GUEST POST by Zora Tyrant!
Out for Blood – A review of Ferocious: A Folk Tantric Manual on the Sapta Matrika Cult by the Sepulcher Society, Theion Publishing 2019
As an avid explorer of the female esoteric mysteries and ‘fiercer’ forms of spirituality, I recently purchased Ferocious: A Folk Tantric Manual on the Sapta Matrika Cult by the Sepulcher Society and released by Theion Publishing in 2019. It aims at elaborating the Tantric Cultus of the seven Matrikas, the terrifying ‘Little Mothers’ in theory and practice and gears towards making it practicable also for a western esoteric audience.
I own various other Theion titles such as Underworld and Benighted Path and have always found them to be extremely well presented and supportive of my unorthodox esoteric practice. Consequently, I had high expectations for Ferocious.
And let me tell you right away I was not disappointed, on the contrary! At first, though, I was a bit hesitant towards another book on Tantra. I have found most tantric releases to be of three categories: translations of tantric manuals with little value to the western or modern practitioner, academic treatises which are highly interesting and informative but also do little for the esoteric practitioner, and books of tantric practice by western occultists who obviously have no grip on sources and lack depth and sophistication. Ferocious is another kind of beast entirely.
So, let’s dive right in! Imagine a frenzied band of blood thirsty and violent goddesses, one of them sow headed, another a skeleton, slaying hordes of demons and striking fear even into the hearts of gods. While these terrific fiends can indeed become maternal protectors of their worshippers, just as their unassuming title ‘Little Mothers’ may suggest it takes dedication, caution and skill not to end up as their prey. In the first part of the book we are introduced to the field of Folk Tantra and how the Matrikas fit into this environment.
Personally I found one of the most important and motivating claims (backed up by sources) made in the book early on to be the statement that Folk Tantra with its antinomian attitude towards ‘scriptural’ Tantra and orthodox religious Hindu practice is embracing of everyone who feels drawn to its currents – regardless of caste, gender or even ethnicity and place of residence, whether you are Hindu or Westerner or anyone else. Folk Tantra with its relation to formerly marginal and polluted deities of the wilderness is potentially approachable by anyone with the right attitude and dedication and outside the rules and regulations of orthodoxy. The Sepulcher Society traces the developments of the Matrikas from liminal village deities to prominent tantric goddesses and discusses the reasons why modern practitioners would want to connect with such ferocious female energies. From material benefits to bestowing of Gnosis, the Matrikas are approachable for a wide variety of causes. Part 1 of the book concludes with important thoughts on sexuality, foundations of tantric rituals and Mantras.
The second part of Ferocious is dedicated to the Seven Matrikas individually. Each Goddess is portrayed in detail, her iconography, relations to the other Matrikas, her modern worship, how to construct her shrine, her offerings and images. We are also given rituals for each goddess. With great care and detail each goddess is explained as an ‘individual’ and as part of the group, her functions, character and field of magical/spiritual operation. They are also related to further aspects of tantric planetary magic and alchemy.
Following a concluding chapter, we are treated also to an appendix where an eighth Matrika, the lion headed Narasimhi, is described in the same fashion as her sisters in the previous chapters.
This is no superficial overview over a fascinating aspect of Tantric spirituality and magic but a deep investigation into the nature and essence of the Matrikas as approached in Folk Tantric practice. This is the ultimate work on the Matrika Goddesses but also an important contribution to the study of the wild manifestations of the divine feminine and its magical and esoteric applications. It is also an essential work on how to approach and apply tantric knowledge in a Western environment without losing any of its original intention and power.
Ferocious is a substantial work of over 260 pages, meticulously researched with plenty of footnotes and large bibliography which invites further independent study. Despite this wealth of information, the book is written in an approachable style never drifting off either into shallowness or unnecessary academic posturing. Ferocious is healthily undogmatic and always keeps the esoteric practitioner in sight making sure that this book is all you need when you embark on a wild ride of tantric practice with the Matrika Goddesses.
