… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

Self-Harm

Death and morality

Precisely a year ago today I tried to kill myself. My best laid plans were only thwarted by me passing out due to the high dose of pills in my system. However, before going unconscious I did various things of which I have no memory … things that only came to light through hints and clues on the following morning: food left half-prepared in the kitchen, pastel marks all over the floor from the one exceedingly creepy and disturbing drawing I did while “under” and bruises down the one side of my body congruent with having fallen downstairs. I have no memory from the 20th or so pill (I took over 70) until the time I woke and thought, “Shit. I’m still alive.”

So whereas the blogosphere is probably full of annual retrospectives, I can truly say, looking back at my year, that I started it at rock bottom.

Up to that point, my life had been very much focused on the past and the present. The latter merely being a hamster’s wheel sprint from the former. This year I have discovered the joys of looking towards a future.

Things that have helped me this year: new friends, the continued support of Sancho Panza, my rats, my devotion to Pomba Gira and my relationship with the Hoodoo spirits. All variations of inter-personal relationships of one kind or another. The key has been to establish and maintain connection – something that is diametrically opposed to my intrinsic nature, which is solitary and self-sufficient.

Part of LHP philosophy is to separate yourself from the crowd (or “herd” if you are being particularly Thelemic). LHP practices are greatly focused on challenging your preconceptions and assumptions, shocking you out of ambivalence and throwing you out of your comfort zone. The reason for some people (e.g. Luciferians) reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards is not for some Hollywood-esque drama, but in order to shock and challenge what may be a deeply held belief for you; the only way to truly be free of a former belief is to act counter to it, if you find you can’t or you experience internal resistance, then the belief still holds sway over you. Freedom is the aim! Hence the reputation of LHP practitioners for being hedonistic, sex-mad, drug fiends – they deliberately move against the set morals of society to free themselves of the moralistic hold of the masses. Germaine Greer suggested that women would never be entirely free from the constraints of a patriarchal society until they tasted their own menstrual blood – same principle: to be free, you need to overcome the “ugh” impulse that we have for so many things, those invisible bars of our invisible prisons.

This is all well and good. But if you spend your time solely with the sex-mad, drug fiends then sex and drugs become the norm; they morph into the standard of that particular social group and, in my opinion, you are bound and beholden to break those standards as well. Consequently being a celibate in a sex-focused world can be just as much of a revolutionary act as being a nymphomaniac. Ultimately it’s about being honest with yourself and finding out where your own boundaries are and where you stand in relation to society. For example, I have done Ford’s Lord’s Prayer backwards ritual and felt no shock or fear of retribution from a god who didn’t like to be referred to as dog.

Society at large is comprised of smaller social groups – a fractal of human enclaves. The first step in freeing yourself is to become aware of the groups you belong to, and there will be several: your own family will carry its own set of assumed standards; you will have ingested another set at school or in some other institution like the army; then there are the wider norms of society, those things that are generally accepted as right and wrong. By allying yourself with other groups in adult life you take on further sets of memes. And amongst all this there will be overlaps – consider those overlaps as stronger directives, ones that “everyone” agrees with, or do they? As individuals, I rarely meet anyone who seriously suggests contravening the general social ethic “Do not kill”, and yet societies condone mass killing for reasons of politics, oil, wealth and geographical boundaries … strange that we bother to teach our children that it is wrong to kill at all when each generation must see its country head to at least one war “for the sake of xyz”. Some people actively agree with a “just war” [sic] – are they then not agreeing for that moment to kill? And what about those who are anti-war armchair activists, people who shout in the pub about the injustices in the world, but who don’t even vote? Aren’t they at least complicit through non-action with killing? And does “Do not kill” even limit itself to humans? So, I would say that on some level we are all contravening the rule of not killing, even though for most it is an implicit contravention.

The same applies to other major or minor “rules”, there is connivance on some level with everything we, as a society, deplore … even something as extreme as child abuse is given the nod through the sexualisation of children – look at the consumer products aimed at our children who are so often dressed as little whores, forced to parade themselves in skimpy clothing, tiny hands reaching out for the outsized bosomed dolls with boyfriend-accessory. Yes, everything we condemn is at some level condoned in today’s Western society.

