Friday, July 30, 2010

Why I loved Anne Rice.

It was during the regular hours when all the good Irish and German Catholics could be counted upon to clear their consciences before Mass and Communion on Sunday.

And so he was seated in the ornate wooden house of the confessional in his narrow chair behind a green serge curtain, listening in alternation to the penitents who came to kneel in the small cells to the left and the right of him. These voices and sins he could have heard in Boston or New York City, so similar the accents, the worries, the ideas.

"Three Hail Marys," he would prescribe, or "Three Our Fathers" but seldom more than that to these laboring men and good housewives who came to confess routine peccadillos.

Then a child's voice had caught him off guard, coming rapid and crisp through the dark dusty grille – eloquent of intelligence and precocity. He had not recognized it. After all, Deirdre Mayfair had not spoken one word before in his presence.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was weeks and weeks ago. Father, help me please. I cannot fight the devil. I try and I always fail. And I'm going to go to hell for it."

What was this, more of Sister Bridget Marie's influence? But before he could speak, the child went on and he knew that it was Deirdre.

"I didn't tell the devil to go away when he brought the flowers. I wanted to and I know that I should have done it, and Aunt Carl is really, really angry with me. But Father, he only wanted to make us happy. I swear to you, Father, he's never mean to me. And he cries if I don't look at him or listen to him. I didn't know he'd bring the flowers from the altar! Sometimes he does very foolish things like that, Father, things like a little child would do, with even less sense than that. But he doesn't mean to hurt anyone."

"Now, wait a minute, darling, what makes you think the devil himself would trouble a little girl? Don't you want to tell me what really happened?"

"Father, he's not like the Bible says. I swear it. He's not ugly. He's tall and beautiful. Just like a real man. And he doesn't tell lies. He does nice things, always. When I'm afraid he comes and sits by me on the bed and kisses me. He really does. And he frightens away people who try to hurt me!"

"Then why do you say he's the devil, child? Wouldn't it be better to say he's a made-up friend, someone to be with so you'll never be lonely?"

"No, Father, he's the devil." So definite she sounded. "He's not real, and he's not made up either." The little voice had become sad, tired. A little woman in a child's guise struggling with an immense burden, almost in despair. "I know he's there when no one else does, and then I look and look and then everyone can see him!" The voice broke. "Father, I try not to look. I say Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and I try not to look. I know it's a mortal sin. But he's so sad and he cries without making a sound and I can hear him."

"Now, child, have you talked to your Aunt Carl about this?" His voice was calm, but in fact the child's detailed account had begun to alarm him. This was beyond "excess of imagination" or any such excess he'd ever known.

"Father, she knows all about him. All my aunts do. They call him the man, but Aunt Carl says he's really the devil. She's the one who says it's a sin, like touching yourself between the legs, like having dirty thoughts. Like when he kisses me and makes me feel chills and things. She says it's filth to look at the man and let him come under the covers. She says he can kill me. My mother saw him too all her life and that's why she died and went to heaven to get away from him."

Father Mattingly was aghast. So you can never shock a priest in the confessional, was that the old saying?

"And my mother's mother saw him too," the child went on, the voice rushing, straining. "And she was really, really bad, he made her bad, and she died on account of him. But she went to hell probably, instead of heaven, and I might too."

"Now, wait a minute, child. Who told you this!"

"My Aunt Carl, Father," the child insisted. "She doesn't want me to go to hell like Stella. She told me to pray and drive him away, that I could do it if I only tried, if I said the rosary and didn't look at him. But Father, she gets so angry with me for letting him come –" The child stopped. She was crying, though obviously trying to muffle her cries. "And Aunt Millie is so afraid. And Aunt Nancy won't look at me. Aunt Nancy says that in our family, once you've seen the man, you're as good as done for."

Father Mattingly was too shocked to speak. Quickly he cleared his throat. "You mean your aunts say this thing is real-"

"They've always known about him, Father. And anyone can see him when I let him get strong enough. It's true, Father. Anyone. But you see, I have to make him come. It's not a mortal sin for other people to see him because it's my fault. My fault. He couldn't be seen if I didn't let it happen. And Father, I just, I just don't understand how the devil could be so kind to me, and could cry so hard when he's sad and wants so badly just to be near me –" The voice broke off into low sobs.