Another triumph for Theion Publishing, Ferocious is possibly its most beautiful production yet. The book comes as a sewn hardback with shimmering red cloth and lavish golden lettering. Metallic gold endpapers are a great touch and enhance the lavish feel of this gorgeous edition limited to just over 750 copies only. My rating overall: 10/10, a must have!
Link (Get your copy): https://theionpublishing.com/shop/ferocious-sapta-matrika/
By Zora Tyrant
Zora Tyrant is an artist and an explorer of transgressive spirituality and magic. She lives in the wilderness of North America.
A review of Ludwig Klages’ Of Cosmogonic Eros, Theion Publishing 2018
By Carl Schelling
“The light of Eros-Phanes flashes in the pregnant darkness of the Dionysian vortex.”
One could review this tremendous work from various angles such as the philosophical, metaphysical, religious as for each of these and other areas this release holds very important implications. And indeed, upon its first release in early 1920s Germany it influenced luminaries of various disciplines ranging from Walter Benjamin to Walter F. Otto and from C.G. Jung to Hermann Hesse. It did, however, also impact greatly on the spiritual and esoteric milieu of its time and it is from the perspective of an esoteric practitioner that I will attempt to review this publication.
The great biocentric Ludwig Klages, together with Alfred Schuler the head of the esoteric Cosmic Circle, waged a radical war against monotheism, logocentrism and human-centric positions. Against these currents he pitched an enchanting and ecstatic daemonic world of images which constitute a cyclical reality mediated by the powers of Eros. This world-creating, Cosmogonic Eros thus becomes the elemental power which manifests the true Real which is ‘lost’ to humankind behind the false reality mediated by the Logos. So central is this force to Klages’ thinking that he devoted an entire monograph to this sacred force, the same book, Of Cosmogonic Eros, which is finally available to us in English for the very first time.
Now onto the book itself:
Theion Publishing treats us to the full package here, adding two extra texts to the translation. Of Cosmogonic Eros itself is divided into seven chapters plus a preface, an appendix and a discussion of sources. As extras this book further contains an introduction by the preeminent contemporary expert on Klages in the English-speaking world, Dr. Paul Bishop, and an additional essay by Klages’ collaborator the mystic Alfred Schuler on the Ur-Gnosis.
Bishop’s introduction may already be worth the price of the book alone. His introductory essay of 60+ pages is in itself a mini-analysis of the entire Eros book, examining its most important concepts and how they relate to Klages’ overall metaphysical world of daemonic images.
Klages advances his elaborations on Eros in a very structured way allowing the reader to follow closely all his argument. With the razor-sharp mind of a scholar and the heart of a mystic Klages peels back layer after layer of misunderstandings and distortions in regards to the nature of Eros until he arrives at his essential qualities and powers. In a tour de force he differentiates Eros from Love, Sexus and emotionality before embarking on a discussion of the concept of Eros in antiquity. Amongst the topics treated in this chapter are the Eros of the Orphics, Eros Cults and Eros as a Mystery God.
In chapter 3 Klages elaborates on the essence of the Erotic state and then compares Erotic and Dionysian rapture before explaining the cosmogonic nature of Eros. A master of language Klages treats us here to passages like this:
While the ecstasy of satisfying the sexual drive is associated with the sexual union of two beings, there is presumably no limit to the opportunities that permit entry by the person bearing a soul into the fiery circle of erotic frenzy. It can consummate itself, or reach perfection, at the mere sight of a beloved being, and that may be a being of the opposite sex, but also one of the same sex, or it might be an animal, or a plant. And it can just as well consummate itself at the smell of a scent, the taste of a wine, the hearing of a sound, and the touch of a dripping branch. It can be roused while awake as if in the most stupefying dream. It celebrates its orgies beneath the breeze of spring storms, in the light of a star-studded heaven, in a hailstone shower, on a flaming mountain ridge, in the raging surf, in the lightning flash of “first love”, but not least in the embrace of fate that smites it. It is an ecstasy both of the ascent and descent; an ecstasy that transfigures dying and death into agonising bliss! The eternal moment of its perfection contains: unfettered frenzy or crystalline transport of delight.