So our world has become a greyscale of morality, neither black nor white; everything is permitted, if you just market it the right way. And if you’re doing what everyone else is doing then what social or moral boundary will you challenge? How are you freeing yourself from the masses when you swallow the Consumerist Philosophy LHP™ ©Seriously Dark? Turning to the Left-Hand Path ends up being a mere fashion statement, a shopping list of so-called depravities, a pseudo-spiritual bush tucker trial of things that make you go hmmm. The more you try to be different, the more you become the same.

By trying to commit suicide I committed a socially accepted taboo. Just me speaking openly about it, probably makes some of you feel uncomfortable. Was I right or was I wrong to try to take my own life? As far as embracing taboos and pushing boundaries go, it’s not something I would recommend to everyone. In that moment, I embraced death completely. In fact I had spent my entire life flirting with death, allowing him to cop a feel every now and then until that moment when I gave myself up physically to him. But either he turned me away or life pulled me back and for the first time ever I have learned this year what it is to want to live and see a tomorrow, to long for a future.

I don’t have any answers from the grave concerning social morality, partly because I find the concept of morality to be such a subjective thing, shaped by time, geography, culture, religion, etc. Who can really say what is right or wrong, except the individual who must create her or his own morality to live by? In creating our own morality, we must also accept that it will clash with another person’s self-created meme. I levy equal criticism against the person who never questions their moral framework as I do against the person who rebels against social norms for the sake of rebelling as if purely the action will transform them spiritually, or worse make them “cool”. But in either case the needs and beliefs of the individual cannot and must not be viewed separate from the communal whole. Quoting Dion Fortune:

In the Aquarian Age, or so I believe, there will be a high degree of individualisation combined with a high degree of social integration. This can only be achieved if each individual has a strong sense of social duty; if each citizen says in the true sense, “L’etat c’est moi” [I am the state]. We can judge the rightness or wrongness of any action by extending it in a straight line and asking ourselves what would happen if everyone did that?”

This Kantian idea of universal morality makes good sense but is rarely, if ever employed, and certainly never employed on a wider social level (cf my point above about “do not kill”). And LHP philosophy, as much as I have gleaned, rarely speaks for society but instead for the individual. Some criticise LHP ideas as a source for breeding anarchy and the downfall of society … maybe, IF anyone ever thought that everyone would attempt to follow the Left-Hand Path, which nobody does. It is a path for a few brave/deluded/inspired/depraved [delete as applicable] individuals. So should society carry the burden of these rebelling few? Why not? Both society and the LHP individual move along a greyscale of morality, as shown above, but it is the LHP-er who walks (or should walk!) with awareness of what she or he is doing, and it is awareness that distinguishes the artist who applies paint with discrimination and focus from the ape who trips over a few tins of paint creating an abstract mess on the floor.

And this is the point: whatever you believe, however you create your morality, do it with awareness and with an artist’s eye to your creation. Be true and honest with yourself and your role in relation to those around you and society in general. Paint the full picture, not just part of it; become aware of all the colours in your moral palette, not just the polar shades of black and white. Don’t paint only blue because you see that your neighbour is painting with blue; and don’t stick solely with yellow for the same reason. Don’t be complacent with your artwork because a slight change in the ambient light (a change in circumstances, relationships, health …) could alter your masterpiece completely.

A year ago I tried to kill myself. Tonight I sit here, writing to you, I am connecting with you. The same night, a year apart, different colours, different light. Black is the hardest colour to paint over; if you’re not careful it shows through every other colour, adding a darker tinge to the brightest shade. It’s difficult not allowing the dark of last year to tint my experience of tonight. It takes merely an inward glance for me to return to that spot on the floor with packets of pills all around me. But these days I am painting with colours – my subjective moral universe has expanded from “I” to “thou”. I am connected to and aware of those I consider part of my community. I am in relation to various people who are important to me. Malkin speaking of Martin Buber’s concept of “I” and “thou”:

I-thou relationships … are our paramount source of spirituality. Each relationship is unique. Each partner to it discovers the “thou” in the other, his or her unique personhood. Moreover, as the relationship unfolds, each one discovers his or her own “I”, just as every child discovers his or her “I”, as a result of the developing bond to parents. This is the relationship that takes people out of the solitude into which every human being is born.

