Holy Spider Mother of God

I learned a lot from the Jesuits. From them, I learned the obscure history of the Catholic church. None of my friends’ Catholic schools ever talked about the inquisition, the burning of the witches, the persecution of the Jews, the suppression of science, the utter corruption, and the waged wars that plagued the history of the Vatican.

The Jesuits, however, where exemplary in their brutal honesty, their relentless questioning, the ruthlessness of their historical analysis, and their commitment to true education.

It was from the Jesuits that I learned that there were at one time one hundred and fifty six femurs of the Virgin Mary in the Vatican vaults—each one considered authentic by some church or commission. Collected throughout history, along with enough fragments of the cross where Jesus died and so many prepuces of his penis incensing the lust of his nun brides, these holy bones were sacred relics once belonging to our Holy Virgin Mother of God.

So, my friends and I called this otherworldly virgin who had carried the seed of the Angel of the Lord, the Holy Spider Mother of God.

In my mind, I visualized this image of beauty, extending in tiny, tiny legs touching the different spaces of the universe. I wondered if all around there was this motherly womb surrounding me, touching with spider webs every nerve ending of my body.

Sometimes, when sitting on the roof of my house, overlooking the star-rich Salvadoran sky, I could feel the tiny quiet legs pulling at my brain. One day, I heard a cracking sound and felt the touch of the Holy Spider Mother of God digging its way into my head.

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Mr. Canales’ Secret to Karma Yoga

It was around this time of the year in 1977 when I was finishing the sixth grade with my teacher, Mr. Canales, a gentle and quiet man who supplemented his income by picking up a few students near his house, in the poor neighborhood of Zacamil. I was one of the students he picked up in the fourth grade. He picked me up on the curve, at the end of the passage that led to my small house. He drove four other students: his son, one year younger than me, among them.

I enjoyed talking to profesor Canales about the solar system, freedom, and the history of pre-conquest El Salvador. Now, as one of his sixth grade students, I was failing. My grades were poor. I didn’t do my work, and didn’t socialize with other kids. I was suffering from insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts and a few hallucinatory episodes. I had already been held back one grade in the fourth grade, and there was a concern that I wouldn’t make it this time either. I was sent to the school psychologist for therapy, and even had sessions with Superman (our nick name for the Jesuit who served as the school principal).

I thought, then, that the solution to my problems was to change schools. I didn’t want to be with privileged kids with their talk about shoe brands, cars, and penis jokes. I didn’t want to hear one more time how they wish socialists were dead, how stupid indians were, or why the poor deserved their fate. In retrospect, I see that this was not the prevalent talk of all the kids, but a vocal clique that acquired colossal proportions in my mind. I wanted to go away to what I thought would be a more simple and pleasant environment among my peers. I found myself slipping into the habit of talking to everyone about my angst, my situation, my unhappiness, my depression, and how I wanted to be somewhere else with someone else. Unconsciously, I found out that this strategy put grown ups in a state of disquiet silence. I learned to invoke my suffering to justify my performance.

It was around this time of the year, with only a little over a month left to the school year––which, in El Salvador, goes along with the calendar year. Canales was reviewing my grades with me. He looked at me in silence for a while. He looked at the papers in front of him. My mind was reeling in its usual mode of self pity and covered with the familiar veil of suffering. He looked back at me, and said: “You are about to fail this grade.” Then he fell silent again. He seemed to be looking inside himself. In that moment, he made a sweeping motion with his hands, and with that he swept away the expertise of the psychologists, and all the reasons, all the whys, and all objections. With the clarity of a simple mind he said then, “Stop all talk about not being understood. Leave aside all those thoughts and talks about how you feel and what you want. Stop all thoughts and work. You have no more time.”

With that, something in me broke through the cobwebs of the mind, recognizing a truth I could not yet voice. Without knowing why, my mind was silent, and I worked resolutely and purposefully. I passed the grade successfully and, for reasons that belong to another story, I stayed in that Jesuit school.

Canales was assassinated a few months into the next year by a Death Squad, the first of almost a dozen teachers that would fall throughout the duration of my school years. He died for his ideas and work toward social justice. He died, like many others, because they thought that teaching was a noble profession that went beyond putting hours in the class room. During his funeral, I told myself to remember the last words I remembered from him. They didn’t change me immediately––the tendency to indulge in my own suffering is too strong for my Cancerian mind––but his words gave me a moment in which the chaotic world of my mind and its objections would stop and I still now hear his words and see his arms dispelling cobwebs saying: “Stop all thoughts, and work. You have no more time.”

Electrocuted and immensely alive.

I was once electrocuted as a teenager.

It’s hard to tell what got me to that space. I was in the 8th grade, impatient to be of service to the revolution. If I only I were in another school, I could have joined one of the youth groups dedicated to organize teenagers to promote the cause, and to provide conscientization tools. If I had gone to a less privileged school, I could have been interacting more with the revolutionary youth. I could have been in rallies and meetings. I could have been on street demonstrations, and eventually help with the barricades, with the taking of radio stations, with the publishing of clandestine newspapers. I could have been helping the revolution, until it was time for me, too, to take up arms and help change the brutal regime of death and injustice.

But the Externado de San Jose had no such groups. What we had was an advanced academic program, mixed with the Jesuit mandate to create citizens with a social conscience and a spirit of service to others. We had the dedicated priests who tried hard to teach that Catholic theology was synonymous with social justice. We also had many teachers who were university students and, therefore, quite in touch with the times, with the revolutionary fervor and the need to produce a new human being who lived by rules different than the repressive and oppressive exploitation that history had given us. Of course, we also had very smart students, many of whom were from the richest families of El Salvador, families that were exactly what the repressive and oppressive exploitation salvadorean history had given us.

