Poor Retching Souls
One of my chief complaints about my native religion of Roman Catholicism is how easily it permits and even encourages magical thinking. Its reliance on holy relics, rosaries, amulets, statuary, candles, incense and shrines makes it very easy to absorb the occult practices and superstitions in the cultures it has invaded. It should be no surprise to anyone that in Catholic communities across the world we still find the practices of shamanistic and atavistic religions present. You have to travel no farther than the American South and you will easily see what I am talking about. Perhaps, not even that far as I personally met a practioner of Brujeria while still living in Salem Oregon.
The supreme piece of magic of the Catholic liturgy is the Eucharist whereby the priest consecrates a thin wheat wafer and cheap wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In the minds of Catholics this is no mere symbolism, rather it is a full transubstantiation where one substance is transformed into another. It’s reminiscent of Renaissance era Alchemists attempting to turn base metals into gold. In the case of Alchemy, there was a maturation process whereby superstition and ritual was eventually eliminated from the scientific method. Unfortunately, Western religion has not enjoyed the same maturation process.
As a child I never quite understood why I needed to “eat the flesh” of my Lord if he was already within me. The sacrament of communion is a strange ritual of symbolic cannibalism that seems dreadfully gory and frightening. It seems a left over of ancient Judaism where a part of the sacrificed animal would be eaten as a symbolic sealing of a covenantal agreement between them and HaShem who has accepted their sacrifice as atonement for their sins. Later the Christian church would turn Jesus into the atoning sacrifice. Yet, all the reference to him as the “Lamb of God” does not take away the stink of cannibalism, a practice forbidden by God.
Another staple of Catholic occult magic is holy water. Each time you entered a church you dipped you hand in and performed the sign of the cross. It is seen as a renewal or a remembrance, rather, of the baptismal promises. Unfortunately, for most of us cradle Catholics this baptism was not our choice. Generally we are baptized as infants or at the very latest young children. As young adults our families made the decision of confirmation for us.
Looking at the blessing or consecrating of the holy water as I found in my 1946 Manual of Prayers it’s hard to miss the occult thinking behind it with the exorcism of the salt and water.
“I exorcise thee oh creature of salt…”
And bippity boppity boo
The priest has transformed ordinary water, salt and chrisom into holy water. My best friend in grade school had a little plastic bottle with a cross on it. He would fill it up at Sunday Mass and have portable holy water for the rest of the week. I was so jealous of him. I wanted holy water too. You never knew when you might have to splash it on a vampire or a demon or some other childhood comic book monster threatening your life and very soul. And if Linda Blair ever showed up hiding in your closet vomiting up pea soup while her head twirled on its neck you could splash her down too.
When I was 7 years old Lynn – my first starry eyed crush – who lived across the street told me that if you drank holy water you would be holy for one whole day. Despite my childish imagination and credulous belief in other magical beings such as Santa or the Easter Bunny, something seemed fishy about Lynn’s claim. I ran home and asked my mother whether or not this was true. Mom just laughed and ruffled the mop of auburn curls on my head.
“You may not be holy, but you might get a tummy ache,” she said.
Let’s get our pet boy Sherman to set the Way Back machine to return us to present day Moscow. The Associated Press reports that Russian Orthodox believers were hospitalized after drinking contaminated holy water during Epiphany celebrations in the town of Irkutsk. Apparently, much of the tap water in Russia is undrinkable.
I have just had an epiphany of my own.
If your tap water may be undrinkable maybe you shouldn’t drink it. The present Pope, Benedict XVI, tends to view the Orthodox east as a bastard child to the Roman Church and as a flawed church. I say this for no reason other than to take another dig at the present pope – something that is becoming a bit of a hobby. I also say it as an off hand way of admitting that I know very little about my distant Orthodox cousins. But, it seems that they share some of the same magical and faulty thinking as many Roman Catholics do.
I am not certain whether the water was blessed by a priest or not, but it seems that regardless drinking tainted water is not a conducive to good health. It is also not the best way to approach life. If it was blessed then hopefully, they might crawl out of that superstitious nightmare they dwell in and start seeking answers to their deeper questions through the process of rational thought. Although, the AP reports that in this part of Russia any water on found on Epiphany is considered Holy.
I’d like to say that at 7 years old I was smarter then most of adults that got sick in Irkutsk. The children can be excused as they are influenced by their parents. However, while I was smart enough to question my friend Lynn’s pronouncement about drinking holy water I was not smart enough to refrain from trying it.
So like a young boy who knows better then to accept a dare to stick his tongue on a frozen pole I did it anyway. My best friend and I collected some holy water the following Sunday, enough to fill an empty Welch’s jelly jar with Looney Tune characters on it. I drank about half of it, which was oily and nasty. I don’t know if I achieved momentary holiness on that fateful day, but the holy water did have a wonderfully terrible laxative effect. This caused my best friend’s mother, Sarah – my second starry eyed crush – to dub me St. Thomas Crapper. The moniker stuck and when I was 15 the family asked if I would come and bless their new toilets. They had just remodeled the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms.
I learned a powerful lesson as I hope my Orthodox cousins will learn. Water has many benefits. We need it to live and sustain our health. We need it to grow food. But, it doesn’t make us holy. Bathing in it will clean us. Drinking it will quench our thirst, but in the end we are still the same person. Magical thinking doesn’t promote learning nor does it take contaminated water and make it potable. Magical thinking keeps people in darkness and often leads them to do things that are against their self –interest. Often times these actions make no sense. Religion and magical thinking are anti-human. Survival of our species requires the judicious application of reason and logical thinking. We must remove the crutch of religion if we hope to do so.
St. Thomas Crapper
January 26, 2010