Quest: Disarmed

The following entry may contain triggering material ; rape mention.

Last year, I witnessed flabbergastingly compounded unconscionable callous injustice—like most of the developed world that year, but while I understood that stuff going on on the level of nations was bad, it was this awfully petty thing that I kept focusing on. I seethed. I steeped. I’d feel physically ill seeing the usernames of people involved.

And I tried to figure out why. I didn’t have any personal bond with the instigator. I hadn’t been the target, and had I truly stood by the target then I would have let it go maybe around the fifth time she’d told me to drop it. I’d try to glean by what process more involved people who were already over it, got there.

This consuming rage just had to have really been about something else. At least also.

And I swear, I searched.

— Was it too much like schoolyard social shunning for contrived and unsubstantiated reasons, that this event is reminding me that I’m not over yet?
— No, I’m well over that, I just expected more sophisticated conduct than kindergarten.
— Did really nobody else notice that this accuser was so eager to violate boundaries and control people unrelated to the original conflict(s)?
— “Specious” is too generous a descriptor for the evidence and inference: It told me nothing about the target, but a whole lot about what the accuser considered relevant to include and how. Reprehensibly.
— Why hasn’t getting spoken over about what is or isn’t racist against Asians bothered me quite this intensely before?
— So that’s how stupid I sounded complaining, about my sexual abuse by lesbians at 17, to a girl whose stepfather raped her when she was 8.
— I brainstormed a short comic to cope instead, not all that good to know what I’d be accused of had I actually drawn it.
— But sure, let’s censor survivors’ personal expression and networking, because the behavior of potential perpetrators is totally our responsibility. I’ll quit wearing skirts after sundown, too, it’s too easy to access and I would totally be asking for it. This is how to fight rape culture.
— And it wasn’t enough to say “not for me, I’m uncomfortable” and not have to do with anyone who blocked them and forgot about them. If you have to universalize your personal perspective to feel “safe” you’re probably a boundary-violating abuser, and did really nobody else pick up on this? Nobody who claims to be savvy to abuse dynamics? Really? Just stand by and signal-boost a stalker, liar, boundary-violating abuser. Who holds awfully convenient and downright unethical double standards for what extenuating circumstances of a person’s suffering should be considered (to their own benefit) or disregarded (to their targets’ detriment). Well alright then.

But the lattermost possibly unresolved issues led to one of those mindscape quests where I reunited with a shard of me probably, that took the form of an arrowhead and kept voicing a depression script that I thought I didn’t have anymore. One of the pirates returned it to me in the form of a necklace, which I wove into a glove on my hand to keep away from my heart. The glove became a spiked gauntlet welded to my hand, and eventually I had fizzling bolts of black lightning instead of one arm.

Whatever I got out of this event was metaphysically eating me alive.

“Put another glove over it,” my therapist suggested.

The moment I did, a spiked gauntlet appeared on the opposite arm, no additional mindscape questing needed—it was just here for the food. (But that it was on my dominant arm now, which I purposely kept the first one away from, and I couldn’t get it off.)

So I left the metaphors alone and started venting far more directly and publicly—A real inner alchemist wouldn’t have resorted to that. (Theoretically, anger has value because that’s what sets boundaries but really—nobody wants to live there, like this.)

Whenever I think I’m okay about this, something comes up and I’m not.

My therapist, unusually, became less concerned about where this disproportionate outrage truly came from. Instead, the question that session was, “What is this anger calling you to do?”

I thought it was to start speaking out against unsubstantiated accusations, and especially against underlying belief systems that made disseminating misinformation so easy, so commonplace and destructive.

This morning, I woke up and my arms had become arms. I felt okay: contented but uncomfortable because all that anger was gone.

Which just happens, sometimes. As I said, I’ve thought I was past it and then was not. This was suspiciously sudden and easy. But I could pick up on that rage, distantly, like a nudge somewhere—but there was all the rest of that space to occupy with what might bring happiness today instead.

If I get off the rageholic train here, permanently, I wouldn’t miss it. I wouldn’t wonder about that calling I thought was so clear. I wouldn’t look back.

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The Red Shoes

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Dance you shall. Dance in your red shoes ’til you are pale and cold, till your skin shrivels up!

You shall dance in your red shoes until you become like a wraith, like a ghost, ’til the skin hangs from your bones, ’til there is nothing left of you but entrails dancing.

Dance you shall, from door to door through all the villages, and where proud and wicked children live you shall knock, so that they may hear you and fear you!

When people peer out they will see you and fear their fate for themselves.

Dance, red shoes, you shall.

Dance!

The story behind this story, as I’d read it, was that the young Hans Christian Andersen watched a parent make a pair of shoes. The customer, who had provided some of those materials, wasn’t at all pleased. “All you’ve done was ruin my silk,” scolded the customer. The shoemaker Andersen took a pair of scissors to the shoes and replied, “Then I may as well ruin my leather too.”