Chapter 4 ‘on the ecstatic state’ is of the utmost importance to any spiritual practitioner interested in utilizing forms of ecstasy in their work. The author explains the crisis of ‘un-selfing’ and the pathway of Life through Death. Far ahead of his time he discusses the possible use of drugs in relation to mystical work and elaborates on 3 main forms of cosmic ecstasy, the heroic, the erotic and the magical forms. The chapter ends with the introduction of a truly mystical concept of distance in relation to Eros of which Klages says that:
The shiver of Eros however differs from this in that, in the moment of even the highest realisation, it remains an Eros of Distance and the intoxicated man remains a separate, never-intermingling second in relation to his partner, an eye of the universe watching him from out of the purple night! To surrender to this does not mean to lust after it or to embrace it. It does not mean: to become one with it; to be subsumed in it. It means: to awaken!
Chapter 5 takes us deep into the ‘nature of ecstasy’. Magical time and space, the relation of Eros and ecstasy to the daemonic images and the visionary power of the soul are all discussed in this chapter which leads over to chapter 6 ‘on ancestor veneration’ which should become mandatory reading for any contemporary pagan or heathen practitioner. Far beyond the shallow clichés and limits of the usual treatises on such topics Klages uncovers the deepest layers of the relation of Eros to Thanatos, the empowerment of the Living through the Dead and the transformative quality of the living soul.
A ‘concluding word on Eros and passion’ is then followed by a lengthy appendix which contains a highly fascinating treatment of the question as to ‘Why does it bring ruin to lift the Veil of Isis?’ You want the answer? Go and read this book, I won’t spoil it for you with an answer!
A true gem in this treasure chest of Gnosis is the included essay by Alfred Schuler. Klages mentions him in various places of the book as a mystic and as being instrumental in shaping his view on the Chthonic mysteries. Schuler, who also communicated with French esotericist Papus, was a highly mysterious figure whose oracular language and visionary ecstasies had a profound effect on his immediate circle. His pagan vision of a cyclical maternal world is closely associated with erotic mysteries, divine androgyny and necromantic teachings. The short essay presented here is an excellent example of Schuler’s unique approach and vision.
To conclude: Of Cosmogonic Eros is an epic achievement, an intellectual and esoteric masterpiece which deserves the closest attention and should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in or practicing any form of Pagan spirituality. Some passages of this book, especially in the beginning, demand proper intellectual focus as they can be complex but it is worth persisting. It is a work you will go back to time and time again.
The publication of this book could not be more timely also in regards to another matter: Klages tirelessly pointed out how environmental destruction and ruthless exploitation of nature is one of the disastrous manifestations of Western ideologies and reality. In a time where more and more people wake up to the terrible consequences of environmental collapse Klages can give us crucial insights into possible alternative avenues and strategies.
The book is published in a limited cloth hardcover edition (a deluxe edition is sold out) of 745 copies. Theion Publishing is known for their quality productions and this book is no exception. Beautiful quality blue cloth and exquisite endpapers make this book a delight to hold. A special mention must go to translator Mav Kuhn who did an outstanding job translating this work.
Carl Schelling is a lifelong student of the esoteric. After pursuing academic studies in philosophy and anthropology he traveled internationally for more than 3 decades in the search for spiritual truth. He now lives in a rural setting on the European continent and focuses his spiritual heart on venerating the ancestors and the genius loci.
