A Suspension of Disbelief…

Time to start blogging again.

I’ve just been watching The Last Exorcism Part II, wherein a New Orleans Voodoo priestess plays a pivotal part. Which got me thinking…

I am a faithful sceptic. I believe in a God; a creative, intelligent force that keeps order in this universe and gives laws. So far, the Jewish God, as described by Dennis Prager in his Verse-by-verse Torah Study series makes the most sense to me. (Trust me: that is a big deal coming from me, someone who was born and steeped in the Christian tradition, with a particularly evangelical Protestant influence on my upbringing.)

This may alienate a few of the very very few readers of this blog who may reject the concept of a higher power, but so be it. But if you listen to Mr. Prager and his references to other Jewish scholars of the Talmud (and more recent times) about what the words actually mean to the preachers and practitioners of Judaism (which eliminates the mumbo-jumbo and literal blind faith of much of evangelical Protestantism’s literal interpretations of the King James Version of the Torah), then there is rhyme and reason to the Creator, and there are no fundamental conflicts between the symbolism of the Torah (particularly the creation story) and Science (with a capital S).

Although renouncing my US citizenship was a big step (see posts passim), I am not quite ready to renounce the faith of my upbringing …yet. Although the Jews do look like they know how to party.

I said that I was a faithful sceptic. That means that at most times, I am willing to suspend disbelief to expose myself to new ways of thinking about how the world works. I’ve dabbled in a bit of Wicca and other Neo-Pagan practices, a little Taoism and Buddhism, a very little ceremonial Magick, active Atheism, and the 12 Steps; I’ve prayed with Muslims, done guided meditations with others… you name it, I have probably challenged my belief systems with it.

Most recently, I was confirmed in the Church of England (c. 2005) after a debate with my wife on the evils of religion in general. She had been pointing out the latest Jihadist attacks saying that all religion was bad and unthinking. I defended the faith of C.S. Lewis and decided it was time to nail my colours to the mast*.

My faithful scepticism doesn’t mean I allow myself to be brainwashed, though that has happened, at times (I spent five years in my early 20s as a poster child for AA). It does mean, though, that when presented with an opportunity for new experiences which question how I regard the way the world works, I tend not to turn them down, which is how I was exposed to a bit of bastardised Candomblé.

 

About 18 years ago, I was living in Portugal. I had a two-bedroom flat, in a very nice location in the centre of town. A very dear friend of mine told me that his girlfriend (they are still together after that much time and three children) had a Brazilian friend who was going through a very rough divorce and was in danger of being homeless, and would I mind putting her up for a bit in my spare room; she would cook and clean in return for a roof over her head. No problem, I said, let her stay at my place.

Thus was born AGR’s Home for Wayward Women; I eventually adopted one other poor soul (a very sweet 17-year-old mixed-race Portuguese girl who worked as a waitress at one of the beach bars I frequented at the time) who had been turfed out by her mother in favour of her mother’s then-boyfriend. I shall save that story for another time, though.

S., (we shall call her that for the remainder of this post) the Brazilian woman, happened upon me in my usual (at the time) wanton state. I was going through a divorce and acting out about it. I kept myself in a constant state of drunkenness and was sleeping with anyone who would say “yes” to me. I had acquired a bit of a reputation as both a bon vivant and a ladykiller, and a woman hater. I used to quip that my favourite phrase in Portuguese was: “Tens preservativo?” (Use Google Translate for Gods’ sake!)

S. had determined that I was in need of spiritual sustenance, so she called upon a personal favour to repay my hospitality: she brought a Candomblé bruxa she knew into the house to perform an exorcism of the negative vibes emanating from me.

Over a couple of hours I was exposed to a Tarot reading, a reading of tea leaves, a reading of bones, a load of candles being lit about the house, salt lining each window sill and door frame, and protective pentagrams being drawn in chalk at each sill and frame. Thus the bastardisation I referred to, using modern New Age/Neo Pagan practices, followed by the Candomblé bit, which may be difficult for many Anglos to follow, as it was very strange.

She gave me a packet full of herbs and barks, told me to run a warm bath with them in it and submerse myself in it (buck naked). When I was ready, I was to stand up in the bath and call her into the bathroom. So I called her in. She used a wooden bowl and would fill it up with water, herbs, and barks, and call down the Orixas to protect me and look over me whilst she essentially baptised me in the mixture. Then she lit a cigar, and blew smoke over every inch of my body except the parts that were underwater (my feet and ankles), whilst chanting various incantations that sounded more African than Portuguese.

I can’t say that my evil spirits were exorcised, but I did feel an overwhelming calmness as I emerged from the experience. And she assured me that the Orixas were protecting me and that I would be all right (at the time, I was quite sceptical of reaching the age of 30, given the amount of “good times” I was having).

I don’t know whether I was possessed by evil spirits or not. I do know that I had a darkness about me and my mien. After the ceremony(ies), she assured me I was protected and that the evil spirits had left me. I felt serene (for the first time in a long time) upon her departure, for possibly no other reason than that I was willing to suspend disbelief temporarily. Once upon a time…

And so I choose to suspend disbelief whenever I can; because I never know what might come of it.

 

*I am now reconsidering, given the behaviour of so-called fellow followers when it came to a problem I had with sex ed for year 5s in the local CofE school; I haven’t been back to Church since. If my fellow members in the body of Christ can’t stand up for themselves, would they ever stand up for me? Fuck ‘em, I say, after a particularly virulent campaign of gossip against me and my daughter. And in the space of 5 years of my wife more than occasionally attending church with us, she was only witnessed to once. Fuck ‘em. Church is a club for them, nothing more, and I want nothing to do with that kind of club.

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