The urge (the call!) to go to church after work was overwhelming. It’s been a few months since I’ve felt that longing. There was a stretch of weeks in the deep of winter that I dropped by the church every night on the way home (a story I’ll have to relate here sometime, but not now).

But I haven’t had time lately. My life has been really wrapped up in work: leaving for the office just a little earlier than usual every morning, coming home just a little later than customary. The financial year ends at the end of June. Lots of paperwork and meetings to finish off the year. Annual evaluations.

This year’s evaluation was particularly hairy. My old boss got kicked up the ladder to the global network, so I’m being handed over to another partner. I got reviewed sitting in a room with both of them; two high-powered partners. I’d had a good year. I had all sorts of accomplishments documented, and I had all sorts of good feedback in my report. My career developed more in one year than it had in the last eight. But I still wasn’t taking chances. That morning I’d done a ritual called “The Prayer of the Perfected Self” (from Jason Miller’s book “The Sorcerer’s Secrets”) to freshen up my magnetism. I had a Financial Hand charm in my right pocket, a Jupiter talisman in my left, and a Maxorial talisman in my breast pocket. And I’d done the Kundalini yoga Eagle pose for several minutes before coming to the appointment, to charge up my aura. Should I be surprised the evaluation went well? That my old boss used the words “fantastic job” several times?

But living life in the teeth-gritting zone takes its toll after a while. And by mid afternoon today, a voice was telling me to go to “my” church after work to pray and gather strength. The urge was powerful. So I heeded it.

“My” church is the Teresa of Avila church on Nagymező street, about a ten-minute walk from my office. I’d include photos or links to photos, but it would be counterproductive. I’ve tried to take pictures on several occasions, and despite knowing a thing or two about photography, they just didn’t come anywhere near the sublime beauty of its interior. I’ve even noticed that professional photographers can’t capture its beauty. So you just have to take my word for it: it’s beautiful.

There’s a vivid two-meter tall oil painting of Saint Teresa behind the altar. She’s being visited by the angel, and he’s holding the arrow in his hand that he’s about to plunge into her heart; a mystical vision of divine ecstasy that holds a revered place in Catholic mystical literature. (Teresa lived on the edge. The Spanish Inquisition was never sure whether they should burn her or be in awe of her.) The East, South and North walls of the church (of course the entrance is in the West) are adorned with marble columns topped by triangular pediments of classical proportions. In the center of the nave a dome rises into heaven. There have been evenings I have sat and stared up into the space of that dome, quietly repeating The Lord’s Prayer over and over again, and felt God’s presence under the vault. 

And it’s not St Teresa’s church for nothin’. I was born Catholic, and I’ve never been in a Catholic church that feels like this one. This is a mystical church. It attracts some interesting creatures.

For instance, there’s a gypsy girl who’s in there mornings and evenings. She’s always alone, she looks to be about 16, and she’s a fierce prayer. There are several rows of simple benches at the back of the church behind the proper pews. That’s where she goes. She kneels on the marble floor and prostrates herself across the bench. Then she does the round of the saints. She’ll wrap her arms around the legs of each statue and lay her head at its feet, occasionally turning to kiss the feet. Whenever I do see her face, it bears an unmistakable look of religious ecstasy.

There have been times I’ve caught myself thinking she was a bit off the deep end, and then I considered how much time I spend in the church praying and doing magic. Kind of like Churchill’s definition of an alcoholic: someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.

But despite the fact that there are some heavy mystic types frequenting this church, I’d always assumed I was the only one doing sorcery here.

I have a routine. When I enter the church (after putting both of my phones in silent mode!), I turn left and go straight for the bank of votive candles for the dead. The framework that holds the candles is massive wrought iron, and has the feeling of something that’s been there forever. Behind it is a grating and a little chapel for the Infant of Prague. I pay for a candle (I know some people would freak about giving money to the Roman Catholic Church, but I consider it a fair exchange for being able to tap into the energies of the church egregore), and then get out my portable vial of St Cyprian oil (homemade from Conjureman Ali’s recipe) to dress the candle, and sometimes put a cross of oil on my forehead.

After lighting the candle I call to my dead, naming them out loud as their images come to me, asking them to aid me and guide me, finishing off the list by calling to St Cyprian while knocking on a wood frame nine times. (In a big old church you can get away with these things if you’re discrete). After this I’ll cross myself with holy water, go into the church, and either just pray, or do magical experiments (mostly scrying spirits).

This evening, I had just called Saint Cyprian when an unusual man came into the church and made a beeline for the votive candles. The sinewy, wiry dude was carrying a large paper bag with handles and he had a smell of tobacco smoke and sweat, plus other signs of being lower class, which at first made me think “seasonal construction worker” and then briefly “homeless man”. Then I noticed his perfectly new turquoise canvas deck shoes. But as he put a very nominal fee for a candle in the plate for used wooden matches (which is OK, the listed “price” for a votive candle is, as Captain Barbossa would say, “more like guidelines”), I noted that he had peculiar tatoos, such as mandalas on the backs of his hands. And his hair was sort of punk: shaved in random patches that at first made me think he was getting radiation treatments. He looked as old as me, but I decided he was probably rather younger but aged by a hard life.

After he lit his candle, he licked the thumb and index finger of his left hand, took hold of the head of the match, held it upside down, and allowed the entire match to be consumed by the flame. This caught my attention because it was something my magical mentor used to do, after which he’d declare, “a well-spent match!” Then the guy pulled something out of the paper bag at his feet. It was a brown paper cup — probably from KFC, since I think I saw the Colonel on the side — that had had a band of twine wound around the base and the rim. 

And then after patiently waiting for several minutes, much to my surprise, he picked up his burning candle and began pouring wax on the bands of twine. What was he up to? There was only a certain amount of time I could pretend I was still standing there praying. So I went into the church (mass had been in progress this whole time) and strategically placed myself in one of the back benches where I could keep an eye on this guy. He was obviously doing something sorcerous, or bizarrely folk-religious. And what blew me away was that, as opposed to my efforts to fly under the radar, this dude was brazenly crafting something right there by the candles to the dead, during mass.

Again, I have to emphasize that I had been fairly certain I was the only one of my ilk at this church. And I’ll add to this that, for various reasons, I don’t seek out magical contacts in Hungary. I am active in AMORC, and I talk about mystical things with fellow parents I know from the Waldorf school, and I even have a dreamwork group in my office, but I mostly keep my magical activities to my immediate family. 

But this guy had me curious. What was he up to? He would pour some wax, then put the candle down, then peel wax off the cup and drop it. I watched him from a distance, and almost resolved to go ask him what he was doing, when a man came into the church who I think is one of the deacons. The deacon briefly said something to the sorcerer, and he quickly put his magic cup in his bag and left.

Now my curiosity had the best of me. I grabbed my computer bag and briefcase, and was out the door. I decided that, despite detecting signals saying this might not be the sort of man I want to know, I was still going to ask him what he’d been doing. Let’s call it “professional interest”. 

But he was nowhere to be seen in the square in front of the church. So I did a sweep, widershins, around the church. Guy was gone. Not a trace.

Who was he? What was he doing? Was he just a deranged homeless person with religious compulsions? Was he consciously doing sorcery? Had Cyprian brought him to me to show me something? 

Much to contemplate. Maybe I’ll slip by the church on my way to work tomorrow morning.