Marcela Speaks

KnightExcerpt from Chapter 14 of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Translation by Edith Grossman, transcribed from audio by Recorded Books 2003
(voice by George Guidall)

(As a character, Marcela gave one of the most lucid arguments I’ve ever read against the sexual objectification of women and coerced consent. This book, and by extension this mic-drop worthy monologue, was published in 1605.)

The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873)

The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873)

There will be no need to spend much time or waste many words to persuade discerning men of truth…

Heaven made me, as all of you say, so beautiful that you cannot resist my beauty and are compelled to love me. And because of the love you show me, you claim that I am obliged to love you in return. I know, with the natural understanding that God has given me, that everything beautiful is lovable—but I cannot grasp why, simply because it is loved, the thing loved for its beauty is obliged to love the one who loves it.

Further, the lover of the beautiful thing might be ugly, and since ugliness is worthy of being avoided, it is absurd for anyone to say, “I love you because you are beautiful! You must love me, even though I am ugly.” But in the event the two are equally beautiful, it does not mean that their desires are necessarily equal, for not all beauties fall in love. Some are a pleasure to the eye, but do not surrender their will, because if all beauties loved and surrendered, there would be a whirl of confused and misled wills, not knowing where they should stop. For since beautiful subjects are infinite, desires would have to be infinite, too.

According to what I have heard, true love is not divided—and must be voluntary, not forced. If this is true, as I believe it is, why do you want to force me to surrender my will? Obliged to do so, simply because you say you love me? But if this is not true, then tell me: If the Heaven that made me beautiful had made me ugly instead, would it be fair for me to complain that none of you loved me?

Moreover, you must consider that I did not choose the beauty I have, and, such as it is, Heaven gave it to me freely, without my requesting or choosing it. And just as the viper does not deserve to be blamed for its venom, although it kills, since it was given the venom by nature, I do not deserve to be reproved for being beautiful; for beauty in the chaste woman is like a distant fire or sharp-edged sword: They do not burn or cut the person who does not approach them.

Honor and virtue are adornments of the soul without which the body is not truly beautiful (even if it seems to be so.) And if chastity is one of the virtues that most adorn and beatify both body and soul…Why should a woman, loved for being beautiful, lose that virtue in order to satisfy the desire of a man who, for the sake of his pleasure, attempts with all of his might and main to have her lose it?

I was born free, and in order to live free, I chose the solitude of the countryside. The trees of these mountains are my companions. The clear waters of these streams, my mirrors. I communicate my thoughts and my beauty to the trees and to the waters. I am a distant fire and a far-off sword. Those whose eyes force them to fall in love with me, I have discouraged with my words. If desires feed on hopes, and since I have given no hope to Gristóstomo or to any other man regarding those desires, it is correct to say that his obstinacy, not my cruelty, is what killed him. And if you claim that his thoughts were virtuous, and for this reason I was obliged to respond to them, I say that when he revealed to me the virtue of his desire, on the very spot where his grave is now being dug, I told him that mine was to live perpetually alone and have only the earth enjoy the fruit of my seclusion and the spoils of my beauty. And if he, despite that discouragement, wished to persist against all hope, and sail into the wind…why be surprised if he drowned in the middle of the gulf of his folly?

If I had kept him by me, I would have been false. If I had gratified him, I would have gone against my own best intentions and purposes. He persisted though I discouraged him. He despaired, though I did not despise him. Tell me now if it is reasonable to blame me for his grief.

Let the one I deceived complain. Let the man despair to whom I did not grant a hope I had promised, or speak if I called to him, or boast if I accepted him! But no man can call me cruel or a murderer if I do not promise, deceive, call to, or accept him.

Until now, Heaven has not ordained that I love. And to think that I shall love of my own accord is to think the impossible. Let this general discouragement serve for each of those who solicit me for his own advantage. Let it be understood from this day forth that if anyone dies because of me, he does not die of jealousy or misfortune, because she who loves no one cannot make anyone jealous, and discouragement should not be taken for disdain.

Let him who calls me ‘savage basilisk’ avoid me as he would something harmful and evil; let him who calls me ‘ungrateful’ not serve me, ‘unapproachable’ not approach me, ‘cruel’ not follow me! Let him not seek me out, serve, approach or follow in any way this savage, ungrateful, cruel, unapproachable basilisk! For if his impatience and rash desire killed Gristóstomo, why should my virtuous behavior and reserve be blamed?

If I preserve my purity in the company of trees, why should a man want me to lose it if he wants me to keep it in the company of men?

As you know, I have wealth of my own and do not desire anyone else’s. I am free and do not care to submit to another. I do not love or despise anyone. I do not deceive this one or solicit that one. I do not mock one or amuse myself with another. The honest conversation of the shepherdesses from these hamlets, and tending to my goats, are my entertainment. The limits of my desires are these mountains, and if they go beyond here, it is to contemplate the beauty of Heaven, and the steps whereby the soul travels to its first home.

Don Quixote by Gustav Dore

Don Quixote by Gustav Dore

Let no person, whatever his circumstance or condition, dare to follow the beautiful Marcela lest he fall victim to my fury and outrage.

Discernment, Defense, and Dickweed Indigenous Fae

The following entry may contain triggering material.

After an entry about santol fruit, I wanted to write up a local myth about the taro plant. Taro is best-known as a root crop that may or may not be purple, although I know a recipe that stews the very green leaves into mulch. (Dioscoria alata is definitely purple and a root crop, but called something else.) My research, which in this case means Wikipedia, suggests that taro is one of the earliest cultivated plants, its origins being Malaysian although cultivation has spread as far as the New World since then, whether by trade routes in Oceania long Before the Common Era, or because colonial masters said so.

It could be interesting to consider, because the story I know has an Engkanto in it, and I’m not entirely certain that’s an indigenous folkloric being. Neither do I know how strong the connection ought to be between the story about the plant and the corporeal plant itself. If this is a Philippine myth about a Malaysian plant, and Malaysia is like right there, why is this story so Spanish?

In the version of the story that I picked up by osmosis, the taro plant is known as gabi because of a girl named Gabriella whose nickname was Gabi. The stress is on the wrong syllable to suggest any association with the evening (gabi) which has more Austronesian vowels than Indo-European etymology anyway. An Engkanto tried to flirt and seduce Gabi into the otherworld to be his wife, and she said something like, “no thanks”. So, the Engkanto cursed her into a plant. Her toes became underground tubers so that she could never move from where she’d been cursed, and also they’re maybe sometimes purple? The plant’s leaves would be heart-shaped so that the whole world would know what her heart was like. The rain would fall upon the leaves and roll off, like his rain of love and attention upon this shrewish soul-eating harpy who couldn’t appreciate it. When her heart softens to him, Gabi can become human again. Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. But how can this curse not have already been broken? Hasn’t this otherworldly suitor been so charming???

Seriously though, there is no story I know about Engkantos that tells of them being anything other than total dickweeds.

Gabi_Plant_th

I think this is a gabi plant but they’re not usually so large.

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Sandoricum Season

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Excerpt
An excerpt from Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection: Malay Peninsula (1803-1818)

Sentul / Sentul / Sandoricum koetjape

Native to Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, the sentul is widely distributed as a backyard plant in tropical Asia. it is a semi-deciduous tree reaching up to 45 m. The fruits are large round berries that become bright yellow when ripe. These are eaten fresh or made into chutney or jam. The plant is also used in traditional medicine. Sentul, also known as kecapi, is an endangered species in Singapore.

Unlike with the durian, I don’t know a myth about this fruit off the top of my head. I do have a story, or more of an anecdote. A memory of the santol tree in my grade school campus serves as the marker for a scape I named Erstvale:

PIC_1638

The tree didn’t corporeally have a door at the root, the rest of this Scape is not from my grade school, and I have no idea where the pine trees on the left side came from. There should be a bamboo grove there instead.

Some of the older kids taught me to throw a basketball at the boughs to knock the fruits down. I’d been so taken up by the sheer novelty of eating fruit from a tree (instead of from a grocery) that I would never notice that it wasn’t entirely ripe. Most would be so tart that my gums went numb after the third or fourth santol, but I’d kept eating anyway. The end.

