Botanica moments

22 07 2009


1. I went to a rather scary botanica in east Oakland right before I left California. Saw a lot of interesting stuff, and they had dozens of statues of Santa Muerte. If that had been the first botanica I had ever visited, I would have been really creeped out by it.

In the back, next to the consulting room (botanicas tend to do a lot of that kind of business), there were two twin niches: one to the Virgin of Guadalupe, another to la Santa Muerte, all decked out as if she were a Virgin. If I had a camera, and was permitted to take a picture, I would have. The contrast between the “light Mother” and “dark Mother” was Jungian theory in living, folk Catholic color. They were going to have a “fiesta de Santa Muerte”, but I could not make it, since by then I had left California.

2. Not quite a botanica, but something similar: it was at the New Orleans Spiritual Voudou Temple, which if you go in the entrance, looks like a botanica with a New Age flavor and ridiculously overpriced. Anyway, I took advantage of their offer to go into the “altar room”, though few ceremonies actually take place there. As I entered and exited, I noticed a large doll dressed in white with a mitre on its head.

“Hey,” I thought to myself, “that’s John Paul II.” I was too afraid to ask my guide about the doll, but I was not surprised to see him there. So you know, at least in one place in New Orleans, a Voudou priestess invokes the spirit of the late Pontiff. JP-2, we love u!

There is an actual botanica up the street a bit from downtown, but it mostly deals in candle magic and statues. Plus, it has more of the original, Cuban santeria / palo mayombe flavor to it. It has a particularly impressive statue of St. Lazarus, or Babalu-aye.

3. AG and I went on a tour of the French Quarter that ended at St. Louis No. 1 cemetery and the tomb of Marie Laveau. There is still devotion in the city to the Voudou Queen, and various piles of Mardi Gras beads and trinkets were left at the foot of her free standing grave. But I noticed another offering on the side of the tomb that was a little odd: a copy of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. I hope her devotees will bring her better reading material in the future.

Another Sun

20 07 2009


De una Virgen hermosa
celos tiene el sol,
porque vio en sus brazos
otro sol mayor.

Cuando del Oriente
salió el sol dorado,
y otro sol helado
miró tan ardiente,
quitó de la frente
la corona bella,
y a los pies de la estrella
su lumbre adoró,
porque vio en sus brazos
otro sol mayor.

«Hermosa María,
dice el sol vencido,
de vos ha nacido
el sol que podía
dar al mundo el día
que ha deseado».
Esto dijo humillado
a María el sol,
porque vio en sus brazos
otro sol mayor.

-Lope de Vega

The sun is envious
Of a beautiful Virgin,
Because in her arms
He saw a greater Sun.

When the golden Sun
Rose from the east,
The other cold sun
Viewed it so bright,
He took off from his head
His own beautiful crown,
And at the feet of the star
Her glow he adored,
Because in her arms
He saw a greater Sun.

“Beautiful Mary,”
Says the conquered sun,
“From you is born
The sun who can give
The world the day that it has desired.”
This the humbled sun
Said to Mary,
Because in her arms
He saw a greater Sun.

“Cultural Catholicism”

20 07 2009


It ain’t what it used to be

Sort of inspired by this post from the Gregorian Rite Catholic. Excerpt:

The implication of course is that you are not as Catholic (i.e., you’re not a good Catholic) because you are not as obvious. And these people are very judgmental about the Catholicism of people they don’t even know. Some even conduct conferences and then hang their audiences out to dry on their web sites for their supposed “ignorance,” or “cultural Catholicism,” or lack of “fervor” or for “not understanding” the message that these latter-day apostles have bestowed on them.

As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was happy that Catholics, however estranged, did go to Mass at least on Christmas and Easter. And he certainly would not disparage such Catholics either in person or behind their backs.

I was surprised during my last conversation with my father that he still considers himself a Catholic, though I don’t think he has set foot in a church during his adult life. Indeed, when he was growing up, his family would walk two miles to Mass every Sunday, though my father often was thrown out of catechism class for bad behavior. Before my father left for Vietnam, my grandmother gave him a card of the Mexican folk saint, Juan Soldado, which he kept with him, though he barely made it out of Vietnam alive. It was in the shadow of her folk shrine to this strange spirit that I lived some of the happiest years of my childhood. But while my grandmother was devout, her children weren’t. I don’t think any of them attend Mass as adults, though my uncle, recently deceased, was buried on consecrated ground next to his mother.

