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!)
I have found a wilding place. There is no credit to my sleuthing skills in the fact that it is at the bottom of my own garden.
I moved to this place nearly two years ago. The garden is more than twice the size of the ground plan of the house, but it is split with two thirds being the “public” garden and one third being hidden behind trees and bushes. That latter third is where the shed lives and where a drive would have been. It’s an area that has been left fallow so the curly willow looks like my hair in the morning and brambles have begun to take over.
Recently I found that, even in winter, there is a spot in the wilding place where I can stand and not be seen by any of the neighbouring houses.
So I have reignited my outdoor QiGong practice … even now as we experience the so-called “Siberian blast”. Sure I start off cold but by the end I have charged up enough heat/energy to keep me warm for the rest of the day, irrespective of the temperature.
What surprised me after my first foray into QiGong in the wilding place was that the place revealed itself to me as I was leaving. By this I mean that my vision shifted and I saw everything there as extant beings, certainly not human or anthropomorphised – there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden – but the wild things looked back at me as I “saw” them.
In reconnecting with this wild place, I must remember other wildernesses that I saw with my “other eyes”. First and foremost I recall the strong impulse I had to climb the extinct volcano that is Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh … in a storm … at night. And my “Drang” was so intense that I didn’t take the circuitous path route up to the top but decided to climb straight up the rocks – as the crow flies … if the crow could climb! When I reached the top I sat down on the rocks and the stone felt hot beneath my hands. I “saw” spirits flying around in the storm like the painting by Luis Ricardo Falero. Only then did I question why the stone was hot. I lifted my hand in shock as I realised this was illogical and irrational … when I put my hand back down, the rock was cool and the storm was no longer spirit-filled but windy and cold. My rational mind had broken the connection to what my body and soul were experiencing as reality.
Sustaining that vision is difficult once the reasoning mind has kicked in and I have broken a few intense spirit connections through reason … except is it reason? Or is it not in fact fear? Fear that makes me question the unusual and otherly even as I experience it phenomenally. The rational mind is a fear-monger. It may or may not be my lizardy amygdala that triggers fight or flight in an attempt to keep me safe … yet, why then am I so calm (focused, yes; exhilarated, yes; bursting with vibrancy, yes) climbing volcanoes in storms and talking to manifesting spirits … until my rational mind tells me this is strange and therefore frightening? I am merely playing with ideas here but I might be tempted to say that in fact my lizard brain is quite happy with the other … the atavistic, the anachronic … because it is itself ancient and “outside of this time”. No, I would guess that in fact it is my modern day brain that challenges the wildness and seeks to analyse and categorise things to death; it is the scientist who in seeking to find the reason for the beauty of a deer kills it and guts it … for knowledge. Oh false knowledge!
I’m not expounding a return to all things prehistoric, but in terms of vision – true sight, an all-encompassing seeing – I do believe we have to learn to bypass the rational, dissecting mind. If not bypass, then harness and train so that we can see all of phenomenal existence and not just the catalogued shells that our analytical minds permit us to see.
There is more to be seen than our minds will allow.
So my lucet arrived… Isn’t he beautiful?
He was hand-carved from cherry wood and feels amazing in my hand. It didn’t take me long at all to get the hang of it (thanks to some YouTube videos). I dove straight in and worked a contrast thread (the gimp cord). Imagine now knotting in pearls and semi-precious bead stones, small feathers … Beautiful. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please refer to THIS POST ABOUT KNOT MAGIC.
Even though there is room for much elaboration, my initial experiment with knot magic and the lucet was a much more basic and plain affair. I sat in candlelight with my lucet and two threads of the appropriate colour (in this instance black and red). I began to weave, focusing all my thoughts into each knot, binding my intent into the cord. Once done, I knotted off the cord, tied it into a circle (further binding it into itself) and placed it like a halter around the neck of one of my fetishes. I lit a candle and made offerings to the fetish for one night. The next night, I placed the “done spell” into my Atua. When I have sufficient cords in my Atua I will burn them, but for now they are fine there, “magickally fermenting” in a spirit atmosphere. Spell work has always felt like cooking for me … ingredients, stewing, fermenting, rising, baking off, cooking till its “done”… and often, disposing of the remains, preferably composting it to earth or burning off with fire.
