left biblioblography: Allegories Gone Wild - The Badges of Blood

Monday, July 02, 2007

Allegories Gone Wild - The Badges of Blood

This is bizarre, and yet, a phenomenon most of us have heard of.

It is no newsflash, that the bible abounds with blood rites. From the fable of Cain and Able to that alleged sacrifice that 'expunged' humanity of 'original sin'.

While the current crop of modern Christians are less violent than say, the Aztecs of old or the hairy-eyed fanatics of Islam, still, I wonder at the ability to dismiss many of the brutalities that plague their 'history'.

I find the apologia devoted to this...unsettling.

Herein, we look at an allegory taken to literal heights, to an introversive self-flagellance that shakes any empathic being to their core, since the practitioners are inflicting it on themselves.

I speak, of course, of that grotesque practice of stigmata:

"Stigmata are the wounds of Christ as reproduced in a human body. Visible stigmata are frequently located in both hands and both feet, and on the right side of the chest, replicating the sites of Christ's wounds, which he showed to the disciples in his post-resurrection appearances (Luke 24: 36-40 and John 20: 19-29). The most famous of the stigmatics, St Francis of Assisi, received the stigmata in these places. Occasionally wounds on the head, in the shape of a crown (copying the crown of thorns), and marks on either shoulder (representing the carrying of the cross and scourging) are evidence of stigmata too. Stigmata might also be invisible, marked by the pain of wounds in the classic places, or alternately invisible and visible. St Catherine of Sienna received the stigmata of the five wounds in a vision but asked God to make them disappear, after which she experienced only the pain of the wounds."

This is one of those illusions that delude the masses: who would want this visited upon them? There's more:

"The appearance of stigmata varies greatly. Stigmata have ranged from the nail imprints of St Francis' wounds — for which Francis consequently required bandages to cover the protruding nail shapes so that he might use his hands and feet (though he had no bandages from Thursday evening to Saturday morning in order that he might share Christ's Good Friday suffering) — to cuts of varying length and depth, blisters, and scabs of dried blood. Bleeding or manifestation of the stigmata might in some cases be continual while in other cases occur only periodically — for example, in Lent and Holy Week, or on particular days of the week, especially Fridays or Good Friday. In the case of Padre Pio, the twentieth-century stigmatic, his hands bled lightly but almost continually, soaking the gloves he wore, and the wound in his chest produced a cup of blood each day."

Why on earth any loving deity would inflict this on its 'children' is an eye-roller.

"Stigmata are often accompanied by other bodily phenomena such as pain, blood, sweats, levitations, or even lameness or blindness, and they quite often occur in people who are already ill or are voluntarily abstaining from food for religious reasons. Many of the women nuns and saints who fasted and/or existed on the host alone, in late medieval and early modern Europe, received the stigmata, such as St Catherine of Sienna, who fasted — except for eating the blessed host — for eight years. Stigmatics often receive religious visions or ecstasies, having visions of Christ and various saints, and also ‘re-living’ or seeing parts of Christ's passion and sharing in his suffering.
Stigmata seem to have begun to appear only in the thirteenth century, with the growing popularity of the imitation of Christ, especially the suffering Christ, in patterns of piety and devotional life. Of some 330 recorded cases of persons receiving the stigmata, only about 60 of those have been made saints. The official Roman Catholic position towards stigmata has always been rather guarded."

Levitations? I'll need some sort of filmed evidence, and a team of debunkers. Note that there's a causal relationship here.

"It seems that the vast majority of stigmatics have been women. In the case of the late medieval and early modern female religious, their receiving the stigmata has been interpreted as one of a number of experiences or phenomena, including fasting and other forms of asceticism, by which women participated in the imitation of Christ. Through their bodies they could share in the suffering of Christ, who in his body suffered to save humankind, and by the signs of their suffering, such as the stigmata, they gained access to power and authority, not by virtue of office (which was denied them) but through experience. In the modern period, female stigmatics have been consistently subjected to medical testing, in the quest for authenticity, and there is an abundance of medical evidence for stigmatics, such as Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), Louise Lateau (1850-83), and the early twentieth-century Teresa Neumann. In nineteenth-century France especially, this kind of medical testing of female bodies by male doctors bears some comparison with Charcot's study of hysteria, especially as stigmatics and hysterics were seen to share some of the same pathologies or symptoms. In both cases the body was seen to hold the ‘truth’. A medical doctor, Imbert-Gourbeyre, visited and examined as many of the nineteenth-century stigmatics as he could, as well as examining and compiling evidence about other unusual religious phenomena such as the miracles reported at Lourdes, and his medical study of 1894, La Stigmatisation, I'extase divine, les miracles de Lourdes, illustrates very well this sort of approach."