“Cultural Catholicism” was a fact of life growing up. I once worked on a crew with a guy who religiously made the Sign of the Cross every time he passed a church, though he had not set foot in one since he was baptized as an infant, and possibly for weddings and funerals. I’ve known evangelical Protestants who still carry around pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe in their wallets. That’s just how things are in the barrio, even today. I once saw a report in a national magazine concerning the growth of Protestant churches in the Latino community. Amongst some at least, they continue to use Catholic imagery, such as images of the Virgin Mary, in their churches. Like the black Spiritual Churches in New Orleans, one can’t really frame this form of Protestantism in the typical American context. Something more seems to be at work.

If I disparage those who disparage “cultural Catholicism”, I do so because their idea of religion borders on Pelagianism. While effort is always to be exhorted, the strength of a faith, like the strength of many things, is based on its weakest link. “Cultural Catholicism” has historically been that link. If the only act of Faith a prostitute or a drug smuggler can muster is wearing a medal of the Virgin or St. Jude, I fail to see how this is any worse than those who would turn Christianity into the civic religion of “decent folk”. If anything, at least the person who wears such religious symbols is more likely to acknowledge that how they live is wrong. I am not so sure about those who would turn Catholicism into a culturally Calvinist ideology of the salvation of “upstanding citizens”.

But such prejudices also underestimate how powerful such symbols really are. The Virgin is powerful, her image is powerful, and even the smallest act of love towards her can save a soul. (Read Trochu’s biography of the Cure d’Ars on this one.) No, it is not ideal, but do any of us deserve to get saved in the end, really? Perhaps the slow death of “cultural Catholicism” in the developed world is thus the most tragic phenomenon of all. If we are turning Catholicism into a mature faith of churchy busy-bodies, we are going to end up with half-empty pews filled with tightly wound, unpleasant partisans. And is that how the Church is supposed to look like?

Lost in translation

20 07 2009


Random notes on Jonathan Spence’s The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci

Spence’s book is one that I have wanted to write on for weeks, but I am not really feeling disciplined enough to write a tight, well-crafted essay on it. To summarize, the book is about the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci’s ambitions and dreams to convert the Emperor of China and thus the whole country to Roman Catholicism, and all the misfires, foibles, and tragedies that occur along the way. For this task, Ricci felt it necessary to adopt the garb of a Confucian scholar and attempt to lure the upper class into Catholicism through education, a typical Jesuit tactic. The particular bait that Ricci was trying to use was a set of memory techniques once popular but now extinct in the West. (I can’t even remember AG’s cellphone number.) He hoped to help young aspiring bureaucrats pass the exams necessary to enter civil service in imperial China, and in exchange, he hoped to show that the “barbarians” of the West had much to offer, especially in the religious realm. While not a total failure, he was far from a success. The closest he got to the Emperor himself, for example, was prostrating before his empty throne; the “divine” ruler was far too paranoid about his own safety to see anyone other than the inner circle of his court.
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17 07 2009

Okay, this was a terrible film, but the music was really good. If you like Baroque music, I would watch it.

Those interested in this rather unpleasant subject should know that the last castrato was born in 1858, and lived long enough to make a modern recording:

(Yes, that is a man.)

One of the many dirty secrets of Catholic society: if we want you to keep singing like an angel, we will, even if it means we have to maim and deform you. Who do you think hit those high notes in the Papal choir? Women?

On the abuse of ecclesiastical power

16 07 2009


Or: Things that happen when clergymen get too enthusiastic

Pope Paul IV when he was a cardinal was in charge of the Roman Inquisition: one of his first acts as a pope was to increase the powers of this institution and the penalties associated with heresy: even some cardinals were charged with heresy and Cardinal Morone was imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo as a hidden Lutheran. The pope imposed on the Romans a very austere lifestyle, but allowed his nephew Carlo Carafa to profit from his position to enrich himself and, according to widespread rumours, to behave badly from a moral viewpoint. He forced the Jews of the Papal State to live in two ghettos in Rome and Ancona: he built walls around an area of Rione Sant’Angelo which was subject to floods: the Jews were not allowed to live elsewhere and during the day had to go about wearing a distinctive sign… Pope Paul IV died in August 1559: the Romans reacted to the news by setting fire to the Inquisition palace and by destroying all the coats of arms of the pope: his statue in Campidoglio was beheaded and the head was rolled down the cordonata.

