St. Petr Ginz

Last Wednesday I turned 22.

St. Petr Ginz was 16 when he died.

Petr Ginz died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on Sept. 28th, 1944. Petr, a Czechoslovak Jew, was a visual artist and writer as well as an avid learner. At Terezín, the concentration camp where he was kept before being transferred to Auschwitz, Ginz was editor-in-chief of Vedem, a journal produced by a group of child artists. Ginz’s diary, which has been compared to that of Anne Frank, has been published in Spanish, Catalan, Esperanto (of which Ginz was a speaker), and recently in English as “The Diary of Petr Ginz 1941-1942”.

Ginz’s story was made famous in 2003 amid coverage of the Columbia shuttle disaster. Col. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, had sought to take an object related to the Holocaust with him on his space flight on Columbia, and was presented with a special reproduction of Ginz’s “Moon Landscape,” a drawing created at Terezín that depicts a fantastic view of Earth from the Moon (below).

After the explosion of the Columbia shuttle, the Jewish community was wracked by the parallel tragic deaths of two of its own, Ginz and Ramon, both men who had demonstrated so much ability and promise. The tragedy was especially poignant given that the shuttle breakup had occurred on the anniversary of Petr’s birthday, Feb. 1st.

Though not Jewish, I too have been moved by Ginz’s story. His is a story of adversity in the midst of horror, a story that proves that there can be calm and beauty even in dark times. And yet… and yet… do we dishonor Ginz and other victims of genocide by weaving a silver lining into each of their stories? Perhaps this is a necessary human mechanism, to keep us all from going mad: Something so horrific could not be possible, there must be some lesson to be gleaned!

And yet…

No, I do not think it is dishonoring if we take the good with the bad — or rather, the mote of hope buried deep in the pit of ashes. And so I honor Ginz and the other child artists in the death camps, in this oh-so-small way, and leave you (and myself) to simply contemplate the earth seen from space, the earth that is so green and good and yet which, paradoxically, houses evil.

Vedem, the title of the Terezín youths’ journal, means We Lead. Let the memory of Ginz’s verdant life and black death lead us to contemplation and action to end the suffering of children and all people, and toward the end of genocide.

Lastly, a poem published in Vedem by another child at Terezín, Orce (AKA Zdenek Ornest 1929-1990) who, you’ll notice, survived.

The Thaw

Silently, lightly, slowly it drifts down

Onto the black and bleeding earth,

From somewhere up high, steadily descending

Whirling in the air on a tender breeze.

Covering all and glittering strangely,

As if to envelop this aged rot

And as in a dream, suddenly everything

Becomes once again what it once used to be.

Hidden is the filth that blankets the world

Hidden the darkness that blinds us all

Hidden the hunger that makes us retch,

Hidden the paid that breaks our backs.

Just for a while we breathe again freely

Drugged by the glitter, by the world all in white

I look out the window, the steady snow falling

And suddenly everything’s water again.

A Holy Terror: Celebrating St. MLK

Today is, I’m sure you know, the national celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. You may not also know that two days ago was the Feast Day of Saint Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..

My People, make a joyful noise! All Hail the Prophet of Justice, Human and Divine!

Now, before I say anything else, please read this. Everything I could possibly say about MLK should be taken as a footnote to that piercing piece of prose.

I feel a great Terror on this day, my friends. I peer out the window into the hazy-gray sky and sense Nemesis winking at me through the raven-flocked tree branches. What can I say about this man of whom so much has already been said? How can I, a young white man, speak about this black man who lived and died before I was even born? How can I speak his Holy Name while sitting here, wrapped up and comfortable in my college-kid apartment, while complicit in the knowledge that homeless people, mostly black women and men, still live on those same streets that I jog down toward my petty affairs? I am, after all, one of those academics that Lorenzo Komboa Ervin so-rightly criticized in the piece linked to above.

But, but, — Always so many Buts from you, Johnny! —  But I will speak that man’s Good Name in humility and reverence, apology and caution, nonetheless.

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Feast of the Fig Tree

Make a joyful noise, my friends. Now begins the first Feast of the Martyred Fig Tree!