Pictures of fruit under the read more tag, because it’s currently santol season. The fruit segments are like chewing a damp, maybe half-felted cotton ball soaked in fruit juice. When they’re really ripe, the sugar seeps into the skin, so even that can be spooned out and eaten. Being slightly more tart than the fruit segments, it goes well with chili salt or soy sauce.

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Foxglove and Stitches

The following entry may contain triggering material.

In the corporeal world, I attended Catholic mass. It was at a smaller church, more like a giant gazebo. I sat at the periphery, with the lattice-wall at my back. The homily was about a pet parrot of a priest’s friend. The parrot had been trained to say a specific prayer depending on which claw someone pulled. When the priest wondered aloud which prayer the parrot would say if they pulled both claws, (I think it went) the parrot responded: “I’d fall without anything to perch on, you dolt.”

The point was that even a parrot can pray. Human churchgoing Catholics should pray with meaning in their hearts, and with a mind to community and humility rather than bargaining with a cosmic God for selfish purposes. The Paternoster goes “give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and “thy will be done” not me and mine.

I want to say that Catholicism is complex, not inconsistent or contradictory, because so is life and the universe and everything. Still, it strikes me as suspiciously convenient to couch attractive and advantageous offers in terms of this religion—and then that anyone can cut down what they don’t like, also in the terms of this religion. Whether someone has the real goodness of the One True God in their heart and live the One Truly Proper Way, or if someone’s being led astray by the Adversary, becomes most obviously (to me, anyway) a matter of “yuh-huh” and “nuh-uh” back and forth into infinity about every little thing and big thing.

Such conduct is not unique to Catholicism, of course, but while the homily set up some no-nonsense structures (say what you mean, mean what you say, and have a care!) I kind of flinch inwardly at external attempts to fiddle with internals, because some days I don’t even know if I’m really myself or if I’m just a collage of what people have done to me. A break from that would be nice. Conforming to normalcy and the concept of a United Front have only ever been used to shut me up about things that were killing me (I exaggerate, of course—eating disorders and suicide don’t count as real death, as my family kept implying, it’s just a rude inconvenience by attention-seeking brats) and that sort of abuse has always been justified in terms of this religion. That might not have been what this priest meant to reinforce, but I don’t think it’s in me to be more than a cultural Catholic. Hey, culture is a lot—It's why we're the only country in the world where divorce isn't legal, we technically have Straight Pride Parades that shame even straight people, and atheists get put in jail (well, that one protest cosplayer, who in my opinion was out of line, no accounting for style.)

If I could decide, I should pull a Joan of Arc and protest against the cultural effects based on guidance from living half in Christian otherworlds, not play to cultural and bureaucratic stigma while half living in fairyland.

But it’s time I mentioned fairy pirate captain Foxglove, who stood outside the lattice looking out, as everyone else in the gazebo-church began singing Don Moen’s “Two Hands, One Heart”: “Two hands, one heart / One life to offer You / Two hands, one heart / That’s what I give to You…”

“I don’t like this song!” Foxglove exclaimed, raising both his arms (both starting from the shoulders, one ended in a hand and the other in a hook prosthetic.)

*

He probably has a point, but that doesn’t mean he’s not also melodramatic, and I hate dismissing anything as “just drama” because I have had some very real suffering treated that way, and feel as though that horrid phrase should never ever be possible to pronounce or spell. Then some abusive corporeal offline people I used to know really tempt me to say it, and the internal fracturing of my principles get me rocking back and forth while humming the theme from Galavant to soothe the turmoil. And after I’m soothed, I still don’t know right thing to do.

I left Foxglove out of this entry. I never know what’s going to be a Significant Otherworldly Exploration Discovery Event Development and what’s just zany and goes nowhere. He was there, around that same time, but all sighs and “We Shan’t Meet Again Because You Need Me No Longer, Yet I Remain Always In Your Heart…”

And I was like, “Yeah, right…”

Because I don’t want to put out there that I don’t believe it if someone says we’re over and done with.

But after that I wandered into Quartermaster Camshaft’s cabin and found Camshaft in pieces, and Foxglove shook my shoulders and shouted a lot at me to, “Get it together!”

But after that I lay in bleak and speechless conviction of my uselessness in a probably godless world anyway, and Foxglove kept prodding my head with a finger and saying that the high seas, at least, were his if they were anyone’s, and if I went on some paracosmic adventure right now then real-life Neo-Imperial China would quit the shenanigans in international waters.

“Stop giving me delusions of grandeur,” I’d muttered.

“At least take a shower,” he’d replied, with another prod. (By complete coincidence and not because he told me to while prodding my head, I pushed myself up and ambled over to the shower.)

But after that he stood outside church during mass and criticized the choir’s song selection. He doesn’t even usually go to church with me in what I call the otherreal. He doesn’t even have a corporeal human body, let alone a consistent disability to complain pointedly about. He is such a drrgrrargh!

***

Last night I felt a hollow pain in my chest. It’s a cliché for reasons of being a common human experience (probably? I’d say…) but clichés are bad for reasons. What if it’s only a common human experience because people who haven’t experienced it just keep saying the phrase, so people start thinking in that phrase, and use it upon feeling something “close enough” or to elicit an expression of empathy from whoever we say it to, so we’ve convinced ourselves that we feel it when we don’t actually or otherwise wouldn’t have? (Holy hearts, what sort of gullible and disingenuous person am I, that this would even be a pragmatic and intuitive distinction to make?)

What if the constructed associated meanings are misleading? I have felt what I describe to be a hollow pain in my chest when I tried to go vegan: It was a vitamin deficiency. I have also felt a hollow pain in my chest related to emotion. They’re both hollow pains in the chest, but they’re different hollow pains in the chest in ways I don’t have more words to explain right now.

This time, I intuited it to have some otherworldly overlap, so I went there in my mind and reached around and took the pain-thing out of my fetch’s chest.

It looked and felt like a sheep’s heart I dissected in biology class once, except the incisions came down from the big top end and met at the ventral node-tip part. They hung like a cartoon octopus’ tentacles, and flopped fleshily like flat noodles.

Well, I thought, It’s better than the black-gray goop that I usually get!

library

So, I went to my library, because it seemed the likeliest place to find a stapler, rather than Erstvale or Foxglove’s ship. I didn’t draw the furniture above because I don’t always know exactly what’s in my own sort of Surreal Save Point. One time it was zombies. My therapist thinks it Means Something. This time, there was a conference table between the door to the inside of the crescent bookshelf and the door to outside the library (as there usually is.) A chess set rested on the round table by the window in front of the mezzanine stairs, although their players had gone a long time ago. Up on the mezzanine were more bookshelves, a fireplace and armchairs, and a glass casket containing an ostentatiously ugly gown.

No staplers.

So then, I went through the crescent bookshelf door and into the poop cabin on Foxglove’s ship (that door doesn’t always lead to the same scape, but usually to the scapes that press up against the door like they’re eavesdropping). I shouldn’t be surprised that he was there, but I was, so I held up the heart and said, “I think I broke it. Have you got a stapler?”

The poop deck had maps, pencils, calligraphy brushes, sextants, astrolabes, pocket watches, Victorian keys, for some reason a weather vane and an orrery—but no stapler that I could see, and Foxglove wasn’t even looking for one. He just kicked over a trap door to another cabin and dropped through. I followed. He found a sewing needle and a bit of yellow-beige fluff in one of the caskets.

I sat on the table and waited as he got out a bit of paper card. With one hand, he began to twist the fluff into thread and I groaned. His hook had no trouble catching more fluff, and eventually the card was covered in a spool of looping thread. Eventually. Very eventually.

“I’ve got an REM cycle to catch,” I said, as he took a threader out of the casket. He shrugged and grasped the needle in his teeth. I said, “Maybe it’ll be faster if I did it—” because my fetch had two hands.

He shot me a disdainful expression and threaded the needle, then held his hook out for the heart. I hung the heart on it by an artery. He started to sew.

