first-hand through living things, personalities and places, and not through intermediary forces. Descending from a line of seafarers on one side, I had heard the sea-gods blowing their conch-shell trumpets, and they were beckoning me, along with Pan playing his flutes and Orpheus strumming his lyre.
And so it was that me and my girlfriend were wandering along a winding hillside road lined with palm trees, following the six-pointed stars engraved in the cobblestones, eventually arriving at the stone walls outlining the remarkable occult garden of the Quinta da Regaleira.
When a map is laid out of the vast, four-hectare estate situated on a mountain side, the area itself is pentagonally-shaped, and clearly forms an inverted pentagram when viewed in relation to the road and the landscape. This is also suggested by both the main entrance gate and the palace, that is, the Quinta itself, being situated directly on the lowermost point of the pentagonal area.
There is an old saying of Cicero, that if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. In light of this thought, Caravalho Monteiro, the visionary behind the Quinta da Regaleira, truly had everything: a microcosm of his own design, including the grand garden with a chapel, grottoes, waterfalls and various elaborate constructions, as well as a palace with substantial library. Upon entering the main gates it becomes apparent that the Quinta da Regaleira is clearly a total environment of impressive magnitude and detail, a world constructed to reflect its creators esoteric and aesthetic interests and passions. At the same time it can be seen as being a late addition to the tradition of sacred pagan gardens of Europe, reflective of traditional initiatory themes. Walt Disney would no doubt have been envious, and indeed the Regaleira garden possesses a distinct playful and whimsical quality to it, somewhat like an esoteric amusement park. Gardens of such magnitude and symbolic depth, if they withstand the onslaught of time, can serve as a refuge of age-old wisdom and as blueprints for meaningful, harmonious, highly aesthetic landscapes, in contrast to the homogenized and often ugly modern environments.
Entering the imposing, exuberantly decorated main house flanked by an equilateral Templar cross, is a delve back in time and into the history of the Quinta da Regaleira itself. Nicknamed the "Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire" after its main proprietor António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, the estate originally named "Quinta da Torre" had several owners since the mid-1600's. In 1840 it was acquired to serve as a summer retreat by a family of rich merchants, the Barons of Regaleira, who constructed a palatial house and chapel on the estate, and it is from them that it derives its name. But it was in 1892 when it was bought by the wealthy bibliophile, collector and monarchist Caravalho Monteiro, who also bought patches of surrounding land, purposefully giving the estate the aforementioned pentagonal shape it still has today, as well as its wonders. Monteiro was clearly a man with a vision. With the assistance of several notable artists and architects, chief among whom was architect, painter and set designer Luigi Manini, Monteiro devoted much of his later life (as well as a fortune) to design and create the estate. The bulk of the work was concluded in 1910, although some designs were left unrealized, such as the plans for a massive fountain of Neptune. The estate as a whole invokes neo- manueline, romantic, gothic and renaissance architectural styles. In 1946, a quarter of a century after Monteiro's death, the estate was sold and had a few different owners, including a Japanese corporation, until the year 1997, when it was finally bought by the Municipality of Sintra and restorations began for it to be open to the public a year later.
Inside the house, we find it equally exuberantly themed and designed as its edifice is, although stripped bare of most of its interior elements, original furniture and collections. Nevertheless, there are distinct, eclectically styled rooms: the porch carved in limestone, the Renaissance Hall decorated in Italian Renaissance style, the King's Room with portraits of Portuguese royalty and coat-of-arms and the Hunting Room with a massive fireplace featuring a statue of a hunter and frescos with themes relating to hunting and the cycle of life. As we continue up the the staircase, occasionally we see tiles with Templar crosses, which we encounter again on the weathervane above the other floors, the terrace and spiral towers with panoramic views over the Sintra hills and Atlantic Ocean.
Not much is known for certain of Caravalho Monteiro's official associations to any esoteric order, but speculations abound. However, as attested to by the recurring symbolism prevalent throughout the entire estate, it is clear that Monteiro had a strong interest in esoteric traditions, alchemy, Freemasonry, the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians. Monteiro also had a substantial esoteric library, today gathering dust in some historical archive, attested to by the original room of the library with a black floor and mirrors at the base of the bookshelf, invoking a strange sensation of the room floating on air.
