I never put much stock into anything spiritual being hereditary, beyond perhaps the spreading of tradition or belief by word-of-mouth or some other conditioning, much like my Catholic upbringing had been. This same conditioning turned me off, not only to Catholicism, but to religion altogether. Although I considered myself to be a very spiritual person, the idea of being a very religious person became quickly lost on me as I grew numb over years of doctrine and rhetoric. Gradually I slipped under the proverbial radar, preferring to cultivate my spiritual beliefs in secret, feeling rather burned out not only by my experiences with Catholicism, but also by the rhetoric of other spiritual groups, carefully encrypted in promises of "spiritual freedom", lovebombing, and cults of personality. I immersed myself in books and research. Somehow they did me more service than any group ever did. Like a hound I followed the scent trails of my soul and all its secret murmurs, down dusty and forgotten paths. I unearthed strange wonders, and many new questions. Throughout my hunt, which started at around age fifteen when the hormones exploded within me and my mind and body started changing, I came to realize that yes, maybe it is okay to consider oneself a dog, and in putting my nose to the ground I began to track these secrets. Eventually they led me to the forbidden grounds of lost spirituality, dog-men, man-dogs, and dog-gods.
Little did I realize I was being followed. He followed me straight out of the Catholic doctrine I had left behind. He always had this interesting way of being subtle when he wanted to, remaining just downwind, just out of line of sight, a slight whisper on the wind. Later I would write in a private entry in my journal that, "I spent a number of years playing with this puzzle of appearances, correspondences, and similarities. I'd tinker with it alittle, put it aside, tinker with it again. Then I came to a realization...one that came slowly and impacted like a wave, coming in gradually and then suddenly sweeping everything away." It did indeed, leaving me feeling like an idiot. I had a good long laugh at this, after the shame of my hardheadedness faded. He had been sitting under my nose the whole damn time. All those little things over the years I wrote off as coincidences and superstitions. And yet, the biggest coincidence would ultimately be the biggest downfall of my own faulted reasoning.
Prior to my birth even, he was present, although in a different form, as the Catholic patron saint of our household. The first time I learned of him was through my father, who never went anywhere without the medal of him on a chain around his neck. My mother, too had adopted him as well after having married my father, wearing a medallion of her own, or carrying one with her on her keyring. Later when they had their first (and only) biological son, they named him after this saint. His name was Christopher.
Saint Christopher is commonly referred to as the patron saint of travelers of all sorts, from the commuting motorist to the soldier going overseas. For my family, it was a very fitting saint. My mother works with government travel and is responsible for flying people all over the world, and has also done quite her fair share of traveling herself. My father works for the US Air Force repairing aircraft and has also flown all over the world, never without his Saint Christopher's medal. My younger brother, who was named after him, studies World Politics at college. I myself am an avid traveler, delighting in road trips and plane rides, and am soon to leave the country for the first time this summer on an extended visit to Germany. For years, as long as I can remember, my family has prayed to him, and felt that it was his influence that kept us safe abroad.
There are many stories written on the life of this enigmatic saint. He was a barbarian from a foreign land, he was a Roman soldier, converted and later martyred. One need only to look at a Saint Christopher medal to get the gist of the story, and of how he got his name--a large man, staff in one hand, the Christ child on his shoulders, bearing him across a violent river. In fact, this is how he got his name, from the Greek 'Christo-phoros' or 'Christ-bearer'. However, David Gordon White, in his book 'Myths of the Dog-Man', put it well in noting that, "There exists, however, an alternate reading of his name: Christ-Apherou, 'the way-opener of the Christ', a fusion of names and functions of the same order as Hermanubis!" Hermanubis. So the plot thickens. Hermanubis was the Greco-Roman fusion of Wepwawet/Anubis and Hermes and, to quote Mary Elizabeth Thurston, "an iconographic 'chain' stretching back three thousand years or more to Wepwawet, the Egyptian guardian of the dead." She goes on to say, "Just as the timeless role of mortal dogs seems to be to assist mortal men, the repeated resurrection of the dog god--as Anubis, then Hermanubis under the Romans, and finally as Saint Christopher among the Christians--may reflect a deep-seated need for a canine protector or companion into the next life as well." Indeed, many of the earliest depictions of Saint Christopher, the Greek-Orthodox Christian iconography, showed him with the head of a dog, sometimes dressed in armor weilding a sword and cross, free hand upraised in blessing.
The idea of a dog-god masquerading as a Catholic saint watching over the household should not have come as a surprise to me, especially considering my father who had brought the tradition about. He was always the big dog-lover, and was never far from comparing himself, personally, to a dog. Nor were other family members far from making that comparison, too. I never made the connection, or really noticed or stopped to consider my father's own brand of weirdness, I was too busy dealing with my own. When I did stop to consider this, long after my so-called "awakening" to my canid-nature, it was a bit of a shock, even though it shouldn't have been any real surprise. Like father, like son. My father, who as a little boy wanted to be a fox. The man who called his family his "pack", and who referred to himself as a dog, or was referred to by other family members as a dog ("You dog! You DOG! YOU GODDAMNED DOG!", bellows my aunt). He was very subtle about it, at least in the beginning. Then it began to seep out of the woodwork, long after I embarked on my own journey. My mother began to tell curious stories. And then there was Saint Christopher.
I was always attracted to the Egyptian deities, and even as a small kid, Ancient Egypt was always one of those things that piqued my imagination and sent it soaring. It seemed inevitable, then, that later on in life I would cultivate a deep and meaningful relationship with them. And with Saint Christopher too, though under a different name and form. In a way I am only reminded of the orobourous, the serpent that bites its own tail, the idea of coming full-circle and ending up right at the beginning again, the two joined in a circuit of eternal unity. Just as the feral dog reclaims its ancestral legacy, I've reclaimed one of my own, and in many different ways.
Thurston, Mary Elizabeth. The Lost History of the Canine Race. Andrews and McMeel, 1996.
White, David Gordon. Myths of the Dog-Man. University of Chicago Press, 1991
X-posted to my personal journal, primaldog. A response to a prompt almost two months late--I'm still getting my steam back, as it were.
Therian Writings and Musings
- Essay: The Watcher