Having watched a pet kitten get stitches at the vet’s office after a bad fight with another cat, I did get the idea that sewing up flesh was different from sewing up fabric: each stitch is separate, so pulling one stitch wouldn’t pull the others along with it in a continuous running line.

I asked, “What does it mean if your heart feels hollow?”

Foxglove answered, “Of course it’s going to be hollow, there’s got to be room for the blood to go through.”

“That’s awfully literal!”

After swinging my legs over the edge of the table for a while, I glanced over at how Foxglove was sewing, and saw that he was embroidering long stitches so close together that they looked like hatch-shading.

“Quests were more fun when you were teaching me how to swordfight,” I remarked. “And I don’t even like combat at all.”

“Mm. Are archery lessons going well?”

“Under Marigold, it’s one of the more lenient levels of my personal Hell.”

“What did happen to Heartwrench?”

I didn’t want to tell him. I don’t even want to tell you right now. So we lapsed into a silence awkward to me, but I think Foxglove already knew because he had this smug grin all the rest of the while he continued sewing.

Eventually I got bored enough to flop down on the table and bounce my head against the wood.

Then Foxglove paused to take out his broken pocket watch, then made a face of dramatically exaggerated shock at what the unticking clock’s own face showed the time of. Then he politely left the cabin, and the heart half unsewed on the table.

I rummaged about the caskets and found a large blue stapler in one of them, and just used that on the rest of it, which was sooooo much quicker than sewing, Foxglove, you are such a troll. Then I put it back in my chest (the heart with the staples, not the stapler itself.)

And I felt better, so there.

*

I really never know what’s going to be a Significant Otherworldly Exploration Discovery Event Development and what’s just zany and goes nowhere, but this did seem like it would be an entertaining anecdote, so here it is.

Almost Feel Like You’ve Been Here Before

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Discworld.

The volcano erupted. Apparently, it does that on occasion still, and…the city’s still standing, the cane fields unrazed, nobody evacuated, there wasn’t even an earthquake. It was more like an ash burp. I was still sorry not to have seen it, because there didn’t seem to be any other way to know that it had happened, except by word of mouth of new friends I made in this city…who might have, on second thought, been joking.

One good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: hot springs. They were a half hour’s drive past the edge of the city, through the definitely-horizontal sugar cane fields, then past rice paddies terraced to keep up with the incline of the mountain—if we can say that a volcano is just a mountain with extra geothermal activity—and through the semi-domesticated jungle that the volcano dressed up in. The venue was like a park, with several families strolling down the cobblestone paths, sometimes in swimsuits. Bamboo fences divided and hid the hot spring pools (access to which pools varied in price depending on the temperature or mineral concentration of the water.) It was like sitting in a mossy stone bath tub of warm broth, under the light and chill mountain rain. I toweled off and came out feeling deeply juvenated, if smelling a shade fartlike.

One tall bamboo fence, topped by a vast netted tent, turned out to be a butterfly sanctuary and flower garden. The rest of the area were mostly more cobblestone paths and cold boulder-rivers, some plots of grassy turf and other plots of semi-domesticated jungle, a hiking trail upwards to adventure, and a hiking trail downwards to an eatery.

We had grilled garlic scallops in the half shell for lunch. I can’t get seafood this fresh at mountains of the same altitude up north, maybe due to less competent urban planning, or maybe due to the capital being on a bigger island with far more distance between the mountains and beaches, or maybe due to the belligerent introversion of the mountains themselves. I also had the fried chicken, and while this town has a signature chicken recipe that isn’t fried, there’s something about the chickens here that taste more like chicken no matter what the recipe. I wonder if it’s something in the feed.

Another good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: previous explosions can make some of the most fertile ground for farming, and that residual fertility can last for generations.

*

To Corporeal Cecilia, the volcano is personified but not anthropomorphized. He (the volcano, not Corporeal Cecilia) just looms there and grumps. My source for the personification-anthropomorphization was J. A. Macculloch’s The Religion of the Ancient Celts (“In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and […] this led later to more complete personification”) although Cecilia, who is currently taking anthropology classes, knows this as an unfashionable anthropological theory wielded to justify colonialism. (Ahem, “more complete” personification?)

The volcano does have a story, as Cecilia told me. There was a seven-headed dragon (that’s the volcano, zoomorphized…or should that be cryptozoomorphized?) and some legendary heroic figure that dueled the dragon, and the townsfolk were so happy this hero won that they named the volcano Laon after the hero. Which could get confusing, because the dragon was the volcano?

*

My proto-source for personification and anthropomorphism was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. There’s a faithful film adaptation of Hogfather somewhere out there that probably best shows Discworld theology, the Hogfather being the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus. Sir Pratchett peppers a fair few books with Anthropomorphic Personification, by those words, with Capitalization.

What gets less brightly highlighted, though, is Discworld’s sort of Animism, probably because it’s never called that, let alone with Capitalization. Discworld has a natural phenomenon known as the Narrative Imperative. This prevents heroes from dying off before the villains, and also allows the medieval fantasy battle party to get very meta about everything. I think that could be one example. Another could be the idea introduced in the Tiffany Aching quintet, about how witches awaken to their abilities depending on the geology of their home. Granny Weatherwax’s power grew from the granite mountains of Lancre (or, according to a fellow witch in-world, from having a mild inborn predisposition to witch-ing which may or may not be genetic…and then working bloody hard at it.) Tiffany’s power grew from the chalk hills, which age-peer witches give her flack for, and one old witch who meant well but couldn’t help being flabbergasted. Older and wiser witches know the bones of the chalk hills are flint, which is more acceptably rocklike, but most of the big magic that Tiffany does calls to the oceanic origins of her land and name.

My concept of sea witches grew out of that sort of animism, how the coral bones call to the fetch, and the salts turn to fluid crystals and liquid rock. Beaches are edges, too—liminal spaces between sea and earth, and even whitecaps on the high seas a liminality of sea and sky.

What about volcanic witches? Far less explosive and destructive than stereotyped, I gathered, at least around this volcano. How does one capital-w Work with an animistic grump dressed like some plant goddess of mountain-jungles and fields (who does good, but really doesn’t know or care or try to do it, or take thanks for it because he’s that much of a grump)? Or an adversarial dragon named after the hero who slew him?

I can still feel the warmth of the scalding, sulphuric waters. That’s all that grounds me on this subject, really, and walking around in Volcano Country, and eating stuff grown in Volcano Country, and catching conversations and stories in and of Volcano Country, and breathing the air. What do I make of this all, with folklore and pop culture and passé anthropological jargon, and why? (This is neither rhetorical nor curious. I’m just settling into an approach, or honing a perception.)

A Capital Idea!

The following entry and links may contain triggering material.

The other day, I caught an amusing status update that described capital-p Pagan and Polytheism movements making too much noise about the next thing threatening it/these that…really doesn’t “threaten” at all. The ensuing discussion described picking on l’il-p pop culture paganism as two years out of vogue (hurrah!) but pitting pagan-inspired esotericism against by-the-reconstructionist-approved-book practices never goes out of style (un-hurrah.)

Now it’s capital-p Politics. Identity politics, and cultural dynamics, I think that’s dicey to say religion keeps itself in some hermetically sealed jar and never has any influence on that, or has never been influenced by that. Then again, my corporeal roommate is taking anthropology classes, and information is contagious.

It is commonplace in the academic study of religion to observe that the word “religion” is manifestly conditioned by the history of its use and that it is deeply problematic, epistemologically and politically, to generalize across the very wide range of human cultural goings-on that are now included in this capacious term.

That sentence is capacious.

To speak of religion is to elide and conceal much that is critical to understanding the deeply embedded ways of being often denoted by the short-hand term “religion(s).” Rather than begin by asking what religion is as an autonomous object in the world, or as a distinctive human phenomenon, and therefore how best to define it know it when we see it

Alynah’s Ears, can we please just know it when we see it? I don’t care anymore what philosophical distinction structures the Rather you have—

the better to explain it and its relations with other objects—it is more cautious to start the question: What has religion been for anthropology?