With that consideration, the story read a bit like the fairytale-writer Andersen avenging his father on a bad customer’s child. It became awfully bleak and full of misaimed moral indignation.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, whose middle name I can never manage to leave out either, redeemed the story through interpretation. It became a cautionary tale, an examination of how to lose touch with one’s instincts and the tragic effects of that loss. Estés called it the hambre del alma, the soul’s hunger, or the soul injury that leads to an often destructive pursuit of some substitute for whatever had been lost.

Much of the material for Estés’ interpretation remains in the Andersen version, which I take to mean something about stories taking on a life of their own apart from authorial intent, if sadistic wish-fulfillment were ever even Andersen’s intent. The tragic heroine, Karen, either makes a pair of shoes herself or receives them as a gift from someone who doesn’t know how to make shoes (but who made them with a kind thought to Karen, who couldn’t afford to buy shoes). A wealthy elderly woman adopts Karen, and has the shoddy priceless soul-whole shoes burnt. At the shoe store with this newfound benefactor, she selects a pair of red patent leather shoes to make up for the ones she lost…even though red shoes are inappropriate to wear to church. The elderly woman has some eye problem and buys them for Karen without seeing that they’re red, and some supernatural character puts a curse on them because the girl continued to wear them to church even after being informed of the inappropriateness. She’s saved from the curse by a woodcutter or executioner—somebody with an axe, anyway—chopping off her legs. (Although the main character begged for that mercy while in the thrall of the dancing curse, that’s hardly a dashing rescue.)

*

I wondered if the alternative would graft well into Queen Myrtha’s backstory, I otherwise knew nothing about. Deadly dances are a part of her character, so if it weren’t exactly the link I thought could be there, I couldn’t imagine Queen Myrtha having no opinion about it at all. At least the Queen would be opposed to the idea of shaming a girl for something she wore?

Giselle met me on the way to the misty wood mindscape. She doesn’t stop anybody, really, she doesn’t even warn or grumble against, she just tends to haunt. She’s a reminder that there’s always another way to go about things, than the way the Queen does it. Giselle doesn’t stop anybody. But this time, Giselle radiated enough worry and distress that I felt as though she was grabbing my elbow and shouting at me to run.

“Red shoes,” explained Giselle, instead, “means that the Queen is holding auditions.”

And Giselle didn’t like it, it seemed, even less than my interest in the wilis, even less than the existence of the wilis (who she never leaves, though I think she can, but would rather stay and dislike it). It was a new, unexpected idea to me. That’s not how I got in.

“No, that’s not how you got in,” agreed Giselle, with an uncharacteristic curtness. More gently, even encouragingly, “You’re not one of us. Don’t frown, that’s the best thing anyone can have said about them!”

That’s the most straightforward she’s ever been.

“But I can still watch the auditions,” I’d figured, since the idea was developing, and I thought I ought to stay with it as much as I could. Why did I keep going to them, knowing next to nothing but their perpetual mood, and (so Giselle said) not even being one of them?

Bless her, but Giselle doesn’t stop anyone.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

The following entry may contain triggering material.

I found the Cauldron forum through a member there named Sharysa, who mentioned it on a tarot forum that I’d joined to…well, supplement my tarot reading. (Five years ago, I’d just run away from my older sibling, got a new deck with the last of my savings from my first Real Job that I’d lost. Just having something in my hands to bounce ideas off really helped. It was the first deck I connected with. I still don’t regret the purchase, though for sure it was one I made without the planning or perspective I never have.)

I had a nascent idea about stories and mythology having profound significance, but I steered as close to psychism and witchcraft as I could and far from devotional polytheism…because I had witnessed devotion around another canon, and wondered, why is that the part anybody would want to copy?

But Manannan mac Lir was the name I had given to a figure from my dreams and some feelings I would pick up on. Our relationship was more that I kept screaming into the etheric for help, and that’s who answered. I owe(d) Manannan my life. But I didn’t consider myself pagan because of it…I didn’t exactly get "my tribe" or "my mothership" feels from pagans.

Sharysa was very open about being openheaded, though, which was about as close as I tended to get. Staying around a Reconstructionist-heavy forum gave me a valuable change in perspective too, better understanding of how religious systems are grounded in culture, the value of ritual customs—but, I joined right before my tarot forum buddy found out they were not a good fit.

And I didn’t think it was fair, how. The most aggressive response to their posts was "you have to go get therapy" whereas I had previously posted that I felt a lot of my difficulty with consolidating new memories came from my begging Manannan to remove my painful memories. Nobody at the Cauldron back then told me to get medicated or get therapy when I posted that, and even I pointed out that "Manannan mac Lir took my memories" was basically "aliens are stealing my thoughts" with tribal tattoos.