A few months ago I posted about what I call “The People’s Saints.” That is, deceased individuals whom I have chosen to honor religiously for their actions, their spirit, their stories while living:

Sure, I’m only calling them “Saints” because that is a word that has a lot of power for me – it ALREADY has meaning as a title. Sure, my obsession with folk-catholicism is obviously shining through here in its full glory. But GODDAMNIT I’m going to keep on sainting folks and putting images of them on my altars and praying to them because they’re WICKED AWESOME. I’m saying we should raise hell for the Glorious Dead.

I’ve come up with dates on which to celebrate particular individuals, and I’ve arbitrarily chosen (along with Ruby Sara, my constant companion in all such things) today to celebrate and honor not a human, but a plant.

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The People’s Saints

Two days ago was Frida Kahlo‘s birthday–Saint Frida Kahlo.

What?

How many times have you heard a pagan say, “The Christians stole everything from the pagans”?  This is, of course, a ridiculous statement: Any religious practice is “stolen”; there is no “pure” form of any religious tradition that is free from syncretism. AND, truth be told, often the exact opposite of this statement is more (un)reasonable–take Wiccan magic circles, for example, “stolen” from the Christians, flat out. Besides, since Roman Catholicism is really just ancient Roman religion with a little extra baby-Jee thrown in, then really they haven’t stolen anything and… well…… you get the idea. The whole rhetoric is nonsense and round-about.

BUT, in response, I always say (sarcastically), “Well, why don’t we just steal it all back, then?” Unlike those of us swimming around in the pseudo-religious clusterfuck known as paganism, Christians have got traditions, depth, values, intensely moving art and phenomenal liturgy. We’ve got a bunch of 13 year olds drawing pentacles in their bedrooms with bread knives, or (at our best!) a few yearly gatherings that act more like religiously-themed Temporary Autonomous Zones rather than full-time religious communities.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are problems with Christianity–but find me a group of people who don’t have problems, I say! And I’ve got my theological differences with Christians, and problems with historical events, but again–that doesn’t make Christians any different than, oh, everybody else on the planet, including pagans. Despite the rampant anti-Christian bigotry (indeed, unbridled, sickening B.I.G.O.T.R.Y.) that permeates paganism, I still think that it is useful for us to look at some Christian traditions and contemplate what use they might have for us.

And I look at Catholicism and see a beautiful and active culture of ancestor reverence that, frankly, I think the pagans should go ahead and appropriate. I’m talking about the Saints. I’m saying that we should start making pagan saints. I’m saying that we should stop trying to live paganism and just do it, today, now, using the stuff of our lives now.

Who says that the Catholic Church has sole the sole right to officially recognize individuals for their achievements, their beauty and passion, their remarkable lives, after their deaths? Sure, the Pope probably thinks so, but fuck him. Those who worship Santissima Muerte don’t seem to care, nor those who worship any number of unofficial saints. So, why should we?

Sure, I’m only calling them “Saints” because that is a word that has a lot of power for me–it ALREADY has meaning as a title. Sure, my obsession with folk-catholicism is obviously shining through here in its full glory. But GODDAMNIT I’m going to keep on sainting folks and putting images of them on my altars and praying to them because they’re WICKED AWESOME. I’m saying we should raise hell for the Glorious Dead.

Glorious Dead like Frida Kahlo.

Kahlo’s eyes pierce me like the arrows that pierced St. Sebastian. Her paintings rattle my bones. The story of her pain and passion wells up within me, making the blood throb in my ears and at the tips of my fingers and toes. Hers is a righteous existence, one martyred by life. SHE is glorious in heaven.

As a young, aspiring writer and poet, as one who dares call myself an artist, I lay down and contemplate Her Holy Visage and tremble. In her I see Life and Death, Beauty and Butchery. I see in her the Queen of Heaven, Venus the Dancing Star. Her rouge-tinted face reminds me of Ezili Freda, the Sorrowful, Luxurious Lady.

SO, I will call her Saint Frida, and hang her image alongside those of the Gods and Goddesses I revere. I will beatify others and call them Saint Sappho of Lesbos–Saint of Lovers and Lyricism, Saint Harriet Tubman–Saint of Freedom and of Revolution, Saint Johnny Cash–Saint of Those Imprisoned, of Fire and Straining Voices. I will call them the People’s Saints, Our Dear Departed Exemplars, The Host of Heaven’s Delight.

And I encourage you to do the same. Whom do you revere?