“There’s a 750 Norton bustin down January’s door
hang on St. Christopher on the passenger side
open it up tonight the devil can ride
hang on St. Christopher now don’t let me go”– Tom Waits – Hang on St. Christopher
I came to St. Christopher the same way I come to all things, walking backwards down country lanes, lost highways, and forgotten back roads. This seems to be my preferred way of travel through this life. Who better to meet upon this serpentine path I traverse than the Patron of Travelers? St. Christopher has such an interesting back story that seems to fit well with other allies in practice. His provenance is amazing, let me share some of it with you. Born under the name of Offerus, he was the son of a Persian king. The story goes that his mother prayed to the Blessed Virgin and when he was born he was dedicated to Apollo and Machmet. A man of great strength he dedicated himself to the service of the Devil. Put off by the Devil’s weakness he went into the wilderness and met a hermit. The hermit converted him and refusing to fast or pray he began instead to use his strength in the name of service. This consisted of mostly carrying people across a strong river on his back. One such passenger,was a child, who continually grew heavier, so that it seemed to him as if he had the whole world on his shoulders. The child, on inquiry, made himself known as the Creator and Redeemer of the world. To prove his statement the child ordered Christopher to fix his staff in the ground. The next morning it had grown into a palm tree bearing fruit. This caused many people in the vicinity to convert, and earned Christopher as he was now known a place in prison. Like many martyrs he was tortured and beheaded when he refused to renounce his new path.
Let me point out a few of my favorite parts of this story. First his mother, like many of those who practice Traditional Craft, exhibits a dual observance, praying to the Blessed Virgin and dedicating her son to Pagan Gods. Tasty morsel there. Then he decides to serve the Devil, familiar trope emerging. Finding the Devil weak or perhaps limited? He retreats to the wilderness, where he meets a mysterious hermit. Perhaps he became a hermit, either way he converts to a new path, but does not take it up wholeheartedly. This is evidenced by his refusal to fast or pray, very unusual for the time and for one who became sainted later on. Instead he continues to have pride in his strength, even though he now uses it for service to others. Eventually the Creator and Redeemer of the world notices and rides him across the river. The metaphors implicit in this alone would make a great book. Instead I will only say that crossing rivers is a metaphor for a rite of passage. Finally his staff becomes a palm tree bearing fruit. A barren staff becoming fruitful, definitely symbolic of bounty and riches. As a reward for his service he is imprisoned and eventually beheaded. Some day I need to write about the connection between the Headless One, the Celtic cult of the head, and all these beheaded saints.
So much material to unpack for my personal praxis, I am so glad I have come know this great source of strength. Who can’t use a saint of travelers on this crooked path we walk? Let me tell you how we met.
Staring Into Bliss
What a difference a week makes. Today the sun is shining bright and my spirits are high, it feels like an early spring. Last Monday, I was sick, depressed, and a Norther was blowing into the area. Despite my illness or maybe because of it, I climbed onto the roof with my morning coffee and a blanket. Sitting there, I stared into the coming line of blue cold clouds. The wind harsh and fast, relieved my fevered brow, and took me out west past the limestone hills and cedar brush. I could smell all of the land it had traveled over, the West Texas sage, the mountain cedar that was wrecking havoc on my sinuses, and even the agave and yucca of New Mexico. Way in the back the hints of Blue Spruce and Ponderosa Pine from the Rockies. Wind is the breath and incense of the land.
So there I sat, fevered, caffeinated, shivering, and suddenly full of bliss. Yes I felt truly beatific, bright and holy with the knowledge that as always I was on a journey. I am a nomadic soul, my spiritual path is just that, a path. Paths are meant to be traveled, traversed, they always lead some where else. Aristotle advocated being Peripatetic to discuss philosophy and so it is with spiritual wayfarers, we are always on the move. As my mind drifted away, I let all the chains and shackles drop away and traveled light and free. In that moment the words, “hang on St. Christopher now don’t let me go”, from the Tom Waits song, reverberated through my head. Somehow I knew he was what I needed in that moment, even though I was unfamiliar with his story.
Remembrance of a perfect morning many years earlier, in a tin roofed cabin perched on the side of a hill outside of Medina, Texas, came to me. That morning, a quarter century ago, was crisp and cold, and the smell of the Ashe Juniper in the Franklin stove filled the cabin. I wrapped myself in nothing but a serape, grabbed what was left of the Tequila from the night before, and went out onto the porch. As the Tequila and the Mota took hold, a warm bliss spread through me and I realized that no matter what happened in life, I would be okay. That was the day I realized that the desert, still many miles west, was my spiritual home, my personal Shangri-La. I was twenty three and re-reading Desert Solitaire. On that morning I sang Hang on St. Christopher to the live oaks and junipers, to the limestone, the armadillos and the feral hogs. When I finished a hummingbird landed on my shoulder. La Chuparosa, the totem of Love. With the visions of that day so long ago fresh in my mind, I realized I needed to know more about this St. Christopher and why he kept coming into my life.
Hermanos del Alma
“Whoever shall behold the image of St. Christopher shall not faint or fall on that day.”- Inscription on the base of Saint Christopher’s Statue at the Church in Baden
When I read about St. Christopher, I was struck by how even though he had devoted himself to the Devil and refused to take the normal path of fasting and prayer, the Almighty Divine still came to him. Here is the patron of travelers, taking one of the most circuitous and round about paths possible and yet, by straying he found the path direct. Yes, this is my kind of saint, unconventional, wild, and not afraid of the Devil. How could I not like him? In some way I know he has always been there, watching over me. Coming to me every time I sing that Tom Waits song, taking the offerings I leave at Crossroads, and joining me in blessing the many travelers I have met along the way.
It feels so good to meet a new companion that is familiar, some fellow soul that has been here all along. These are the moments that make me realize that there really is something to this after all. As powerful as one can feel, calling out the names of Storm Gods and Goddesses as a thunderstorm rages, one can feel damn silly too. These moments of validation from somewhere far beyond ourselves make the work worth it, because let’s be honest sometimes it is very hard to know if we have done anything at all. This is definitely not an easy path at times and yet other times are so smooth it’s hard to hold on. Now I have a fellow traveler, a Patron of Travelers, mi hermano de alma, San Christopher. So open it up tonight, the devil can ride, and hang on St. Christopher now don’t let me go.
PEACE LOVE LIGHT