Many thanks to Carl Schelling for allowing me to share his review of Of Cosmogonic Eros which is a book that has influenced my own thinking and spirituality. I was lucky enough to immerse myself in the text as its translator and I very much recommend it to anyone seriously interested in pagan spirituality. Mr Schelling’s review is a fantastic enticement to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see … Seshat
I have never called myself a necromancer. My doings with the dead as an adult I have taken in my stride as a witch, although my dealings with the dead stretch back into childhood. I have had no initiation and no training and so often my encounters with spirits have been cackhanded and unsatisfactory. Over the past 15 years I have developed a devotion to the dead and relationships with Egyptian deities who guide, protect and smooth the path of calling on the Aakhu, the blessed and beautified dead. I have listened, learned and experimented on my own. So it has been fascinating, instructive and gratifying to read Underworld from Theion Publishing and to find that what I do and what I have experienced so far is confirmed by the author, who is very obviously not only exceptionally knowledgeable in this field but is an adept in the doing. I wish I had encountered this book 30 odd years ago, but hey, things come to us when we are ready.
The author depicts the Underworld and death deities from different cultural models/mythologies, drawing a thread through them all without falling foul of New Age hodgepodgery. I have attended rituals where mythologies, deities and sacred symbols are thrown together like fusion cookery that ends up tasting vile and setting my teeth on edge. Not so this book which instructs through mythologies, shrine building, offerings and rituals how best to approach the particular deity and which deities require extra care and forethought. The author leans heavily on tradition without being anachronistic, and he/she also allows for sensitive developments and responses to the present-day world.
I have read before of soul-travelling to the Underworld, and how important it is to 1. seek protection of the relevant ruling deity and 2. to know the way (maps, passwords, monsters, traps, symbols, etc.). The latter in itself is daunting and also antithetical to my own experiences. For as long as I can remember, the worlds of Here, There, The Liminal etc. have been fluid; The Other slips through to Here, in Dream I am carried to There, in my mind’s eye I can turn to The Liminal … and the Shadows do not always remain shadows. There is nothing linear in my world for me to follow a path down from Here to The Underworld as dictated by some magickal traditions. However, Underworld (the book) suggests a much more accessible and practicable method for entering the Underworld through meditation and/or dream – read the book if you wish to know what and how … As a side note, the book may give solid instructions on necromantic practice and tradition, yet it is not dictatorial, instead it allows for people’s personal proclivities to guide them … if you want to leap in and learn that way, go ahead, but the author gives his/her experience-based recommendations that are absolutely worth bearing in mind.
A word on protection: you will need it. Underworld gives practical instructions on how to protect your space (think poltergeists, for example) and where to set up your space for best effect. Great emphasis is placed on gaining the protection of the underworld ruler you choose to work with and I would heartily agree with this. It’s something that should be undertaken for a lengthy period of time, in my eyes, so that you utterly integrate the underworld ruler and its essence into your psyche and thus instinctively call upon it even in your dream world. Sleep is a vulnerable time for anyone open to spirits; throughout my life, since I was very little, I have had times of being “attacked” by amorphous, roaming spirits that barely have any sense of consciousness except for a will to enter a living body. As any magickal person knows, the boundaries between dream and “real” are tenuous and permeable. But I would also say that some encounters with spirits are horrendous and terrifying and that’s okay… I read a comment in a forum recently where a woman was struggling to abandon the good/bad, angels/demons of her Christian upbringing. She essentially didn’t want to carry across the idea of evil to her new pagan beliefs. She asked if instead she could just approach “all spirit beings and deities” as neutral. She’s allowed to approach them however she wishes, but the responses she gets may not fit into such a beige remit! Some of the most glorious encounters I have had have been terrifying, and yet I was left afterwards with a longing for that entity/entities to return – ecstasy can be found in dread! I have received visitations from two different entities to whom I gave a lot of attention over a long period of time (in one case years). They began to manifest more and more tangibly until I could hear the one with my physical ears and touch the other with my hands, like holding onto hard air. And then on each occasion I freaked, I gave in to fear, and banished them because I didn’t know what to do or how to control things, even though in those two cases each entity seemed well-disposed towards me. And how I have regretted those banishments. Protection is vital, but don’t expect “perfect protection” to circumvent a natural sense of fear. Only the reckless and foolish feel nothing and rush in with a sense of entitlement. The rational mind is good at quelling fear, but it is also excellent at banishing, at erecting walls between Here and There. And this is why I would encourage readers of Underworld not to stop at reading the words but to dwell on them awake and as you fall asleep to encourage and open up a dialogue between you and the dead/deity as to how you should proceed further. The more you align yourself through the practices in the book, the more you will know how to hone that practice. I have certainly felt nudges to apply more effort, beginning with thoroughly cleaning and re-laying one of my altars that I had let go to dust and being more generous in my offerings …
But what are the dead for? Honestly, I struggle with this. The question itself implies that they are a means to an end, which feels reductive to me. Underworld speaks of the wealth of knowledge that the dead have and naturally points to divination as a way to access this information. As a teenager I engaged with a male spirit through bibliomancy. He gave me very accurate predictions and advice to all my teenage angsts and petty concerns. If only I had taken account of his advice in my actions, it would have saved me a lot of trouble. But hey, I was a teenager, who DID I listen to at that age?!
