Slowly, but surely – always & everywhere.

I’ve been looking for a Mercury-themed pendant for some time now. Seven years ago I had a small caduceus that eventually broke and I haven’t replaced it with a new one, partially because, well… it’s not the most appealing of symbols to me and it didn’t help getting asked every now and then if I was studying medicine or worked at a hospital. And mind you, this was in Portugal, where the common medical symbol is the one-snaked rod of Asclepius, which is the correct one, but people tend to conflate it with the caduceus. I suspect a lot of good folks are lacking a few classes of Classical Studies.

Anyway, short of a good pendant with an actual depiction of Mercury or Hermes – coin or other – and at a reasonable price, I considered other options. The ideal would be a scallop, because it’s commonly used by pilgrims in Galicia and could therefore easily stand for wayfaring, the Lares Viales and the Iberian aspect of Mercury. But again, the options available online are either disappointing or expensive and the best place to find them in abundance and at a good price is Santiago de Compostela. Ironically, I lived there for four months back in 2010 and what scallops I bought at that time I give them away as gifts, ignoring their mercurial value. Which is understandable, since Mercury only stepped into my life after I came back from Santiago, in what was the start of the ways-and-Lares-Viales-focused path that I’m currently on. So I’m going to wait for things to come full circle and one day return to Compostela, at which point, in a manner of symbolic milestone, I’ll buy two small silver scallops, one for me and another for Mercury. In the meantime, I opted for a turtle pendant.

The pendant – not actually made from turtle!

Obviously, the choice wasn’t random. It’s an animal with a mercurial link by way of the myth of Hermes’ birth and of how He invented the first lyre using a turtle shell. But in the Iberian cult of Mercury that I’m constructing, it’s also an animal representative of the notions of movement and change. Which may seem odd, given that the turtle is far from being the fastest of species, especially on land, but that’s exactly where its symbolic value resides: however slow, however seemingly non-existent, things are constantly moving and change is a permanent part of life. There are no final destinations, just stops and stages in a perpetual journey.

Granted, the turtle from the myth is a tortoise, a fully terrestrial animal, whereas the pendant, as seen in the photo, depicts at best a sea turtle or a terrapin, but that is nonetheless appropriate, since those are the two branches of the species that are native to Portugal. So there’s an Iberian note there, in line with an equally Iberian cult and similarly to what I had in mind with the scallop.

The Mauremys leprosa, also known as Spanish, Mediterranean or Moorish terrapin, is a member of the turtle family that’s native to Portugal. Photo by David Germano (source)

Thus, on the final days of August, I bought two pendants, one for me and another for Mercury, and placed them by His image in the domestic shrine dedicated to Him. There they stayed until the first Wednesday of September, at which time I removed them and kept them by the fireplace as I burned the offerings I make to Maia’s Son every month – cinnamon, fennel and wine, together with a candle that’s left burning on the shrine. And then I consecrated the pendants, sprinkling them with cinnamon and adding a portion of dark chocolate as an additional offering to signal the moment.

After the ceremony was over, one of the pendants was returned to the shrine, where it now stands next to god’s image. And the other I’ve been using every since as a symbol of luck, protection, of the perpetuity of movement and change and as a physical expression of a bound with Mercury, with whom I now share a small object.

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Khosh amadid!

I’ve said it before on various occasions and I’ll say it again: Islam cannot be separated from the origins of Portugal, Arab language and culture cannot be separated from the Portuguese culture and language. They were already in the Iberian Peninsula before the creation of the country, they remained here during its formation process and left their mark on the vocabulary, placenames, gastronomy, customs and landscape. Which translates into the simple truth that the Portuguese are partially Arabized Latinos.

That’s why I was somewhat disgusted when I heard the orange idiot who occupies the White House say, during his visit to the UK, that immigration is changing Europe’s culture, which in the slang of the nativist right is code for the threat of Islam. And I say somewhat, because there’s not much that’s truly surprising in the words of a narcissistic, wilfully ignorant and deeply insecure clown.

As a native Portuguese whose family has been in Portugal for at least four centuries, whose native language has as much as one thousand words of Arab origin, whose native land is marked by numerous Arabic placenames and where bakeries, restaurants or traditional celebrations include various dishes of Arab origin or influence, all of it a product of the Islamic period of Iberian History, I can only classify as ignorant the idea that immigration from the Middle East or north Africa is a threat to European culture. Utter ignorance, raw stupidity, ridiculous fear-mongering. Europe is not monolithic and, when it comes to the southwestern end of the continent, Islamic civilization is one of its cultural matrixes.

Sala Árabe - Sintra

The Arab room in the Palace of Sintra, once the residence of Moorish rulers and later of Portuguese royalty (source)

But that was also why, last week, I happily accompanied through the media the visit to Portugal of Aga Khan IV, spiritual leader of the Naziri Ismaili Muslims, who was received with State honours by the President and Prime-Minister and, starting from the middle of next year, will have an official residence in Lisbon, where the world headquarters of the Ismaili Imamat will be located. At a time when many call for an imaginary cultural purity, close themselves up in a siege mentality or strive to deny layers of European culture, it’s good to know that my country, despite all its problems, manages to remain open to the Islamic world, to which it owes a part of its national identity.

Welcome, Imam!

Caligrama ismailita