On seeking refuge from our enemies

19 03 2009

hamsa

(the above image was found on this site)
 
A Muslim friend recently sent me a link to an on-line Shia booklet on the Islamic phrase, “Aaoozu billahi min ash Shaitan ir rajeem”. This phrase is most commonly uttered by reciters of the Koran (“Koran” means “recitation”) before they begin their reading. It translates, “I seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Satan”. Use of this phrase can be heard on this rather aesthetically pleasing recitation:



It is also used by devout Muslims at other points of their life, such as at the beginning of a meal, the beginning of work, or simply when one is afraid.

I have written elsewhere about charms against the evil eye in Islam, as can be seen in the picture above.

As in the rest of Catholicism, in Mexico and Latin America prayer tends to begin with the Sign of the Cross. In many regions, however, the basic Sign of the Cross is interpolated with the following prayers:

By the Sign of the Holy Cross (making a small cross on your forehead)

from our enemies (making a small cross on your lips)

deliver us, O Lord, our God (making a small cross on your heart)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (with the Sign of the Cross made as usual)

The Latin, for all of you nerds out there, is as follows:

Per signum Sanctae Crucis
de inimicis nostris
libera nos, Domine Deus noster.
In nomine Patris,
et Filii,
et Spiritus Sancti.
Amen.

This formula is found in the older breviaries as well, which is where it came from.

The one thing that I notice amongst American Catholics is their relative lack of prayers for protection against evil. Off the top of my head, the only prayer I can think of is the Saint Michael prayer recited before Vatican II at the end of Mass. The St. Benedict prayer is also well known, but I wonder how wide its use would be in contemporary Catholicism. But the idea of beginning every prayer or entering a church by remembering that we have enemies and God needs to protect us from them… for the American, whose cosmos is based on self-sufficiency, all this can seem counter-intuitive. In Latin America, there are many prayers to God and the saints to defend us from the Devil, witches, gobblins, and those who seek us harm, as there were in the past in all of Christendom. I will try to translate some of them for my American readers.

Upon further investigation, I encountered again the following instruction in that bible of American popular Catholicism, the Pieta prayer booklet. (I have written about this booklet on my previous blog). As an appendix to a prayer to St. Joseph, it says:

According to oral tradition, whoever reads this prayer or hears it or carries it, will never die a sudden death, nor be drowned, nor will poison take effect on them. They will not fall into the hands of the enemy nor be burned in any fire, nor will they be defeated in battle.

Generally, though, the main problem with modern Catholicism is that it underestimates the role of evil in the cosmos. Indeed, even if Islam is a false religion, it will probably continue to gain adherents because it takes evil and sin seriously. I don’t know if the same could be said about us.


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3 responses

1 04 2011
Cosmas Obi

Where in bible did Jesus asked the name of a demon

19 03 2009
Arturo Vasquez

Leyla,

That is an interesting nuance, though I would have to nuance it even further. In Candomble, Voudou, or any other syncretic form, there is evil, though it is far from objective. Most adherents of this cult were historically Catholic, and they often had recourse to it only in times of need (otherwise, they would just go to Mass and say Catholic prayers since these were the socially acceptable behaviors in colonial Latin America). Many people would have recourse to the pagan priest if they felt that they had a curse put on them, or they felt that someone had a curse put on one of their loved ones. They would then go to a ceremony, and the priest or priestess, often during possession by a loa/orisha, would either lift the curse or inform them how the curse could be lifted. Of course, there are also cases where the opposite is true: a person goes to a Voudou priest or santero to have someone cursed or even killed.

The devil can often get involved in this since they are seen as being “bound” to do something. I don’t know if you have studied the grimoires of early modern Europe, but one of the central ideas in them is of the manipulation of demons by the use of their names. Indeed, Our Lord Jesus Christ at one point in the Gospel asks the name of a demon, hearkening back to the Testimony of Solomon (an apochryphal work of magic) in which the possession of a demon’s name meant that you could get him to do what you want. (And this is why God, in the Old Testament, never told anyone His name). In Latin American witchcraft, some examples of these incantations are the oración de puro (the cigar prayer) and the prayer to Don Diego Duende (Mister Diego the Gobblin).

The other problem is that the traditional Catholic cosmos works pretty much the same way, i.e. a lot like the mafia. There have always been binding prayers, spells, incantations, prayers for protection, that often have little to do with any sort of dichotomous ethical moral standard. The prayers to the Justo Juez (the Just Judge) and the Shadow of St. Peter come to mind immediately, and in such places as northern Argentina, people make up their own saints or variations of saints to “tie people together” or “break them apart”. There are also many, many cases in Catholicism of sacred images of the Virgin, Our Lord, or some saint taking their fatal revenge out on someone who merely disrespected them, without any real reference to a breach of commandments or moral failing. In other words, at a certain supernatural level in Catholicism, even our concepts of morality seem to start breaking down.

So I will have to modify what I wrote by mentioning that I think modern religion is pretty much doomed since it doesn’t take the supernatural very seriously. I do think ideas about evil have a lot to do with it. While the “New Age” attitude may sell Deepak Chopra DVD’s and dream catchers, they cannot get people out of bed to go to church on Sunday or make them affiliate with one or other religious group. While it may have a wide appeal, its roots are very, very shallow, and its impact on the society negligible.

19 03 2009
Leyla Jagiella

Very nice post.

Well, is it a fact that taking evil and sin seriously guarantees growth?
New Age philosophies were and still are so attractive to some people and spread quite fast and far precisely because they ignore the realities of evil.

“Everything is love, everything is peace, everything is whole. There is no devil, there is no sin, there is no hell … ” that indeed seems to attract a lot of people.
At least on a certain superficial level.

And not only in the secularized North.
I hear of Hispanic adherents of Afro- or Native-American thinking of their religions as more attractive because e.g. there is no real evil in Candomble, Umbanda, Santeria; the devil is in reality Exu, a messenger or servant of God and the saints, there is no real sin, there is no dualism etc. .

I assume that modern Catholicism sees itself in concurrence with New Age and syncretist conceptions of evil and sin and consequently has to assimilate some of these elements.
I agree, though, that this may lead to a backlash in the long run.

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