On the margins of theology – IV

16 11 2009


The curious case of St. Guinefort

For those who fancy themselves cultured and somewhat versed in the more bizarre points of history, the case of St. Guinefort is perhaps one of the more exotic and colorful stories at which to gawk. For those few who do not yet know the story, it begins in the castle of a nobleman whose name is now lost to the erosion of time and lore. Upon returning from a trip, he hastily killed his loyal greyhound after thinking that it had mauled his newborn child to death in his crib. After finding a dead snake and the child safe and sound, the nobleman realized what had really happened: the dog had once again presented itself as “man’s best friend”, having ferociously killed the snake that was stalking the bed of the newborn. The nobleman buried the dog and planted a tree at its burial site to commemorate its heroic actions. The castle itself was eventually leveled, the family departed, and a grove of trees came up in its place. But the locals did not forget the “martyrdom” of that greyhound, and little by little, the tree at which it was buried became the site of pilgrimage, particularly for mothers with sick young children.

This was the state in which the devoted Dominican, Stephen of Bourbon, found this area of the world in the 1200’s. Hot on the trail of heresy and witchcraft, the educated city dweller entered the countryside looking for anything that did not cohere with the “orthodoxy” that was triumphantly established in the great cathedrals and universities of the age. When through much prodding the friar found out that the local saint was a dog commemorated at a sacred grove, he began a campaign to eradicate the blasphemy from the region. He preached against the “rites” performed by the mothers there who would bring their sick children as a “sacrifice” to the fauns, passing them through the trunks of trees and leaving them exposed to the elements. Finally, he preached at the place itself, and had the bones of the dog dug up and burnt, and leveled the place to the ground. Unforunately here as well, Holy Mother Church was not able to eradicate completely the superstitions of the local “cafeteria” Catholics, and the cultus to St. Guinefort lasted well into the early 20th century.
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Dance of the Sun King

13 11 2009

Notes on alchemy

12 11 2009

Mercury was, for them, the seminal essence of a god who (pro-)creates the universe sexually; indeed the origin myth of mercury tells us that quicksilver first arose when Siva spilled his seed at the end of a long bout of lovemaking with his consort, the goddess Parvati. This seed once spilled, became polluted through its contact with the earth. The alchemist’s craft therefore consists of returning mercury, through a series of chemical reactions of incredible complexity, to its original pristine state. Once he has perfected it in the laboratory, the alchemist may then ingest this mercury, which then transforms him into an immortal human, a “second Siva”.

-David Gordon White, “The Ocean of Mercury: An Eleventh-Century Alchemical Text” in Religions of India in Practice
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Oración de la rosa de Jericó

11 11 2009

Divina rosa de Jericó: Por la Bendición que de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo recibiste, por la virtud que tu encierras y por el poder concedido ayúdame a vencer las dificultades de la vida, dame salud, fuerzas, felicidad, tranquilidad y paz para ganar más dinero con que cubrir mis necesidades y las de mi hogar y toda mi familia.

Divina ROSA DE JERICO: Todo esto te lo pido por la virtud que tú encierras en amor a Cristo Jesús y su grandiosa misericordia. AMEN


INSTRUCCIONES: La rosa debe ponerse en un platillo hondo con agua a las nueve o a las tres, del día Martes o Viernes, Déjese en agua por tres días consecutivos, quitándose a la misma hora en que se puso y hagase la oracion con todo fervor religioso.

La FE es la que salva y si usted no tiene FE, nada podrá alcanzar de las muchas virtudes atribuidas a esta planta, tenga presente que una planta completamente seca, recobra la vida y su color verde natural al contacto del agua. Úsese el agua que queda después de sacar la planta para rociar las esquinas de la puerta del frente de la casa para ahuyentar las malas influencias, trayendo al hogar la Paz, Poder y Abundancia.
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Chauvin Sculpture Garden

10 11 2009


From a useful website:

Little is known about the reclusive Kenny Hill, a bricklayer by trade, born around 1950. In 1988, he settled on some property on the bayou in Chauvin (pronounced show-van), Louisiana—population 3,400. Hill pitched a tent as his home and, over time, built a small rustic home that demonstrated an interesting use of space and attention to detail. Then, in 1990, without explanation, he began transforming his lush bayou environment into a fantastic chronicle of the world as seen through his eyes.

