Psychic History | Easter
Psychic History | Easter
The psychic history of Easter records some instances of a rather strange phenomenon known as the Stigmata. The final week of Lent is known to Catholics as “Holy Week”, the culmination of the myth of “Christ”. Easter is, of course, much older that Christianity or any monotheistic religion for that matter. It refers to the miracle of oestrus, the source of all animal life on planet Gaia. But once Christianity really got going, the process of gestation and birth was replaced with the suffering, torture, and death of a “God”. What was once a cause for joy had become a time of penance and renunciation of the beauties of life. Lent is the gloomiest time on the religious calendar, a full forty days of fasting, no sweets, no movies, etc. Just as the natural world is awakening from winter’s slumber, Catholics paint their foreheads with ashes as a mark of penitence and face forty joyless days until Easter when the ban on life is lifted because “God” who died on Friday has “risen” from the dead on Sunday and is acceptable to celebrate once again. I always think of Lent as a grey time of year, a period of self-denial and ultimately a shouldering of blame for the death of “God’s only begotten son”. There are many things that make Lent an unpleasant time of year but none more objectionable than the Passion Plays that are still performed in various places around the world. And inevitably, stories of the Stigmata are re-told and imitated in the local spectacles of staged crucifixions.
Psychic Easter | Easter
Essentially, Stigmata is the spontaneous appearance of open wounds on the hands and feet of pious individuals, wounds that run with blood usually for three days at a time. Some who have allegedly experienced the Stigmata also have bleeding from eyes and on the forehead. The Church has traditionally viewed these phenomena as indicative of divine favour and evidence that the person so affected is particularly “saintly”. Therese Neumann, Father Pio and Seur Jauana are amongst the better known cases. What I find interesting about this phenomenon, apart from the psycho-physiological dynamics, is that they all got it wrong. It has long since been known that the Romans who practiced crucifixion bound their victims with rope and in those few cases where iron spikes were employed they were driven, not through the palms of the hands and the mid-point of the feet but through the much stronger wrist and ankle joints. Why? Because if the objective was to cause suffering and inspire fear in the populace, the victim had to die gradually. A huge iron spike driven through the palm of the hand would shred the supporting tissue and cause the victim to suffocate in a matter of a minute or so rather than holding the victim in place for hours.
So why do the Stigmatics bleed from the palms and the feet and not the wrists and ankles? Because the images of the Crucifixion they had seen in their lives were those of the artists of Europe who – not being anatomists – assumed that the spikes had been driven through the palms and feet and rendered the wounds accordingly. So, what is the Stigmata, really? Is it a form of hysterical conversion in which the belief of the Stigmatist is so strong that she/he wills the bleeding from where they expect it to originate? In that case are we dealing not with extreme virtue or “holiness” but with psycho-pathology? Are those who undergo a “mock crucifixion” and real flogging every year just extreme narcissists who will literally almost kill themselves for the attention it guarantees them? Would they continue this yearly ritual if no one bothered to shop up and watch? Not likely. Whether the Stigmata is self-induced through psychopathy or the result of voluntarily being flogged and mock-crucified, there would be no show without an audience. Do we really want to be beaten into submission to “God” or would “God” be more impressed with humans who were grateful for the amazing planet we live on, for the Universe that we so little understand and for all the beautiful mysteries that surround us? A “God” that wants us to suffer is himself insufferable. I’d take my chances with an utterly impersonal Force that is the source of all that is than live in abject fear of a “God” that bears far too great a resemblance to human psycho-pathology. Wouldn’t it be nice if Easter were only a cause for celebration of the return of the plant world to fecundity in a panoply of colour, the singing of birds of every size and hue and the cries of baby animals as they tumble into this world we call home?
© Delia O’ Riordan 2013