Monday, February 15, 2010

Superstition and catharsis

My Mum told me a story this morning about my cousin in Cyprus. "She's now super-religious," She said. Worried that her two year old son was not yet talking, and having consulted numerous health professionals, my cousin decided to take matters into her own hands. She prayed to the Virgin Mary, promising to devote time every week to particular rituals, should the gift of speech be bestowed upon her son. Soon after, he started talking.

My cousin and I share a name.

In the Greek tradition, the day on which you were born is not of great significance. So birthdays aren't a big deal. The name you were given, by contrast, requires annual acknowledgement and celebration. Depending on what you are called, there are particular religious observances to honour the patron saint for which you are named. You can expect to receive gifts and perhaps share a meal with loved ones, though I've noticed that the custom seems to be that the person celebrating buys the drinks!

We are named after our maternal grandmother, Katerina. Our patron saint is Agia Ekaterini: St Catherine. Our name day is 25 November. Our Yiayia (the Greek word for Grandmother) made a pilgrimage to the Agia Ekaterini monastery at Mount Sinai. It is a place where scholars go to study rare illuminated manuscripts and art.

St Catherine was to be tortured on a breaking wheel for her Christian beliefs. She took one look at the wheel and it disintegrated into pieces. Hence: Catherine Wheel. The etymology of our name is related to catharsis, the purification that comes through suffering.

I've always been a bit superstitious. Horoscopes. Affirmations. Wishes. I've always secretly thought that they were secret signs of convergence. A tiny whisper from the universe that I was seen. That I was where I was meant to be. That my story mattered. That it was part of something greater than myself.

Are prayers and rituals really that different?

It would be a bit melodramatic to say that I have suffered, but there has been a certain pain in the shedding of layers. There has been an exquisite raw tenderness that I have carried ever since.

I now now that that wheel looks like. And it is starting to disintegrate.


  1. I know it's not the point of your post, but your name-day is the same date as my birthday! :) (And since I'm not Greek, I celebrate my birthday as much as I can...)

  2. i love your writing and the phrases you put together:

    "secret signs of convergence" is a great starting point for some artwork =-)

  3. this is quite fascinating! are their patron saints for every name? every name that is chosen, i guess?