On Platonic ideas

18 08 2010

Thence, Mr. Kirk glides into that singular theory of savage metaphysics which somewhat resembles the Platonic doctrine of Ideas. All things, in Red Indian belief, have somewhere their ideal counterpart, or “Father”. Thus, a donkey, when first seen, was regarded as “the Father” or archetype. “of rabbits”. Now, the second-sighted behold the “Double-man,” “Doppelganger”, “Astral Body”,” “Wraith,” or what you will, of a living person, and that is merely his counterpart in the abstruse world… From personal experience, and the experience of friends, I am constrained to believe that we may think we see a person who is not really present to the view – who may be in the next room or downstairs, or a hundred miles off. This experience has occured to the sane, the unimaginative, the healthy, the free of superstition, and in circumstances by no means mystic… All things universally have their types, their reflex: a man’s type, or reflex, or “co-walker” may be seen at a distance from or near him during his life – nay, may be seen after his death.

-Andrew Lang, in the introduction to Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies


25 06 2009

duende altar

Notes on the folk theology of the limbus infantium

In a book about Guatemalan folk saints, I saw a prayer to Don Diego Duende, who is portrayed as a portly man with a red suit and a red hat. Poke around the Internet, and you will find more prayers to him (the difference between these and witchcraft are virtually non-existent). Poke around even more, and you will find many prayers to protect oneself from duendes. Their role seems to be a bit ambiguous, as I quote from one Mexican website that I found, a series of children’s stories that mention duendes:

A pesar de ser tan traviesos, los duendes también acostumbran ayudar a los que se vuelven sus amigos. Los que quieren sus favores hacen un pacto con ellos: van a lo más apartado del monte a llevarles regalos, como elotes, agua, carne… y les rezan la oración del encantado. Algún duende les contesta que está de acuerdo echando tres chifliditos; o responde mandándoles venados y dejando que encuetren los tesoros de las cuevas.

In spite of being mischevious, goblins also are prone to help those who become their friends. Those who seek their favors make a pact with them: they go to the most secluded mountains and take them gifts, like corn, water, and meat… and they pray to them the enchanted prayer. A goblin answers them affirmatively by giving three whistles; or they answer them by sending them deer or leaving them to find treasures in caves.

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Finding Folk Orthodoxy

26 03 2009


A couple of years ago, I wrote a provocative piece on my experiences with Eastern Orthodoxy in this country. In it, I wrote that in my past encounters with Orthodoxy, what I usually found was a boutique religion for the white middle class, or alternatively, an ethnic church closed off from the rest of society, and not much else in between. In terms of the former, the most likely suspect to convert to Orthodoxy is a (usually white) religious maverick who wants to re-discover the “New Testament Church” as founded by Jesus Christ without the “popish” baggage that Roman Catholicism has to offer. Compared to the suburban white-washed suburban mega-parishes and the “supersitious” masses of the Latino barrio parish, Orthodoxy seems to have all of it i’s dotted and t’s crossed. There is, of course, the presence of the ethnic Orthodox, who often don’t come to Divine Liturgy on time or only grace the shadow of the church for a baptism or wedding, but they are a small price to pay for being in a church that doesn’t have “idolatrous” statues or the “Filioque” (that sum of all errors). The convert can thus enjoy his “true religion” detached from all of the cultural baggage of the “old country”. He may even seek refuge in an old, long fogotten past, being nostalgic for an “Orthodox Western Europe” that never was.

My own religious project since I wrote that polemical essay two years ago has changed substantially. It is very easy to find out what the Church says about itself. One only need look at such books as Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma or a similar book to find out what you should believe. That is the religious center of the Faith; the safe region, the core of what the clergy say is to believed by all. But what role, if any, does the periphery hold; what is the role of belief that grows spontaneously outside of the control of the “official Church”? And what relation, if any, does the official Church have with these beliefs? Living in the 21st century, and having passed through the paradigm shifts of early modernity, it is very easy to dismiss half of the things that our grandparents believed in as superstition or remnants of a pagan past. My nagging suspicion, however, is that without these things that were at the periphery ( or underground, unofficial, or quasi-forbidden), the center cannot hold. The death of the religious imagination of our forefathers is leading to the death of religion itself.
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