In the house we see written on a wall the alchemical motto, referring to the process of internal purification:
Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Ocultum Lapidem (Veram Medicinam).
Visit the Interior of the Earth, and Rectifying (Purifying), you will find the Hidden Stone (True Medicine).
On another wall, very much resembling an ancient Vedic prayer I learned while traveling in India, is a quote from Henrique José de Souza:
Conduz-me di ilusório ao real, das trevas á luz, da morte á imortalidade.
(Lead me from illusion to reality, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.)
With these words as our guide, we exit the palace and enter the garden.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF THE GODS
Taking a few preliminary steps into the garden, we are immediately greeted by a white marble statue of the god Hermes, identifiable by his caduceus (a short staff entwined by two dual serpents), followed by a lengthy succession of other gods. But it is Hermes that one encounters first and it is he who reveals the nature of the experience that we are to embark on. Hermes is the messenger of the Gods, the mediator between the human and the divine, the bringer of teachings and knowledge, the maintainer of the sacrality of sexual undertakings, vegetal fertility and nourishment. According to legend, Hermes was born in a cave of a mountain, after the Zeus raped the goddess of Earth, Maïa.
Continuing along the Threshold of the Gods, a long terrace that runs parallel with the outer wall and ends at a gate-structure, the Pisões Loggia, we are guided along by a line of divinities following Hermes: Vulcan, Pan, Dionysos-Bacchus, Orpheus, Venus, Flora, Ceres and Fortune. Fiery gods and goddesses of joyful wisdom, ecstasy and eroticism, sensuality and seduction, love and beauty, poetry and charm, abundance and prosperity, creative fire and transformation; all connected to the fertile earth, but also to the sometimes frightful underworld and its subterranean, chthonic realms. We recognize these sensual gods by their attributes: Orpheus by his lyre, Venus by her seductive posture, Pan by his flutes and whimsical smile, Dionysos-Bacchus by his grapevines and face contorted in ecstatic abandon. At the end of the Threshold stands a large statue of a lion, one of the most elevated of natural creatures, suggesting courage, strength, nobility and kingship. As we walk along the terrace under the sun, surrounded by the resplendent beauty of the garden and the ever-present divinities, it is evident that we are to be their protégés on this quest. With Hermes at the helm, it is these gods who are the patrons of the Hero who journeys between worlds. It is they who are the torchbearers when we enter into the dark, subterranean worlds inside the earth and begin our interior voyage.
THE CHAPEL, AXIS MUNDI
Via a system of tunnels connected to the palace and garden, we approach one of the most mysterious sights at the Regaleira: the chapel. The chapel is built in resemblance of the Axis Mundi, the cosmic pillar or world tree, with three floors- one below, one on and one above ground. To reach the lower, underground floor of the chapel we cross a metal gate with a spiral-horned animal creature along with a prominent pentagram and two sunwheels - definitely not something one is accustomed to find in a church.
As expounded on before, the guide for my pilgrimages has always been some intangible inner impulse, stemming from visions and dreams, which I have sought the equivalent of in the waking world. One of the central talismanic dreams of my life has been the following: I descend in a spherical vessel below the ocean and inside the earth, only to discover a subterranean shrine to an undivided truth. And now, in the waking world, as I lay my hands in the baptismal fount by the entrance to the lower floor of the chapel, I am awestruck by what I see: a shrine as the one in my dream. Contrary to many of the opulent designs of the Regaleira, the underground chamber is very simple and almost archaic. It has vaulted ceilings, an undecorated altar and floor of marble or stone. The floor is made up of black-and-white tiles (similar to the ones used by Freemasons), marking the co-existing powers of light and darkness, male and female, and the balanced union thereof. The altar itself is a carved marble slate, with two black crosses: one above it, and a second exactly similar one below it, again pointing to the hermetic axiom: as above, so below. I later learned that it was in this crypt that Caravalho Monteiro's body was bought and laid out after he died in 1920. As I breathe in the damp, subterranean air, I wonder at this underground temple, this dream vision come flesh, and feel like having been here before.