"Don't cry, Deirdre!" he'd said, firmly. But this was in-conceivable! That sensible, "modern" woman in her tailored suit telling a child this superstition? And what about the others, for the love of God? Why, they made the likes of Sister Bridget Marie look like Sigmund Freud himself. He tried to see Deirdre through the dim grille. Was she wiping her eyes with her hands?

The crisp little voice went on suddenly in an anguished rush.

"Aunt Carl says it's a mortal sin even to think of him or think of his name. It makes him come immediately, if you say his name! But Father, he stands right beside me when she's talking and he says she's lying, and Father, I know it's terrible to say it, but she is lying sometimes. I know it, even when he's being quiet. But the worst part is when he comes through and scares her. And she threatens him! She says if he doesn't leave me alone she'll hurt me!" Her voice broke again, the cries barely audible. So small she seemed, so helpless! "But all the time, Father, even when I'm all alone, or even at Mass with everybody there, I know he's right beside me. I can feel him. I can hear him crying and it makes me cry, too."

"Child, now think carefully before you answer. Did your Aunt Carl actually say she saw this thing?"

"Oh, yes, Father." So weary! Didn't he believe her? That's what she was begging him to do.

"I'm trying to understand, darling. I want so to understand, but you must help me. Are you certain that your Aunt Carl said she saw him with her own eyes?"

"Father, she saw him when I was a baby and didn't even know I could make him come. She saw him the day my mother died. He was rocking my cradle. And when my grand-mother Stella was a little girl, he'd come behind her to the supper table. Father, I'll tell you a terrible secret thing. There's a picture in our house of my mother, and he's in the picture, standing beside her. I know about the picture because he got it and gave it to me, though they had it hidden away. He opened the dresser drawer without even touching it, and then he put the picture in my hand. He does things like that when he's really strong, when I've been with him a long time and been thinking about him all day. That's when everybody knows he's in the house, and Aunt Nancy meets Aunt Carl at the door and whispers, "The man is here. I just saw him." And then Aunt Carl gets so mad. It's all my fault, Father! And I'm scared I can't stop him. And they're all so upset!"

Her sobs had gotten louder, echoing against the wooden walls of the little cell. Surely they could hear her outside in the church itself.

And what was he to say to her? His temper was boiling. What craziness went on with these women? Was there no one with a particle of sense in the whole family who could get a psychiatrist to help this girl?

"Darling, listen to me. I want your permission to speak of these things outside the confessional to your Aunt Carl. Will you give me that permission?"

"Oh, no Father, please, you mustn't!"

"Child, I won't, not without your permission. But I tell you, I need to speak to your Aunt Carl about these things. Deirdre, she and I can drive away this thing together."

"Father, she'll never forgive me for telling. Never. It's a mortal sin to ever tell. Aunt Nancy would never forgive me. Even Aunt Millie would be angry. Father, you can't tell her I told you about him!" She was becoming hysterical.

"I can wipe that mortal sin away, child," he'd explained, "I can give you absolution. From that moment on, your soul is as white as snow, Deirdre. Trust in me, Deirdre. Give me permission to talk to her."

For a tense moment the crying was his only answer. Then, even before he heard her turn the knob of the little wooden door, he knew he'd lost her. Within seconds, he heard her steps running fast down the aisle away from him.

He had said the wrong thing, made the wrong judgment! And now there was nothing he could do, bound as he was by the seal of the confessional. And this secret had come to him from a troubled child who was not even old enough to commit a mortal sin, or benefit from the sacrament she'd been seeking.

He never forgot that moment, sitting helpless, hearing those steps echoing in the vestibule of the church, the closeness and the heat of the confessional suffocating him. Dear God, what was he going to do?

But the torture had only begun for Father Mattingly.

-an excerpt from The Witching Hour.

I always knew she'd come back. At least, I always hoped. Her writing meant so much to me when I was a girl - sometimes I felt as if there was no one else on this earth who understood. In accordance with a fan/creator relationship of such fervor, it actually hurt me when she went back to Catholicism. I felt like she'd left me behind.

But her Catholicism was something she had wrestled with all her life, whereas I extricated myself from it by the time I was eleven...not even old enough to commit a mortal sin, or benefit from the sacrament I had sought. I sometimes make a bit much of my Catholic upbringing, to tell the truth. For all its lasting psychological consequences, I know less about the religion now than your average 14 year old off to Confirmation.

