Rogation: prayer minus one. First in seed time, then right before the ascension, when history threatens to resume. What to do? Take up the cross and circle the parish in solemn procession. Kneel. Sprinkle holy water in the furrows, glorify the corpse. We still need to eat down here, in this Calvary stripped bare for interrogation.


I dreamed I was crawling on my belly through the grass, but my eyes were positioned such that I could see everything around me, including the sky above. Yellow jacket hornets kept buzzing me, but I knew that their underground nest was behind me on the hillside. I was saying to myself, Their spies will report back to headquarters on my movements – the retreat of a hated enemy. But their colony is sick, and they don’t know what to do. I’ll have to come back after dark and try to heal it. The part of my consciousness that was not dreaming wanted to know, then, how it could be that a human healer’s responsibility extended to all of nature? I took stock of myself: armless, legless, nothing but head and tail. The world was my vagina. I tasted the air with a stereophonic tongue.


Heretics try to tear the seamless robe of our God. . . . They are the most evil angels. They are the sons of depravity from the father of wickedness and the author of evil, who are resolved to deceive simple souls. They are snakes who deceive doves. They are serpents who seem to creep in secretly and, under the sweetness of honey, spew out poison. While they pretend to administer the food of life, they strike from their tails.

Frederick II, 1231 (translated by James Powell, The Liber Augustalis, Syracuse University Press, 1971)


So when divine grace cleansed rather than deprived me of those vile members which from their practice of utmost indecency are called ‘the parts of shame’ and have no proper name of their own, what else did it do but remove a foul perfection in order to restore perfect purity? Such purity, as we have heard, certain sages have desired so eagerly that they have mutilated themselves, so as to remove entirely the shame of desire. The Apostle too is recorded as having besought the Lord to rid him of this thorn in the flesh, but was not heard. The great Christian philosopher Origen provides an example, for he was not afraid to mutilate himself in order to quench completely this fire within him . . . Yet Origen is seriously to be blamed because he sought a remedy for blame in punishment of his body. True, he had zeal for God, but an ill-informed zeal, and the charge of homicide can be proved against him for his self mutilation. Men think he did this either at the suggestion of the devil or in grave error but, in my case, through God’s compassion, it was done by another’s hand. I do not incur blame, I escape it.

Peter Abelard, Letter 4 to Heloise (translated by Betty Radice, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, Penguin, 1974)


The learned psychologist interrogates the 19-year-old “hysteric” about her excessive throat clearing. She confesses to a persistent fantasy of fellatio. He traces this back to her thumb-sucking habit as a child, which her father only broke her of at the age of five. He convinces her that she has merely substituted a penis for her thumb, which had been in turn a substitute for her nurse’s nipple. Thus the male psychologist creates an orobourus-like argument for the woman’s apparent craving, her supposed lack or envy that seems to mirror the power imbalance of the interrogation itself.


“In psychoanalysis it is very important to be prepared for the bisexual meaning of a symptom,” Freud writes (Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, Collier, 1963). Better to say that all symbolic systems are deeply ambiguous. What about the world outside symbols? In the absence of an authentic I-Thou relationship, people will seek to satisfy their hunger with whatever palliatives they can find. As Martin Buber notes (Between Man and Man, translated by Roger Gregor Smith, Macmillan, 1965), “Only he who himself turns to the other human being and opens himself to him receives the world in him. Only the being whose otherness, accepted by my being, lives and faces me in the whole compression of my existence, brings the radiance of eternity to me. Only when two say to one another with all that they are, ‘It is Thou‘, is the indwelling of the Present Being between them.”


The final shock came when I discovered in early 1960 that there is not one, but hundreds of Kalvarios [‘Calvaries’] in Zinacantan, located throughout the municipio in all the hamlets. Thus, the Zinacanteco view of Kalvario gradually becomes clear: it is a special kind of cross shrine where particular groups of ancestral gods are believed to meet, deliberate about the affairs of their living descendents, and wait for offerings of black chickens, white candles, and rum….

In the case of the tribal sacred mountains around the Center there are cross altars both at the foot and on top of each of these mountains. The Zinacanteco view of these crosses is that they are ‘doorways’ to the ancestral gods. For example, when a curing procession arrives at a sacred mountain, the members, led by the shaman, decorate the crosses with pine boughs and flowers, burn incense, light candles, and offer prayers to the crosses at the foot of the mountain. By so doing, they ‘pass through’ the outer doorway of the house and proceed up the trail to the top of the mountain where another set of crosses designates the patio cross for the house of the ancestral god who is sitting inside to receive his visitors and their offerings. Here the ritual is repeated and then the curing party proceeds to the next mountain on the circuit.

Evan Z. Vogt, The Zinacantecos of Mexico: A Modern Maya Way of Life (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)

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