Okay. That’s pretty cool. What was I blogging about again? Not anthropology. Politics? Oh, right. Capital-p Politics, the laws and military and international relations…getting in the way of religion? Aristotle taught me that gods can only be arsed to take notice of the highborn. I don’t believe the lesson, but that doesn’t make the opposite true, that religion is apolitical.

I take anthropology to be a particular tradition of enquiry, a long conversation

With such capacious sentences, it would be a long conversation. I’m guilty of this, though, so I shouldn’t snark. Where’s this even from?

—”A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion” by Janice Boddy, Michael Lambek, and Treebeard the Ent

*

What makes religion apolitical to me personally is that, while my belief system might become categorically religious, I…haven’t navigated the political climate of where I live as well as that (not well enough for a consistent metaphor, anyway.) My corporeal friend of a friend, let’s name her Saeyong, told me over dinner about her worries for her home country because some politician over there seemed very likely to win on the platform of removing everyone’s online privacy…and monitoring offline spaces, as a public service. Dinner ended with her shaking my shoulders and exclaiming, “You have to vote! Or the worst will happen!”

But the only platforms I could glean from each candidate was, ‘No, your father was a womanizer!’ And I watched the debates. There didn’t seem to be any actual arguing. If someone comes up and says that sustainable poverty alleviation could only happen if legislation that affects businesses quit being so easily intimidated by vested interests, and the general answer is that poverty alleviation is always a noble goal that will involve balancing vested interests consistently…I still won’t know who to vote for.

“Binay bought our votes,” droned my corporeal friend Anjie. “He said it himself that even if he loses, he’ll win.”

“Are you sure he didn’t mean that even if nobody likes him, he’ll still be a winner in his heart?” I asked.

Anjie was very sure.

As it went, Anjie was wrong and Saeyong was right. We inaugurated this guy. Shaping up the police force to military standards! Encouraging vigilante justice among civilians! Dead bodies have turned up, mummified in masking tape with some paper note saying not to feel sorry for them, because they were drug pushers…which is hardly Procedure.

Alleged purse snatchers have been given the same treatment.

Purse snatchers. Alleged purse snatchers. Murdered, or “executed” but either way death is involved…for purse snatching. Not only is that not Procedure, but I’m just not sensing how exactly that dismantles the systemic economic injustices that turns purse-snatching into an attractive career in the first place. I’m not even saying that purse snatchers are a boon to society or unsung heroes or some bullshit: there’s a time in my life where I lived out of one bag, one unlucky encounter and yeah I would probably have wanted that thief dead. But I believe there’s a lot in between that might involve some actual justice maybe.

Anyway, who’s next up for masking tape mummification? Prostitutes? Jaywalkers? Litterbugs? Truant orphaned street children? Growing up in middle class luxury, I was always told those kids were pawns of organized crime syndicates. It stands to reason that now is the golden age of this nation, for vigilantes can sentence the kids to death for skipping class and breaking child labor laws.

In cheerier news, the United Nations asked China very nicely to cut it out with setting up military outposts and destroying corals to create artificial islands in areas that aren’t theirs, that is…the Philippines. (I’ve overheard some rumors about unfortunate Vietnamese fishing boats in the same area whose crews might not have made it out alive, but overhearing rumors is hardly proper citation.)

According to China, though, the Philippines is in China.

*

Scratch all that.

What makes religion apolitical to me personally is that I haven’t got a hashtagging prayer.

Jung On Active Imagination

When it comes to Jungian psychology, I tend to just like the ideas because they applied well, and they felt like they fit with…whatever I was going through, or dealing with, that I’d get all Jungian about. I’d take it as a given that Jung was a child of the times, being a Swiss dude who worked between the 1910s to 1960s. I considered Active Imagination an inevitable outcome of his research into dream symbolism and the relation thereof to the mental state of his patients. I also picked up somewhere that Freudian psychology and Jungian psychology branched off when their respective founders disagreed; and just a cursory look at Freudian psychology revealed some reductive, harmful ideas disguised as intellectual rigor. Jungian psychology still has its problems, but started off with a pluralistic enough view of the human condition to…remain relevant.

So, I thought of it coldly, in terms of “irreconcilable philosophical difference.” It made sense that they would split.

Joan Chodorow’s compilation and commentary of Jung’s writings on the Active Imagination method of therapy gave the context I lacked. By the read of it, the ‘breakup’ with Freud had outright traumatized Jung. He found himself subject to fatigue and terrors, and unable to write. So, now technically without peers in his field, he turned to the theories he developed about his own mind. There had to be some way that he could heal the psychological damage from within.

Several years later, Jung could be caught walking in the garden, having lively conversations with an invisible man named like a Pokémon. That’s what it sometimes looks like when this therapy is working well. Jung’s first essay on this topic was entitled “The Transcendental Function”, begun in 1916 and finally published in 1958. Now that’s a bad case of writer’s block.

A fantasy is more or less your own invention, and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. But active imagination, as the term denotes, means that the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic – that is, of course, if your conscious reason does not interfere. You begin by concentrating on a starting point (…) when you concentrate on a mental picture, it begins to stir, the image becomes enriched by details, it moves and develops. Each time, naturally, you mistrust it and have the idea that you have just made it up, that it is merely your own invention. But you have to overcome that doubt, because it is not true.

We can really produce precious little by our conscious mind. All the time we are dependent upon the things that literally fall into our consciousness; therefore in German we call them Einfälle. For instance, if my unconscious should prefer not to give me ideas, I could not proceed with my lecture, because I could not invent the next step.

You all know the experience when you want to mention a name or a word which you know quite well, and it simply does not present itself; but some time later it drops into your memory. We depend entirely upon the benevolent cooperation of our unconscious. If it does not cooperate, we are completely lost. Therefore I am convinced that we cannot do much in the way of conscious invention; we over-estimate the power of intention and the will. And so when we concentrate on an inner picture and when we are careful not to interrupt the natural flow of events, our unconscious will produce a series of images which will make a complete story.

I have tried that method with many patients and for many years, and possess a large collection of such ‘opera.’

Joan Chodorow comments:

In the spontaneous dramatic play of childhood, upsetting life situations are enacted symbolically, but this time the child is in control.

(…)

The major danger of the method [of active imagination] involves being overwhelmed by the powerful effects, impulses and images of the unconscious. It should be attempted only by psychologically mature individuals who are capable of withstanding a powerful confrontation with the unconscious. A well developed ego standpoint is needed so that conscious and unconscious may encounter each other as equals.

Those are some conflicting messages, whether to set out on active imaginings with a mature and controlling attitude, or more immersive playful symbolism. Jung’s writings of his own meditative journeys in The Red Book were almost never purely descriptive. Everything had to mean something in this system of symbols and archetypes. This was, Jung maintained early on in Chodorow’s compilation, the difference between art therapy (enactments of this active imagination) and artistry (which produced the same things, not exactly the same things, but still through the mind). Artists who were Jung’s contemporaries might have what I call a sidereal intention, but didn’t have the skills to psychoanalyze themselves—according to Jung. Considering that Jung was codifying those very skills, though, that was an uncharacteristically dickweedish thing to say.

Eliana’s Song, by Naomi Kritzer

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm, both by Naomi Kritzer.

No masters or kings when the Ritual begins;
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human, only then I am clean

—The Journey of Gesu, chapter 5 verse 10-14

Oops, I meant

—Hozier, “Take Me To Church”

Eliana’s Song is a medieval fantasy that isn’t a trilogy, or a five-to-seven-book chronicle, and…doesn’t need to be longer than it already is. Although if you know any good fanfiction, link it me please! The first book is a moody, slow setup like a mystery. The second book clips along much faster, enjoyably zany, then goes far beyond the thematic expectations before pulling back to a satisfactory resolution. Despite the in-book world going to medieval Christan hell in a dystopian handbasket, the aesthetic makes a sandbox that I want to cozy in until I am buried. Magic fire is commonplace. Children of average intelligence can strike a spark with their mind. It takes a prodigy’s lifetime of study to be recruited into the Mage University as human weapons of mass destruction raining flaming meteors down from the sky, so most people just use it to light candles. This ability is also politicized as a gift from the Lady, a figure in the mythology of the Delia Chiesa (the dominant religion.) This Lady never features as a character, except perhaps by secondhand testimony of the deliriously dehydrated. Mythological figures from other in-book religions don’t feature as characters, either—refreshing for a high fantasy where demonstrably extant magics are so intertwined with religion. Secular customs of the nobles echo that of a Romantic era: costume festivals, masquerade balls, wines and cheeses, and coded messages in flowers.