Not that I envied the way this lot back then were treating Sharysa, just that I didn’t understand why I kept getting away with doing the same thing, saying stuff that was equally crazy. Another poster put it better, that the most bandied-about advice with the openheaded in those forums then was "trust your intuition to lead you" but when this one poster did, it was suddenly all, "get therapy" no matter how many times Sharysa repeated that they were already seeing a therapist.

All of which I bring up because Sharysa remembered that I spoke up against that sort of thing…but didn’t remember, or, perhaps I didn’t say it outright enough, that I had changed my online name and stopped going to those tarot forums. 

Those tarot forums shut down recently, and I was surprised that my buddy from there blogged about making several efforts to get back in contact, and calling themself a dumbass for not getting my Facebook or e-mail or…and I’m like, "Whoa, buddy! I’m right here! I know your LiveJournals and Tumblr, and even your Facebook but haven’t added you because I didn’t consider us all that close even after being e-quaintances for five years!"

Besides, I was a spiritual douchebag five years ago, especially to Sharysa, on those tarot forums…channeled unsolicited messages from Manannan once (which I apologized for later…in private message, under my new name even come to think of it! XD)

Also, I misidentified a gnome. (-_-‘)

But hey, Sharysa would’ve missed me! Their headcanon Dionysus and Bathala reportedly told them that our parting would work itself out (that second one, Bathala, being the all-father god among the Tagalogs—ethnolinguistic Philippine group, technically the one I’m a part of too, and so is Sharysa. Bathala hasn’t thwapped me, though, so I don’t have a mystic’s headcanon of that deity.) (—Anyway, cut to my doing the digital equivalent of jumping up and down and waving my arms, with alternating doe and puppy eyes. Of course it worked out! I was still here on the other forums, the whole time!)

So that’s something that happened this week. Farewell goodbye, Aeclectic tarot forums! The divine intervention I mentioned, if that’s what it was, has worn off enough so that I do have memories at all again—and so, fond ones. Of that forum.

Songs for the Helrrigan

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Spring Awakening.

The Helrrigan hasn’t shown up in a while, except for one odd dream I had a couple of months ago in which her eye socket was a lagoon. I take this as a good thing, as this fusion god of Hel and the Morrigan generally only drops by when I contemplate suicide.

Although I have technically been contemplating it, it’s been in a more contemplative way. Not so much with a “How shall I…” or “I should because…” but more that it’s theoretically a thing. My grasp of the notion, and relationship with it, is different now. I think the wishcraft would be too, but the songs are the same.

Well this first one at least I discovered more recently than the others. I think it’s one of Florence + the Machine’s more plodding songs but…sounds like the Helrrigan’s vibes, right here.

“Don’t Do Sadness” definitely misses a very significant something to me without “Blue Wind” to counterpoint, but I’m very much liking the ASL revival Moritzes.

I appreciate just how much movement and brightness and life there can be in an uptempo growl-song. When I watch the music video, though, I find myself unsettled. The lead vocalist’s brother had killed himself, from what I’d read. That a song came of it, that’s fair, cathartic, could reach people who need it…and then I imagine what it was like to film the music video, how many takes just to capture the appropriate look of grief, what it would have been like to look at a storyboard so close to the event that inspired the song, casting the family left behind, concept, post-production, editing it all to a marketable gloss and having the artist re-visit the cadence tied to the event over and again.

Listening to the lyrics, I feel that the speaker is saying, accurately in my opinion, “I get it—” ( Hate the mind. Regrets are better left unspoken; For all we know, this void will grow. Everything’s in vain, distressing you…feels so right, I’ll end this all— spot on, and I personally might pick up on a tinge of genre-appropriate anger but not a trace of blame or posthumous shaming). To balance that understanding with how they’re not in such a bad way that they’d actually do the same, retaining instead the dubious privilege of “survived by” status—as in the deceased is survived by so-and-so grieving family members—and the perspective that comes with. (Call your name everyday, when I feel so helpless / I’ve fallen down…but I’ll rise above this, I’ll rise above this doubt, I’ll mend myself before it gets me).

Ramble: A Pop Culture Pagan’s “Peter Pan-theon” and Crystal Gems

The following textwalls were my extemporaneous intro to a Pop Culture Devotional Pagan group. May contain triggering material.

Peter Pan [is] my main canon. Rather canon-divergent Peter Pan, I think my experience would fit better classified as soulbond than pop culture polytheist…and as my “Peter Pantheon” are pirates, structure and hierarchical devotion would sort of go against everything that the crew stands for? [Mutiny is always an option, if not Plan A.] Still, it’s the closest I’ve got or probably will ever get to devotional polytheism.

I highly recommend the novel version by J.M. Barrie, if you can abide the Edwardian-era classism/sexism/racism. As well as being otherwise (ahem) humane, Barrie captured fairy lore well in Neverland, so technically Me Hearties are fairy pirates.

I don’t know whether you have ever seen a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. 