On another note, my writing career is starting to take off, and consequently spending a few moments on this blog chatting with you, feels a little like sneaking out the back of the office for a quick smoke. I am ghostwriting and editing, along with some translation work again (although wildly different to what I used to translate); and I’ve started writing a book on fear. It’s a theme that comes up recurrently in profane AND sacred life. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced fear, except for the sociopath whose emotions are by nature limited to the shallows. And yes, I’ve met a few of them. Thank you, The Internet.
Although these days my life seems mostly free from dastardly types and this is a testament to how I have overcome my own fear in laying down the boundaries of my identity. I used to be swayed so easily like driftwood on the sea, but these days, although I am flexible, I am no longer merely a mirror to egos stronger than my own. It’s okay to have preferences and limits. Being a mirror to others does not mean that I am more enlightened or less bound by my own ego-urges. Maybe quite the contrary, that I end up in a battle between my own ego and that of the other person.
So often I have sacrificed myself to another, especially in relationships. My needs took back place and I squeezed myself small into the mould they made for me. But eventually I would spring out of the mould, slightly deformed, but still different from what they wanted me to be, and then I would be rejected. It was a cycle I repeated way too often. These days, perhaps it’s age, I am averse to moulds; I recognise big egos and I walk around them; I am less swayed by the externals. My relationship with spirits has helped; if I find myself dancing to another’s tune, I get a nudge from Spirit because such inauthenticity detaches me from my ability to connect with Other. Being authentic is not a place of comfort and often it would be easier and feel more secure (although it is a false security) to hand over responsibility for the dance to someone else. It’s a truth that only I can dance with my own feet … forget walking in my shoes, you can have my shoes … but no one walks this earth – skin on dirt – like I do (or like you do).
Empathy is a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes tilt one towards living too much inside other people’s heads. I grew up with no separation between myself and others due to my psychism and my sensitive empathy. But at the age of 20 I attended a workshop in a small village in Germany. There I was introduced to the phrases: “Ich bin bei mir” and “Ich bin bei dir”, which loosely translate as “I am within me” and “I am within you” (bei translates variously as with, in, at, by … but I choose in this instance the word “within”). At the workshop I was challenged in my thinking and actions again and again: Are you within yourself or within another? And I realised that I was predominantly within other people, thinking and feeling what they felt and adjusting my own behaviour accordingly. I was reactive to every person I met. I rarely acted from a spontaneous base of me-ness. Yes, you could look at the psychology and say it was a defence and way to keep myself safe, which is true. My upbringing was not a safe one and knowing what other people were thinking/feeling or going to do before they even knew it themselves kept me safe. But as an adult it was a disempowering habit that kept me in a regressed emotional and spiritual state.
I rapidly learned to recognise when I was “within another” and I tempered my responses, although it has taken years to form a solid identity of my own that is not defined by other people (remembering also that we are coloured by all experiences, including very much the people we allow into our lives). It is a life-long journey because each day we step into the river and it is never the same … neither are we.
So, dear folks, it’s time to put out my metaphorical cigarette (as I don’t smoke!) and step back into the office. Thanks for dwelling a while with me as I pondered a few things. Till next time!
In times of stress and fear, we generally default to those beliefs and ideas that we feel in our heart of hearts are most protective and empowering – what you might call our “original” or fundamental beliefs. The agnostic in battle flings up a prayer to god; the lapsed Catholic makes the sign of the cross at a near-miss car crash; and the child seeks out mum or dad … presuming that those parental figures are safe and protective. Mine weren’t, so in times of stress as a child I fled inward and to the spirits.
I had an intense introduction to Roman Catholicism after my father left us. Before his departure there had been absolutely no religion in the family so I had had no boundaries around my psychic adventures, astral journeys and ghostly friends (nor did I have help when entities were not so friendly). I was able to unfold in as natural a way as was possible for me, up till the age of 9.
It was not at all a conventional Catholic upbringing as my mother immersed herself into Benedictine monasticism and so throughout my formative teenage years our family friends and visitors were ALL (no exception) priests, monks and nuns. My baptism in Germany, at the age of 9, was a beautiful affair: I was surrounded by a large circle of nuns between the ages of 25 and 90. I walked around and stopped in front of each woman to receive a cross drawn on my forehead with their fingers. It was magical. I had flowers in my hair. And frankly, it was all very pagan. My catechism was given either in the large gardens as we tended the flowers (all godly symbols explained through symbols in nature) or in a red boat as my sister instructor rowed us around the moat of this old German castle, which now served as the abbey home.
