Prayer Scrapbook

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Religion /
@ K. 2008 06 22

Christians seem to think that “prayer” is necessarily directed at “God.” A Christian would never dream of praying to Mars or to Jupiter or to Venus. Naiveté may be an indispensable element in any culture.

Prayer is a subject which has received only patchy attention to date at One module I’ve today retitled The Arrogance of Prayer, and split some of its portmanteau contents into this scrapbook. A new module called “Prayer” should perhaps address the topic with dignity, but such a task will have to wait: because what brought me here today was an itch to further wrinkle two wrinkles:

  1. Her family beats her if she doesn’t pray.
    There Will Be Blood

    In the movie the oil man is leasing property for drilling. He’s been invited to the property by a young man of the Sunday family who’s told the oil man that the oil is seeping right out of the ground. This Sunday fellow wants a donation for his church in payment. Once on the land the oil man’s son reports that cute little Mary Sunday has said that her family beats her if she doesn’t pray.
    Do you think this Sunday family with its daughter named Mary, Mary Sunday!, is Christian?
    If we defined things strictly enough, perhaps nobody would be anything we’ve defined. As it is, human cultures accept inconsistencies and contradictions galore. At best religion is a set of contradictions. (Publicly funded, science will follow suit.) My own “Christian” indoctrination taught me that “my” relationship with “God” was “private” and personal. I doubt if any caveman would have understood any of that. Where people are struggling for survival, nothing is private. Indeed nothing was private until rich Romans invented inner rooms, from which the public could be excluded. Caesar could whisper to Marc Antony with none but his body slave overhearing. (And if Caesar wanted his body slave to get lost he could simply order him out.) And if Adam whispered to Eve it wasn’t private; there simply wasn’t any public yet about. (Except God: God was supposed to hear, and see, everything.)
    Religion (as I have dramatized) is descended from magic. The would-be magician wanted to assure certain patterns: that the sun would “rise,” that the rain would rain. Soon please. The would-be magician tried to invent “causes” that would magically make it happen. The sun, the rain were not private. You want rain? You cut your arm and bled on the ground. There, Nature, see? Liquid descended. Now, dammit, Rain! Human individuals realized they weren’t making it rain, but that didn’t dissuade them from their belief: I can’t make it rain, but that priest: HE has real magic. Or: that priest is a fraud, he can’t make it rain; but that magic animal in the sky, He has real magic. I’ll sacrifice a lamb to him and he’ll make it rain: for ME! For us: for me, Adam, and my Eve, and our little Cain and Abel.
    Prayer would have been just another form of bleeding, of lamb killing: beg the magician for the magic.
    (Don’t get me wrong: prayer, as it evolved, acquired valuable functions: valid psychologically; but Not Magically!)
    Anyway: understand: prayer was Not private in its origins. Prayer became private in Christianity: a Post-Roman religion. Nothing could be private before privacy was invented.

    thanx thegovernorsoffice

    There may be analogs for privacy in China, in Japan, among Eskimo … but don’t mistake any such for western privacy: that’s Roman, then Christian.
    So. The Sunday family prays. They pray as a family. That is ancient family behavior. They may pray addressing a Christian God, but that’s mere fashion. What they’re really doing is something ancient: trying to act in concert to control their luck.
    This Sunday family did not look very lucky in this movie. Neither did the oil man: who apparently paid the first Sunday lad, but never paid up on anything else to anybody. Finally he “lived” in a huge mansion, with a private bowling alley in the basement, but the hard-driving, cheating, conniving oil man would take his meal of burned toast and pass out drunk on the hard wood. Some luck, some success. A reflection on the whole culture that gladdens my abused heart.
    Anyway, you see what I mean? The Sunday family couldn’t afford slackers in the family magic: same as Washington DC will shoot pacifists in war time (or any time it feels like it) (oh, I don’t mean officially; I mean in private, in “a dark alley,” the media not looking.) Officially any military force will “shoot” any slacker: any individual not participating in the group magic. Home Land Security.

  2. As I say, I was trained to pray as a child. I continued to do so in private until well into my middle age. I don’t doubt that I continue to, though not recognizably in the form I was trained to. I was trained, perfectly conventionally, to ask for blessings on the rest of the family: “God bless Mommy, and God bless Daddy, and God bless my sister, Beth …” (By age five that family no longer existed; or Daddy was no longer included in it.)
    I wish I could recall in perfect detail when I first learned of magic rites that invoke harms and not blessings. Hollywood has long indulged us in them. But I didn’t encounter any in literature that really got my attention until Stephen Hunter’s Havana: which takes place in Cuba and introduces some nice Afro-Cuban gods of blood, murder, and mayhem.
    Illuminatus! introduces some gods that haven’t received much attention in recent Judeo-Christian culture. The god Dis, for example.
    In its series Rome HBO gives its Judeo-Christian west an eyeful of deliciously non-Judeo-Christian paganism. Petitions to this and that Roman god are everywhere in evidence. Titus Pullo talks candidly about having no attention whatsoever for any god except for the god he’s “doing business with” that particular day.
    Servillia mentions Dis directly in her prayers. More than one of Servillia’s prayers are worth quoting. They were penned by HBO people, but I suspect that their guess is close to right:

    Gods of the Junii, with this offering I ask you to summon Tyche, Megaera, and Nemesis2 so that they may witness this curse. By the spirits of my ancestors I curse Gaius Julius Caesar. Let his penis wither. Let his bones crack. Let him see his legionnaires drown in their own blood. Gods of the Junii, I offer to you his limbs, his mouth, his breath, his speech, his hands, his heart, his stomach. Gods of the Inferno, let me see him suffer deeply, and I will rejoice and sacrifice to you.

    Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. But Servillia is not done: she also hexes Atia, Caesar’s niece:

    By the spirits of my ancestors I curse Atia of the Julii. Let dogs rape her. Let her children die and her houses burn. Let her live a long life of bitter misery and shame. Gods of the Inferno, I offer you her limbs, her head, her mouth, her breath, her speech, her heart, her liver, her stomach. Gods of the Inferno, let me see her suffer deeply, and I will rejoice and sacrifice to you.

    Both of these curses are evoked as she carves them into scrolls of lead. The scrolls are then rolled up and given to her body slave, who then takes the scrolls to hide them within the cracks of the homes of Servilia’s intended victims. Her final curse comes just before her suicide in front of Atia’s front door and is her way of getting in the last word:

    Gods below, I am Servilia, of the most ancient and sacred Junii, of whose bones the seven hills of Rome are built. I summon you to listen. Curse this woman! Send her bitterness and despair for all her life. Let her taste nothing but ashes and iron. Gods of the Underworld, all that I have left I give to you in sacrifice if you will make it so.

2013 07 24 Jan and I just watched a DVD of Hitchcock’s 39 Steps. The protagonist, handcuffed to the heroine, checks into an inn in Scotland. The innkeeper takes the fugitive’s money, then sells him to the cops, asking about a reward. Mrs. Innkeeper helps the hero escape. The protagonist asks after his benefactor’s well being. “Oh, he’ll just pray at me,” says Mrs. Innkeeper. A second later, off camera: Smack! So much for her knowledge of her northern Christian husband.

Boy, is what I wrote in 2008, after being ridiculously jailed, and today different from what I woul shave written in 1950, or 1960, or 1970 … Take 1959 for example: I was reading lots of Donne, and lots of Herbert. (Herbert wrote of prayer as “man well-dressed.”) My own writing n the subject, had I written anything would have likely paralleled, resonated with, those guys.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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