The point of view character, Eliana, is a nerd. Rather than begin the story in the hero’s happy farming village home that is razed to the ground by warfare and their family is dead—eventually gets around to that, but—the story begins at an arts college. Bless her heart, the violin remains Eliana’s weapon for so much longer than medieval fantasy fans would expect. Eliana’s home of Renaissance Fantasy Italy is suffering from famine, civil unrest, clandestine politics, clandestine metaphysics, and religious warfare. But, never fear! Eliana has a fiddle!

…She’s good with the fiddle, okay?

We would be doomed, but everyone off to save the world needs powerful friends. Meet Flavia on the drums, Celia the lead vocalist, Julia playing second fiddle and terribly unhappy about it, and (my personal favorite character, but she doesn’t come back until the second book) Lia on the mandolin.

Anyway, here’s “Wonderwall”.

Religion, Culture, & Politics in Eliana’s Song

Kritzer has a BA in Religion, and authors of similar academic pedigree would be eager to pontificate, if the spectacle of historical fantasy didn’t already bait that. Eliana’s Song doesn’t take the bait. Kritzer has a story to tell, and fills this story with human beings. When it comes to artistic criticism of religion in real-life culture, Kritzer has no evident soapbox. Abuse of political power corrupts all forms of faith. There are honest, brave devotees of the Lady of Delia Chiesa; and there are the Fedeli, extremists and inquisitors who torture people to death. Among their most common victims are those converted to the Old Ways, a religion known as Redentore, that in this book is positioned like paganism but has the customs and mythology of Abrahamic faiths. Or, Abraham-ish: the twist on the story of “Gesu” the son of God and “Giudas” the betrayer (Jesus and Judas, come on) are on par with the better-researched forms of Anime Catholicism. Only after realizing this did I notice that Delia Chiesa is somewhat Wiccish by contrast, honoring the Lord as equal to the Lady, and so intertwined with magic that the Fedeli persecute people suspected of not doing witchcraft.

Eliana’s own conversion from Delia Chiesa to Redentore isn’t as simple as enlightenment. Like artists, she and her friends dabble in music influenced by the Old Way song styles. It’s forbidden, but it makes for aesthetic music, even politically-important music. When the Wiccish Inquisition (which I did not expect) show the worst side of this faith, Eliana dons the cross in rebellion, the same way perhaps that many girls Eliana’s age or younger would start wearing pentagrams.

She doesn’t know the creed. She doesn’t know the dances. She doesn’t even know the stories. She hasn’t undergone any Redentore initiatory rituals. Still, I can’t, as a reader, condemn Eliana’s conversion as shallow or insubstantial. This isn’t just because the dickweeds sharing Eliana’s birth religion tortured and murdered people close to her, of course, seeking a “rebound religion” is still not a good reason. Redentore music may come off as what’s “shiny” about the religion, but music is Eliana’s life, and the music was one of the only ways she could access the marginalized Old Ways. Of course, accessibility borne of appropriation is still not a good reason.

List the facts, and Eliana is one big Redentore fluffy bunny. Follow her story, though—her perceptions and emotions, motifs accompanying life-changing events—and it’s just not like that. Kritzer didn’t give vapidity a heart. The heart was always there, by virtue of being a person. Against this, judgments of vapidity become evidence only of the accuser’s arrogance. How many fluffy bunnies have I condemned, who were secretly as clever, kind, and guileless as Eliana? Probably all of them—I’ve lost my chance by now to really ever know.

It’s hardly a simple thing, conversion. As she is Delia Chiesa by heritage, Eliana leads the funeral rites of a Delia Chiesa ally to the Redentore resistance who died in battle, rather than give this ally a Redentore funeral just because she was Redentore by then. By the second book, Eliana finds herself still praying to the Lord of Delia Chiesa, because of the difference in cosmology and philosophy. The D’Chiesa believe that the Lady is omnibenevolent and the Lord has a personal relationship with devotees expressed by direct intervention. The Redentore believe in a God of the whole universe who quit a long time ago, whose son was born to intervene once.

The key to counteract the negative side-effects of D’Chiesa witchlight lies in the musical traditions of the Redentore, which Redentore extremists use as a foothold to greater political power.

“If you strongly encourage everyone to attend Mass regularly, and have the priests keep track of who comes, you could identify the weak Redentore—”

“Or those who have injuries that make it painful to dance,” I said, “Or those who seek God’s presence on their own, or those who believe in the Emperor, and in our cause, but not in God! Are all these people assumed to be spies?”

It’s not only Eliana doing the syncretizing. The grandparents of Eliana’s generation carry on with old-fashioned superstitions such as crossing themselves (an originally Redentore practice)—although they would be disrespected for their unfashionable mannerisms, and are nominally D’Chiesa. Delia Chiesa attend funerals of Redentore friends. Redentore people celebrate Delia Chiesa festivals because their still-living friends are there (and also food, maybe dancing, and D’Chiesa is the dominant religion so everybody is joining the party, you can’t not, or why would you not, paaartyyyyy…) These temporary defectors of Redentore repent a week later—certain to join in again next year.

Among leaders of the Resistance, practicing both would allow either D’Chiesa or Redentore to claim these political faction leaders for themselves. The D’Chiesa and Redentore are then unified in their cause, which in the first book is to get out of the concentration camp (!) that the rich urban D’Chiesa put them in because they were poor farmers.

The complexity and nuance is masterful.

Oh, and some Redentore interpret the holy scripture as a call to human sacrifice. This gives Eliana pause, although her priestess at the concentration camp tries to convince her that those members are just distorting scripture. This priestess also takes care to assure Eliana that their resident mad prophet was just spouting random stuff because he’s stark raving mad, not because the Redentore God or the D’Chiesa Lady actually both hate lady-loving ladies…like Eliana. So, Eliana can chillax about it.

(Spoilers: No, our hero can not chillax about it!)

Gender & Romance in Eliana’s Song

Both the Lady of D’Chiesa and the God of Redentore are referred to in feminine gender. This didn’t strike me as empowering of the feminine on a systemic level, necessarily. Many of Eliana’s schoolmates still devolve into slut-shaming, whereas in the out-of-book patriarchal world I don’t sense that much cad-shaming going around.

Eliana also cross-dresses a lot. First, for comfort, then under the alias “Daniel” for espionage reasons, then she doesn’t stop cross-dressing and this sets a trend that becomes a political ‘problem’, and by the end she becomes Daniel again. He becomes Daniel again? It’s told in first person and gender issues are never explicitly pontificated, but I’d describe Eliana’s gender as wonderfully open to interpretation.

Eliana’s love interest—or one of them, the main one at least—goes by many names, and struggles with a substance abuse addiction. Because musicians. While that sounds tragic, the romance between them is. Jusht. Sho. Adorbs! Even when they quarrel, their barbs are spun of pink cotton candy filaments and toasted marshmallow fluff. Their courtship is framed in sprigs of fragrant wildflowers. (And grumping at each other as they launder the menstrual blood off their clothes, or one holding the other’s hair back as she vomits during withdrawal. Kritzer keeps it real.)

While Eliana’s orientation comes to be challenged into definition, as it overlaps with potential religious/cultural/political issues, Kritzer manages to keep it an exploration rather than a fight. Romance, like faith, is portrayed more as a human experience than a narrative that can ever be accurately politicized or pathologized.

Out of Paragraphs, You Built Cathedrals 2/2

Previously, on The Codex of Poesy: a beach trip.

The following entry may contain triggering material, and doesn’t really go anywhere.

