Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The bottom of my handbag

I'm probably the most irreligious person I know. It's not just that I'm ignorant or that I don't believe in God, it's that I actually hate the very idea of God. I deliberately steer clear of considerations of "spirituality" or belief in a "higher power," those thinly disguised clones of religiosity, because I really don't want to hear about it. Not sure why I detest the subject so much. After all, I'm an enthusiast of yoga, which many people would classify as a spiritual practice. Maybe my resistance is a holdover from the '60s or a failure to evolve beyond adolescent rebellion against authority figures. Maybe it's my Unitarian upbringing, in which God was rarely mentioned and Jesus was considered an ordinary man with extraordinary virtues. Maybe it's my literal cast of mind: if I can't see it or taste it or smell it or feel it, I don't get it—and being told it's there just pisses me off.

So why is it that the bottom of my handbag (it's a great handbag, by the way, an Ellington microfiber purse that instantly converts into a knapsack with the tug of a strap) is littered with superstitious talismans: a green polished agate given to me on the completion of my yoga teacher-training last summer, a St. Agatha religious charm (she's the patron saint of breast cancer, whose breasts were amputated by a spurned admirer), and an amulet embossed with the image of the Buddha? Lost in the shuffle when I transferred my stuff to this new handbag: a St. Francis medal given to me by a friend, and an Indian good-luck totem made of woven horsetail given to me by another friend. And why do I wear a "lucky" shirt embroidered with the hand of Fatma, which wards against the "evil eye," and earrings with ankhs (symbols of long life) and infinity signs (ditto)?

Isn't superstition just the underbelly of religion? Or are these merely tchotchkes? Or are they the adult equivalents of an infant's teddy bears and "blankies"—just cute things to hold close?

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