Through a spiral staircase, we ascend to the main floor of the chapel, consistent in its imagery to the underground shrine, as well as exactly mirroring it in placement and form. On the ceiling directly above the main entrance to the chapel is an all-seeing eye in the triangle, the imagery of which can be traced back into some of the oldest human cultures, including ancient Egyptian and Hindu mythologies, as well as being strongly linked to the Great Architect of Freemasonry. The entrance gateway structure itself is decorated with a multitude of esoteric signs: a mystic rose, an ark, a chalice suggestive of the grail, and of course a large equilateral Templar cross. This particular equal-armed cross was used by the Order of the Knights Templar, as well as its successor in Portugal, the Order of Christ. Entering the chapel, the main floor again features the same massive equilateral cross, surrounded by pentagrams and sunwheels.
Throughout the chapel alchemical, hermetic and occult themes abound. On the outside wall of the chapel, there is a sculpture of an athanor, "alchemical oven". Above the altar of the ground floor, we see an image of Christ, the King, crowning a woman identified as the Virgin Mary. The colours of Mary's clothing are clearly suggestive of the process of alchemy: Negredo (the dark-blue cloak), Albeda (the white head-cloth), Rubedo (the red dress) and Auredo (the golden shroud and background). A large letter, "M", is carved centrally above the painting. The whole scenario is evocative of "the divine couple", suggestive of Hieros Gamos, the sacred union.
Lastly, ascending to the small floor above ground through yet another spiral staircase, we see yet again equilateral Templar crosses and sunwheels, like the ones on the ground floor below us.
The chapel structure is clearly an image of the tripartite Axis Mundi, with its three floors and levels of being - heaven, earth and underworld - all mirroring each other in space, locality and form. The Axis Mundi is reflective of the interconnectedness of life and the various realms of being on all planes. Not merely to be taken to mean the connection between the underworld (the world of the ancestors and the dead), the middle plane (the world of human affairs), and the upper worlds (the realms of the gods, however we might perceive them), the Axis Mundi is that place where dream and reality, the subject and the object, the interior and exterior meet and intersect.
Exiting the chapel, having immersed in its manifold occult nature and curious marriage of paganism and christianity, I have to pinch myself to see that this isn't all some surreal dream.
THE FOUNT OF ABUNDANCE
Gradually, we follow the paths upward. Beautiful, bewildering things await us behind every turn in the resplendent garden: labyrinth caves, statues and structures of mythical animals, little stairways leading to hidden tunnels and artificial lakes leading to grottos. We sit down at a carved stone bench in the shade for a respite, while a statue of a woman holds a cup in the air above us. Benches such as these are scattered throughout the property, with statues of sleeping lions or guard dogs sitting at attention, always accompanied by human figures holding chalices aloft in reverential pose. Indeed water, water-containers and sea-symbolism are a recurring, dominant theme throughout the estate. Water is present throughout the land as bodies of water in lakes, ponds and underwater aquariums, in flowing form as springs, waterfalls and various fountains, as well as in in symbolic form - all pointing to the primordial waters, the abundance of the nectar of life, which nourish not just the physical but also the "spiritual" realms.
Clearly reflecting this is the Fount of Abundance, a massive facade built out of marble, flanked by obelisks, and decorated with conch seashells and dual serpentine fish. At the center of it is the large heraldic-style monogram of Caravalho Monteiro himself, "CM". The structure stands on a clearing above the lower part of the garden, and in front of it is an altar and small marble throne. On a hunch, I take note of the colors and discover that the fount design clearly follows, as in the chapel, the alchemical procession of four stages and their associated colors: black/dark blue, white, red and yellow/gold. Water flows into the elevated fountain in the middle, symbolically representing the panacea, the elixir of life.
Between the statues and fountains such as this, hidden in plain sight amongst greenery and wrought into architecture, are large vases and urns decorated with an assortment of green men, goats and satyric figures with grapevines in their hair - further underlining and pointing to the semen virile, the solar seed and sacred substance of which we are to take part.
THE GARDEN OF ENIGMAS
We stop at the outdoor terrace of the Quinta da Regaleira restaurant, a stone-structure just behind the main house, featuring a large fountain in the middle guarded by four mythical animals. While lazy cats wander by, we sit in the shade surrounded by the stone edifice and lush greenery, eat olives, fresh bread and risotto with scallops, not to mention strong green sangria, which the waiter tells us is "the best in the world". As we order our second pitcher, I am starting to agree with him wholeheartedly. A garden of pleasures, indeed.
