Sister Pulcheria & the Jesuits

As Shattuck [1] notes, only one far-reaching attempt to recast the operation of the human mind has been made within the central cultural tradition of the West. At the beginning of the Counter Reformation, The Spiritual Exercises (1548) of Ignatius Loyola gathered and restated, in comprehensible form, the techniques of spiritual meditation which had been maturing since the Egyptian epoch. Loyola's means of raising one's mind to God relies not at all on logic but on a methodical alternation of attention between the degradation of man and the holiness of the Almighty. Loyola's sequence is designed to release the mind into a state of spiritual suggestion, a free association of ideas and symbols leading to divine knowledge. The accompanying treatise is in many respects an amazing document. For instance, the fifth exercise of the first week instructs: Let the preparatory prayer be the usual one. The first prelude is a composition of place, which is here to see with the eyes of the imagination the length, breadth and depth of Hell.

By late fall of 1936, techniques such as these—methods for controlled, self-induced hallucination—had begun to exert themselves upon Sister Pulcheria, such that her researches lead her to Father Ramón Aleazar. But more of the good father later. First we must begin with what is known. Sister Pulcheria was born Mariquita Cossio de Ubago on May 23, 1884, in Gaucín, exactly a century after her famous great grandmother, the nun and torera, Doña Maria de Gaucín. Her father, José, was a tinsmith who enjoyed petit-bourgeois comfort. During the false calm of her youth, Mariquita lived with her father in a blue adobe house at the north end of the plaza de Gaucin, across from the church whose gate now bears her name. On her twelfth birthday, only days before Mariquita had planned to enter the convent in Ronda, a civil war broke out and she and José were forced into the hills. Shortly, the war separated Mariquita from her father’s protection, and she was forced to make her way as a wandering soltera, tending to the wounds of fallen men, abetting deserters, hiding caches of one sort or another, and comforting children yet too small to fire a rifle.

Recently one of the newspapers in Zihuatanejo published a description of Sister Pulcheria disinterred from the diary of an old colonel, once famous for his role in the civil war, but who himself has long since passed from the concerns of history:

Tenía Mariquita Cossio una cara grande, como rojo como la alba, estaba ni graciosa ni linda, y con la risa del herrero, la cuál hacía poco destacar todo pero el fuerza de la íntegra.

Mariquita Cossio had a large face, red as the dawn, neither graceful nor especially beautiful, with a smithy’s smile that did little to highlight aught but her strong character.

(A continuación resumo la fábula de María “Marquita” Cossio:) When in 1898 the civil war looked as if it if might come to an end, Marquita married a young soldier by the name of Miguel Cortez from Zihuatanejo and the two of them began at once to produce numerous offspring: eight children in rapid succession, all of whom died within the first year, except for the seventh, Juliana, and the fourth, an older brother, but unfortunately the boy lived only until thirteen.1 By the time she reached the age of twenty, Mariquita had buried seven children and her husband, who died of cholera during summer of 1908. Subsequently, Mariquita procured a government job assessing import tariffs and began to spend her days on the docks, whereupon the vigorous and divers port life is reported to have turned her fervid spiritual convictions toward the occult.

Sister Pulcheria, as she became known after the death of her husband, was a faithful Catholic. However, she was also a ritualist and a truth-seeker who visited the huts of the afflicted and the wise alike. In particular, while in Zihuatanejo she frequently attended a blind vieja, known only as La Hechicera de Cerro del Almacén. Late in life, in the period of her memoir writing, Sister Pulcheria claimed that she became interested in divination during the war years while living as a renegade in the hills to the north of Gaucín, and further that she had been expressly prohibited from pursuing even the most elementary techniques that she had absorbed then through observation by her husband, who was a devout Roman Catholic. While there is no evidence with which to question these claims, it is also clear that her career with the Toll Service, led her to several new outlets for the development of her now famous talents. According to her own notebooks, she practiced palmistry for a period three years not only with La Hechicera de Cerro del Almacén but also with a prominent soothesayer, Gideón, whose obituary was found pasted into one of her early notebooks. However, it is impossible to ascertain what formal training, if any, Sister Pulcheria received prior to the commencement of her relationship with Father Aleazar.

1. Shattuck, Roger. The Banquet Years. New York: Anchor Books, 1961.
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