Metaphysical Odyssey into
The Mexican Revolution
Francisco I. Madero and his
Secret Book, Spiritist Manual
Catherine Mansell Mayo
(Dancing Chiva Literary Arts)
Francisco Madero certainly helped to foment the whirlwind we now know as the Mexican Revolution and even, briefly, served as president of the republic.
The previous president, that abominable José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, had been in office for thirty-five years, toadying to the gringos, selling bits and pieces of the country to wealthy foreigners, keeping the peons haggard and poor, murdering the indígenos, repressing striking workers, trampling on freedom of the press. By 1910, he was doddering into old age, but was still a fairly repugnant plutocrat. Mexican home folk were not happy.
Along comes Madero, son of wealthy rancheros in Parras de la Fuente in the northern state of Coahuila. The family fortune was well diversified: vineyards, cotton, cotton mills, mining, ranching, banking, coal, rubber, foundries and, apparently, revolutionaries (several of Francisco's relatives got involved in his plan to drag the country into the 20th Century.)
Madero's gunshot across the bow of the porfirianas was a fiery book entitled La sucesión presidencial en 1910. In it, he demanded that Díaz live up to his promise, recently published in Pearson's Magazine: "I welcome an opposition party in the Mexican republic. If it appears, I will regard it as a blessing, not as an evil," Díaz was quoted as saying.
And if it can develop power, not to exploit, but to govern, I will stand by it, support it, advise it and forget myself in the successful inauguration of complete democratic government of the country.
As Mayo comments, "if there were a banana peel of destiny, apparently Don Porfirio smoked it."
Perhaps the old dictator was suffering from the effects of arterial sclerosis; perhaps, never free of his retinue of sycophants, he had come to believe in some Potemkin Republic, where slave labor, outrageous land grabs, jails filled with political prisoners, and the most lascivious corruption did not exist.Mayo's book gives us a peek into the somewhat unusual faith of Francisco Ignacio Madero. He was a believer in spiritualism, and was familiar with many of the important figures of the 20th Century's transcendent world: Allen Kardec. the Fox sisters of New York, C. W. Leadbeater and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
Madero had told his fellow religionists that he believed in the concept of "involution" --- the soul's unending progress, made possible by one's own attempts to do good, to help others not only in this lifetime but in the many lifetimes to come.
Madero was thus a firm believer in reincarnation, possibly due to his readings of, and his faith in, the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is the Hindu equivalent to our Pilgrim's Progress . . . but a helluva lot more action-packed, poetic, and profound. And long. (It runs 700 verses).
Despite being a narrative of a war between two families, it preached of our sacred duties to humanity and --- ultimately --- how we can find inner peace and possible liberation from the devils of our fraught, mad-making, soul-consuming day-to-day, what we know of as "life." Mohandas Gandhi referred to the Gita as "my spiritual dictionary."
§ § §
Francisco Madero not only knew and revered the Gita, he was a student and practitioner of what was then called "spiritism." This included belief in the healing power of hands, psychic surgery, astral projection, and an all-enfolding divinity. To quote Madero, he was able to see the godhead each night by just looking up at "the material of the cosmos, the nebulæ and the innumerable suns and planets [which] constitute a living body, the part of God that is material and visible."
Thus, the Milky Way is like an artery through which circulates the life which has given birth to a great part of the Universe and constantly renews it.
Madero believed that we are able, if we wish, to communicate with the many invisible beings around us. He told friends that La sucesión presidencial en 1910 was dictated by a spirit named "José." At the time he was writing --- or listening to dictation --- of this volume, he was also picking up on the words of yet another book, the Spiritist Manual. It has been translated here by C. M. Mayo, and makes up the last 100 pages of this volume.
The putative author was "Bhima" --- a character from the Bhagavad Gita --- but, as everyone knew, the scribe was Madero, acting as secretary to José.
It's a fascinating document. Suspend your disbelief, dear reader, and spend a few moments with the Spiritist Manual. After its introduction by Mayo, I started in on it, expecting to be bored silly as I usually am by most ritualistic spiritual manuals --- excluding writers like Blavatsky . . .