The drive to and from can’t have been longer than Metro Manila to Tagaytay, but there’s more variety on the way. Cecilia, Linguistic Anthropologist Extraordinaire, had a better ear for how the language changed from Hiligaynon to Hiligaynon-accented Cebuano to Central Standard Cebuano to Waray-accented Cebuano. I don’t remember hearing any Waray spoken, though.

We packed rice cakes to eat on the way, a particularly fluffy kind that we both called bibingka—except that isn’t what it is, even when it is. A mutual corporeal friend, Anjie (who had been Cecilia’s neighbor here while they were growing up,) bit into a Luzon bibingka once, and thought it was Just So Wrong that she couldn’t swallow it. Visayan bibingka is gray-tan, porous at the surface, sweeter and grainier—but smooth, even, simple and honest. It hit the spot on the long ride, and I liked it, and could definitely understand why Anjie had been so shocked. Luzon bibingka takes the colors of scrambled egg, has a gloss at the top, squirts melted butter from mysterious pockets as it’s devoured, haphazard in texture between cake and pudding, the sugary coconut milk and rice flour bastardized by shavings of edam or cheddar cheese and chunks of salted duck egg. That’s the kind I’m used to calling bibingka.

Due to lack of demand, it appears that neither version is available anywhere but where they are available. Cultural exchange is strangely selective like that.

We weren’t so far south that Catholicism had eased up any. I suppose that I was excited enough about the trip that I didn’t just go to church with the whole family—I joined the procession. It’s like a parade, except that anyone who wants to walk can join in and no one will glower at em (unless ey’re really doing it wrong on purpose.) The parade leaders included the bearers of a sequined oil painting of the Mother Mary, candle-bearing altar boys, rosary-bearing nuns in heels that would be sensible if we would be walking around a room instead of around several blocks, a brass band with drummers and a car with a megaphone on it from which the priest led the prayers of the rosary. Those last two might not sound like they work together, and they probably didn’t, but I was in line somewhere in the middle so it worked from where I was.

After about an hour and a half of walking around the city, we sat in for Catholic Mass. It also involves standing, kneeling, talking, and songs. I’ll get back to this.

Cecilia’s mother let me have an interesting prayer card for the occasion of my first procession and then parted with Cecilia’s dad and their age peers. On the back of the card were directions for praying on what sounded like a five-beaded rosary. This was interesting because I thought rosaries had 59 beads (or sixty, counting the thing that links the decades to the dangly bit, if the crucifix doesn’t count as a bead.) Then I joined Cecilia and Cecilia’s siblings and Cecilia’s siblings’ significant others, who laughed about hearing mass from inside the air-conditioned car after the procession instead of in church—like we fools had.

When they caught my puzzlement with the prayer card, they asked what my religion was, and I gave my standard testing-the-waters response: “Agnostic.” Everyone in that car declared themselves Agnostic, too. What ensued was an exuberant celebration of incorrigible indecisiveness such as I never thought possible, but I definitely appreciated.

My uncle would give me three-hour lectures about how wrong I was to be “agnostic”, lectures which never really required my participation, despite that much talking at me…and then he’d get angry that I kept looking at the clock. One uncomfortably close alternative to this was homelessness, although being part of a real family for once was proposed this way, authentic citizenship, authentic ancestry. The only problem being, of course, that it was proposed this way. Nah, the only problem was that it was proposed at me. If I’d been open about being anything like a pagan, it’s not unimaginable that some physical assault would be in order by way of improvised exorcism. Although, people aren’t supposed to improvise the Exorcism of Demonic Bad Influence, there’s all sorts of seminary training and permits and paperwork before that’s supposed to happen…the truly zealous make do what they have to anyway.

That was three years ago. After the beach trip earlier this week, Cecilia’s mother gave me a medallion of Saint Benedict, which I keep safe in my tarot card pouch along with the prayer card for my first procession. I appreciate it.

Then again…I thought I appreciated going to mass every week with the extended family, too, but my uncle considered it hypocrisy and I thought that implied he didn’t want me there, so I stopped going and then he told me that I had better damn well join them but to just quit being a hypocrite about it and just believe already. I can’t just turn that on and off, though.

I believe in the customs. I can learn the theology, but I believe in disbelief more than any belief. And I can’t seem to bring myself to say I’m Catholic, even if my actual life (let alone quality of life) depended on it…and was it, because of the customs.

*

I grew up in a three-block pocket of suburbia among skyscrapers. On the first night of October, most of the neighbors would go over to whichever house hosted this plaster statue of the Virgin Mary (since the last day of October, the year before.) If we came too early, the grown-ups made chit-chat, and the kids would play as long as it wasn’t too noisy or broke anything. At the right time, we would gather into the area designated by our host, and pass around thin binders to guide the prayers. We’d take out our rosary beads, and start to chorus.

I’d been particularly proud of memorizing the Apostle’s Creed, which had been the longest one, and started off the rosary with some importance (that I might not have understood, but it felt very grand all the same.) The other three most important prayers, two stanzas without rhyme or meter each, became a jumble of repetition over the next hour or so:

OurFatherArtInHeavenHelloBeThineAimYoreKingdomComeThyWillBeDunUnearthAsTskingHeaven
(breathe) GivesThisDayOurDailyBreadAndForgiveUsOurSinsAsWeForgiveThoseWhoSinAgainstUsDoNotLeadUsToTheTestButDeliverUsVanillaMen
(breathe)

HaleMaryFullOfGraceTheLordIsWithYouBlestAreYouAmonstSwimmersAndBlessedBeTheFruitOfTheyWombJesus
(breathe)
HolyMaryMotherOfGodPrayForUsWomenNowAndAtTheArtOfOurDeathAmen
(breathe, repeat from the first stanza ten times) (yes, TEN! they’re called decades.)

glory-be-to-the-father-and-to-the-son-and-to-the-wholly-spiritsitwasinthebeginningisnowandevershallbeworldwithoutend
(breathe)
amen.

Those aren’t the exact prayers, but the sound of the words tended to jumble. I can’t entirely believe it’s hypocrisy to only say the words and not know the meaning, firstly because I was a kid and didn’t know how we can pray for the world without end while still looking forward to the Apocalypse, but I’d said it anyway…and secondly because the cadences still hypnotize me.

The binders helped most in remembering which Divine Mysteries went with which day. I forgot this one occasion of impromptu rosary prayer, years after we’d moved out of there, and my mother not only knew which group of Mysteries went with that day, but which specific Mysteries were in that group of Mysteries. I’d stared in admiration and started the Hail/Holy Mary prayer a beat late.

The binders on neighborhood rosary nights helped guide me through less familiar prayers, too. “To thee do we cry out, poor banished children of Eve! To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears!” I’m aware that life is difficult for everybody eventually, but to make this poetry part of a prayer routine comes off to me now as inappropriate. Five-year-old me, whose valley of tears was quite small, would say this prayer because that’s what everyone said, read aloud from the binder fillers. But even at five years old, I sent up my sighs to my guardian angel rather than Mary, and kept my tears to my own damn self as much as I could. It was a poetic way to phrase it, but it’s not where everyone is at or how everyone deals with it? I’m pretty sure this was the prayer that came after the remembrance of ever Mystery, too. Even the Joyful or Glorious mysteries.

My mother had gone to Catholic school, whereas I’d gone to a school where I learned the prayers as an elective. Apart from the syllables, I hadn’t learned a thing. The lessons were supposed to get us prepared for the day we’d dress up nicely and take our first communion. I only remember the teacher telling me that the sins were private, between yourself the priest. While we’d learned the commandments, it hadn’t sunk in that doing the opposite was the definition of a sin. Now that I think about it, my family never kept the Sabbath Day holy, despite all the October participation. I couldn’t conceive of any other gods but this One at that age, and ate soap whenever I swore, which was only one time until my late teens, because dishwashing paste is spicy and because it’s wrong. (Nobody physically forced me to eat soap, I washed my own mouth out in tear-filled penitence. I could have poisoned myself. Anyway, by then I was seven, so it wasn’t included in first confession.) I couldn’t remember any theft, adultery, murder, even coveting I can say to have accomplished by almost-six years of age. I had guessed that “sin” was anything you do bad, so the only thing I had to say to confess to the priest was (after the rote memory introduction) that I’d told my mother that I already brushed my teeth when I hadn’t—which was the closest I could have gotten to bearing false witness against a neighbor.

