The everyday spirituality of women in the Italian Alps: A Trentino American woman's search for spiritual agency, folk wisdom, and ancestral values

by Moser, Mary Beth, Ph.D., CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF INTEGRAL STUDIES, 2013, 419 pages; 3560748


This study presents an inquiry into the everyday spirituality of folk women in Trentino, Italy, and nearby regions from the fifth millennium BCE to present times. It integrates themes from archaeology, folk stories, and women's lives from the perspective of a third-generation Trentino American woman. Utilizing the methodology of feminist cultural history, exemplified by the foundational work of Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, it adopts feminist and indigenous research methods to interpret specific cultural information gathered from local literature, on-site research, and oral interviews of women.

Drawing from the archaeological record, this study focuses on representations of goddesses, ancestresses, and females in ritual whose iconography conveys an embodied relationship of women with nature and the cosmos. This study contributes an analysis of the folk stories, which villagers once told in nightly gatherings known as the filó offering insights into the characteristics and actions of the Anguane, magical women who dwell in the wild. It proposes that their "mysterious taboos", when interpreted with Judy Grahn's metaformic theory, can be understood as rules which are menstrual in origin, and thus associated with the oldest sacred female ritual. Along with the Winter Goddesses, whose rules govern the end of the annual cycle, the Anguane maintain the sacred order of life. In the stories, they ask to be remembered. The magical agency found in the folk stories is echoed in the everyday spiritual agency of folk women, which is examined through their use of adornment, textiles, food, and medicine. The experience of women as healers, midwives, and counselors is valued.

Throughout the study, women's relationship with the sources and cycles of life is made explicit. As spiritual agents, women protect, utilize, and transform the sources of life; they maintain, embody, and renew the full cycles of life, which spiral forward and connect with the past.

Through the oral tradition and everyday activities, women transmit values that include sharing and caring, honoring the ancestors, respecting elders, caring for children, protecting nature, and keeping one's word. Folk wisdom communicates the interconnectedness of all life and responsibility to future generations, offering timely knowledge for living sustainably and in balance.

AdviserLucia Chiavola Birnbaum
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsFolklore; Women's studies; Spirituality
Publication Number3560748

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