… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

Symbolism

Space: A Social Anthropological Study of Greyfriars Graveyard, Edinburgh, Scotland

 

[Taken from one of my dissertations a couple of decades ago, hence the abysmal copies of analogue photos! All Rights Reserved.]

My choice to study a graveyard was initially influenced by my impression that a graveyard would be distinctive from the usual choice of public places, in that it would be a contained unit with most visitors united by a common purpose, distinguished by a focus on the graves, the history of the site, the kirk or by using the grass-covered area as a place of retreat and leisure. During my study of Greyfriars, I discovered that the graveyard was very much a focal point for the living rather than for the dead, and that the boundaries between the graveyard and the outside world were not solid but mutable.

During my examination of Greyfriars graveyard, I found that I could not rely much on the work of other anthropologists specific to death and ‘graveyard culture’. My ethnography relies instead on theorists such as Levi-Strauss (1962, 1963), Auge (1995) and Douglas (1966). It is particularly Douglas’ idea of purity and danger which underlies the behavioural codes associated with many graveyards; certain behaviour is considered inappropriate such as the frequenting of Greyfriars by “down-and-outs, drunks and drug addicts” (quoting the assistant organist). See Figure 1 for an example of “matter out of place” – material transgressing the accepted values of what is appropriate to the place. Consider also people playing games, who, we were told, would do better to play on the Meadows which was deemed a more appropriate place, and whose behaviour was considered “obstreperous” within the graveyard although appropriate on the Meadows. The concept of “appropriateness” and “inappropriateness” here is important as this qualifies those activities which are thought to be acceptable or unacceptable as defined by generally agreed social rules and values. The same critique of inappropriateness was also applied to the “problem of begging” within the graveyard which was seen as an “abuse of the graveyard” (ibid), disturbing those who are looking for some peace and quiet. Another factor which was disturbing to some people was the Council’s use of the graveyard as a car park (see Figure 2). In our interviews, we found that locals avoided the graveyard in the morning when there were more cars. The graveyard has belonged to the Council since the sixteenth century; it is solely responsible for the maintenance of that area. The Church appreciates the fact that the Council meets this responsibility as the Church would not otherwise be able to afford its upkeep, yet unlike the Church, the Council views this space as a facility to be used as it requires.

I found that a common approach to graveyards was illustrated by Levi-Strauss’ notion of binary oppositions, which I have identified with reference to Greyfriars as pollution/purity, male/female, death/renewal, taboo/not taboo. The graveyard is a place of death contrasted with the need for renewal within the living community, which consequently perceives the dead as a threat to social structure, necessitating the removal of the dead to a place peripheral to that used by the living. For instance, in Madagascar the awareness of the importance of social cohesion is so strong that the dead are not even allowed to be buried alone but must be laid to rest in communal tombs, so that even beyond death social cohesion is maintained (Bloch 1971). In this sense the graveyard is a place of transition away from society where the individual relinquishes her/his living social role. So we can see that graveyards are often perceived as places for the individual, yet also for the community where social boundaries are reinforced through rituals associated with  graveyard culture.

In an interview with the secretary for the Friends of Greyfriars Kirk, who was also author of various guide books to the church and graveyard, I noticed a similar dichotomy between the individual and community, that is the private and the public. However, in the case of Greyfriars this dichotomy has developed since the graveyard ceased to be used for burials. The last burial took place about 120 years ago, from which time the graveyard has acquired a further role within the context of Edinburgh City. Originally a garden belonging to the friars, it was taken over by Mary, Queen of Scots, and presented to the Town Council in the 1560s to accommodate the overspill from St Giles graveyard. The church was built only later and officially opened in 1620. Through its history it was used as both burial ground and communal area, providing an open space apart from the city, used for activities ranging from picnicking to musket practice. After the cessation of burials, the area began to develop a role as a tourist location. The resultant demands on the graveyard gave rise to different levels of perception. I identified three specific perceptions of the graveyard which apparently influenced the approach of visitors and church members.

The three perceptions I found were based on a public/private view of history: firstly, there is a Subjective History based on a personal, therefore private association with the place; for example, a plaque has recently been placed to commemorate the life of Colin McWilliam, a well-known Scottish architect who died in the late 1980s, although he is not actually buried in the graveyard (see Figure 2). Those who knew Colin McWilliam and those with connections to the people buried there relate on a much more personal level than tourists who would view the graveyard as commemorating impersonal figures of history. And yet the Church admits a possible trend in the future use of the graveyard as a place for commemorative plaques to the men and women who are generally acknowledged as having contributed to Scottish culture. In this sense the personal element of such commemorations is minimal, as the campaigners for the erection of those plaques mean to elevate the personal life to a level of historical importance to be shared by all visitors and tourists.