My devotion to Catholicism was intense (not least because I found safety amongst the nuns and everything about the castle and my lessons in nature appealed to the romantic in me), although (and this was a major problem) I had no place for Jesus in my pantheon, and I never understood the concept of original sin (helped by my confessional priest who refused to hear my “sins” as he said I was too young to sin and we should just pray together). However, my belief in Christianity crumbled in my teens for two reasons: one, I started to read about witchcraft and paganism and realised that this is who and what I was; and two, I began to study the gospels and Pauline letters in the original Greek. The latter was an issue because so much of the gospels has been redacted in English, changing female disciples’ names into male names, for example, because the established Church finds it too threatening to consider that women were equals in the early Church! If I had been lied to about something as fundamental as this, what else was poppycock?
But even though I abandoned Christianity (not acrimoniously because I respect Christian mysticism), and although I went on to explore and devote myself to witchcraft, I found myself still, in times of spiritual distress, calling on the Abrahamic image of deity as I had experienced him through those formative years. This puzzled me and frustrated me. But it need not have. Archetypes come in many forms, and the cipher with which our mind envisages the archetype is not always within our conscious control. Ultimately we have to explore and examine our beliefs and be totally honest about them. If I am cavorting with spirits and things go tits up, then it really matters what deity or entity I call upon because it may be cool to call on Sekhmet, but if your inner belief is still stuck on the Virgin Mary then you’re going to get an ‘up side the head’ because your inner spiritual integrity is split, which presents a weak face to the spirits you’re trying to work with. Some “beliefs” have deeper roots than others. Like gardening, our spiritual landscape needs constant tending. And this is also why so often in LHP literature, a lot of time is spent on deconstructing and challenging a person’s, generally, Christian faith. If you are going to choose instead to work with Lucifer, then you need to relinquish any guilt you might feel about that, because that guilt will bite you on the bum.
So, I’ve been thinking about all this recently because I am going through a really difficult and stressful time. Everything is in flux, including my accommodation. I am moving to a temporary place and my future is totally unclear right now. In fact, every area of my life is undergoing some kind of transitional phase. And guess what! I hate change. I loathe it. I am a fan of routine and predictability. I like a quiet life because my emotions are on my sleeve and I FEEL so intensely that it hurts. The only way to dull the pain is to maintain a staid and stable life. So I’m hurting right now. My body feels it. My mind feels it. And I’m noticing what I’m doing with all that stress … I am taking it to the spirits. I feel like I have come full circle to the little girl taking her astral journeys “back home” for granted and placing more confidence in the protection of spirits than the humans in her life.
My altar is like an eternal flame right now. As soon as one set of candles burns out, I light the next, muttering my prayers and invocations … ‘Let me feel the joy of your presence … come forth …’ Clouds of incense. Cups of coffee. Glass of water. And love, love, love and gratitude pouring out from my hands to the spirits.
Half my furniture and a large proportion of my stuff has been given to charity. A third of my remaining stuff is in storage, and the rest is predominantly in boxes. But my altar remains standing till the last minute and will only be packed on the morning of my move.
In times of stress, we default to what we believe in, to where our hearts lie and our foundation is strong … at least I do. I wonder if others can identify. Can you? And is your answer coherent with your projected identity? Or is there a split between your inner world and your outer persona?
I feel like I’m in a strange place in my life at the moment. This year has been one of extreme change – all internal. My external world putters along pretty much unchanged.
Sancho Panza has been ramping up the pressure on me to be my authentic self. Firstly I had to learn what my authentic self was; then I had to learn not to fear it but accept it; and finally I am learning to express it. This engagement with the authentic self carries with it power. Some might call it “being self-empowered” but I would extend it further than that to a sense of power in general.