It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murderers, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate-pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine threepence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still. 

On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more. 

Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights. 

While (Mrs. Darling) slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from it. He did not alarm her, for she thought she had seen him before. But in her dream (Peter Pan) had rent the film that obscures the Neverland, and she saw…

Obviously I’m also a faelatrist, but [more in line with] W.B. Yeats’ depiction of faelatry “belief in and/or devotion to the fae” which follows, paraphrased: Believe in the fae? I’m downright annoyed with them!

I also call myself a changeling, and have soulbonded with an original character from original Fairyland in an original fiction of mine who…turned out to be my parent from some metaphysical otherworld, but…I wouldn’t consider myself alterhuman? Alterhumans have my support (as I read a whole lot of alterhuman hate that’s [overwhelmingly most cases] just like…nobody really hurt you, hater, so why just why?) But I myself haven’t been all there, with a-ha moments of alterhumanism explains so much about my struggles with humanning, or yay I have found my mothership kinfeels community or purpose in the cosmos. It’s wonderful when that happens but in myself it’s been more, “huh. eh,” and just…yeah…

[inaudible comment/query]

Hrmm…Me Hearties began with Captain Hook appearing in my meditations and coming off so vital and autonomous.

This was almost 7 years after I read Peter Pan and decided that Barrie had the best grasp of the otherworld as I understood it by intuition. But I didn’t tend to believe that characters were much more than set pieces or heroes. It was really the cosmology and metaphysics of a source material that capture me…characters, I figure(d) were/are just living their lives and were unlucky enough to make the news report in the wrong parallel dimension for it to be an actual news report—or something—but, yeah, celebrity’s lives are their own private business really, though audiences and fans like me (emphatically, because I am very well aware that not all devotees are like me) can relate to or aspire to…what do we call, character, or somebody else’s persona, or projection screen even…

But, when someone appears so inextricable from the aesthetics, I figure, okay, Captain Hook ought to have a crew. The book names every member. So I deliberately constructed sort of “spaces of expectation” for the crew to come in in the otherworld, at the same time I was relaxing into fanfiction about it For Entertainment Purposes Only here.

I made up a pirate queen character to serve as an affable antagonist to Captain Hook for the fanfiction, not, I repeat NOT for Otherworld spiritworking stuff.

Guess who was the FIRST person to appear in my semi-meditations AFTER Captain Hook?? :p Pirate Queen Villain Sue, natch.

So it’s certainly very canon divergent by now. My version of Captain Hook is in a romantic relationship with Ed Teyente, who is a steampunk robot with a soul and has one older brother and two sisters on the mainland. (It’s not all that romantic to ME but it’s the closest word for what they have.) Noodler is a little old lady. Charles Turley [canon-divergent by another name, appears as well as] retains some mannerisms that I understand as Chinese, but being a fairy pirate of course means that I haven’t checked eir passport for citizenship.

Someone in the crew is a werewolf, I keep forgetting who. Skylights is a giant chrysalis hanging in one of the cabins in the ship.

None of the above is in the book, the stageplay, the Disney animated film, any of the other films or TV series…but they don’t seem to want “correction” in how they’re represented, or even really for anyone else to know about it and make prayers or offerings. It’s not closed, it’s certainly not personal and secret to me, but I’m really not going to systematize it either because…I don’t even believe that any of them dropped in for the purpose of helping me as much as they have, they just sail wherever and bother whoever they happen to pass that they feel like messing around with.

Swordfighting lessons in the otherworld, I really feel helped me to not be as stressed by a zealous mainstream-religious family member [in this world] who would put me in a conversational corner and talk at me for three hours about why I should change my religion (and then get angry at me for looking at the clock so often. I looked 5 times in 3 hours!) It’s difficult to describe the feeling of that noise finally, to me, becoming just a noise. Before then, it would really hurt me because I was living with this zealous person in part to get away from my big sis (my only sibling; single mother passed away, big sis started drinking and getting violent and gaslighting me about it to our mutual friends who were her friends first because I had no people skills.) And [that this person] didn’t want to understand anything about my own spiritual experience except to change me, which simply wasn’t possible with all I have been through in both spiritwork and life—though the pressure to do so was really very painful emotionally.

The pirate queen has appeared to me more like a stern conscience. She confronts me with things I have done wrong and prefer to ignore or forget, but also pushes for me to do things that I feel are wrong but are really just pragmatic and not very nice. [Grr how I hate pragmatism, it eats my soul.] She’s big on duty and honor (a personal honor, not something granted or revoked by society.) She’s not a “real” pirate, actually, she has lands and titles and doesn’t need to go pirating. Captain Hook hates that, but also I think admires her for refusing to get too comfortable with being nobility. From what I have gathered, she goes pirating because she has this idea that…the life of privilege and prestige is not a sure thing, so might as well know your way around the wild lands. She has one daughter, who doesn’t approve of what their mother is doing (especially when getting roped into the latest misadventure) and would rather be a full-on fairy princess as their birthright goes…but I personally don’t believe Pirate Princess can just sit pretty even if they tried, so that’s their (plural they) personal/family issue.

