Quick Little Catholic Iconography Lesson

Ok, the Pinterest Pedant strikes again.

Mary does not have a Sacred Heart.

Mary has an Immaculate Heart.

This is the Immaculate Heart of Mary: sword, flames, roses. No thorns.

This is the Sacred Heart. Only Jesus has a Sacred Heart. Thorns, not roses. Pierced, but with a spear, not a sword. Flames but note the cross in the midst of them.

Occasionally the Sacred Heart will be pierced by an arrow instead. This has to do with an idea that we wound Christ with blasphemy and profaning the Sabbath. The Golden Arrow Prayer said in reparation is said to heal those wounds.

You’ll often see the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts together, but they are still two different things and not interchangeable.

You may now return to your kitten memes.

All of these images are public domain and are copied/pasted so widely that it would be an afternoon’s rabbit hole to try to source them all, sorry.

Flash Bonus Rewards Points + New Stuff

Earn 2X rewards on all purchases made through midnight. Read more.

Recently Added:

Chuparosa – Hummingbird Oil

Chuparosa formulas made their way into hoodoo from south of the border, and this delightful oil is named for the hummingbird as a symbol of serious, committed, faithful love. The hummingbird has long history in Mexican folk magic, one that once involved using actual hummingbirds. The hummingbirds didn’t come out the other side of this intact. Read more.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help tinwork altar ornament

This handmade ornament is intended to evoke the Blessed Mother’s elegance and grace but without removing all the rough edges and scuff marks that are part of this icon’s history and that characterize the fabric of her devotees’ genuine lived lives. Read more.

I hate the new block editor in WordPress. It took me a whole 24 hours to get this post finished. It keeps eating my captions when I adjust images, and i have no idea how to get things where I want them. The things i want are always grayed out or don’t work. Yes, I read the freakin’ instructions. Right now this caption is twice the width of the image, which I cannot move or adjust for some reason. Not a fan.

Elizabeth Cotten and “Freight Train”

If you’re a Southerner and/or a fan of American folk music, you’ve probably heard the song “Freight Train” before.

Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Freight train, freight train, run so fast
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’m going

Yet you still might not know the name Elizabeth Cotten, and that would be a damn shame.

Elizabeth Nevill Cotten was born in 1893 in North Carolina into a musical family. She was playing her brother’s banjo by the age of 7. She had to drop out of school at age 9 to work, and by age 11, she had scraped up enough money to buy herself a guitar from Sears and Roebuck. She was a self-taught (and left-handed) guitarist, and she wrote “Freight Train” when she was a teenager, possibly as young as 12.

She was a nanny at one time to Peggy Seeger, the American folk singer, and during the American folk revival of the ’50s and ’60s, Peggy took the song with her to England, where American folk music was increasingly taking the country by storm. Two British songwriters named Paul James and Fred Williams then stole the song and copyrighted it as their own. While this is an especially egregious example, it’s not rare at all. Lots of well-known white urban musicians made their names (not to mention their money) during the American folk revival by mining the creativity and talent of relatively unknown rural folk musicians, a huge proportion of which were African American. These musicians often continued living in relative obscurity and poverty, sometimes completely unaware of their influence on the contemporary music world. Few ever made money from their music or were ever able to work as musicians.

“Freight Train” was a huge hit for British skiffle singer Chas McDevitt in 1957, and it’s been covered by the Quarrymen/Beatles; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Chet Atkins; and Odetta, just to name a few. The Seeger family and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary eventually helped get credit restored to Elizabeth Cotten, but your chances are really good of finding the song misattributed even today. (See, for instance, this biography of Chas McDevitt at allmusic.com.) That’s why everybody’s heard the song “Freight Train” but far fewer folks recognize the name of Elizabeth Cotten, even though she toured into her 80s and won a Grammy four years before her death in 1984.

She was a bloody genius and a national treasure, and we are lucky that she was able to perform her music and that it was recorded for us to hear today. If you don’t know her playing, you should fix that right now.

Here’s Elizabeth Cotten playing her composition “Freight Train.” If you’re not a musician, this fingerpicking style is absolutely unique due to her playing a right-handed guitar upside down. If you are a musician, she’s tuned down a whole step here. I will try to find the credit for this clip and update later – I haven’t tracked it down yet.

She was also hilarious and a hell of a storyteller. Here’s the story behind her song “Old Woman Keeps Telling Her Lies on Me.”

Here’s an interview with her by fiddler Aly Bain in 1985. Her singing voice may reflect her age at this point, but her picking is still just absolutely phenomenal.

I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate her influence on American folk music. She was astonishing.

Sources

Ankeny, Jason. “Elizabeth Cotten.” Allmusic. Accessed 13 Aug 2020.

Bain, Aly. Down Home, BBC, 1985.

Demerle, L.L. “Remembering Elizabeth Cotten.” Eclectica Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 1, October, 1996. Accessed 13 Aug 2020.