Something about the larger percentile being women nags me - can you spot the connection? There's a perfectly rational explanation here, and I shall provide it, from the link supplied:

"One difficulty in assessing the strictly Christian spiritual value of stigmatization is due to the perception that some stigmatics have not been especially religious. Moreover similar phenomena have been reported of Islamic ascetics, who appear to have reproduced the wounds received by Muhammed the Prophet in spreading the message of Islam. Experiments with posthypnotic suggestion have shown that burns, blisters, and similar wounds may be produced on the body as a result of strong suggestion, and it is possible that some cases of stigmatization resulted from conscious or unconscious self-hypnosis."

And another snippet:

"Similarly self-inflicted wounds can be associated with certain mental illnesses. Some people who fake stigmata suffer from Munchausen syndrome which is characterized by an intense desire for attention. People with Munchausen hurt themselves or fake an illness hoping to end up in a hospital where they can be given attention and care."

Only some? It seems that some individuals' need for attention is rather...extreme.

Skeptics also point out that stigmata have appeared on hands in some cases, wrists in others, and the lance wound has appeared on different sides of the body. This suggests some form of internally generated phenomena, based on the victim's own imagination and subjective in character, rather than something of external divine origin. It is unknown, either through the gospels or other historical accounts, whether crucifixion involved nails being driven through the hands, or wrists, or what side the lance pierced Christ's body, and this would appear to be reflected in the inconsistent placement of stigmatists' wounds. However Roman Crucifixions involved the nails driven through the ulna and radias gap, being just medial to the wrist.

It should be noted, however, that many stigmatics have wounds piercing the palms of their hands, which may be associated with the common conception of Christ hanging on the cross (this is visible in much of Christian imagery). Many studies have suggested, however, that it would have been impossible for Jesus to have been suspended on the cross by his hands - it would have been a physical impossibility for the hands to support the entire weight of the body without breaking through the fragile bones in the human hand. These studies further suggest that Christ's arms would have to have been nailed to the cross by his wrists in order to be able to support the weight. A new study and documentary called "Quest for Truth: The Crucifixion" on the National Geographic Channel has shown that a person can be suspended by the wrists. However, the study also claims the palms are a likely place for the nails to be driven, as it would cause the maximum amount of pain and trauma, and the victim would be tied to the cross to support the weight. [6]

Some studies, however, suggest that if a foot-stool were placed on the cross, as depicted in Christian imagery, the body would be able to be supported.

A little more info, and the picture becomes clearer:

"Similarly, no case of stigmata is known to have occurred before the thirteenth century, when the crucified Jesus became a standard icon of Christianity in the west.[7]. "

So, thirteen centuries had to pass, for anyone to qualify? Hmmm...

"Some believe that the condition can be explained by 'frontier science' such as with the unexplained phenomena of the mind exerting physical effects on the body.[1] There have been claims that non-religious people under deep hypnosis, when told that they had a crown of thorns on their heads cutting into their flesh (in the manner similar to Christ), have had bleeding welts appear on their foreheads even when nothing had come into contact with the skin. Thus, if this is true, the effects have been inflicted by the mind onto the body. Other accounts of this strong mind-body connection have been observed and documented in experiments such as the case in which heart disease patients were administered a placebo pill, but told that it was a new 'super-medicine', and their conditions noticeably improved. It is thought by some that the deep trance-like state which deeply religious people claim to go into mimics this type of hypnosis, and the extremely strong and vivid impressions of the wounds and suffering are somehow transmitted from the mind to the body. This also fits with the fact that stigmata were first observed at around the time when graphic detail of the crucifixion started to appear in Christian art, making the wounds and suffering easier to comprehend and imagine in the minds of observers of the art. "

Oh wow, so it's all in their minds.

In his paper Hospitality and Pain, iconoclastic Christian theologian Ivan Illich touches on the phenomenon of stigmata with characteristic terseness: "Compassion with Christ... is faith so strong and so deeply incarnate that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain." His thesis is that stigmata result from exceptional poignancy of religious faith and desire to associate oneself with the suffering Messiah."

In conclusion, the human mind is a wondrous thing indeed, capable of physically marking the body with wounds, causing blood to pour forth, and taking the flagellant's need for pain to new, bizarre heights.

The evidence keeps mounting: religion propounds that we love our neighbors, and yet hate ourselves to such a degree, that we should be willing to not only be punished simply for existing, but that we even punish ourselves. And for those who are suffering from scars on their psyches, they take it to an extreme that boggles the mind and startles the rest of us to our cores.

This paradox of self-loathing is one more nail in the coffin of this anachronism.

We need to exorcise this demon from our midst, raise our species from the mire of mystic madness, and put our feet back on solid ground.

Till the next post, then.

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