Arturo Vasquez over at the ever-fascinating Reditus spends a great deal of time, perhaps a little too much, in the curious corners of Catholicism, or perhaps semi-Catholicism: the bandit saints, popularly-canonized dogs, curanderos, Hermeticism, etc. I love it. He posited one explanation for his identity:
3. Arturo Vasquez is a witch: We are surprised that people don’t make this accusation more often, because this is the one that would stick the best. “Behind all of his piety, and pretensions of traditionalism, Arturo uses his large basement for spells and other dark works. That is why he posts all of those questionable prayers, pictures of folk saints, and essays on Renaissance magic on his blog: to promote his business as a Tarot card reader and curandero.” “Yeah, I’ve seen him. Arturo was hustling on a street corner and offered to read my palm and put a curse on my ex-boyfriend for dumping me for my best friend.” “Arturo said he would cure my kid of the evil eye but instead made his skin turn purple. And the poor child can’t stop singing Prince songs.” “Arturo turned half of the members of the Ladies Altar Guild Wiccan.” And so forth. If there was still an Inquisition, he would be the first burned at the stake if his critics were Dominicans with a huge axe to grind.
Religion, if it is religion at all, is surely about man’s commerce with the supernatural realm. In this sense Paganism is a real religion. A priest sacrificing chickens or virgins to a monstrous deity in hope of supernatural protection and power is what I call religion. An animist, high on the fermented juice of the tropical tree, dancing around the campfire and cutting himself to satisfy the spirit of the river is a real religion. So is a Buddhist monk sitting in a snowdrift in his underpants humming his mantra and transcending the cold. For that matter, even the Mormon baptizing someone for the dead or a televangelist praying down the Holy Spirit fire to heal, mightily heal is practicing real religion. It may be a false or misguided religion, but at least it is religion.
All of this is in contrast to the milk and water that much of mainstream modern Christianity has become in most Western cultures. There is no religion there because the modernists no longer believe in the supernatural.
When I was a guest of the Hopis, it was clear they really believe in the kachinas, the spirits that mediate between us and the Creator. They hope to become a kachina when they die and bring God’s blessings, especially rain, to their people.
Some say the American South is, or at least used to be, not exactly God-centered, but God-haunted. For me, and for many, the American Southwest is spirit-haunted. The veil between this world and the next is very thin in the desert. And the Hopis and the Navajos and the others know that the spirits are not effeminate semi-males with wings, but fearful, even when they are friendly.