Here in the shade, I reflect on why gardens have always held a special place for me, both as physical places as well as inner landscapes. I have explored the garden from the primal sacred groves often surrounding holy trees in my homeland and beyond, to the small pagan garden of a place where I lived in my youth that held a small altar and natural temple amidst all the various plants, flowers and herbs. I have travelled and visited gardens from the secluded, privately owned featuring elaborate shamanistic, surrealistic creations of art, to the majestic and opulent Renaissance gardens throughout Europe and the exotic gardens of Asia. In gardens I have found both the impeccably maintained and groomed perfection of the here-and-now, as well as moss- swallowed melancholy and nostalgia. For me these gardens, at the core, all represent the same thing in different guises. They reflect the particular history and worldview of their creators and maintainers, and all have their particular mythologies and languages, but some perennial themes seem consistent. And perhaps more importantly, all represent a reverential attitude toward life, nature, toward the divine and art, art being man's expression of his own divine nature.
Fueled by the sangria, we continue our travel upward, and arrive at the Temple of Flora, a large greenhouse which makes apparent Caravalho Monteiro's enthusiasm for flora and fauna. An avid botanist, Monteiro filled his garden of earthly delights with a multitude of species of plants, from the various colorful flowers, herbs and topiary to the wide variety of massive trees, as well as the wildlife that these attract. The Temple of Flora features parallel fertility pillars and carvings of a fairy and a faun by its main door, and above it is Flora herself as a reclining nymph set in stone. Central on the main facade is a large tile panel showing a group of partially naked priestesses surrounded by animals conducting a fertility rite, making offerings of fruits and flowers to the divine, possibly in the form of Demeter or Ceres. As if on purpose, the revered figure is left out of the picture, and we are left with an image of reverence and homage to manifold nature itself. The array of plants at the Regaleira, whether present as herbs, flowers or topiary are far from the merely decorative: they are part of the language of the garden as the personalities of nature, possessing different characters, correspondences, associations and meanings.
Following a path from the Temple of Flora, we come upon an imposing, semi-circular formation. As we enter its base, we find Leda's Cave, a chamber in the shape of a perfect hexagon. At the far end of the cave is a statue of Leda with a swan, behind which is an underground stream. In the Greek pantheon, Leda was the the wife of king Tyndraeus of Sparta, who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan. Their consummation which took place during the same night as Leda laid with her husband, resulted in offspring of uncertain origin, either divinely immortal or kingly mortal. This myth, in light of Caravalho Monterio's monarchism, suggests the recurring motif of divine kingship. By its structure, placement and symbology, the grotto of Leda also suggests the marriage of heaven and earth. The high ceiling and form of the cave creates a strange acoustic effect, echoing the rippling sound of flowing water.
Through spiral staircases, we arrive at the upper stone structure housing the Regaleira Tower, with an impressive view over the garden and the area surrounding it. As we continue to follow the paths leading to further heights, we find hidden entrances to the central system of interconnected caves and underground walkways throughout the land, such as a lake with a waterfall. The lake has stones placed on its surface which form a walking path on water that leads, just as in fairytales, behind the waterfall and into hidden caves. We forego the hidden entranceways and climb upward, arriving at a highly dramatic structure, the Terrace of the Celestial Worlds. High on the estate, the terrace is a wide castle-like opening overlooked by a towering ziggurat, whereupon contemplation of the celestial can truly occur, as an elevated panorama opens to us. Opposite to the terrace is another equally dramatic structure, Guardian's Gate, composed of dual towers flanking a central arched pavilion, which again hides a hidden gateway into the subterranean tunnels in its shadow, guarded by twin crocodiles or reptilian figures holding a seashell to their ear. The figures again remind me of the presence of dual water-creatures throughout the terrain, such as twin fish and twin serpents.
MY SOUL IS THE DEEP FOREST
The higher we ascend in the garden, the wilder and more untamed nature grows, in stark contrast to the carefully planted and groomed grounds of below. Again, this aspect of the garden points at a balance between different co-existing elements and planes of life, between the refined and the wild, the clear and the hidden. Shrouded paths of stone, occasional grottos and rough walkways surround us, as we find ourselves in a forceful forest of majestic trees and unbounded nature. The forest speaks to us about the "vital enigma", the mystery of life, and is an analogy of the spirit or soul itself.