In the seventeenth century, people were encouraged to visit the graveyard for moral edification. The epitaphs and imagery are a constant reminder of human mortality. For illustration of this see Figure 4, noting in particular the cherub leaning on a skull, the angel with an hourglass and the skeleton presiding over all, also take note of Figures 5 – 7. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the graveyard relinquished its didactic role to other civil authorities. Changes in burial forms saw a move towards privacy with enclosed burial areas and mausolea, see Figure 5 (Bury, 1995). But with the cessation of burials in the nineteenth century it would be fair to say that, through the twentieth century, the graveyard has taken on a new didactic and monumental role as portrayer of Scottish pride and history. This second perception, or the Objective Historical view of the graveyard, covers events occurring there as well as the life histories of the people buried there.

However, historical accounts can never be entirely objective but are influenced by the personal perspective of the author(s). This perception of history is expressed on the level of, what I have called, Mythic History. The story of Greyfriars Bobby contains a mixture of objective historical facts and subjective interpretation which enables the foreign tourist, with no direct connection to Scotland or Edinburgh, to identify with the story’s location and, on an artificial level, with the history of Scotland (see Figures 8 and 9). In this way, Mythic History contributes markedly to the construction of the graveyard space as a Monumental Space; a monument to Scottish history. The church itself does not actively contribute to this monumental space. It tries to maintain the image of a religious building rather than an historical building by focusing the historical interest of the visitors on the graveyard while emphasizing the ongoing religious activities within the church. One example would be the event of the signing of the National Covenant which actually took place within the church, but which is mistakenly placed within the graveyard by history books and tourist guides alike. The helpers in the church are ready to explain this misconception, however the literature and postcards continue this tradition of romanticising the graveyard as a monument to Scottish history (see Figure 10). The literature within the church is also proud to illustrate that many well-known people have been buried in the graveyard, as the assistant organist told me, “Anybody who’s anybody is buried here.”

In the early days, the graveyard was situated on the periphery of Edinburgh, but as the city grew it came to be seen as a central part of the city. In our interviews with church members and locals I formed a picture of the graveyard as a place of quiet, a place to get away from the city. Alternatively, tourists saw it very much as part of the city, as part of the tourist package. One account of the tourist bus tour around Edinburgh detailed the graveyard as only part of a list of features making up the City of Edinburgh. One Spanish couple spoke of how they were introduced to the graveyard by a friend who was showing them the tourist spots. They compared this graveyard to the ones in Spain which were also characterised by their morbidity, but now they live in Edinburgh they have come to see it very much as the locals do, as a place of retreat from the hussle and bussle of the city.

In looking at Greyfriars graveyard I found it impossible to confine myself to contemporary perceptions of this space because of the predominant approach of placing the graveyard in an historical context. By taking the history of the graveyard into account, my results lent a diachronic perspective which enriched my study and helped me to appreciate the influences felt today. The graveyard developed through many roles and yet in certain ways still fulfills those roles synchronically by preserving and reproducing its history among visitors and tourists. The innocent tourist may arrive at the graveyard with a perception of that space as another element in forming the tourist landscape of Edinburgh. If short on time, the tourist might leave with no other image except that of a part (the graveyard) making up a whole (the city). However, additional information in books, from guides, or for example, on epitaphs, will, explicitly or implicitly, create a space clothed in Mythic History, bringing together both Objective and Subjective History, as well as the many historical and contemporary roles of this graveyard. History is then relived through the spatial form of Greyfriars Graveyard, parallel to contemporary experiences of the graveyard in its manifold roles as car park, leisure spot, social centre and burial ground.

©MKuhn/StarofSeshat 1995-2020

Bibliography:

Auge, M. – Non-Place: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (Verso, 1995)
Bloch, M. – Placing the Dead (Seminar Press, 1971)
Douglas, M. – Purity and Danger (Routledge & K. Paul, 1970)
Durkheim, E. & Mauss, M. – Primitive Classification (London, 1969)
Herzfeld, M. – A Place in History: Social and Monumental Time in a Cretan Town (Princeton University Press, c. 1991)
Levi-Strauss, C. – The Savage Mind (University of Chicago Press, 1966); Totemism (Beacon Press, 1963)
Malinowski, B. – Sex, Culture and Myth (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1963)
Mathieson, P. – The Greyfriars Story: A Celebration (Friends of Greyfriars Kirk, 1989)
Milis, L.J.R. – Angelic Monks and Earthly Men (c. 1989)
Relph, E. – Place and Placelessness (Pion, 1976)
Steiner, F. – Taboo (Penguin, 1967)

Map of Kirk and Graveyard

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Figure 2

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Figure 10

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Figure 17


Out for blood!