Underworld gives examples of rituals that ask for certain things from the death deities, certain very tangible, this-world things. I have done the same, petitioning the Neteru and the Aakhu. Some death deities, as the book says, are naturally inclined to help with particular things, others really couldn’t give a toss and you’d be hard pushed to make them take an interest (the same could be said of all deities – pick your allies carefully). Some say the dead themselves understand better the needs of a human living this life and if you treat them well, they will lend their bony hand. But it would be a waste to get stuck on merely what materialistic things can be attained, although to everything there is a time. The majority of my dead-time is spent in devotional work to the Neteru and the dead. Through that devotion (prayer, meditation, offerings, contemplation, art) they guide, they teach, they open my eyes to the possibilities of More.
“Through me shall you live, through you shall I live.”
Underworld is a fantastic book for anyone walking the path of the dead. It’s not a self-contained book, by which I mean that the copious information contained therein will spur you on, hungry to know more in both the cerebral and experiential sense of gnowing. If you read the words and feel the call of the dead, you will not be able to help yourself but to reach out and answer that call.
Underworld is available for purchase from Theion Publishing at THIS LINK! (This is not a sponsored post, I just really recommend the book!)
Thrilled today to find that Scarlet Imprint had posted a new blog entry with a field recording of Peter (one of my favourite magickians in “the public eye”) giving a talk on Armageddon, Babalon and the challenge facing us as individuals and as humanity.
Here is the blog post:
… do take the time to listen to the entire talk, unlike many speakers, Peter is very easy to listen to and the time flies by. I know that we are all attuned to 5 minute focus these days, but push yourself a bit!
The talk was interesting for me on a personal level for several reasons. Babalon entered my life in 2008; during that time she stripped me bare, turned my life upside down and threw me into a period of extreme turmoil and terror. After my last (and hopefully last) suicide attempt, I awoke initially peeved at the world, that it was still there and I still had to engage with it. A month later, Pomba Gira came down on me and I became her devotee. In turn, she has also stormed through my life, but in a gentle-raucous way, the way that extreme laughter can make you hurt but feel so good. So much has changed both in my head and heart since she came to me (and by coincidence Scarlet Imprint have recently released a book on Pomba Gira: Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold – I will be reading that after my current study book, Holy Harlots, Femininity, Sexuality, & Black Magic in Brazil by Kelly E. Hayes).
In the talk, Peter spoke about Armageddon and the need for magickians to respond (I won’t detail his talk here, because I really think you should listen to it yourself). All of what he said reflected my own thoughts over the last couple of years, and my own personal revelations – yes, on a macrocosmic level, but more specifically on a microcosmic level. And just as I have struggled with the concept of my own life being something I wished to preserve, so part of me listened and thought, “Is humanity worth saving?” Through my own studies in paleontology I have seen a distinct pattern in the life of the earth and its animals, and our own destruction, in which ever form, seems inevitable and justified. In my own mind, I do not see that Armageddon is coming, but that it has come, it is too late for mankind [sic], but not for individuals – as contradictory as that may sound.
