Seeing that today’s All Saints’ Day, it’s a good time to talk about the Saints in the context of Catholic magical practice.
Truth is I was planning a video, but you know how I hate getting in front of the camera. Too much sputtering and stuttering; I’m a better writer than speaker.
Anyways, as we call to mind the feast of All Saints, it never hurts to go over a few basics and ask how we can incorporate these basics into our lives.
WHO IS A SAINT?
So let’s begin by asking “Who is a Saint?” The word comes from the Latin “sanctus” meaning “Holy,” and the Church defines a Saint as “any person who is in heaven.” Note the “in heaven,” which marks a distinction between how Catholics and many Protestants see the place of Baptism in the overall work of justification.
For many Protestants (especially those descended from the “Radical Reformation”), Baptism is a “coming out party” at the end of a process by which the baptizand is now “saved” and therefore “holy.” Clearly this does not apply to all Protestants – in fact no one statement can apply to every one of over 40,000 denominations – but this is a key to understanding the thinking behind the “once saved always saved” mentality, or the thinking of denominations who use the word “Saint” to apply to living people, or the thinking motivating individuals who tend to talk about how “saved” and/or “godly” they are.
For Catholics, Baptism is not the end of a process but its beginning. Catholics believe that in Baptism the effects of Original Sin are washed away as well as any actual sin the baptizand may have committed up to that moment. The Catechism tells us this in Part II, Chapter 2, Section 42:
“[The people] are to be taught, in the first place, that such is the admirable efficacy of this Sacrament that it remits original sin and actual guilt, however unthinkable its enormity may seem.
That such was at all times the doctrine handed down by holy Church is clear. By the generation of the flesh, says St. Augustine in his book On the Baptism of Infants, we contract original sin only; by the regeneration of the Spirit, we obtain forgiveness not only of original, but also of actual sins. St. Jerome also, writing to Oceanus, says: all sins are forgiven in Baptism.
To remove all further doubt on the subject, the Council of Trent, after other Councils had defined this, declared it anew, pronouncing anathema against those who should presume to think otherwise, or should dare to assert that although sin is forgiven in Baptism, it is not entirely removed or totally eradicated, but is cut away in such a manner as to leave its roots still fixed in the soul. To use the words of the same holy Council, “God hates nothing in those who are regenerated; for there remains nothing deserving of condemnation in those who are truly buried with Christ by Baptism unto death, ‘who walk not according to the flesh’ but putting off the old man, and putting on the new, who is created according to God, become innocent, spotless, pure, upright, and beloved of God.”
Once the effects of sin are washed away and the individual is made clean, Catholicism teaches that the individual’s path to holiness (i.e. sanctification) is just beginning and his own affair to lose or to gain. The endgame of this path of sanctification is comparable to what the Eastern Churches call theosis, and what the Catechism tells us has two ends: “that we shall behold God such as He is in His own nature and substance; and that we ourselves shall become, as it were, gods.” (I, 13, 6)
Since it’s easy to confuse this passage with that some magicians call “Ascension,” I want to make clear that this passage does not assume man can become equal to God, or a big-G god in his own right. The Catechism makes this clear by the qualifying phrase “as it were,” as well as saying “gods” with a lowercase “g.” The teaching is to be understood that we can become god-like, but not that we can become God Himself.
This has been a long explanation, and it’s also why Catholics tend to think of a “Saint” as someone who’s deceased and very rarely as someone who’s still living: a saint is someone who’s completed the process of sanctification, and since it’s always possible to “backslide,” that process isn’t truly over until after your physical body is dead.
HOW MANY SAINTS ARE THERE?
The correct answer is “Nobody really knows.”
A Saint is any person who dwells in heaven, which could be a lot more people than we’re capable of knowing about. While the Church has a “Catalogue of Saints,” meaning a list of people she’s canonized over the centuries, she makes no claim to knowing everything. The Catalogue represents only those the Church has investigated and finds satisfactory to conclude have gone on to their heavenly reward.
This means there can be Saints outside the catalogue, which could include our parents, grandparents, or maybe even people we wouldn’t expect. For example, the Sardinian Mystic Evidge Carboni once claimed she saw a vision where Jesus told her Mussolini was released from purgatory and is now in heaven. Now I’m not sure I believe this as true and I certainly don’t expect you to believe it either, but the fact is that Jesus is God and God can do anything he damn well pleases; this puts literally everything inside the realm of possibility though not necessarily the realm of probability.