Ferocious Theion Publishing

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

Ferocious Theion Publishing

Image of the cloth hardbound edition of Ferocious. [Courtesy of Theion Publishing]

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. 


Geb, Nut and the role of Shu

I was asked for my personal response on the following well-researched essay: The Symbolic Meaning of the Scene of Geb, Nut and Shu by Joost Kramer

My first response to the text is to question why the author hasn’t tried to determine what is meant by sky and earth. He has assumed that Geb and Nut represent the profane elements and that the separation or upholding of Nut is a cosmological scene, “merely” a creation scene. Even though he queries this, he still does not question what else Geb/earth/underworld and Nut/sky/the stars might represent.

The arching figure of Nut, as he says, ranges from east to west; he identifies the east, her “backside” as he so quaintly puts it, as the origin of birth, the place where the sun rises – the west is the place of the setting sun (where the sun is eaten by Nut – conception was often depicted by ingestion in Egyptian myth) and the entry point to the underworld where the night barge travels, battling Apophis in an eternal fight to resurrect the sun each day. Nut in this sense can be seen as the daytime pathway, or the pathway of conscious awareness.

The fact that Geb is indicated to have Osirian overtones in his title as Lord of the Netherworld is interesting and ties in with my hypothesis above. Geb may be the father of Osiris, but there is a school of thought that all gods are emanations of the gods before them leading back to Atum or to Nun (the primordial watery abyss from which all things came); so I do not see a contradiction in one deity being another and yet being separate. As such I would suggest that Geb represents not only the Underworld and the world of the dead but the deep unconscious, the primordial being within each of us, The Hidden.

The author, in his attempt to explain the separation scene, has concluded it is not a separation scene (although he continues to refer to it as “the separation scene”) but simultaneously has, I think, neglected to consider the symbolism of Shu standing on Geb and supporting Nut. I think the author is correct in seeing a sense of movement in the scene, a cycle of life, the cycle of the day; and naturally within a funerary context it would be easy to conclude that it is merely a representation of the death and resurrection of the corpse concerned.

But what about the meaning for the living. Who is Shu? Interestingly, Shu means “emptiness” or “he who rises up”. I would posit that Shu is us, that we are Shu and only by standing with our feet in the underworld, while supporting the stars (cf Aleister Crowley – Every man and every woman is a star) can we engage ourselves with the cosmic movement of deity, really align ourselves with the daily triumph of Atum over his enemies and the nightly battle with the primordial demons of our inner, hidden selves. Shu is also identified with “air”, an amorphous thing that can only be sensed by the external movement of say the wind, but without which we cannot survive.

Within this scene, I would not see separation, but an absolute necessity of joining; an emergence of the Übermench, the human being that takes an active role in the spiritual cycle: a person who becomes empty and whose spirit is raised up – but just as a living person cannot progress by solely burying their head in the ground of the dead, neither can they progress if they give into the purely conscious, profane world with its beautiful distractions. It would be so easy to spend a life just watching the sun moving across the sky and to watch the twinkling stars without seeking beyond the light reflecting off our own retinas.

©StarofSeshat 2012


THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR

If you wish to copy this text, please link back to this blog and accredit me, the author. Thank you.

The Pagan Calendar is divided into eight ritual and celebratory events: four major and four minor celebrations that mark the passing of the year and celebrate a phase in the relationship between God and Goddess. This is sometimes referred to as the Wiccan Ritual Year or the Wheel of the Year. Since many pagans who celebrate these festivals are not Wiccan, we shall refer to it as the Wheel of the Year. Why a wheel? This is because the symbol that illustrates the sequence of the year is usually drawn in a circle, representing the continuous coming and going of the seasons and the years. A line has a beginning and an end, but a circle has always represented The Infinite.

[Image courtesy of Golden Valley Art]
[Copyright ©Golden Valley Art]

The four major festivals are called the “Greater Sabbats”, whereas the remaining four are “Minor Sabbats” and fall on the solstices and equinoxes.

These eight festivals of the Pagan Year are distinct from the “esbats” or monthly marking of the new moon and full moon.