Lanker, Brian. I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. Maya Angelou, foreword. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1999.

 

St. Martha, from Gospel Figure to Medieval Legend to La Dominadora: Sources, Resources, and FAQs

St. Martha in Scripture

st martha woodcut
Woodcut by Jacobus de Man, haven’t tracked down the specific publication yet, but it’s late 1600s, early 1700s and public domain. [1]

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
– John 11:5

The Gospel of Luke tells us how Martha invited Jesus to her home in Bethany. She cooked and cleaned and catered while her sister Mary sat at Christ’s feet and listened to him speak. Martha pointed out that Mary wasn’t pitching in.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41, NIV)

Christ’s point is that in the grand scheme of things, your eternal soul is more important than social conventions and what people think about your housekeeping. But we need to understand this in context. It’s not that Martha had no imagination or faith or respect or that she was too small-minded to want to sit at Christ’s feet, too.

In Martha’s mind and in her culture, these were her duties, and her performance of them comprised her reputation, value, and trustworthiness as a member of her culture — in a society that valued hospitality quite highly, that in fact didn’t even work as a society without hospitality as a huge part of the glue that held it together.

She wasn’t saying nobody should value hearing him teach. She also wanted to hear him speak; she was also his disciple and believed in him. She was just pointing out that people needed to eat and wash and sit, and somebody’s efforts had to make that happen. (You can imagine that Jesus was accompanied by an entourage, too, all of whom also needed to eat and wash and sit.) She was determined to do her duties well for such an esteemed guest as Jesus, but she wasn’t a doormat. She was pointing out that she was not the only one who could be doing these things, that she *could* be sitting at Christ’s feet right now, too, if she just gave off doing the less glamorous stuff. But somebody has to do it. Dramatic events are unfolding, but somebody has to make the setting they’re unfolding in happen.

In John 12, Christ is in Bethany again before Passover at a dinner in his honor. Lazarus is reclined at the table with him. Word of his resurrection has spread like wildfire; Jesus’ followers are increasing and so are the machinations against his life. Mary makes a spectacle of herself pouring half of liter of precious perfume on Christ’s feet – worth a year’s wages – and wiping them with her hair. Christ is constantly, increasingly aware of the massive cosmic drama he’s part of and what’s right around the corner, his every action and word heavily symbolic. Every step he takes is under the weight of prophecy and its fulfillment, is part of a massive dramatic ritual. In this play, Christ has simultaneously the perspective of the main character and the omniscience of the author. The drama in John’s portrayal is thick indeed.

Martha during all of this? John writes only, “Martha served” (John 12:2).

Continue reading “St. Martha, from Gospel Figure to Medieval Legend to La Dominadora: Sources, Resources, and FAQs”

Recent reading roundup: St. Expedite, Hindu chromos in Haiti, iconography in retablos, domestic work in the segregated South


Did you know there was a very active St. Expedite Society in Independence, Louisiana up until very recently? I didn’t. Read more at Folklife in Louisiana: “St. Expedito’s Role in South Louisiana Catholicism, in New Orleans and in the Italian-American Community near Independence, Louisiana,” by Karen Williams.


Hindu deities on vodun altars: Rush, Dana. “Eternal Potential: Chromolithographs in Vodunland,”African Arts vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter, 1999), pp. 60-75+94-96. Also helpful more broadly, imo, for any student of folklore/popular religion who’s ever encountered an argument about whether Abre Camino is “real hoodoo” or not, wondered what to think about the development of the seven-colors school of approach to Santisima Muerte, or pondered the relationships between figures like Legba vs. Ellegua.


Giffords, Gloria Fraser. The Iconography of Mexican Folk Retablos. Thesis. University of Arizona, 1969. I tend to assume everybody immediately sees why stuff like this is so interesting. I tend to be wrong. But basically the iconography had never been studied before this, so this was a big deal, this work. And if you like to understand what you’re looking at when you see a candle in a botanica or grocery store, you’ll encounter plenty of stuff that had its origins here whether you personally work with that imagery/tradition or not.


I read Telling Memories Among Southern WomenDomestic Workers and Their Employers in the Segregated South years ago, and even then, before I’d really started *studying* this stuff in any consistent and applied way, I felt like everybody I knew ought to read it. I knew they wouldn’t – people think this stuff doesn’t have anything to do with them if their families weren’t the ones being described in these stories – but they’d be wrong, ’cause this is part of how we got here. And the impact of it doesn’t just disappear suddenly when it’s no longer fashionable or feasible or *whatever* to have domestic employees. This is part of Southern culture, y’all, and it’s part of how your role in it, as whatever sex, race, class, gender, family role stratum you occupy, got constructed and defined.

I still feel the same way in 2020. I think Southern folks should read this book — especially white folks. Especially white women.  Here’s a review with a useful summary at the Washington Post.