“There are no ordinary cats”~ Coelette
The other day I was walking to the library and encountered a very dead cat, who was still in rigor mortis, but who also had been freshly licked vigorously by some other animal. Sections of its fur were in wet, patchy waves which made it appear like a ludicrous attempt at a postmortem bathing of a cat. The library is real close to a creek and a fish restaurant, so it is the perfect spot for little feral friends. Who knows what happened to this guy, but he certainly was sent off on his Bardo journey properly by a friend, the tongue of some similar species coaxing the feline spirit through varying grades of illumination before absorption into the great Void. I cannot experience something like this dead cat without returning to my youth…some reference– the smell of Yaupon holly shrubs or the site of a bicycle reflector, or the taste of orange creamsicle–have immediate places in my mental palace, though the years and the beers are making the process of identifying and retrieving the memory correctly more and more difficult. This cat however, was different. It thrust me immediately into a specific time and a particular place, it immediately took me to my hometown in the hills of Northwest Georgia, to the 4th grade when one Saturday a month my parents shopped me out to the Sunday School teacher to go a visiting, and finally to the discovery of a half-cat, and the mysterious work of the Santanics.
The thing is I never really bought the message that I was supposed to be delivering to strangers as I went on these visitation trips with my church group in my youth. Saturdays were meant to be spent on my bicycle, making as little contact with the realm of adults as possible1. To have to meet at the church on a Saturday morning before cartoons were off seemed like a special form of torture. The day would be spent in slacks and starchy shirts stained under the arms and stiff at the collar. I didn’t mind church altogether and was particularly fascinated with the yearly Passion Play2 but this evangelical portion was beyond uncomfortable.
There were three main approaches to visitation. We had a list of kids our age—8, 9 and 10 year olds–who had not darkened the doors of the Church in a month of Sundays. These were easy visits which usually ended in the child having his Saturday morning cartoons interrupted, and his robed mom3 agreeing to be at Church the very next morning. It was almost certain that this would not actually happen, but that was beside the point as we were able to check the appropriate box on the visiting card which claimed guaranteed attendance. We also had to visit adults on occasion as well. Our fearless leader Mr. Davis, with his pasty skin tone and White Rain sprayed helmet of hair–who had no wife or children of his own–would take the lead on those visits while his little recruitments (me and my other unfortunate friends who had been volunteered into visiting) helped to put everyone at ease about the intrusion. But the absolute worst visiting modality was the freestyle type that was dependent upon the elusive wishes of the Holy Spirit. Mr. Davis would discern the Spirit’s wishes4 and then we would randomly select a house or neighborhood to go into and begin the door to door business. Had this been a game of ring and run we would have gladly participated. But this is where we basically threw ourselves into the most awkward of scenarios. In freestyle visiting we encountered vicious dogs, angry single mothers, and the occasional wielding of shotguns from a property’s border. After the first of such incidents I was able to convince my mom to buy me black Reeboks, as on one occasion I was not able to retrieve one of my penny loafers from the ditch which claimed it.
Once I visited and witnessed to strangers on a mission trip to Buffalo, NY. How very entertaining…a mission trip to one of the most thoroughly Catholic parts of our country. I don’t imagine it ever crossed anyone’s mind on the entire bus full of pre-teens that Catholics may in fact be Christian, or even worse…the oldest branch of the Church altogether alongside Orthodoxy. For we were an infantry, soldiers fit for glory, spreading the Word to the heathen and the infidel alike. It almost felt like volunteerism at times, but that feeling was typically washed out by the reality that we weren’t really offering any sort of service to anyone. We were visiting. We were trying to pull people into our particular tent to hear our music and sermons which we felt certain would convince them of their own inferiority. Not my glory days. Maybe I am not using strong enough language here–I actually hated visiting. This mission trip to the Catholics exposed me to many interesting things, however: stained glass, marble sculpture, the Stations of the Cross, the Saints, and of course, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, Mary. Curiously enough, I converted to Catholicism5 in college after falling in love with the dramatic ritual of the Mass and the writings of Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross, Mechtild of Magdeburg, St. Hildegard Von Bingen, and the rest of the Rhineland mystics.
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On one visiting trip back in Georgia we discovered a half-cat. The day started as usual with us loading up at the church and waving goodbye to our mothers as Mr. Davis, complete with pocket protector and smelling of hairspray and Old Spice, made sure we were buckled in and each of us had our Bibles.6 He would thumb through his stapled list of scheduled visits and then we would hit the neighborhood furthest from the Church and work our way back towards it by mid afternoon. Here were little pockets of boys dressed in Sunday best trouncing through yards and ducking under clothes lines, attempting to persuade peaceful, law abiding citizens, to come to an Evangelical shindig. We were actually about to knock on a friend of mine’s door—Mark Waters–which embarrassed me to no end, when our head honcho stopped both of us boys with a hard slam of his hands on our chest as if we were about to step upon the head of an adder. It actually took the breath out of me. What we were being halted so abruptly for, on the lawn of Mark’s yard—bestrewn with plastic riding toys, abandoned yard tools and quilted in a mixture of crab and bermuda grass–was a half-cat. Mr. Davis said, as if it were as normal as any roadkill, Watch out boys we’ve got ourselves a half-cat.