I agree that there is huge benefit in learning a martial art, connecting with like-minded communities (specifically within the magickal subculture), learning how to glean our needs directly from nature rather than relying on oil-driven industries: yes, all of that is right and rather along the lines of “good advice will never harm you, even if it won’t directly cure the situation” (not that Peter was suggesting a “cure”).
But I am drawn once again to reiterating things I have been saying for years and experiencing for years. There is a need for us to drastically dispense with the trappings of our “social selves”, to realise that the persona we project is usually not who we truly are. Mental health is a case in point: where else do you see such a dramatic and often violent stripping of the social niceties to reveal the true bones of a psyche, often damaged by the demands and experiences of a sick world. We become the earth, walking examples of excessive stress, tired hypocampi, exhausted adrenal systems. We are ravaged and pile-driven, raped in the head, raped in the body – literally and figuratively. And like some inverse homeopathy we continue to feed the disease with more disease: as pagans filling our heads with fluff and saleable shit, buying our spirituality with the “must-have wand”, the matching cloak … all the while we are layering more and more plastic turf over polluted ground, allowing the pollution to sink deeper and deeper into our souls.
There is something in experiencing the head-smack of mental health WHILE practising consciousness and awareness, because you can bypass years of deconstruction and experience the polluted soul much more quickly than, say, someone who is stuck at the material level of life consumption and believes themselves to be “well”.
My last suicide attempt shook something within me and my health in very many ways has started to climb since then. It felt like a final purge of soul pollution, and even though I experience the dregs occasionally, I am in a place of construction and re-formation, aided by by the spirits of Lucky Hoodoo and my devotion to Pomba Gira.
I doubt I am expressing myself half as eloquently as Peter, but the point I want to make is that we, as magickians and witches, should not get stuck at stock-piling cans of peaches because I personally believe that nothing will save our world, and this is a natural cycle on this particular planet. But there is a microcosmic Armageddon playing itself out within each of us, and it is up to us individually as to whether we respond to it or die face down in the poisoned earth. There is more than this planet, and the transmutation of our Selves has to go hand-in-hand, or even take priority, over what we can change in the visible, mundane world. What we see is merely an echo of a greater reality; our microcosmic experience broadcasts a macrocosmic echo.
One night I was walking and saw a tree. Then I saw through the tree and experienced the essence that was expressing itself as a tree in this world. There is a dire need for us to find our own essence, the point of being that is represented as us on this plane of existence: because who we think we are, is not who we truly are. And if we continue not-knowing, that will be our own personal, inevitable Armageddon.
A little ritual work this evening, a medium dose of reading and a lot of ritual writing. Good to be back on track after a break of a couple of weeks – too long; I felt the spirits nudging me kindly, but enough’s enough and I don’t want to drag my heels and get a sledgehammer hint over my head that I have been neglecting Them.
A beautiful reunion this evening.
Ritual writing exhilarating as always. Because I find it easier to speak my rituals than to write them, especially if I am adapting from several books, I use a voice recognition software which can be a tad unreliable as I am very soft on my consonants (my German heritage is sadly lacking there).
This evening I was also adapting a meditation written by Ariock Van De Voorde in ATUA (probably the most vibrant and inspiring collection of occult essays in a very long time – more on the book at a later date – if you don’t have it and are interested in LHP or the Voudon Gnostic current, then you MUST buy this book – you snooze, you lose – and there is so much to explore!). The meditation is a method for approaching those hard-to-manage, obtuse passages we all hit against, here specifically in the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, although it could be applied to any occult reading. His advice however was interpreted thus by my voice recognition software as I read from the book:
Once you have either finished a chapter, or encountered a section that you find particularly obtuse, immediately stop breathing [sic].
… a little harsh even by my standards. However, Mr Van De Voorde had in fact merely suggested “stop reading”. Phew. Inhale. Exhale. Phew. I shudder to think how often I would have to cease breathing otherwise!
