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24 Oct

La Moreneta is a little statue of the Madonna and child. She is black. Legend has it that she was carved in Jerusalem in the early years of the Christian church, and moved to Montserrat by Templars. Shepherds found her in a cave in the year 890 and, when even a troupe of Benedictine monks could not move her, a church was built to house her there, with a monastery nearby.

Montserrat is a strange rock formation, forty minutes outside Barcelona. It rises suddenly out of the plain, incongruous with the rolling Mediterranean hills surrounding. It is difficult to see in pictures, but in the golden Spanish twilight this limestone outcropping looks like hundreds of ancient giants overlooking the valley. The little group of buildings is dwarfed by these ancestors.

The monastery is now home to a group of radical nuns who spend their time writing a new constitution for the state of Catalonia. One of them, when asked if she thought women should have more power in the church, responded that women should Be More Powerful, right where they are, right now.

We paid for parking, and walked along the cliff, taking pictures of the fantastic view, and the towering stones. One can also take a train from Barcelona, which must be quite a lovely ride. Mosaics in the church courtyard honor places on the Templar route through Europe, Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage, Fatima, Lourdes, Compostella, Montecasino, Rome…
There is a spring with salty water gushing from a cave behind the church. A sign reads, “Mistica Font De L’aigua De La Vida”. We taste and cleanse. On the other side of the church is an entrance which leads the visitor down a long corridor and up some stairs to where La Moreneta sits overlooking the church from behind the altar, through a little gold-framed window.

On the way in, we pass mosaics of female saints, most of whom I’d never heard of. On the way out, are frescoes of women in plain clothes, doing traditional women’s work, and some reading, or teaching. We don’t see one single priest. This is a women’s place.

The sitting room of the Madonna is a shimmering cave, lined with gold mosaics, relics, and and a bronze dove hanging from the ceiling on a delicate chain. Encased in a bullet proof glass cylinder, only the sphere she holds in her right hand protrudes from her protective aura. Devotees approach silently in prayer, and touch or kiss her orb, to receive her blessing. Very much like Darshan.

The corridor leads to a little chapel behind her, where another window reveals her back, high above the altar. A grand statue of Archangel Michael guards her, before a giant stained glass window, saturating the room in light of every color. I cross myself and sit down at a pew.

“Use me,” I pledge to La Moreneta. She replies without haste, “Mmmmm… Si, but first… give me your resentments.”
With my Vipassana training, I go inside and breathe through my resentments, one by one as they surface. When I feel that I am clear enough, I offer my surrender again. “Use me,” She smiles.
“Hmmm… That’s good…. Now give me your grief.” I find the heaviness in my heart, and breathe through it, with silent tears, until I feel it clear.

“Use me, Mistress,” I open my heart, but I know she isn’t done.
“Now give me your rage.” She says. This time my tears run hot. I know she has to make space in my cluttered being for her blessing to run through me. I huff and I puff, and I blow the wall down. I use my alchemical breathing to draw the bile, venom, and sulphuric acid out of my joints and tissue and organs, up my spine and into my brain, where they are transformed in the alembic of vices into crystalline fuel.

When I feel clear, I don’t have to ask. I make myself big and wide. She pours the water of life through me, like a firehose aimed at the top of my head. I feel it descend deep into the earth. I sit for some time, then make my way through dim corridors into the church, where a lone organist is playing her heart out to La Moreneta.


La Alquimista

10 Aug


   When I was little, I had an internal calendar I would check with when the square boxes divided into pages made no sense. Mine was round and covered in flowers and trees. Four poles indicated the peak of each season. Going around, the passing of time was indicated by the changes in the colors of the leaves, and by which flowers were blooming, and which fruits were ripe. One by one, I placed the numbered days of the months all around in the dirt like path stones. That way I could translate between my calendar and the one we used in school. I was born between tomato and yarrow, right before corn. My sister came when St. John’s wort was blooming and cucumbers were at their tastiest. When were you born?

   I told my mother I had a little farmer in my tummy who turned the chewed-up food into medicine by growing things in there. I drew her a picture. When I drank water, it rained on the garden inside. When I ate grains or peas, the farmer planted them. A spring pumped rays of liquid light from the earth, plants, and air, to the bones and the blood so that each organ received the necessary nourishment. I only learned recently that the name for this farmer is the Archaeus. Other people have them too. 

   When I wanted to know why a plant had come to my attention, I would ask it directly, either by going inside it to feel what it feels, or by asking it to present its deva. Not always, but often enough, a little spirit person dressed as the plant would crawl out of a bud, expand like a balloon to roughly my size, and stop to converse. In this way I knew what the plant itself wanted to teach me. Later I would check in books to see what the plant was reputed to be “for”, its medicinal and ritual uses. That much, a book could tell. 