In any case, I'm grateful, on a personal level, that she never abandoned what I had perceived to be her ideals. And I'm glad for her, if she can have a relationship with Christ without abandoning those ideals. As for me,'s like what they say in The Witching Hour:

"Once you've seen the man, you're done for."

Monday, July 12, 2010


I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Fine. I'll read some H.P. Lovecraft already! Are you happy?


I don't imagine anyone's noticed, but I've re-worked a couple of my tags; posts that were once marked as "Irish Myth" are now marked as "Goidelic," and posts that were once marked as "Welsh Myth" are now labeled as "Bythonic." I may switch them back at some point - in fact, I probably will - but I've been agonizing lately over finding labels that were slightly more broad than "Irish" and "Welsh," but still more specific than our old friend, "Celtic." Or, as some might like to call it, "the other C-word." (You're welcome.)

Not everyone realizes this, but "Celtic" is a word that gets abused about as often as "shamanic" does. (Sometimes, they are even abused 
in tandem.) Aside from the fact that many people use it to describe things that are hardly Celtic at all (Wicca, for example), there are people who contend that the very label is offensively generalizing.

As a "Latino" person, I feel I can understand this issue on a certain level.

While I wouldn't say that it's exactly incorrect to refer to a "Latino Race," it is imprecise, and for the most part, unhelpful. While the nations of Latin America are all united by related (but not always identical) languages, customs and values, to refer to us all by a single name glosses over the multitude of cultures and histories that make up each nation. However, while I'm as adamant as any other Latino person is about the fact that my culture is distinct from all the other Spanish-speaking countries, it's still easy for me to see the cultural legacies that have contributed to all of them. So I've never strongly objected to "Latino" as a general descriptor, when a general descriptor is needed.

I imagine there are people in Britain and Ireland who feel similarly about the C-word. (No, the other C-word!) But at the same time, the problem remains of having uninformed outsiders assume that you're "all the same." A problem I am all too familiar with. And for a grouping of islands that has had the kind of conflicted, bloody history that the British Isles have had, that's especially inappropriate. Too many American Pagans remain uninformed about the countries they claim a spiritual legacy from, to say nothing of pre-Christian Celtic traditions.

I'm going to make a confession: the first book on the occult I ever bought was D.J. Conway's Celtic Magick. I was 11, okay? It's not the most horrible source on the Insular Celts in the world. (That source is probably a purple website somewhere.) But it's just one of the many unfortunate texts out there that perpetuates the idea that Wiccan tradition has anything to do with the ancient Celts. I am far from an expert, but through expending only a small amount of effort and critical thinking, I can confidently tell you this.

I'm going to tell you everything that's Celtic about Wicca. Are you ready?

1.) Cernunnos.
2.) The Greater Sabbats.

That's it. Not the maypole (Germanic), not the Four 
Quarters (Hermetic), not the Wheel of the Year narrative (Thelemic!) and not the Goddess (I couldn't even begin to tell you.) Not anything else. Even though many Wiccans maintain a basic understanding of how the four "fire festivals" were historically celebrated, this is not what happens in circle. Beyond the concept of Samhain as a liminal period, and a general fixation on the number three, Wiccan practice, as it's been handed down, has virtually nothing to do with the ancient Celts. I hate to seem combative about this, but I've met intelligent people who refuse to accept this. There's nothing wrong with being Wiccan and having an interest in Celtic Paganism - that's me, for starters - but if your interest is genuine, then the least you can do is pick up a book or spend an hour on Google. There are courageous nerds who will show you the way.

I don't imagine many of the people who are reading actually needed that speech, but there you are. Now...the fairy lore that went on to wed itself to the narratives of historical witchcraft may be another story entirely. But that's a post for another day.

As an aside: In my effort to gain a basic grasp of the Irish language, I came upon a couple of very helpful videos by a young girl who's in love with Gerard Butler. I'd hoped for more - I liked the idea of learning a language from a petulant native youth - but unfortunately, she ended up receiving a steady stream of hatemail quite soon after her first lesson. Why? Because she had the nerve to mock Americans and other foreigners who attempt to (mis)appropriate her national identity. I guess they missed the part where she generously offers to teach these outsiders Irish in the same breath. Poor dear.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Memeplex: Jupiter

[Shown: Taranis; Sucellus; modern sculpture of the Cauldron of Dagda in Tralee Town Park by Paula O'Sullivan.]