This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July 29 -- Feast of Saint Martha

Like Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, Martha is easiest to introduce in three distinct aspects.  Unlike Saint Lawrence, she is a whole lot less well-documented and a whole lot more mystical.  The three are Gospel Martha, Legendary Martha, and Hoodoo Martha.

Very commonly depicted scene -- Martha's hard at work and none too happy
Gospel Martha -- She appears in two (Luke and John); they agree that she is the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany.  In the Gospel of John, Martha scolds Jesus not visiting in time to save Lazarus' life.  That's pretty gutsy, even for a grieving sister.  But Jesus is cool and reminds her about all things being possible through faith.  Unprompted, Martha then sends her sister Mary to Jesus, applying just a little more pressure for resurrection.  Once they arrive at the tomb, Jesus instructs Martha to move the stone away. She protests about the smell of a corpse, indicating (to me, anyway) an imperfect faith, but does as she's told.  Lazarus comes hopping out and Jesus tells the others to unbind him.  In the next chapter, Jesus is visiting Lazarus and his sisters at their home.  This is about a week before the Crucifixion.  Martha's preparing the meal while Mary washes Jesus' feet with spikenard (an expensive ointment) and then wipes them with her hair.  Judas grouses about the expense of the oil, which could have been sold to help the poor, and Jesus upbraids him. 

Luke has a different but not contradictory scene with Mary, Martha, and Jesus.  Martha's still slaving away in the kitchen and Mary's still at the feet of the Lord, though this time she's just sitting and listening.  Martha complains to Jesus that Mary's not doing her share of the work.  Jesus replies, "Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." 

It's tough to say that she earns the sobriquet Dominator in the Gospels.  Sure, she speaks her mind, even to Jesus, but dominate?  I don't think so.    

statue of the beast in Tarscon, France
Legendary Martha -- There's a tradition that says Mary of Bethany is the same woman as Mary Magdalene, but another tradition says they're different women.  The folks who say they're the same Marys also say that the three siblings took off to evangelize France after the Ascension.  Martha wound up in a place called the Black Lake, which was inhabited by a fierce dragon.  It was "half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, and defended him with two wings on either side, and could not be beaten with cast of stones [nor] with other armour, and was as strong as twelve lions or bears..."  It used to sink boats and preferred to feed on human flesh.  In fact, Martha came upon it while it was feasting on a man.  She held up a cross to keep it at bay, and then splashed it with holy water.  Then she bound it up with her girdle so that men could finish it off.  Since the dragon, which was the offspring of Leviathan and Bonacho, had been called Tarasconus, town is called Tarscon.  Killing an invulnerable, man-eating dragon?  Okay, that is some real domination.

Hoodoo Martha -- Practitioners of hoodoo, rootwork, and conjure (which I am not) are quick to make the distinction from Voodoo, Santeria, and other religions.  Hoodoo is a spiritual practice that includes Christian saints, but it is not a religious system per se.   In the hoodoo tradition, saints are powerful allies in accomplishing one's goals.  Appealing to them, offering candles, and displaying statues are all helpful for root doctors and conjurers, like Momma Starr

Seriously Dominating St. Martha
Martha the Dominator is said to be a very powerful saint, especially when it comes to ending an abusive relationship or subduing an enemy.  She is often enlisted as a protector of women, though she will help a man who needs her protection from an abusive woman.  She will also work to rope in one of those wandering types whose love comes and goes.  I found a prayer in an on-line forum that is said to be useful in such situations.

"St. Martha I dedicate this candle to you that you may grant my needs and help me conquer my difficulties. For you nothing is impossible." The name of a lover who had abandoned the practitioner was written in special ink and set beneath the candle. After lighting the candle,the practitioner recited the following: "I ask the intercession for my plea. Grant that [lover's name] will return to me and the time will be short between now and then. Until [lover's name] has returned, I ask that he suffer the aches I have suffered and that he is by my side again. I ask this in faith, for as you did conquer dragons and wild beasts, you can control [lover's name] and fulfill my request. In the name of justice and love, I ask this. Amen."

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