The presence of trees hold a special significance at the Regaleira. According to the map, there are close to two-dozen different species of trees growing at the garden. The reverence of sacred trees goes back to the oldest of human cultures. It is expressed in a wide range of religions and mythologies throughout the world, whether in the shape of the world tree, the all-encompassing structure interconnecting all worlds above and below, inside and outside; or as the sacred grove, which can be seen as the "first garden", a territory marked off as a place of the numinous.
According to the yogis, "the connected ones", of the ancient Indian oral tradition, before temples there were holy trees. Later around these trees temples were erected, which can still be witnessed all throughout India and Nepal today. In Nordic myth and religion, the high god Odin hung from the world tree Yggdrasill for nine nights in order to receive the runes, the secrets themselves. In my homeland, Finland, the forest as a whole has since ancient, pre-Christian times been considered holy. Often there was a clearing surrounding a special tree that was seen as distinct from the rest, with a personality and presence of its own, which was marked off as a sacred grove. Consequently, as has been painfully documented, one of the first acts of the arriving Christian church upon entering Finland was to systematically and literally uproot this tradition by felling down holy trees, burning sacred groves, and often erecting churches on these very places. Yet despite of this the reverence for the tree and the relationship with the forest remains ingrained in our ancestral soul.
At Regaleira, the various species of trees, just as the plants, tell of the manifold nature of the place. They are not arbitrarily or accidentally placed. As an example, Yew, a tree traditionally associated with both death and immortality, grows right next to one of the central structures of the Regaleira, the Initiatory Well, clearly associated with the life-death-rebirth cycle it embodies. Yew is sacred to Hecate, "lady of the underworld", who lives in a cave and presides over secret, illuminating rituals. In the Nordic tradition, Yew is sometimes thought of as the World Tree Yggdrasil (instead of Ash), and is connected to the runes eihwaz and yr. Cypress, which has similarly deathly associations, stands by the cave entrance to the crypt of the chapel; while at the side of the upper level of the chapel is lofty Oak, standing for majesty, victory, immortality and fruitfulness, sacred in the various pantheons to the high gods Zeus, Jupiter and Thor. In the upper, rockier and wilder regions of the estate we find Pine, marking steadfastness and loyalty, and sacred to Neptune, Dionysus, Diana, and Cybele. As we see by these examples, the nature of the garden is alive with different personalities and powers, and serve a purpose in unfolding the narrative of the journey.
INTO THE UNDERWORLD: THE INITIATORY WELL AND THE SACRED UNION
Beyond all these beautiful and bewildering things, all paths in the garden seem to lead to a curious central structure of the Regaleira: the Poço Iniciático, Initiatory Well. Located high up on the estate, the well itself is hidden to the untrained eye inside what looks like a natural rock formation. As in mythic tales, one has to scale its surfaces to find the revolving stone block door (facing north) that will grant one entrance. Pushing the heavy door aside, we come to the uppermost floor of the well and view down the dizzying, perfectly round spiral staircase descending some nine floors and 30 meters below ground. More than an actual well, it is a subterranean, inverted tower. Looking down into the abyss, at the bottom center of it is an eight-pointed compass rose laid out in four subtly different colors of marble -blue, yellow, red and white- again indicative of the alchemical process and its associated phases, as well as the four elements of air, fire, water, earth. The compass rose design, which features three consecutive circles, consists of an equilateral cross emerging from a central red dot or circle, with pointed extensions toward the cardinal points, as well as smaller extensions in- between. It is a central mark of the quest, as well of the initiate or adept himself. The rose compass is illuminated via natural light that shines from a circular opening to the sky at the top of the tower.
As we start to descend down the spiral staircase, touching the damp, mossy stone walls, the light gradually recedes and water runs and drips around us. Counting the numbers of the steps as we we walk (139), from its digits we get the sacred number 13 (1+3+9), which corresponds in various esoteric traditions to death and rebirth, the end-goal of the initiatory journey. The empty niches that are carved into the walls between the staircase and open to the central void are 22 in number, another sacred number, which calls to mind the Major Arcana of the Tarot and the principles they embody. At the bottom looking up, the view is a perfect copy of the one seen at the top, except that now the circle is the sky of light.