Often in the pagan community we have quite an ambiguous relationship with the concept of power. After all, power can be abused and misused. Power implies a hierarchy – the empowered “above” the powerless. Hierarchies, to many people, involve implicit abuse because we don’t like to compare or judge others as less than … God forbid that we would put ourselves ABOVE other people or be made to feel that we are LOWER than other people. But we are primates, it is part of our genetic biology to exist in social groups made up of hierarchies, so I dismiss any faintheartedness over who’s better and who’s worse. It’s like attractiveness – there will always be someone uglier than you and there will always be someone prettier than you. The same goes for character, power and influence. Get used to it.
So let’s just take hierarchy as a fact of life and return to the idea of “power”. It would be extremely easy to mistake power for something that we generate inside ourselves, that we CREATE power and direct it by our wills. This is an ego-driven misrepresentation of power. In my experience, the best and purest form of power is when you step out of your own way and allow the power to flow through you. If you can learn to call down the power, it will flow through you and like a funnel you can direct it towards certain areas of your life and invoke change.
That is, I think, a key point to remember with power, and by extension magick: it is most effective in affecting change. Life is in a continual state of flux. Our purpose is to develop and grow, to evolve towards the divine (either to be consumed by divinity, or to become divine); any attempt to put the brakes on a situation subverts the natural flow of life.
So the power that I am referring to is an external force, channelled by myself, which I can direct and apply at will (or more accurately BY my will). In knowing my authentic self, I remove blockages to the flow of that power; I can approach the source of my power (in my case, the spirits) with a truly honest heart. Know Thyself, was the maxim at the Temple of Delphi, and this goes deeper than any ego-centric, superficial knowledge of who you are, the mundane face that you show to the world. In my relationship with the spirits, the first thing I learned was “honesty”. If I want something, I need to be honest about it without guilt, without reticence or excuses.
Often we are taught that we should only desire “good” things because we are good people, or worse, we should have no desires at all. So we sublimate our desires and displace our need for A by giving ourselves the more readily available and perhaps more socially acceptable B. If you go to the spirits asking for B, when your heart is longing for A, either nothing will happen, or you will get B and feel dissatisfied or you will get a slap upside the head for being dishonest with the spirits. You can’t approach them with your neuroses and complexes and expect them to weed through the shit in your head to understand the poor little flower you are inside. No. YOU have to work through the shit. YOU have to learn radical honesty with yourself.
Sometimes I can’t always express the honest desire. I am aware of it, and I feel it, but I cannot adequately verbalise it. That is something different. In such cases, I can still sit before the spirits, explain what I can, then I open my heart and allow them to see the true desire, while I take full responsibility for the outcome of asking for my true will to become manifest.
If you want “something bad” to happen to another person, really want it with no scruples or hang-ups, then it will happen when you apply your own power: “your own power” being your relationship with the spirits and your skills in magick.
So I have learned to know my authentic self and I am applying my authenticity to my relationships by admitting my vulnerability AND not hiding my strength. Sometimes it is not always about hiding your vulnerabilities but also about down-playing your strength so you don’t intimidate or scare other people off. Humans can be very deceptive; the key is not to lose awareness of the masks you wear – always remember the true face under the mask less you one day wake up and believe that a mask is the true you … then, frankly, you’re fucked, and your magick won’t work and a whole host of other things in your life won’t work either.
Authenticity leads to greater power; greater power is a better relationship with spirits and a more effective magickal life. For me, these things combined together dampen the ever-present fear I have lived with throughout my life. Sancho Panza calls it my Lizard Brain: this is the Amygdala, that part of the brain which has been evolving for nearly 300 million years; the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight reactions; the animal part within us that responds to stress not as a civilised human but as an animal (you hurt me, I hurt you OR you hurt me, I keel over and play dead). An over-stimulated Lizard Brain leads to paranoia, aggressiveness or, like in my case, a constant state of frozen fear that has gradually exhausted me mentally and physically leading to chronic illness. My Lizard Brain is knackered from having been exposed to too many life-threatening situations. My Lizard was flat on his back, legs in the air; he had given up and was playing dead.
By expressing your authentic self you can calm the Lizard Brain. If the Lizard is calmer, he can rest and recover. My ever-growing power makes me courageous and counter-acts the habit of fear. This too will calm my injured Lizard Brain, giving me room and space for healing.
I am hopeful that through authenticity, my magickal practice and my developing relationship with the Akhu, the Beautified Spirits, who are always generous, I can look towards a future of health and wholeness. So mote it be.
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.”