The standards of dishonoring a parent were a big foggy. Was waking my mother up when I wanted her to read to me, and she’d nodded off in the middle of the storybook because she was so tired, necessarily dishonor? Really, I’d dishonored my mother by the nature of my fatherless birth. One girl at school taunted me for being the child of Satan, as I didn’t have a dad, and it would be blasphemous to proclaim that God was my father instead (although she’d do the same thing.) She’d get bored and pick on someone else, then we’d be friends again, because for some reason I never blamed or begrudged her but honored it as her very valid opinion instead and hated myself.

Two Hindu girls—sisters, one in my grade and another a year younger, had someone else refuse to speak with them because Hindus worshipped demonic idols. Agnes tried to get more people to stop speaking with them, but most classmates considered this too awkward to keep up. Excessive shows of friendship—actively seeking them out, spending too much time with them, looking too happy when you did—might have been silently, collectively discouraged…but it wasn’t the embittered freeze of having done something truly horrible, like putting a bullclip on people’s collars for a prank. (We were seven-year-olds.) Then again, I hadn’t heard exactly what Agnes said to Padma and Nadia (who was six), and if Hinduism had been a part of these sisters’ lives even as much as Catholicism had been a part of mine, or…like…being something other than demonkin had been part of my life? Being told you are demonkin when you’re not feeling it just sucks, and it’s rude, no matter how high-ranking the demon.

There was also the Muslim kid in my grade, but in boy-world where I hadn’t been allowed. I would say that sucks, too, but the other boys threw rocks at him until the teacher gathered us around to sit, and said it was wrong. I think a week after, a particularly stubborn boy or two had to be taken aside for private talks about essentially the same thing being wrong, and the Muslim kid had to be watched a lot more by the grown-ups.

I think I got off easy, being Catholic enough for accusations of Satanic kinship to mean something, but no more than that by way of ostracization or vulnerability to violence.

Back to neighborhood rosaries on October nights, which approached their end with a call-and-response sort of thing.

Lord have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.

Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven?

Have mercy on us!

God the Son, Redeemer of the world?

Have mercy on us!

God the Holy Ghost?

Have mercy on us!

Holy Trinity, one God?

Have mercy on us!

Holy Mary?

Have mer—gyarghh, wrong—Pray for us!

Holy Mother of God?

Pray for us!

Holy Virgin of Virgins?

Pray for us!

Mother of Christ?

Pray for us!

Mother of the Church?

Pray for us!

Mother of Divine Grace?

Pray for us!

Mother most pure?

Pray for us!

Mother most chaste?

Pray for us!

Mother inviolate?

I’d only seen her wear white or blue, so this confused five-year-old me.

Mother undefiled?

It goes on like this for a while, but eventually we end the prayer and start the dinner party, then end the dinner party and put fresh garlands of jasmine blossoms on the plaster statue. Then someone would carry the statue to the house of the one who would host the group rosary’s next meeting. We would follow, some bearing candles into the evening. After getting Plaster Mary settled, we’d all go home.

Hearing a Catholic Mass goes on for a while, too. The homily after my first procession was a strong reminder that, although we walked around several city blocks after a portrait of the Mother Mary, it was important to remember that women shouldn’t have power: only God the Father and God the Son can make decisions and do the thing. Mary merely transmits the prayers, so the priest told us. Then sometime after something about praying for the converts to Protestantism in Latin America who are seduced by the false celebration of a god who provides wealth when poverty is holier, that they all get back on the right path, which is Catholicism.

Sometimes there would be a cue for the choir to sing. The singers were talented and/or trained, but I had never been in a church this size that also had a sound system compatible with the space. The music by itself is ploddingly awful, an awfulness surpassed only by the composition of the words forced into the melody, or maybe by the spectacularly unimaginative arrangement.


^ There hasn’t been more of this, why??

In some particular order that I’m sure I’ve gotten wrong, the Mass goes: Sit, somebody’s talking. Stand, somebody’s talking. Sit, somebody’s talking. Kneel, somebody’s talking. Stand, somebody’s talking. Choir sings a song. Sit, somebody’s talking. This was the first time I’d actually smelled the incense, sometimes. Stand, somebody’s talking. Choir sings a song. Remain standing, somebody’s talking (reading from the holy scripture instead of the homily?) Sit, somebody’s talking. Kneel, somebody’s talking. Stand, call and response—a different, shorter one than the Litany of Loretto or something? Say “Peace be with you” to everyone nearby.

The Lord be with you.

And with your spirit.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord. This bit is never said lightheartedly or happily, by anyone. Why the f—

Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God

It is right and just.

Some particular song cue where everyone either joins hands or cups their hands, somewhere in there. Then, communion! I haven’t lined up to eat the wafer since I was eleven, but nobody gives me the stinkeye probably because it’s usually a long line. In the stories there’s red wine to go with the wafers, to represent the blood and body of the son of god, but I don’t know if wine also goes to people standing in line or if only the priest takes a sip.

Every time I’ve gone to hear Mass, I’ve started out open to catching what the priest is actually talking about, and how the readings from the scripture support it, and hearing good new music from somewhere other than the Night Vale weather report. Eventually, though, I simply begin to despair that this will ever be over. I remind myself that this is the way to spend time with family, because no one knows how many of these sessions we still have in life, standing/sitting/kneeling/listening/hearing/despairing all in the same physical space. The thing might be a chore now, but if some convenience store microwave fatally malfunctions and explodes into shrapnel, one’s final thought might be, oh no, I missed out on standing in Mass with my loved ones more often. Which would be awful.

When I’m not listening, and not despairing that this will ever be over, I go to some magical place in my mind that manages to have nothing at all to do my spiritual life ever. Captain America and Iron man wrestling in lime gelatine, and they’re not wearing very much. I don’t even usually want to think stuff like that, because it’s probably rude to bring gay thoughts into Catholic churches, and I’m a Stucky shipper the rest of the time anyway. (Seriously, where does Iron Man without any iron on the man, even come from? Subconscious, what’s going on in there?)

Actually, I can multitask thinking about that, and despairing that this will ever be over. The church was a grand building with arched ceilings that must be hell to dust off, they were so high, but certainly nobody would bump their head against if that’s what so many church architects are worried about. Sometimes, half a bowl is built into the wall, or into a pillar, and it’s filled with sacramental water. People entering the churches are supposed to dip their fingers in and smear a bit of water on their own forehead, heart, and shoulders in that order. I wonder how they stop algae from growing in it, because the containers are usually the size and depth to look most difficult to clean. Is there a market for bottled holy algae?

Then the priest says, “This mass is now concluded, go in peace—” and all the devotion, ecstasy, and zeal I was supposed to have all along bubbles up in a spontaneous THANK GOD IT’S OVER THANK YOU GOD and I wonder how fast I can get out of the giant incense hotbox and into the fresh air without being suspected of witchcraft.

(It might help allay potential suspicion if I didn’t blog about trying to invent new kinds of witchcraft…)

Catholic Mass might be an endurance trial, but whenever there’s the opportunity to go (that is, with people who don’t despise and glower at me like my uncle tended to do, as though they can see all the gay porn I accidentally brought in my mind—maybe I should apply for an exorcism) I go like a Catholic Massochist.

It was toxic and oppressive to me for a good long while. It might still be—a classmate of Cecilia’s who’s from South Korea described the culture shock, mostly how scarily religious Metro Manila was, so my jokes about living in a theocracy have now been validated as not actually funny, because it’s scary-true—but I think I’m on a better emotional wavelength now. It’s part of my personal history, and part of the nation I live in. If this is what it takes to function, I can actually do this.