There is a small baptismal fount of water at the entrance to the circular opening at the bottom, clearly marking that this is a sanctuary, a place of the holy. With the water I rinse my palms and forehead. Then, I take my partner by the hand and we walk into the darkness.
We wander in the dark, damp caves. Sometimes they are lit with small ribbon lights, sometimes pitch-black dark. At times we have to crouch, and occasionally we step in puddles of water. The caves reach far and wide, and have several dead ends like an unfinished well that one cannot ascend, the meaning of which remains obscure in the otherwise so meticulously designed lay-out of the whole complex. Perhaps the dead-ends tell of the aborted quest and importance of persistence to find the true goal one is seeking for. The caves also have many hidden gates and entrances. And yet we tread along in the darkness.
I knew this dark labyrinth, this maze, like an old friend. I too had wandered far and wide, lost as a spiritual orphan, and grown weary in the maelstrom of the gorging void of worldly meaninglessness. I too had come to many illusory goals, only to discover them to be dead-ends. I had tasted the all the bitter, salty waters of human life- despair, disillusionment and death; I knew them only too well. But in all of these misadventures I had never lost sight of that spark inside, which gave rise the profound glimpses in which I saw "the ruins of my being as fragments of the divine". And those glimpses drove me through the abyss and up toward the surface of the world, toward the sun.
After wandering in the darkness we eventually approach an opening, a definite source of sunlight. At the end of a long passageway with various diversions we come to the entrance situated farthest from the well: the Cave of the Orient, the re-entry to the gardens below. But before we return into the world of light, I lead my girlfriend to a little cave near the entrance. And there, in the damp cave, in the darkness of the subterranean world, we make love. In an effigy of the sacred union, heaven embraces earth as we kiss, sweat and unite. For a moment at least, Eros conquers Thanatos, and the world is recreated in an act of joy, an expression of divine ecstasy. A moment of eternity in the tomb of the earth, from which we emerge as if reborn.
The well is clearly a symbolic initiation, an analogy set in stone and marble, earth and water, of life-death- rebirth. Both an ascent and a descent, the quest leads to a receding from the mundane world and a simultaneous re-entering of the deep recesses of earth, which are equally the cradle of life as well as the grave of death. The initiate enters the interior of the earth and underworld, undergoes an internal, allegorical death and leaves the ordinary world behind. He traverses in the darkness. Perhaps he gets lost in the labyrinth along the way, and possibly he struggles through a "dark night of the soul", all but his own daemon as the guide and torch to lead him through the journey. He drinks from the primordial waters, from the well beneath the world tree. Then, finally, having traversed through the unlit realms and hidden caves of being, he re-emerges victorious into light, into the surface of the world from which he came, but transformed by the initiatory experience he has undergone. This initiation, of course, is a mere beginning. It is the sacred mark of crossing the veils to another world. The initiate returns home and to the ordinary world, now with eyes in both worlds, perhaps carrying gifts and drops of divine nectar with him. Slowly, he churns experience and knowledge into wisdom, and sees analogy at play, and the relation is clear: heaven meets earth, and earth salutes heaven; as above, so below. And so he rediscovers the world again, finding a garden of delights, a paradise regained.
As we exit the caves, it is a quiet and warm day. There are only a few visitors, and still the sun still shines in the sky, unhindered by the lazy clouds. Unhurriedly, we wander down the little lanes, back to the restaurant for a final libation of sangria to conclude our adventure. And down below us is the garden of the gods, and the divinities are there, waiting for us, smiling.
RETURN TO THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS
The garden on a higher level presents the basic question of how we relate to the world around us, to nature, and to ourselves.
If we are "closed off" from a position that allows us a sense of wonder and reverence, we are not likely to come away with anything of lasting value or deeper meaning. Consider the pious, who can find god only in a building of their own flock, who find wisdom only in a words spoken by intermediaries of god or on a written page of a holy book, who repel all expressions of the divine that do not fit their definite, vehemently non- psychedelic and self-limiting worldview. Consider the modern tourists who approach the garden as a park full of entertaining and amusing follies, who loudly and crudely rush their way through every potentially sacred experience, already anticipating the next quick fix. Both are cut off from the ever-unfolding nature of reality and creation, from the flow of life, from the sense of mystery, awe and reverence in presence of the manifold personalities of nature.