Cookson reminds me to be kind, only because he can’t stand being around so many aggressive people and doesn’t want us to get to know each other if I’m just going to be another aggressive pirate. He and Noodler run the kitchens of the ship. Cookson’s lovingly married to Murphy, who is in charge of the cannons and the guns, so they must have worked something out. Murphy only shoots people and wrecks things with explosions when he has to, because he’s really good at it, it’s not really an aggressive thing (hahahaha, but yeah really Murphy’s the chillest guy.)

I don’t really know the rest very well, yet. They’re certainly very personable…Unlike, say, the Crystal Gems, who I only have this idea that I am working with them because I have watched the show and form a headcanon and something in there matches with who I meet with. So a fellow Steven Universe pagan [might] go, “Heh, of course Pearl thwaps you with the very important mission of sorting your laundry!” But it’s not the same way that the Pirate Queen would nag me to do the same? The Pirate Queen comes off more embodied to me, for lack of a better term, and expressive—I can relate to her more similarly as to another human person.

With Pearl…and Lapis Lazuli…I feel as though there’s some stillness and effervescence about them, like potential omnipresence, that makes them more “goddy”? Pearl tells me to sort my laundry as though it’s the most noble and solemn task any human can undertake.

Of course if someone else relates to the Gems like I describe how I relate to Me Hearties, or sense more canon-keepto with Peter Pan characters except for a sheen of holy solemnity…It’s certainly not wrong, it’s just a different experience that I think [hope!] is interesting to put out there.

More Notes on Carl Jung’s Active Imagination Method

It is neither necessary nor desirable for everyone […] to reach the depth of connection to the unconscious at which Active Imagination is required. These pages should not be used as a “how-to-do-it” course, for deep involvement with the unconscious requires guidance from an analyst.

From a certain perspective, everything I write here will be completely incorrect. That is because anyone who reads it too rigidly, without taking into account that the opposite of any statement is always also true, will do violence to the individuality of the psyche.

— Janet Dallet, “Active Imagination in Practice” from Jungian Analysis, edited by Murray and Stein (1982)

[Faemon’s Note: the abovequoted paper is “openheaded spiritworker pagan friendly” on the surface, but has a modern sensibility of not bothering with as well as discouraging thoughts about metaphysical work. Contrast that with early Jungians such as Barbara Hannah and Marie Louise von Franz. Respectively, authors of “Encounters with the Soul” and “Shadow and Evil in Fairytales” the former I quote enough to demonstrate the difference, the latter which has nothing to do with Active Imagination but the author keeps bringing it up anyway! So that readers don’t accidentally do witchcraft. Because That Would Be Bad.]

Jungian psychology held that, in many of the emotional and mental disorders that kept a patient from functioning in society or enjoying life, the way to recover from the “soul injury” that caused such trouble was unique to each individual—and both patient and therapist could find it, if they paid attention to the themes and symbols in the patient’s dreams.

Most of us forget our dreams when we wake up, but that same imaginative psychic (as in pertaining to the psyche) stuff can come up in other ways…or so believed Jung and the Jungians, in the infancy of modern Western psychotherapy. Word association tests, for instance, would be used to catch the thought patterns of a patient; or ink blot tests. These relied on the patient declining to think logically and consciously, for an allotted time so that the underlying subconscious patterns could emerge and be interpreted.

But all of these would be obscure or passive (and not used much anymore.) Jung pioneered a method that worked with both the conscious and subconscious state of mind, that I personally still do undertake and have found helpful both psychologically and spiritually.

The rest of this post quotes extensively from“Encounters With the Soul” by Barbara Hannah, to describe this method.

[Carl Jung] discovered a technique called “active imagination,” which is the subject of this book. I say, very carefully, discovered, not invented, for active imagination is a form […] used, at least from the dawn of history, if not earlier, as a way of learning to know […] God or gods. In other words, it is a method for exploring the unknown, whether we think of the unknown as an outside god—as an immeasurable infinite—or whether we know that we can meet it by contemplating our unknown selves in an entirely inner experience.

As Marie-Louise von Franz comments in the foreword of the same book: “This gives us the satisfaction of knowing that we are dealing here not with a weird innovation, but with a human experience which has been lived through before.” The case studies included mention of Alchemy traditions that use imaginatio ver et non phantastica, an ancient Egyptian document known as “the Dispute between a Man and his Ba”, and a text by 12th century Christian monk Hugh de St. Victor’s Der Arrha Animae subtitled “Conversation Concerning the Dowry of the Soul” and “Dialogue Between and Man and His Soul”…all as though there were ever anything necessarily unsatisfying about the weird and innovative.