I am no longer entirely alone, although I continue to strive for self-sufficiency. I am growing in awareness of my fellow creatures – human and non-human. And as such, my moral horizons are broadening to encompass more than myself and more than a reaction to Other. Awareness and connection form the needle of my moral compass, and tonight they are both pointing towards an acceptance of life. I don’t reject death (we are too well acquainted for that), but I do hope he stays his hand for another year while I enjoy the full range of colours on my palette.

©StarofSeshat 2012

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Cut the cow shit!

I’m as tall as a cow. I found this out as I walked through the cow fields and one came up and eye-balled me. Cows today must be GM-cows because I’m sure they never used to be that tall, and at 1.75m I’m not short either.

Short. I wish that was the excuse for why I struggle so much with the stiles. Predominantly a British phenomenon:

Doesn’t look too tricky to clamber over, does it? But is it left foot first or right? Which leg do I swing over and when? Usually I get stuck half-way across and sit with a blasé expression, pretending to admire the view while I consider whether to just throw myself off the thing or tackle it limb by limb.

I encountered similar difficulties when getting into the jeeps and pick-up trucks of my family in New Mexico. They live in the mountain desert so it’s high off-roaders only for them. I tried reversing in, but my legs are two short. I tried launching myself in front first and army-crawling my way on elbows over the back seat. Nothing but nothing was elegant. My family found it hilarious. I pursued different options like an alchemist seeking a way to transmute base metal into gold; but my elegance remained tin.

This evening I sat down by the river, watching fish jumping for the evening flies. Four swans floated past, each raising up out of the water to stretch and flap their wings, not together or randomly but one after the other. I saw flowers floating past and thought about garlands of flowers offered on the Ganges. A flock of ravens hiding in a tree was disturbed and raised a great racket as they flew off – I have never seen so many in one group. The pinky-orange sun slipped behind a cloud and I headed home.

On my walk I thought about art group today. There was only me, Woman and Beta Psych, so we just sat and talked. Woman narrowly avoided having her eyes jabbed out with paintbrushes when she TOLD me that I wouldn’t self-harm if I had a boyfriend. I coughed up a fur ball and said, “Cutting is not about being single.” She said other stupid, facile things and contradicted herself, or damned me to hell as irredeemable, by saying that men would be scared off by the intensity of my scars. I’m fucked either way, or not as the case may be. I said, that such people could “jog on” as far as I was concerned, that I didn’t need namby-pamby people who cringed at the sight of my scars around me. Life is too short and there are plenty of people who accept all aspects of me, or who have indeed been there themselves. As an LHP-er I don’t think that I have to surround myself with the twee people to feel good. No I don’t have to be nice about people’s beliefs in angels because that will make me a good person. Angelly-Wangelly stuff does my head in as much as therapy-werapy stuff dressed up under the abhorrent term “life coaching” – both run the triple knife edge of doing nothing, being childish make-believe or doing harm to fragile psyches. In any case you might as well imagine a smurf on your shoulder and listen to what the smurfing hell it has to say to you … you will make just as much progress by channeling your own subconscious that way. You do not invoke an archangel for a cuddle, FFS.

I said, I missed TMIWTM. Woman asked, “What does he give you that you can’t get from us?” I replied, “Everything! I have told him things I haven’t said here, and he knows things about me that no one else here knows or will ever know.” She looked shocked. Beta Psych appeased her with, “One-to-one is very different to a group working environment.” You bet your bejeezes it is. I said that I had never been so emotionally close to a man before. I heard her jaw hit the floor. She doesn’t like TMIWTM. She saw him for a couple of sessions 15 years ago and he told her she needed marriage counselling. 15 years later, she still needs marriage counselling… today she admitted to violence in the marriage on both parts.

Nobody’s perfect. But I do get tired of people trying to heal others when their own lives are fucked; or people in bad relationships telling you that a relationship will sort all your problems; or when people pretend to be open-minded but have surprisingly narrow and sudden limitations. I’m fucked in the head. I know that and admit it freely. You literally read my heart on my sleeve and the state of mind in the scars on my arms; but at least I am honest about it. I don’t bullshit and I don’t play around with other people, pretending to be something I’m not.

If I’m tin, then I’m tin but I keep trying to be gold. And somethings will never change: I will always be as tall as a cow.

©StarofSeshat 2011


Bodies Under Siege: Christ as symbol & beauty in the pain

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.”

©StarofSeshat 2011