At the root of this non-reverential approach is the underlying tragic theme of a schism in the soul of man. The spiritual impulse has been tainted and traumatized by ideas of the expulsion of man from the garden of paradise, of the fallen nature of man, of sin and the necessity of redemption or salvation. At the core of this lies the belief in a separation of man from nature as well as from the divine and eternal, resulting in the malady of monotheist religions, as well as their modern atheistic ideological counterparts. Both are essentially two sides of the same coin. For their kind, the world is a valley of tears apart from god, nature is devoid of spirit, and this is manifested as the barren, soul-destroying things they construct and spew on the world. The modern world and much of its unquestionable misery and ugliness is much a reflection of these two dominating extremes that are nevertheless paradoxically interconnected.
But on the other hand, we can approach the garden with a reverential attitude, as a microcosm with its own language, symbology, cartography and meaning reflective of something larger than itself. If situated in the close vicinity of urban surroundings, gardens are a respite from all the worldly banality and noise. If built and consecrated in untouched nature, gardens are marked off areas dedicated to the numinous, the holy. Either way, they serve the same original purpose. The garden is the interface between nature and art, and a bridge between the human and the divine. The garden is a refinement of nature according to an ideal or principle in line with that very same nature. This principle can be applied to the world outside its borders, but equally and perhaps more importantly, it can be seen as an as an analogy of the world within and without, a metaphor of human existence and life itself, in all its multiplicity and manifold nature.
If we open ourselves to the experience of wonder inside the garden, we can find something quite profound, and indeed, moving. Its perennial themes tell of the timeless quest of the hero - that is, the true human being. The timeworn beauty of garden structures reminds of the passing of time. The way the sun moves across the dome of the sky above the garden mirrors our own human lives of birth, life and death: rising in the damp dawn, it grows in might and gathers momentum, casts shadows and creates different moods during its journey, and finally sets in a sea of darkness, only to be reborn again. All of this ignites a romantic longing in our hearts to be at home in the world, and equally, to be part of the infinite.
At the recommendation of a friend, I briefly met with an author in the café that he ran, who has written on the occult roots of Portugal. Without realizing it, because the book title did not include his full name, this was the author of a book I was just then reading. I suggested that he, as the author, inscribe my book with a dedication of his own choice. Quoting John Milton from Paradise Lost, he wrote:
"Man's disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise, wherein he was placed: Then touches the prime cause of his fall, the Serpent, or rather Satan in the Serpent; who revolting from God..."
In Quinta da Regaleira, I found not a paradise lost, but in stark contrast, nature and art embracing in an image of a paradise regained. As a model of the cosmos, the Regaleira garden speaks to us not of the gloom and doom of a church, not of the vacuity of a shopping mall- but of life as a journey, an adventure, an unfolding of creation and gnosis. If we have the vision and might to make it so, life is not just a valley of tears, but a garden of joy with fountains of wisdom running through it, rooted in an ancient well of memory, mystery and wonder. Drink thereof, and be full.
Several years after the writing of this article, a couple that are good friends of mine were about to visit Quinta da Regaleira. Some days before that, the woman of said couple wrote to me about a dream she had. She told me that in her dream there was a man who sent his greetings to me, but had not introduced himself. She described him as a man be who was maybe 60 years old, round-faced with a cheekbeard, wearing a long, gray woolen coat and some sort of rimmed hat. He had lived apparently sometime around the 19th century, had a friendly demeanor, ”knew a blacksmith and was interested in alchemy”.
Frankly, I did not know who it could have been. Some days later, however, the answer had come to my friend. While strolling around Quinta da Regaleira, specifically in the crypt under the church, she had encountered a photograph of exactly the man from her dream: it was Carvalho Monteiro. This was in the crypt with a black-and-white tiled floor, the same of which I had previously had a vivid dream. She took a photo of the large picture hanging in the the crypt and sent it to me - and indeed, it did look like her description from days earlier. All this was coming from a person with no previous knowledge of Carvalho Monteiro whatsoever.
Thank you for the greetings, Carvalho - they are appreciated and returned to you, wherever you are.
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This article originally appeared in 2012 as part of the anthology The Fenris Wolf (Issue #5) by Edda Publishing.