There were no youth groups in the Externado. No organized resistance. That was for the poor schools, the Instituto, the public schools, and the National University (the U, we called it). What I had in the Externado that connected me to the revolution were the books, the papers, and the discussions with other students and teachers. I had managed to write a play and organize a mural; it was a periodical with political cartoons, editorials, news, and social analysis that was not distributed, but rather pinned inside a glass frame on the wall of one of the hallways of our old building. Students and teachers could read it, stoping on their way to class or office hours. I got two friends to help, and collected articles and opinion pieces from other interested students. I wrote the editorial piece and drew the cartoon. We called it El Pulgarcito, after the story of a Thumbelina sized boy, the size of a thumb (pulgar). It was also the nickname of my country, the smallest of the continent, and one of the most insignificant in the world.

I was impatient for more, though. I wanted to participate and help in the larger process happening outside. There was a revolutionary movement touching every aspect of life: peasants, workers, students, teachers, priests, women, youth, farmers, and artists were all organizing. The movement was social, devotional, political, and armed as well. The people were insurrecting at all levels, and from all sectors there was a clamor for change and social justice. I wanted in. I wanted to serve. So, I talked to my father. He was connected and involved. I told him I had something to ask, that it was serious. We went to the back patio of the house, under the terrace. He sat with me and listened attentively, nodded pensively when I told him I wanted to join the movement. He asked me to wait a little, that he was going to connect me with the right people.

I was too impatient, though. Life was flowing strong and fast, and I didn’t want to stay in place while it all happened outside. I didn’t want to stay frozen in privilege while the land was being covered with revolutionary currents.

I went by myself to the National University. I’d heard that many revolutionary organizations met there in secret. I had explored the grounds before, at a time when the campus had been closed by the military, and the rooms and projects had been all abandoned to entropy and jungle. Now, it was teeming with activity. Men and women walking all over, with books and stethoscopes, beards and glasses. I walked guided by instinct. In that ocean of university students and professors, I saw my older brother walking towards me. We saw each other at the same time. Each surprised to see the other, because he didn’t go that university either. He was a senior in high school, but here he was with two friends I’ve never seen. We greeted each other, almost imperceptibly. “What are you doing here?”, he asked. “Just passing through, visiting friends,” I said. “What are you doing here?”, I asked. “Same,” he responded. “Just passing through.” Neither pushed the matter any further. We both knew. We silently agreed to pretend.

If found what I was looking for. It was a shack behind a mound of earth covered with overgrowth. There were four doors to the long shack, each one leading to a different student organization. They were not university groups. They were part of the high school and junior high student organizations. They met here, hidden from the authorities and spies in their own schools. This was a central hub where a youth organization could coordinate activities across many different schools. I didn’t hesitate, I knew where to go. It was not the largest and most popular MERS. I was instantly attracted to the student branch of the PRTC. There was no reason I could give for this. It was a knowing that came from having seen my life a few times in the past. I simply had seen myself walking through this door before. So, when the door was there in front of my, I walked in.

At the same time, in what seems like a different world, I was also following a mystical path. It was the 8th grade and my soul wanted a lot more than masses and confessions. I needed to experience in my own flesh that spirit and awakening others were content to read about. I wasn’t satisfied with the promise of heaven, nor was I scared of hell. Traditional religions no longer had an appeal to me, and the material world was not enough. I went on my own, to study and practice. In the 8th grade, I was studying western esotericism, hypnosis, parapsychology, and magick.

The spiritual fires were fanned within me. I couldn’t just remain placid and settled in the occurrences of life. I couldn’t follow the reasonable program: be a good student of a good school, choose a profession, get a family, make a living, follow a religion, and train good children to be good citizens.

I yearned for liberation, both in the historical world outside and in the innermost sanctum of the soul. The revolutionary fires were fanned outside and inside. Liberation and evolution were stirring the depths of my soul.

The many worlds I had to inhabit were for the most part kept from colliding, but one day they all seemed to lead to this specific moment, when the chamber where I was became solid, when I didn’t know how I had been caught in this current of time. I wasn’t sure what lead to this, but I was here now, being electrocuted. There was a minute instant, when the current begun to flow through me that I remembered having taking a misstep. I remembered this moment, right when the current is about to flow and trap me there, when I know I was free and flowing but now I am falling into an oh-so-solid reality of matter and life. I knew that this moment before the electro-magnetic current overflows my nervous system, was the exact same moment I experienced before I was born, before my essential self was fused with my human nervous system and life as an individual begun in this planet, in this particular historical moment in this particular country. I had been here before, and here I was again, and again. Sometimes I was experiencing this before reincarnating, sometimes with my hands extended as the Man in the Cross while high voltage is passed through by someone or something behind me I cannot see, attempting here to freeze hope, stop the flow of life, stunt liberty, and crush the seeds of love. But there was nothing I could do now to avoid being trapped in this current of bioelectricity, nothing to do to escape. The only option now was to ride out these currents of light and life.

When electricity begins to flow through the waters of my brain, everything else freezes. Every nerve in this body was created to conduct electricity, to conduct subtle currents of magnetic and psychic energy, to carry information from one part of the body to another.

This nervous system that was created with very subtle wires––with very small and delicate rivers of energy and light, was designed to carry through it the most beautiful impressions of light, depth, sound, touch; the loving caress of the Beloved; the brutal gentleness of the sunset; the wind coming down from the volcano; the smell of spring in a tropical land.

This nervous system, designed to carry beauty and pain is, in this moment of electrocution, only able to carry high voltage, freezing everything in place, not allowing a single thought to be transmitted to the body; not admitting even the movement of lips and tongue to ask for help. There is just the freezing energy, and the movement––the swaying back and forth of a body that is being cooked alive, immensely alive.