So a productive evening. I mastered bullion knots this afternoon and am a quarter of the way through finishing a necklace. Candles still lit that will accompany me into the Land of Dreams, incense still permeating the room … I felt the floor tremble when the spirits came. Beautiful Aakhu. Beautiful Spirits of Hoodoo.
I am currently reading Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry by Armando R. Favazza, M.D. It is the first comprehensive attempt at dealing with the subject of self-mutilation from a cultural psychiatric perspective. I am only about 20 pages in, but I already feel that this man has understood the concept of self-mutilation not only from a cultural and ritual perspective but from the perspective of a mentally ill person.
Many people, knowing either vaguely or intimately my personal belief systems and practices as a witch, question and frown upon my use of a crucifix in my practices, and the fact that I often wear one when I am in a particularly bad “demonic” phase. The fact is I take great comfort in aligning myself with the voluntary self-mutilation that the mythic image of Christ allowed to be imposed upon himself. The crux of Christian myth is based around this voluntary sacrifice, but the issue for me is not sacrifice for another but identification with excruciating internal and external pain.
The images of Christ on the cross have been graced over the centuries with a virtual delight in the gore and excruciating agonies of this man-God. As such he can become the epitome and symbol of a self-harmer’s attempt to make peace with the forces inside and to say yes to life; because self-harming is not a suicide attempt but an attempt to avert suicide.
Quoting a discussion about Fakir Mustafa by Graver, Favazza says:
[Fakir] feels [the pain] not as a foreign invasion of the body but as a sensation of the body that separates the body from the mind.
And this is certainly one of the prime motivations for my own self-harming urges – to demarcate boundaries between mind, body, and I would add, soul, to separate out the mix and to ease the pain of their co-existence.
Suppression is a beautiful tool which can facilitate the survival of someone who has lived through the unspeakable; but it can too easily become a means of self-destruction, where the emotions that should be focused on “enemies” is turned inwards, thus indeed creating a form of social self-sacrifice. Favazza elucidates this point:
Blood has awesome symbolic and physiologic powers, as evidenced by its role in religious sacrifice, healing, the formation of brotherhoods, and blood feuds. When harvested properly, it can alter the course of personal and communal history. It is my contention that some mentally ill persons mutilate themselves as a primitive method of drawing upon their blood’s ability to foster bonds of loyalty and union among members of their social network, to demonstrate their hatred of and conquest over real and imaginary enemies, to heal their afflictions, and … to set right their relationship with God.
Favazza discusses the subject of self-mutilation within Christianity extensively, identifying possible schizophrenics, anorectics and self-harmers amongst the martyr crew. He writes:
It is clear that the individual human body mirrors the collective social body, and each continually creates and sustains the other. Misperceptions of reality, feelings of guilt, negative self images, antisocial acts, and all the other symptoms we associate with personal mental illness defy understanding without reference to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical integrity of the communal “body.”
Which leads me on to the disgust, bewilderment and rejection that self-harmers continually face from the “communal body”. Favazza’s statements support my own experience of the anger, disgust and fear that self-harmers illicit not only amongst passers-by but even amongst their so-called “caretakers”. Nobody truly understands the self-harmer from a psychiatric perspective and instead dismisses the person saying, e.g. it must be a chemical imbalance, or part of borderline syndrome, or a way of getting attention. Favazza summarises self-mutilation amongst the mentally ill as a morbid form of self-help, but warns that it is nothing to trifle with and that for those individuals who cannot control the behaviour it may end in unsightly scars or even “the loss of an eye”.
Personally, I wear my scars as a warrior would those won in battle. When your insides resemble the direst of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, and your outside is that of an amicable, sweet and smiling Englishwoman, there is a sense of relief when your external appearance begins to resemble the internal reality. Naturally this comes with extreme forms of social and familial rejection. Nobody likes to see pain, nobody likes to be forced to imagine what’s inside the person wearing the scars. There are very few who would reach out and kiss the scars, saying, “There is beauty in such life-affirming pain.”