You may be wondering which half of the cat it was. I mean, that is where my mind would logically go, but who knows? To ease some of your minds, it was the back half. Mr. Davis then broke into a confusing diatribe concerning the Santanics who were most assuredly the guilty party as we were nearing Halloween. The fact that he mispronounced Satanic, yet spoke with such confidence and authority was more than puzzling to me. Southern Christians, especially during the Satanic scare7 of the 1980’s were often more akin to Zoroastrians in their treatment of absolute good and absolute evil. The feeling was such that God and the Devil may in fact be equals and you never really knew which one had the upper hand for the time. I knew many Youth Directors, Assistant Pastors and Worship Leader-types who spent large amounts of time studying devil worship8—devouring pamphlets and short books upon the subject and invariably gaining more knowledge (albeit from sketchy sources and prejudicial angles) about the religious aberration of Satanism than those who claimed to be Satanic in the first place.
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So while stepping out of the way of this stiff, wet, solid white (not yet smelling) dead cat at the library, my memory thrust itself back to the half-cat of the Santanics. And then I slipped into a haze of Carlos Santana and wondered if he knew the fear that the misunderstanding of his last name had caused Mr. Davis and half a dozen others in my church. His albums were most assuredly on the watch list in terms of devil worship music. As I was humming Black Magic Woman, I could immediately see Mark Waters running out of his house to check the half-cat and remembered how respectful and tuned in he was to Mr. Davis’s macabre story of the torturous delights of Santanics and their manifold opportunities to birth evil in the world by severing cats near Halloween. I can still see Mr. Davis with his hands in the prayer mudra and his helmet of hair uncomfortably moving in the breeze as the neighbor scooped up the half-cat in a spaded shovel and tossed the mystery into an equally mysterious ditch. I wondered what oddities had met their demise in that ditch behind Mark’s house: lost footballs, slaughtered snakes, a Styrofoam cooler lid, a child’s balsa wood toy plane? I wondered if Santanics really did some sort of ritual sacrifice with that feline and what they must have used the front half for, or if it was simply mauled to death by one of the roped up and starving muts in the neighborhood.
But more than anything else, I wondered which generous animal had licked the half-cat postmortem, and assisted its otherworldly journey. I wanted to BE that animal, to gently assuage the fears and difficulties of the afterlife for the recently deceased.
- The realm of adults, with their endless need of notation, of note taking, of numbering and counting reality in an endless collection box of nothingness. One is reminded of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s, Little Prince.
The Passion Play was, in fact, my first ‘official’ Initiation. In a group setting we were presented with a Sophoclean style mystery play that led the Candidate, step by step, through the last days of Jesus Christ. Ignatius of Loyola could not be more proud of the Protestant use of visualization and creativity in the reenactment of the Passion of Jesus.
More than one of these “robed moms” became for me, a ‘type’ of what Thelemites might consider a Scarlet Woman, but who I identified with Mary Magdalene.
It is curious to note that this is one of my most important practices currently, the discerning of spirits.
1995, St. Matthew’s Catholic Parish, Statesboro, GA. This same parish has a set of my woodcuts, the “Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary,” as well as a panel of stained glass that I designed.
It is incredibly important, in the Protestant tradition, to have one’s own Bible. Time and experience revealed to me the significance of this, as many Protestants believe their Bible to hold power—either because of it previously belonging to an ancestor, or because of it being at one’s side during many a spiritual warfare—and the Bible is frequently used in “bibliomancy” in this communion. One’s ‘personal’ Bible held power.
I recall so many examples of this fanaticism, both televised and otherwise. Symbols held especial power in those days, and Proctor and Gamble, as well as La Vey’s Church of Satan, were lumped together into a kettle of evil due to symbolism. When re-encountering symbols via Freemasonry in the year 2000, I recalled the POWER assumed to be in linework from my upbringing. This had a strange effect upon me—I began to experience symbols within the Western Esoteric Tradition as being vehicles to Otherwhere.
This became my special fascination as a middle school student. In some strange way I have to thank my “Worship” leaders for presenting to me exactly what the agenda of the devil worshippers was about. This, of course, also included instruction concerning which rock bands were Satanic and which were not. But more than anything else, it was sex which was deemed the ultimate evil. This Manicheistic dualism never became my own feeling, as I early on enjoyed being ‘incarnated’ and of fleshly materials.