Despite my affection for these writers, it was with heavy heart that I embarked on the pages of The Metaphysical Odyssey. But, I am here to tell you: they were, if you pardon the expression, a revelation.
Madero was one of those unusual political figures --- albeit, in his case, a short-lived one --- who could actually write. Can you imagine getting an exemplary artistic transcendent statement from the likes of Greg Abbott, Rick Perry or Sarah Palin . . . although a spirited moment of intrafamily intercourse from and by Palin's kinsfolk did, recently, achieve a lofty level of sonorous, albeit chaotic, rhythm.
§ § §
Madero, or his spiritual amanuensis, may be on to something. Listen to these words of Bhima: "Science will be your strength, law your weapon, and silence your shield."
He claims that God will allow a chosen few "to perceive some of the rays of His supreme perfection . . . but these individuals do not have the words to translate into vulgar language the unearthly vision that has astonished them." This "vulgar language" may find itself as equivalent to the bawdy passage from the Book of Exodus 33:23, where Moses demands to see God, "and the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken,"
And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
The message is quite clear. A mere human may make demands of the Divine, like, to see His face. But the reward?
You are entitled to nothing but a divine mooning.
§ § §
Other interesting quotes from Bhima: "The good man should fall under the blows of evil as the sandalwood tree perfumes as the axe that cuts it."
If the soul unites with the intelligence, it achieves wisdom and peace; if it remains unsteady between the intelligence and the body, it is overcome by passion and swings from object to object around a vicious circle; if it abandons the body, it falls into madness, ignorance, and death in time.Many ridicule people who look to the mystics for the answers to this oddity we laughingly call "living." But they may buy into Madero's system because he shows such skill at expressing the unexpressible. He is able to boil a complex religious philosophy down, make it simple and true on the page.
He drifts at times into areas that most Christians are trained to evade, our gift from the spoilsports who skewed the words of Jesus in the five centuries after his death. But even there, we find a spark in his words, making it all quite persuasive. In response to a question about "the state in which our spirit finds itself become coming into this world and about the fate that awaits our spirit upon leaving it:"
The life of the spirit is eternal. Its origin is lost in the night of time, and its future is glorious and eternal. The spirit reincarnates a considerable number of times on our planet, until it acquires the knowledge and virtues necessary to pass into a higher world.
§ § §
Perhaps it would have been better for Francisco Ignacio Madero if he had not been offered this spiritual knowledge. He was certainly was an innocent when he became president of Mexico in 1911, inviting some of Díaz cronies to stay in office. Eighteen months after his election, he was murdered in a particularly grisly fashion --- a gift of his trusted general, Victoriano Huerta. If Francisco had been a bit more practical (and suspicious), had he listened to his brother Gustavo, he might have survived long enough to stave off the years of blood-letting that came about.
In his short time in office, he unleashed the newspapers from years of censorship under Díaz. This resulted in --- guess what? --- the journalists demonizing their new president. This may have created the political chaos that lead to his early death.
It was the tragic end of a genuinely honest soul, not unlike the premature death of Lincoln in 1965 or Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914; or --- if we see Madero as an artist, a self-taught writer of considerable talent --- it may echo the tragic quietus of Keats, Purcell, Hart Crane, or Franz Schubert.
§ § §
The story of Madero's deep commitment to spiritism is nicely done by Mayo. She is not unfamiliar with the more fascinating aspects of Mexico's history, having lived there for years, and having written a rich novel about Ferdinand Maximilian, who she called "The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire."
We reviewed it a couple of years ago and gave it a star in our General Index, probably would have given it more if more had been available. As we wrote in our respectful review of the book, it is obvious that Mayo knows and loves Mexico:
The Last Prince is elegantly detailed. The fevers and malarias of the coast, the backstabbing in court, and the general frustration of the Austrians, the French and the English with the supposedly docile Mexicans. One of the queen's servants comments on the no's. "With these Mexicans it is nada, nada, and nada. No hay, there isn't any. No sé, I don't know. Es la costumbre, it's the custom. Ahorita, in a little moment --- they hold up their fingers as if to show a pinch of salt." The foreigners soon learn the correct translation of "ahorita" is . . . Don't hold your breath.
--- Carlos Amantea