Since we don’t know how many Saints there are, we’re not necessarily limited to those contained within the Catalogue. What the Catalogue does is give us a list of those who’ve been investigated and found “not wanting,” meaning we have an assurance that our prayers are reaching someone who actually has the Big Guy’s ear in heaven. This does not, however, exclude us from calling on specific ancestors or others we knew to be holy during their sojourn here on earth; depending on circumstances, you may want to familiarize yourself with the principles for dealing with non-Saint beings just to be on the safe side.
HOW DO SAINTS OPERATE?
The way I’ve always explained this is the old legal maxim: “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Namely, when we go to court we could either deal with the judge directly (i.e. self-representation), or we could go in with a lawyer who knows the laws and how the court system works better than we do, and who may even be friends with the judge and therefore able to get us a little more sympathy.
When we pray or do magic, we bring our intentions before the bar of God’s court – and remember that Catholicism does theology by analogy, not dichotomy – it makes sense not to go in without a lawyer. The Saints are effectively our lawyers in God’s court, who know God and his ways better than we presently do; by going to a lawyer amongst the Saints (collectively called “The Church Triumphant”), we find representation by someone who knows more about the process than we could possibly hope during this lifetime.
Amongst lawyers, we find that some have different specializations: some specialize in criminal law, others in family law, others specialize in collections, and still others chase ambulances for a living. This is reflected in the Saints having particular areas of patronage, or areas of special expertise that they’re known for when getting God’s help in your life. For example, St. Teresa of Avila can help you improve your game at chess, while St. Arnold of Soissons can help you micro-brew that perfect beer.
Yet the analogy still holds. Just as a lawyer isn’t able to give you a judgment by themselves, neither can the Saints grant your prayers by themselves. Their job is to persuade the court, yet it’s the Judge Himself who gives the final ruling. This is the difference between latria (worship given to God alone) and dulia (prayer given to the Saints); as again the Catechism tells us in Part IV, Chapter 6, Question 3:
“We do not address God and the Saints in the same manner, for we implore God to grant us blessings or to deliver us from evils; while we ask the Saints, since they are the friends of God, to take us under their patronage and to obtain for us from God whatever we need. Hence we make use of two different forms of prayer. To God, we properly say: Have mercy on us, Hear us; but to the Saints, Pray for us.”
HOW DO WE WORK WITH THE SAINTS?
Now we get to the real “meat” of this post.
A lot of people pray to the Saints and get no results, then they either get mad or wonder what went wrong.
Most commonly what went wrong was their approach. Just as you don’t walk up to a stranger on the street and expect them to give you favors, you don’t walk up to a random Saint and immediately start asking for stuff. It’s rude and quite bluntly you’re an asshole for trying it.
Now sometimes people do get results on the first attempt, and good for them. But don’t expect that to be a regular thing. Just as it’s important to build a relationship with people before asking for favors, so it’s also important to develop a relationship with one or other Saint.
To begin your practice, spend time in prayer, devotion, and/or pathworking to the Saint each day for at least three weeks, preferably longer. Put an image of the Saint or of his/her symbol on your mensa, and just mentally “hang with” the Saint for about 10-20 minutes. Don’t ask for anything, just spend your time forming a connection.
Another important part of forming (and keeping) this connection is being/becoming the kind of person the Saint in question would be proud of. Think about it in terms of your own life: do your friends not want to be proud to call you their friend? Do you not want to proud of your friends? The analogy holds here as well: never neglect your own practice of sanctification, thus molding yourself into becoming the kind of person the Saints would gladly call “friend.”
Once the connection’s formed, that’s when you can start asking for stuff. Don’t overdo it, and always make sue to give something back; this “something” could be public proclamation or volunteer work connected with their area of patronage, or maybe something else will come up that’s better suited to your skill set and scheduling availability. Remember all relationships are built on reciprocity, and the best way to sabotage it is to keep taking and not giving in return.
This is the point where a lot of practitioners would mention various folk practices, all of which are outside the scope of this blog post. While I don’t wish to make a value judgment for other people, I’ve never been too fond of folk techniques or folk magic in general; my mind just doesn’t function along those lines. If you’re a THAVMA reader then you already know what the rules are theologically – the first being that private revelation cannot contradict public revelation, the second being that praxis cannot contradict theology – so work with that and go with whatever works best for you.
All this being said, I hope you had a happy and holy All Saints’ Day, and as tomorrow I plan on writing a post dedicated to devotion to the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Peace!
For more information about the Saints and the Church Triumphant, see Chapter 6 of The Magic of Catholicism.
For information on making contact and building relationships with the Saints, see Chapter 3 of Christian Candle Magic.