Out of Paragraphs, You Built Cathedrals 1/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

My corporeal roommate Cecilia, and Cecilia’s family, have been so welcoming and this trip has been amazing so far! I’d been to the south before, to Siquijor (which I really should write about one day if only because, despite the island’s reputation, nothing mystically paranormal happened—because nothing sometimes happens, when you expect something to happen.) This time I’ve seen the city, with enough of the same land developers and brands as any other city in the nation, which was not what I expected. I’d expected something unexpected. This city was exactly as I should have expected, which I did not expect.

We drove by the volcano on the way to the beach. While my now-deceased corporeal mother would take her kids to snorkel over coral reefs as often as possible, and I have good memories of wandering the tidal pools in the afternoon, this was the first time I’d seen a living sand dollar.

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It’s a slightly more spiny sand dollar with something alive inside that moves the spines. Cecilia also mentioned that she always managed to step on sea urchins during trips like these, which I didn’t understand because the sea urchins I knew were fist-sized excluding the spines. Even under the water, the ones with the long black spines looked like a rift in the fabric of reality, and pretty much broadcast that nobody should put their foot in this dark spot. The sea urchins I found on this trip, though, were fingernail-sized. Fortunately, I found them in the same tidal pools as the above sand dollar, rather than finding them in the soles of my own feet. (Baaaby reality fabrifts! D’aww!) We also found baby sea ribbons, baby sea slugs, baby brittle starfish, baby starfish of species unfamiliar to me, baby lobsters, one baby coral polyp, baby octopi, adult fish that stuck with the shallows and changed color to match the sand depending on the time of the day, and (deeper in the water) tang fish, and a scattering of other fish that I couldn’t identify. We also found a reasonably-sized hermit crab with a sea anemone attached to the shell, and (onshore) a hermit crab without a shell that refused to move into any of the empty shells we’d found for em.

Oceans could be steely and forbidding. Then again, everything seemed steely and forbidding, in the undiagnosed depression of my pre-teens. I could behold the tropical ultramarine gradiating to aqua and pale peach sands, share the waters with a thousand electric-blue striped fish all moving as one, even with sea turtles…and it would all be through some gray ooze of blah. Eventually, though my mother worked hard to be able to take her kids on beach trips as often as possible, I would attend but not really participate. I remember one extended summer away from the bullying at school, like…eight months out, because my mother had plans that she didn’t tell me…took us on another beach trip, and I exclaimed at all the different kinds of crabs on the shore as we walked (because I hadn’t seen some of those kinds before.) “That’s the kid I remember!” My mother laughed.

I’d been dead inside for years, though, and she hadn’t missed me—not enough notice that I was always hurt, always scared, always sad, always tired, admit that something was wrong and get me out of there. It wasn’t only the bullies at school, though. I hadn’t known that with my mother so busy. When she wasn’t insisting that my problems were only my problems and not to bother her with it for more than a tolerated level of sulk, which was most of the time, she had what she called in therapy later—my therapy, she never went for herself, that would make it look like she was crazy—’impulsiveness’.

One of my lowest ribs is shorter than the other (broken or misaligned, I never had the opportunity to check, but I haven’t noticed any mysterious bone-shards wandering my abdomen) because of this impulsiveness. Every time I eat something, I keep almost tasting blood from where my teeth cut the inside of my mouth more than a decade ago: My mother had yanked my hair down and slammed my head against the table, because she had the impulse to. (My fault: I’d taken something from the center of the table, a cake or a cookie, I can’t remember anymore, and a crumb had fallen onto the tablecloth before the whole thing could reach my plate.)

After she’d died, my sister and I had scattered her ashes into the ocean she loved so much, and I scattered a few coins to Manannan. I’d grown to hate everything about my mother. The ocean was hers, she could have it. My work with those kinds of divinities was over.

“You’re too bloody cerebral!” Captain Hook shouted from the crow’s nest of the Jolly Roger, as the ship lurched from one shifting mountain of water to another.

…He doesn’t count as divinity. (Shh!)

In most dreams after my mother’s death, oceans radiated something like a glower: these enticing hues under the vivid sky and soothing shore-songs and cool buoyant levity were not for me. Pathworking with the tarot suit of chalices, of course, involved oceanic imagery, and I did that much later and didn’t come with as much bother. Quests with the pirates did, sometimes, partly because they get everywhere they can (especially on the edge of where they shouldn’t), and partly because “a spot of bother” is their raison d’être. Even after all that, this dream surprised me, because I’d expected oceans to usually glower or loom or lurk a little. My abuser could be somewhere in there. Me hearties entreated me not to worry, because we would usually have something evident to worry about rather than the possible. I just wished so many times that their aesthetic weren’t maritime.

The wood plank floor of the gazebo had a polygonal hole in the center. I stepped into it, into the clear and stagnant saltwater, the beige sand stirring where I stepped. Whether this was some doldrum shore or doldrum sand bank, I didn’t know; the day was overcast, the horizon filled with mist. I wondered: “Manannan?” And heard a ripple of laughter in the hushed, muted dreamscape. High, delicate, effervescent laughter. The sand and waters whorled, then stilled.

“Laethelia,” the voice said.

…I can’t swim well. I can go about two feet, and then my chest starts to burn with how hard I’m breathing, and it hurts my arms to move, and my legs start cramping.

It didn’t use to be like this. I could wish that I had known about this change before jumping into the ocean from a rock edge that I couldn’t climb, but I was already there, and the tip of the pier was thirty feet away, and the shore was further. I took a deep breath and held it, then turned up to face the sky and tried to relax everything else. Shut my eyes against the blazing sun. Feel the layers and currents rush over and under my legs. Hear the chuckle of waves lapping the rocks. When the water covers my ears, my own breathing sounds like the inside of a shell. My body sinks with each exhale, and buoys up again at the inhale, always on the edge between ocean and atmosphere. They make a rind that tickles. I remember to relax what feels like a stomach knot, let that area grow with the inhale—the inhales that come with raising the shoulders are generally more strenuous, for shallower and less effective breaths. I’d fallen back into that habit, of breathing from my shoulders. On the water, I still push the exhale (when I’ve been told I shouldn’t), because my face would go underwater if I exhaled meditatively, and then I’d choke and flail and cramp again. (Once, I opened my eyes and sighted down my chest because a fish had landed on my stomach and slipped back into the water. A few more fountained over me, probably from the same school. I hadn’t known they could go this shallow—not shallow to me, because I couldn’t stand on anything if I swam upright, but I thought these were open ocean fish rather than shore fish. I’d see one from the boat, later, really gliding in the air rather than hopping in an arch. These are flying fish.) When my arms and legs stopped cramping, I moved them slowly, and in ways like making a snow angel. This or the tide, or both, or maybe mostly the tide brings me to the shallows.

I want to keep that memory, for future meditations.

These waters were friendly, I’d felt. Pristine waters, Cecilia’s dad called it, because they were clear until they became deep enough to take an aqua hue. Cecilia was quick to point out that many of the corals had been bleached from whatever chemicals tourists like us bring. She’d gotten a reef-safe sunblock lotion from Human Nature. It had the texture of homestyle peanut butter, but damn I’ll suffer being smeared in peanut butter if the corals would be a little more okay.

My mother’s go-to beach resort when I was a child hadn’t bleached the corals, but some piece of jetsam or garbage would be floating in then still-clear waters. That’s when private owners started charging those who approached the house-sized rock islands and sand bank areas, around which would be the best reefs to snorkel over or dive into—or it used to be that way. We could only hope those funds went to cleaning up the waters, but my mother was less inclined to pay for the privilege of swimming with garbage. That was the last time visited.

This would have made me sad, but by that time I was always sad. Some saturation point had come and I couldn’t care anymore.

I thought I’d never care again.

We took a boat out to see the dolphins. Really, the dorsal fins of migrating cetaceans, which I couldn’t believe were dolphins, because even that bit we saw of them looked huge—it must be some local breed of orca. Cecilia swears that even dolphins could reach up to eight feet in body length, though. Cecilia’s dad said they were pilot whales. I took a video of the shadow of a fin, and then of several fins breaching the water surfaces, and I clapped, and exclaimed, honestly, “I’m happy!”

To be continued…