I disagree this modern way of expressing an experience ever needs the validation of the old, but I agree to my current method of “questing” being a common human experience really. I was doing it before I thoroughly read up on Jung, but from now on I’ll be more inclined to say that anyone who wants to do this thing “my” way…should really just read Jung, instead. (Faemon’s Note: No wait don’t! I tried to read Jung’s writings, as compiled by Joan Chodorow in the book Jung on Active Imagination…umm, Barbara Hannah is a better writer, so I will keep to quoting Hannah.)

Another main point of Hannah’s is how little it matters “whether we think of the unknown as an outside god (…) or whether we know that we can meet it (…) in an entirely inner experience.” I do agree except that Hannah counters this very point by this passage:

When [Carl Jung] first [turned away from the familiar affairs of our conscious world to face this unknown, unconscious/subconscious] he was horrified to note that the visions which he saw and heard were very similar to the fantasies he had seen overcome many of his patients at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital. At first, he feared that they might overcome him also, and he lived for many months with the fear of madness hanging over his head. This was caused by a repeated vision of great portions of Europe being bathed in a sea of blood. It was only in August 1914, on the outbreak of war [which involved all the countries he had seen submerged in blood] that he realized that his visions of 1913 had been a forewarning of the First World War and did not refer to his own psychology. Thus freed from the terrible nightmare of possible madness, he was able to turn quietly and objectively to the contents of his visions.
Carl Jung was relieved that these morbid and violent fantasies weren’t a sign of mental instability, but precognition…as though precognition of whole countries submerged in a deluge of blood is better than one deeply troubled individual kept more or less to a building with other deeply troubled individu—actually, you know what, I take back my snarkiness and fully agree to this too, precognition is the better way to frame it. So, it can matter. By my cosmology, though, it usually doesn’t matter because I’m an incorrigible earthling: shared understanding, culture and communication makes things fuzzy at the edges, but if my mind is the primary medium by which I have these questing experiences, and isn’t shared (or difficult to share without resorting to some other avenue of transmitting information) because of the nature of the mind world as opposed to the nature of the physical world, then I may as well present it to the physical and societal world as something in my mind. Which, oddly enough, it is. If I’m wrong and it’s an entity crossing over from another dimension, with autonomy and interiority and all that, well, the dissociated positioning I experience would be the same (that it’s my mind, but I can’t fully relate to this person in my mind so it isn’t conscious-ego-me but because this is in my mind this person must —theoretically—be me,) as well as the way I treated the incorporeal other because of it: as having an interiority of their own separate from me, because that’s the experience even if it’s not the theory that gels best with everything else I experience and/or have been taught to interpret.

The personal inner work remains key, as this passage before the how-to explains:

…if we are still indulging ourselves with illusions about who and what we are, we have no chance whatsoever of being real enough to see the images of the unconscious or hear its voice. We need a very unbiased mind, which has learned to value the truth above everything, in order to register and value what we see and hear [during Active Imagination.]
And then to the how-to, or:

A Short Description of the Actual Techniques That Can Be Used in Active Imagination

  • The first thing is to be alone, and as free as possible from being disturbed
  • Then one must sit down and concentrate on seeing or hearing (Faemon’s Note: or feeling, or abstractly thinking) whatever comes up from the unconscious.
  • When this is accomplished,  and often it is far from easy, the image must be prevented from sinking back again into the unconscious, by drawing, painting, or writing down whatever has been seen or heard. Sometimes it is possible to express it best by movement or dancing. Some people cannot get into touch with the unconscious directly.

An indirect approach that often reveals the unconscious particularly well, is to write stories, apparently about other people. Such stories invariably reveal the parts of the storyteller’s own psyche of which he or she is completely unconscious. In every case, the goal is to get into touch with the unconscious, and that entails giving it an opportunity to express itself in some way or other. No one who is convinced that the unconscious has no life of its own should even attempt the method.The technique for both the visual and the auditory method consists first of all in being able to let things happen […] But images must not be allowed to change like a kaleidoscope. If the first image is a bird, for instance, left to itself it may turn with lightning rapidity into a lion, a ship on the sea, a scene from a battle, or whatnot. The technique consists of keeping one’s attention on the first image and not letting the bird escape until it has explained why it appeared to us, what message it brings us from the unconscious, or what it wants to know from us.

Even in the very different practical context I do this thing, I can’t lay out the steps in this process much better than that. That said, by Jungian standards I have been awful: letting the these play out however they will. Sometimes I’ll post a record because I could write it out into something that makes sense, but other times I’ll post a record of it precisely because it doesn’t make very much sense at all even to me…and sometimes I don’t catch it on any record because I don’t feel like writing.

So, here too is an important relationship between experiencing the imaginative, and recording or expressing it.