Some pagans celebrate the festivals on the dates as dictated by the Gregorian Calendar, other pagans will celebrate the festival at the closest full moon, and others will look to the specific astrological conjunctions that mark the beginning of a festival.

According to Ronald Hutton (seminal historian on paganism), there is no evidence that pre-Christian people celebrated the eight festivals of the year. Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh were originally Gaelic quarter days. The concept of adding the equinoxes and solstices was adopted by modern Gardnerian Wicca in the 20th Century which also brought it more into line with Neo-Druidry. Many native peoples will have marked the equinoxes and solstices, which are observable in nature, but the actual eight-part Wheel of the Year is a more modern creation.

Some names for the God: Sun King, Green Man, Horned God, Father Nature
Some names for the Goddess: Mother, Maiden, Crone, Wise Woman, Mother Nature, Lady of the Wild Things

Samhain (31 October – 2 Nov)
Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) is considered the Pagan New Year. This is a time of celebrating the lives of those who have passed on and is a festival of the Dead. There is a general belief that the veils between this world and the afterlife are thinnest at this time of year, and as such it is a perfect time to welcome back the Dead, to remember them and hold feasts and celebrations in their honour. In paganism, death is very much a part of life, and is not seen as something morbid; it is a time to contemplate life and death as a sacred whole.
The old year dies and dissolves for the new year to begin. Death is merely a reminder of rebirth and how the Wheel of the Year keeps turning, even beyond the grave.
Other names: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Feast of the Dead, Ancestor Night, Festival of the Returning Dead

Yule (19 – 23 December)
Yule, which is also known as the Winter Solstice, marks the longest night of the year when the sun is at its lowest point. Between Samhain and Yule, the Lord of the Night (symbol of death) has ruled and the Goddess in her Crone aspect has given us wisdom. Now it is the time when Light returns and the Great God/Sun or divine male is reborn. It is one of the four solar festivals.
Other names: Winter Night, Winter Solstice

Imbolc (1 – 2 February)
Imbolc (pronounced Im-olc with a silent “b”) celebrates the land awakening and the growing strength of the Sun/God deity following his rebirth at Yule. The Goddess is venerated in her maiden aspect (her three aspects being: mother, maiden and crone/old woman). It is a time of cleansing, purification and dedication. The young god approaches the maiden goddess with desire; their love igniting the creative energy we see in spring.
Other names; Candlemas, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Day

Ostara (19 – 23 March)
An equinox is when the sun crosses the celestial equator – day and night are of equal length: for pagans this is a solar festival when the powers of winter and darkness are equal to the powers rising to bring summer and light. The Horned God rides forth on the hunt and heralds in a time of celebration. Winter is behind us and the potential for life and growth abounds.
Other names: Lady Day, Festival of Trees, Spring Equinox

Beltane (1 May)
Beltane is a time when the Great God and Goddess are united in sexual union: the mystery of the Sacred Marriage of God and Goddess, the Hieros Gamos/”greenwood marriage” that is often replicated within ritual through the year. Hence this is seen as a fertility festival, represented by such rituals as dancing around a phallic maypole. The God impregnates the Goddess creating the potential for life, the harvest of the land later in the year.
Other names: May Day

Midsummer (19 – 23 June)
The summer solstice marks the midsummer point of the year when the sun is at its highest point: the longest day in the year. One of the solar festivals; this is when the God is crowned Lord of Light and is at the height of his power. Having known complete love with the Goddess, he now turns and sets sail for the Land of Rebirth. From this point his powers start to wane and the days become shorter. The Goddess prepares to give birth to the fruits of the land, the annual harvest.
Other names: Litha, Summer Solstice

Lughnasadh (1 – 2 August)
Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-na-sah) is a grain/corn festival or festival of the first fruits when pagans give thanks not only for food, but for all gifts and blessings, granted by the bounty of the fertile Goddess of the Land.
Other names: Lammas, Festival of the First Fruits

Mabon (20 – 24 September)
Mabon is an equinox, which is when the sun crosses the celestial equator – day and night are of equal length: for pagans this is a solar festival. As the days lengthen, pagans once again consider the darker faces of God and Goddess. It can also be a time to honour old age and the coming winter. This is a second harvest celebration, giving thanks for and sharing the fruits of the earth to ensure the blessings of God and Goddess through the winter.
Other names: Autumn Equinox, Second Harvest, Wine Harvest

Recommended Reading:

Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, by Scott Cunningham
Hedge Witch: Guide to Solitary Witchcraft, by Rae Beth

©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