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George Weigel as Postmodernist

15 07 2009


A post from the Vox Nova blog that I found both enlightening and amusing:

Weigel effectively theorizes towards a post-structural approach to Church literature; where we do not take authorship at face value but look into the power/knowledge relations that constitute the thing in question and assume that the (competing) motives involved are steeped in structurations of conflict that create the Foucauldian notion of “governmentality.”

It may seem too ironic, but Weigel is right precisely because he takes into account the possibility of the impossible. And he does so based on a largely accurate understanding of Church (and papal) authority: Namely, that, a hermeneutic of suspicion is not heterodox to Catholic devotion, on the contrary, a simplistic or superstitious reliance on the intervention of the Holy Spirit as the norm in Vatican affairs is not necessarily orthodox at all, in fact, it can be downright dangerous.

For me, such talk goes both ways. If Weigel can read encyclicals from the point of view of machinations of the Curia, I can read Vatican II from the point of view of the machinations of questionable theologians who usurped a mantle that was not theirs to take up. (Read the book, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber). To quote Dei Verbum as if it were “inspired by God” is sort of like quoting the script from Leave It to Beaver, except the latter is older and a lot clearer. The Vatican is not the bullhorn of the Holy Ghost.

San Miguel y Santa Muerte

15 07 2009

AG was listening to my CD of Crisotbal Morales’ Requiem (see video above), when it hit me that St. Michael is mentioned in the text of the old Requiem Mass, at the Offeretory:

sed signifer sanctus Michæl
repræsentet eas in lucem sanctam,
quam olim Abrahæ promisisti et semini ejus.

but may the sign-bearer, Saint Michael,
lead them into the holy light
which you promised to Abraham and his seed.

Of course, this image also came to mind:

Notice the ancient scales of Maat, signifying judgment over souls. I suppose that is why some people say that it is St. Michael that comes to retrieve souls at the point of death.

Like many traditions, however, this one seems to not have been passed down, except in the garbled, early morning prayers of a priest at Low Mass. So it is no wonder that in Mexico at least, the Angel of Death morphed into this:

No comment:

The Feminine Dyad

14 07 2009

At the most fundamental level, the Monad is the Primordial One and the Indefinite Dyad is Primordial Matter, because Prima Materia is the indeterminate, formless, quality-less foundation of all being; She is Sub-stance — She who stands underneath. Like the One, Primordial Matter is ineffable, obscure, dark; therefore They are both called Abyss. Thus, the Goddess of Matter is also called Silence (Sigê), because Silence must precede the Word, the in-forming Logos, embodying the Ideas of the Craftsman. Her role as Mediator between the Father of the Gods and the Demiurge is confirmed by the Chaldean Oracles:

between the Fathers is Hekate’s Center borne.

-John Opsopaus, from A Summary of Pythagorean Theology

“Holy Sex”

13 07 2009


A review of this topic from the Remnant Newspaper. Here is a quote:

In a video available on his website, West expresses sympathy for Katy Perry, the rock star whose lesbian-tinged hit “I Kissed a Girl” represents, according to him, an example of how rock music explores themes “from the depths of the human heart…” whereas “saccharine Christian music” is “afraid to go there.” West contends that because Perry was “raised in a Christian home” in a “repressive Christian atmosphere” in which “her parents forbade her to listen to anything but Christian music,” she just had to turn to rock and roll to express how “deeply wounded” she is. West admits he is “only guessing” about Perry’s “repressive” upbringing, but this does not prevent him from calumniating her parents on the World Wide Web.

To appreciate how “deeply wounded” poor Katy is, West suggests watching her video on YouTube in which she is “in bed with one guy, thinking about this other guy” or another video in which “she is cutting herself with this knife, blood is all over her cleavage.” We must not condemn this sort of thing mindlessly, he insists, but rather try to understand its meaning concerning the wounding of Perry’s soul by her Puritanical upbringing. “I am sick and tired of this Puritanical BS that passes for Christianity!” he declares to his worldwide audience.

And this is the man who peddles the product called “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body”® to audiences filled with impressionable young Catholics. Have good Catholics completely lost their minds? Even if there were bona fide Catholic doctrine to be found in the “theology of the body,” could the situation in the Church have become so parlous that we would have to learn it from an oversexed man-child with a dirty mouth?

The article also talks about the book above, that was pointed out to me by AG.
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