I believe it works the other way around too: many of us may not have encounters with the incorporeal others had a traveler in these “otherworlds” not gotten some idea of them from an artistic work encountered in waking life or the “mundane” life first. I also categorize in this the experience of an incorporeal person interfacing the corporeal world; as opposed to not dreaming so much as feeling or thinking various sorts of…internal voices that feel as though they originate externally, matching concepts or feelings to words and writing those down; and meaningful coincidences or synchronistic events.

These would all be works and experiences of Active Imagination, the case studies of which have been a fascinating read to me (from Hannah’s book.) Apart from an analysis of the historic documents mentioned above, they also include the cases of patients, their family histories where relevant, their disorders, and how they met who in the otherworlds through Active Imagination—and how that brought them better functionality and happiness in life.

Lately I have been getting the sense that mental illness or neurodiversity, and mysticism mixing together are broadly unfashionable (even incendiarily controversial), even among mentally ill or neurodiverse practitioners of liminality such as myself. Personally, though, it’s been in specific exceptional instances that I have felt moved to assert that they are separate and should be kept so very separate (an episode I had as a child with hallucinating cooked shrimp talking to me was probably not demons, more recent online discussions wherein the first suggestion or several lobbed at someone with admitted multiple psychotic mental illnesses is “maybe demons/gods/curse” and ‘but maybe mental—’ is met with hostility, and I ought to rethink my use of coffee as entheogen now that I switched to a brand that I metabolize as abysmally uninsightful liquid terror.) Generally though I default to liminal work being mental, denotatively and connotatively, at first because profoundly numinous and liminal experiences have been so pathologized (in my unfortunate experience), and lately because this old school of psychotherapy I’m really into studying the system of gets really very metaphysical about it.

 

Stars come down in you and love, you can’t give it away

The following entry may contain triggering material.

My corporeal roommate Cecil recently asked me how I’d planned to kill myself. I’d made numerous attempts, all emotionally serious of course, in the unutterably bleakest mindset—but, not serious in the sense that I’m alive today because I’d been transported unconscious to some hospital; that hadn’t happened. So, from the outside, I was just making up exaggerated stories so that my whinging would get more serious attention, and my melancholy laziness excused (though my birth family would have held that same attitude otherwise, I’m certain.) From the inside, I had tidied away every trace of my history, spent the wee hours of each morning in the bathtub with a kitchen knife to my neck and failing to lean into it enough to break skin; considered bleach, oven gas, what to overdose on, starvation; on the morning of my 18th birthday I’d tried to jump off the balcony of the 22nd floor—planned for it, left everything that had been mine in the stairwell garbage, so there was nothing for me to go back to—and was most abjectly terrified that I couldn’t follow through with it, though every fibre of my being remained in far too much pain, (intractable pain, every waking moment, seemingly only from living,) to endure any alternative.

Because of that, I can’t help but suspect that most apparent suicides are secretly accidents in at least the final conscious half-second.

I’ve finished reading Marie-Louise von Franz’s Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, and it is dated. Jungians remain stodgy about gender binary, of course, but common terms in this text include “primitive”, “crippled”…and Franz openly admits to a childhood imaginary monster being human. Because Franz grew up in a neighborhood that very much lacked racial diversity, it seems.

Many other ideas contained in this text, I considered very intriguing and helpful. One of these being how the dead become evil.

…there is a certain amount of life energy in them which has not been exhausted but has been unnaturally blocked before the proper time. The clock’s spring has broken instead of running down, and that unexhausted life energy turns hostile (…) Therefore even people who during their lifetime were really good people and not possessed by evil, can, out of resentment at having been robbed of life, turn into such a thing if they are killed before their time.

That is why late antique invocations of [curse] magic always begin: “Oh, you gods of the Netherworld, Hades, Proserpina, and you the nameless enormous army of those who killed themselves, or who were murdered, or died before their time.” That is a classical late Greek invocation to be found in most of the magical papyri of antiquity.

I’d also told Cecil of my attempt to hang myself from the closet and a twisted-up bedsheet. There’d been a mirror on the inside of the door, and a wide enough gap around the door that the blue evening light could seep in, and I could watch me hang myself.

To Cecil, I’d joked that maybe a mirror does catch at some shade or fade of people, and maybe a future tenant would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, and move to the closet to get a cookie they’d left in the pocket of their trousers that they’d thrown in there, and when they’d open the door, I’d still be hanging there in the mirror, and they would see me hanging there…and reaching out and screaming, in uncanny harmonics, “My cookie!”

…Cecil didn’t think it was funny, either.

It wasn’t true, anyway; I hadn’t really wondered, until now, what sort of ghost I would have been.

To parse this phenomenon on a level of personality and egoism, the evil dead are jealous. To understand it on a level of egoless power dynamic, the evil dead are embodiments of an unlived life, the subtle psychic energy from that which was meant to be lived out and was not. They embody consequence, without interiority.