Less than a decade later, more than 100 primarily religious concrete sculptures densely pack the narrow, bayouside property. The sculptures are a profound mixture of Biblical reference, Cajun colors, and the evident pain and struggle of the artist’s life. Most figures—black, white, male, female, child, or solider—are guided, supported, or lifted by seemingly weightless angels. The unique angels, some inviting passage, others prohibiting, vary from blue skinned, bare-footed, and sightless to regal celestial figures clad in medieval garb with the black boots of the local shrimp fishermen.

AG and I visited here this past weekend, and my first reaction was: “this is what happens when you don’t have an editor”. But it was an unexpected and pleasant surprise near the “end of the line” in southern Louisiana. I also have to give a shout out to Annie Miller’s Sons’ Swamp Tours and Bayou Delight Restaurant, both outside of Houma. The former was pleasant and reasonably priced, and the latter was just an obscenity of southern Louisiana cuisine (i.e. fried food “porn”: fried alligator, crawfish, frogs’ legs, boudin balls, shrimp, etc.) I recommend the “Cajun Platter”. See below for more pictures of the sculpture garden.

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Theological mercenaries

9 11 2009


Henry Karlson has written an essay entitled, Academic Theology for the website Inside Catholic, in which he criticizes the attitude of treating theology as one modern academic discipline among others. As a student of theology in a contemporary Catholic school, he complains that there is a great deal of pressure to write “something unique” rather than uphold and defend what has always been believed:

Theologians, because they are tied to universities, are required to write according to the dictates and expectations of academia. This can be problematic, as academia loves novelty, while theology should be about preserving the faith and avoiding empty novelty.

The academic exercise of theology must also be tied into a vibrant spiritual life, and he cites such figures as Hans Urs von Balthasar as examples still being able to “engage theology today”.
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De Stijl

6 11 2009

From De Materie, an opera by composer Louis Andriessen and Robert Wilson

More on faith and culture

5 11 2009


Rather than attempting to build Christianity upon the natural virtues of Inca religion in the Andes, the Jesuits in Juli had come to see Andean customs and beliefs as a serious hinderance to the faith of Christ. The sixteenth-century emphasis on the interior experience of Christianity, which created much higher standards for native converts than had existed in preceding centuries, meant that the Jesuit’s disillusionment with the native potential for Christian evangelization would be experienced throughout the Peruvian church. Eventually, the conviction that they native peoples were not truly “Christian” would lead to episcopal campaigns in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to extirpate idolatry, as well as to modern notions that Andean peoples are “cryptopagans” even when they profess a belief in Christ.

Dr. Sabine Hyland wrote a book a few years back entitled, The Jesuit and the Incas, on one of the first mestizo clergy in Peru, Fr. Blas Valera. A son of one of the conquistadores and an Inca noblewoman, he was one of the first scholars to do a comparison of ancient Incan civilization with the European classical world, and created a world view quite favorable to the conquered empire. It was Fr. Valera’s contention that Inca religion was quite close to Christianity, down to an almost Christian idea of an incarnate God named Viracocha, and an absolute creator god named Illa Tecce. Valera wanted the Spanish clergy to begin to use these names for the Christian God and Jesus Christ, but to no avail. In the end, Fr. Valera was framed on charges of fornication and imprisoned by the Jesuit order for four years. Scholars now believe that he was really imprisoned for syncretic heresy. Only through the intervention of some influential Jesuits was he finally freed and sent to Spain, where he died in a pirate assault on Cadiz in 1597.
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Two from Tukaram

4 11 2009

Quarreling with God

You’re shameless,
and you don’t think.
You quarrel with us
like a man in the marketplace.

And then you’re delighted
whenever you meet
someone who has become
just like you.

You’re itching to take off
your loincloth.
And in the end
you’ll strip us all naked.

Tuka says, you heartless man,
you don’t give a damn about yourself
or anyone else.


Can water drink itself?
Can a tree taste its own fruit?
The worshiper of God must
remain distinct from
Only thus will he come to
know God’s joyful love.
But if he were to say that God
and he are one,
that joy and love would
vanish instantly.

Hino da Umbanda

3 11 2009