Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Yesterday’s story on the Madonna of Montserrat had a sequel. It’s an odd story that rather contradicts itself in the end, but it had several things to teach me. This morning I read a Facebook comment by the Qabalist David Chaim Smith, where he observed, “… in my very one-sided opinion, all magic is a devotional act,” and it stimulated this recollection.
My first brush with the Black Madonnas actually came in Portugal, at a fishing town on the coast called Nazare. The Madonna of Nazare purportedly saved a nobleman from a plunge over a cliff when he was hunting a stag, and she became famous thereafter. When I visited the church, I found the atmosphere fascinatingly unChristian, almost Tibetan in a mystically matter-of-fact way, and after the Montserrat encounter the memory of both seemed to be telling me I had a link to Maria.
C and I were at the same magazine publishing company for five years. She had just received an annulment of her marriage when we started working together, and I was just breaking up with my girlfriend of eight years. She had two boys, one a teenager and one almost in his teens, and my offspring were in their twenties. We were way apart in years, but there was still a click of mutual recognition, and I spent a fair amount of time trying to push things beyond a casual work friendship. We had in common our status as single parents, but she was Catholic, and I obviously wasn’t. She had a large and religious family which treated her as the black sheep, and she was constantly in a dynamic of attraction and repulsion with them.
She promised her brother, a priest, that she would only re-marry to a Catholic, and kept finding men that treated her poorly. I would send out signals about how I had held the same job for years and was reliable and serious, and reasonably well paid, but I was always held at arm’s length. Or lengthier.
C had Type I diabetes, the one that starts in childhood, but managed it well, keeping a very trim figure and avoiding junk-food. She played on a women’s soccer team, which helped. But one day, she was off work, and didn’t come back for six weeks, by which time she’d gained 15 noticeable pounds on her small figure. She stayed at work through the early spring of 2004, but was off again by June. We occasionally exchanged terse emails, but she didn’t come back to the office.
I would ask her what, exactly as wrong, but I always got cryptic answers about how hard to explain it was, or how complicated. Her illness and its complexities was a no-go area.
That October, I went to Germany on business, staying in a hotel in Cologne while I attended a trade show. On the final day, a Sunday, I went into Cologne’s massive and imposing cathedral, which I’d not visited in many years. Its most famous relics are the purported bones of the Three Wise Men, but it is also home to a 16th Century image of the Virgin who is festooned with jewellery and medals from grateful supplicants. The cathedral was relatively quiet, so looking around a little furtively, I decided to play my Madonna card, and bought a votive candle.
“Okay,” I said silently to the wooden image, “I don’t know the rigmarole of the litany, but you do, so take it as given. You also know who this is for. If you can do something, do it.”
Backing that up was all my feeling for the woman I’d had a crush on for five years. It sounds terse, but it was a fervent prayer. Prayer isn’t, for me, a comfortable subject, so I broke my private taboos in doing this, and much feeling came through as a result.
Next day, the Monday, jet-lagged and back in Toronto, I sent C a short email about my trip, and mentioned I’d said a prayer and lit a candle for her to the Madonna of Cologne cathedral. There was no reply that day, but the day after, I got one of her one-line messages.
“When did you say the prayer?” She never, ever divulged more than she felt she had to. So I replied that it was Sunday, and went to bed for an early night.
The next day brought her full reply, and it was the longest email she ever sent me. She was in dire need of a kidney transplant, and one of her dozen siblings or their dozen or more adult children would have been a good match for a donor. But nobody, through the year of her misery and increasing debilitation, had thought to match the family’s Catholic piety with a corresponding action.
But that Tuesday, a younger sister informed her that for the past two days – since Sunday – she’d been thinking about the problem and figured that she could, and should, be the donor. The game had been re-booted, big-time.
I learned more about C in the next few months than I ever had before. She finally began to accept my feelings about her, while still keeping a reserve. We had a long, confessional lunch just before Christmas, and an hours-long phone call in January. She was slated for surgery in March, and as optimistic and grateful as she had been in ages.
Then she went AWOL again. I had no contact info for her family, and given her history of holding back, I felt awkward about intruding into her affairs. She was always changeable, so I decided to wait her out, sending occasional emails that went unanswered.
I waited and waited.
One hot night at the start of July, I was in chronic pain from a shoulder injury that occurred when I was moving heavy temple regalia. I’d taken what painkillers I had at home, and done a banishing ritual to break my psychological fixation on the pain, but I couldn’t rest. And more than physical anguish was happening – I got into a terrible, extraordinary state of spiritual distress and disorder. I literally said the Lord’s Prayer at 4.00 in the morning, promising to repent of everything if the anguish would go, and I could rest.
Next day at work, news came from the Human Resources department that C had died the previous evening. Through the Diocese, I finally tracked down her brother, the priest, who explained that there’d been a problem about the donor match, and although this was a false alarm, by the time it was settled, C began to succumb to serious diabetic neuropathy. At the end, which was rough, she’d needed a tracheotomy in order to breathe.
There was something casually obscene about the open casket at the funeral home. Her face was unrecognisably puffy, and I kept wondering if it was really her until I saw it was her upturned nose I was looking at, and her eyelashes. I’d spent a lot of time gazing at them over the years. I stayed for a while, but I find funerals and visitations empty events, and this was no exception. C’s physical remnant was there, but not her.
Early deaths are hard to take: C wasn’t even 40. In such cases, there is some kind of perverse wilfulness going on that ends matters in what we call ‘untimely’ fashion. I still miss her at times. I doubt we’d have found each other compatible in the long run, but her dying removed the chance of finding out.
But why did it happen? The miracle was duly supplied, the kidney was waiting. But C went into a sudden decline, as if some inward Thanatic drive took her away from the extra years that would at least have let her see her boys through to adulthood. My night of anguish surely arose from my link with her; and she wasn’t going without a struggle. But the element of will was somehow absent or deficient in her.
As to whether magick and prayer are identical as David Chaim Smith says, I’m not sure, but I suspect he’s on the right track. I think both are theurgic, and my offering in Cologne cathedral had as much emotional oomph behind it as any invocation I’ve ever done.
There was my own psycho-spiritual autopsy to go through, of course: perhaps the Virgin Mary, being Christian, was too much about loss and suffering. A purer Babalon figure would have pushed for either a quick death, or a full-on recovery.
C’s life was interwoven with Catholic guilt and its orientation toward sin and expiation, and she had to play that out. Amid all her alternating love and defiance of her family, she couldn’t find a deep self-authority. Her mistrust of others reflected an underlying mistrust of herself.
At least my friend felt cared for by her own kin at the end, which was perhaps what she needed most of all. I got to play a critical walk-on part in that drama, but it wasn’t in the cards for me to go on to a leading role.
I ended up deciding to leave the Madonna in peace in future, even if I retain a respect for her magical nature, and what she did for C. Additionally, my skepticism about coming to firm convictions about matters of death and what follows it was reinforced. But the quirky synchronicity of my prayer and her sister’s offer will be a memory that always stays with me.
Love is the law, love under will.