    Even as a child, I never ingested a plant before being sure it was properly identified and approved by more than one source. I did experiment a good deal with eating weeds. The cabinets in our garage were filled with little bottles of rotting leaves and holy water I had made myself, and whose decay I monitored daily, mapping patterns into secret codes I wrote down on paper with a quill pen dipped in lemon juice.

   Why no one ever told me that my great-grandfather was an alchemist, I’ll never know. I knew he had been a chemistry professor at the university, but I didn’t see the books he had written on Paracelsus and early chemistry until just  the other day. Maybe they were embarrassed, since Alchemy had fallen out of fashion. Maybe they hadn’t even heard about it. He must have been standing beside me, showing me the secrets. Otherwise, how would I have known? 

   When I began studying astrology with an alchemist in Italy, where I spent my twenties, it became clear that my internal calendar was correct, only incomplete. In real life it is spherical, not  just round, and includes all of the perceptible stars in the sky. A more complex version includes spheres within spheres and has interlocking parts fueled by magnetic propulsion. A personal sphere, inside a social sphere, anchored to a biosphere, orbits the source, passing through manifold spheres of influence, on the arc of time. An astrological natal chart is a picture of the moment you were born, what you became when you took your first breath, and who you still are. How that moment relates to this present moment, is what’s happening right now, for you.

   To learn about natural medicine, my teacher suggested I travel to the east. Our western pharmacopeia had become corrupt during the inquisition, when chemistry and astrology were equally outlawed. Our philosophy had similarly degenerated, leaving the remaining systems full of blinds devised to mislead or protect. We had lost too much knowledge, he told me, and urged me to study traditional Chinese medicine.

  I found a school in Sri Lanka and went for a three month acupuncture course, just to get my feet wet. I quickly recognized our pentagram in Chinese five element theory and wondered why we rely almost solely on plants instead of including animal and mineral ingredients the way they do. I found myself attracted to the Thai and the Tibetan systems, but my internal calendar was somehow outside their sphere.

   I knew in my body (because the little farmer told me) that I didn’t need exotic herbs shipped from foreign countries. I didn’t need a new religion or philosophy. I needed to reassess where I stood. I had to remember what had been forgotten: how to live on the ground my feet touch, with respect to the animals, vegetables and minerals all around me. I developed a system to heal myself, using a combination of the plants, proteins and minerals my ancestors ate (wherever they were from) and fresh, locally harvested produce from where I live.

   I quickly found that art is in the combinations. Each member of my family is a different body type, with different humors, and distinct nutritional needs. Calculating the charts of each person, with respect to the passing seasons, I found so many contradictions we could scarcely share a meal. My son eats only heating foods and herbs, while I need constant cooling. My step kids, although close in age, are opposites as well. I learned to include a little of everything for dinner, as they do in ayurvedic cuisine, dosing out portions with respect to each constitution (more spice on this one, sour over here, no peppers, ghee on this side, no that plate just gets olive oil, thanks) 

   It is, and it isn’t all that complex. It is not, in fact, more difficult to customize diet, exercise, and supplements to each individual’s needs than it is to make blanket statements. Which cell salts and homeopathic remedies will heal any imbalance is knowable, only different for each person. It is not hard to create custom blends with respect to astrological predisposition and current state of health. It isn’t rocket surgery to figure out which mantras would be most beneficial to chant while grinding herbs and minerals, the way the Tibetans do, to infuse the concoction with the music of the spheres. We could easily focus this much quality attention on each and every person, it’s just not economically viable in the world we are currently living in. Luckily or unluckily, that world is about to change. After that it will change again. And then again.

What do we have to gain by studying an archaic protoscience whose major proponents were burned alive centuries ago? What relevance does it have to modern life? Aren’t we finally so divorced from nature that her finely tuned chemistry no longer affects us? Isn’t it illegal to grow anything that really works? Then again, what if everything you need to heal yourself is already growing within three hundred yards of you? Wouldn’t you want to know about it?

   In my dream, every prodigal son and daughter goes out into this changing world with three gold coins and a pouch full of memory. Knowledge of self in relation to the natural world will replace illness and suffering as teachers. Each culture can nourish its own without needing to feed off the carcass of another. We are neither bound by authority to the village our grandparents built, nor banished. Anyone can go anywhere, knowing how to calibrate to their surroundings, and to play in harmony with the sounds around them. Home, that place where I have everything I need, is within reach wherever I am.