5 September 2007

Mystical Me

I was thinking the other day of how fickle I have been throughout my life, shopping around for a religion and never really being satisfied with what I found. It dawned on me that while I most relate to the energy of the Goddess Kaali, I 'm an orphan when it comes to religion.

Roman Catholic - I was born into the Roman catholic church. It means that when I turned 7, my entire life revolved around my first communion. You know how girls in their last year of school shop around for that perfect prom dress? I spent years trying to imagine what I'd wear for my first communion. And I wanted a crown. I had to have a crown.
My early primary school years saw me belting out church songs from the top of my voice, attending church service every Sunday with my little mass booklet and coveting every pretty rosary beads I saw in the parish shops. When I was bored, I'd read my illustrated PG-rated version of the bible. And, I know I wasn't supposed to think that way, but those Canaanites sure were pretty with their long black curls and their slave bracelets.
Two particular Bible stories stood out.
1. I loved the story of Joseph. No, not the Joseph from the manger with baby Jesus. Joseph who was sold by his jealous brothers and who in the end, climbed his way up by interpreting Pharaoh's dreams. He was so cool. I liked how he turned out better than his siblings and how he tricked them into reflecting on their own natures and eventually forgave them.
2. The other guy I liked was Aaron. Aaron's brother Moses got all the attention for some reason. But I loved how Aaron battled with the Pharaoh's magicians and how he could transform his sticks into snakes. Who needs Harry Potter when you have the bible?
And if I ever suffered from insomnia, out came the rosary beads. I loved nothing better than sink deep into martyrdom, reciting Hail Marys and sincerely believing that my humble prayers would save the world. Being a Roman Catholic in those days had its pitfalls. I felt guilty all the time. Everything was 'bad'.
I didn't like the taboo surrounding the occult. I was once thrown out of my school library for reading Tarot cards to my friends during recess. I had to pack up my cards and get out. I still can't believe it. ( I forgot to tell you that I attended a Dominican high school. More on those Dominicans later....)

But one ultimate thing that stood out the most for me as a Christian, was Jesus. If you read the New Testament, he is just such an awesome, awesome guy. He was kind, egalitarian, a feminist, a healer, anti-capitalistic, anti-institutional, forgiving, selfless and very intuitive. Come to think of it, even today, someone like him would certainly be thrown into jail.

Coptic - I became Coptic for a very short time. It was foolish of me. I was in love with this guy and since his religion forbade us to be together unless I converted, I began to lie to myself until I was adamant that I would be Coptic. They baptised me whole in a cotton robe, inside what look like large sink. I felt very uncomfortable that day and I wanted to puke because the smell of the incense was so overwhelming. I think apart from the fact that I broke up with that guy, the one thing that put me off this very Orthodox church was its insistence on protecting men from their own lust and segregating males and females inside the church. Women had to cover their heads 'lest their heads be shorn' by wearing a veil inside the church while the men seemed to go around giving us the don't-you-dare-tempt-me-you-evil-woman look. We women couldn't take communion if we were menstruating. And fasting went on and on and on throughout most of the year. It just wasn't for me.

The Pagan - I met the pagan just after I broke up with the Copt. Let's call him Damien, as that was his name. He was everything that I called 'bad'. That is, he had no Christian guilt, he sometimes didn't wash, he smoked and his house was a mess. But I knew I had something to learn from him. Besides, I was 22 and he was 34. When he talked about paganism, he made it sound so free that very soon, I questioned my rigid Christian beliefs. After a few months, I was free from all guilt. In a way, Damien liberated me. I owe him that. I'm still not sure what paganism means though.

The Cathars - Around the time I lost my Christian fervour, I began to detest everything it stood for, particularly the Crusades and the Inquisition...and 'St Dominic' in person. In fact, I injected meaning into this pseudo-adolescent rebellion by taking the cause of the Albigensians. I became obsessed with everything Cathar. The Cathars were a sect who lived mostly in the South of France, in the Languedoc. I identified so strongly with them that even today, the sound of Latin makes me cringe. Soon, I was avoiding meat,living in black, making a solemn pact never to reproduce and visiting France to pay homage to such places as Carcassone and Montsegur. I read Zoe Oldenberg's "Massacre at Montsegur" twice, I had a go at learning the Occitan tongue and listened to Era's music over and over again.
I even began to entertain the idea that I was a reincarnated parfait who had been burnt in 1244. I think I may have been deranged in those days but the experience remained enriching.

Kaali - Feeling a little lost and angry around that time, I embraced the one deity that could deal with the intensity of my feelings and allow me to face my fears. The goddess Kaali. The feminist par excellence. What is Kaali? In a nutshell, she is the most ferocious incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga. She was summoned to kill the demon that no one could kill because it kept multiplying. Kaali, you don't mess with. She trashed the shit out of the demon. (How I like that. A female superhero.) But she had such a mighty temper that she couldn't stop her destructive dance. (And she can dance too.) Her husband Shiva had to lie at her feet in order to appease her and so that she would realise what she was doing. It sounds so much like PMS doesn't it? All hell breaks loose and the husband cops it. But seriously, this destructive energy has another side to it. It is about facing truths, eliminating fear, about renewal too. About not pretending. That is how I interpret that energy and whenever I have felt lost, I think of Kaali. She is my one ally.

Lately I have begun to ponder about what religion I would embrace if I had to choose one. But mostly, I have felt a need to adopt some discipline that would help me deal with my horrible temper and to relax. I NEED TO RELAX!!! I think as Daniel Goleman puts it in his book on Social Intelligence: any religion which allows a person to maintain a harmonious mind and harmonious relationships, has health benefits. Forgiving, for example, lowers blood pressure. On the other hand, anger has a worst effect on the immune system than stress does. (I should keep that in mind!!!!) Among other things. Anyway, "Social Intelligence" is an excellent read for anyone interested. It delves into all sorts of scientific evidence, like mirror neurons and their role in empathy. It's wonderful stuff.

Since I've mentioned quite a lot of religions I thought I'd make a special mention about Islam. Some of the most beautiful people I have met have been Muslims. I have been touched so much by their energy that it made me curious years ago. But though I undestood their 5 main rules about living, I never read their text. Last year though, I uploaded a version of the Quran on my mobile phone and I sometimes read it. I think it's simply beautiful and such an intimate, unpretentious address by Allah. I think Islam is a beautiful religion. And save from films like "Kingdom of Heaven", there are few Western films that recognise Islam as what it is and what it was. It is one of the most misunderstood religions and one of most maligned by those who ignore so much of REAL Muslim people. That's right, not those Muslims that are portrayed by Hollywood. REAL Muslims. Incidentally, Senegal is a Muslim country and the people who live there are beautiful.
Sadly, I still have some issues with Islam. But I'm wondering whether those issues are more sociological rather than religious. That is, they differ depending on the country. Things like the intolerance for homosexuality are an issue for me for example.
I could never be Muslim anyway, I love ham too much!!!

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