Almost a decade after the attempt in the closet, I feel fine. I feel happy! No invisible vice tightening around my skull. My ribs don’t feel like a knife rack. I’m not even wracked with anxieties as I was when I was a very small child up to my mid to late teens.

I did get around to proper Mirror Work, recently: looked into a compact that the Dierne Pallis held out to me and I found, at last—palpable venom and poisonous fumes, a ceaseless scream of raw pain in what sounded like my voice (but from the outside, so…not my voice like I know it), and an undertow of sorrow so forceful as to be inescapable.

To which I said, well, yes, obviously, I hope obviously—that’s me in that mirror, for sure. But there’s a bit more to me now.

I’ve lived out all that—or, a comparative lot of that…unlived (oppressed), unspoken (silenced) life.

No more hallucinated planets made of vacuum, or smoke serpents, or insect clockwork dragon…Okay, there’s a flint arrowhead welded to my fetch’s left hand that’s awfully opinionated for an imaginary inanimate object—but that’s just life.

My ghost would have had all the fury of all this unresolved.

I’m in love. This love is requited. I almost wasn’t alive for this. (She almost wasn’t, either, but declined to develop a concept of an afterlife as a consequence, so I wouldn’t presume to speak over that. She’s reading this right now. I love you, Bartie!) In Franz’s interpretation, my ghost would have carried this corrupted potential too: fears never soothed into strength and courage, a world of insecurities never steadied, joys never lived, discoveries never shared.

But when I used to hear such things from recoverees, about how great they’d noticed life could be with an attitude adjusted to “happier than suicidal” I could only take it as condescending glibness. The only response I could muster would be, “oh how nice for you.” Automated, not even lively enough to have a sarcastic grudge behind it.

So…maybe I can’t claim that we need ghost lore and fairytales about the dead, to express something much bigger than a mind can carry—let alone generate.

At this point I’d shoehorn other tidbits about ghosts that I’d picked up before reading Shadow and Evil in Fairytales. The Tiv people don’t appear to have ghost lore, as Laura Bohannan discovered in the attempt to retell Hamlet to her host family in “Shakespeare in the Bush”. Stephen Greenblatt’s “A Touch of the Real” was more about the culture, and especially the literature (nonfiction and fiction), surrounding ghost encounters in medieval Europe. That’s where I read it outright stated that ghost lore and Christian lore fuses divisively (against all my own intuitions of conceptual geometry): Catholic dogma allowed for the belief that spirits of the deceased wandered the earth and interacted with the living; Protestant dogma held that such apparitions could only be evil spirits in the guise of deceased loved ones. As tensions rose between Catholicism and Protestantism, someone could fall under the suspicion of being Catholic just by making a casual mention about ghosts as though they weren’t evil spirits, and that accusation would also come with not a small amount of political baggage.

…It used to be good enough for me that my family calculated every moment of my life as monetary debt—can’t kill yourself yet because you haven’t turned your education into a career, can’t cut your losses because therapy and psychiatry is expensive and we’re coughing up more than you deserve already okay?!

It was a revelation when I entered a discussion about negative reactions to suicide, and I voiced the standpoint I’d come to in the paragraph immediately above. A respondent turned it around with this idea: If I killed myself, even the threat of it in a mention of planning to suicide…it would cause the people with that attitude to question whether the calculated value of their own lives truly held a meaningful measure. To remove compassion from the approach to suicide (or confuse compassion with condescension) was a way to resist bearing witness to their own weakness. (Protective projection, maybe, on the part of us discussing this. I still doubt that threat of existential angst would endanger anyone who wasn’t, say, predisposed genetically to depression. Projection it may be, but it still saved me from internalizing an idea that wouldn’t ultimately have been helpful. I had made a foothold of it because it was unfeeling, at a time that my feelings threatened to fatally overwhelm me.)

Ghost lore could still factor as a thrill. Some Jungians I’d eavesdropped on lately mentioned an adolescent tendency towards fun fictional violence—as adolescence is a frequent breaking point of societal accommodations, leading to Shadow-possessed rebellion, or a fascination with unsavory ideas that an adolescent had not been allowed to explore—death, for one example, externalized as a ghost in a fictional way that could be mastered.

More mature attraction to ghost lore might have more to do with a grieving process. This isn’t to say the “adolescent” (not necessarily the category, but I haven’t figured out yet what would be) use of ghost lore is the wrong way to hold it, only that the same cultural phenomenon can have different significance depending on the developmental phase in an individual person’s life…or, indeed, depending on the culture.

With Franz’s interpretation…It’s weighing on me, the way it hadn’t before, the cosmically colossal loss that a suicide—even of a nobody like me, then and now, no cyclopes-badgering in between—truly is…when the (Jungian) Soul has an instinct for so much more to be lived out or lived down than the ego can own, especially in a mind of such singularity as a suicidal person’s. Stories provide—or, maybe at least to narrative psychologists, stories have provided—an intermediary for this sobering revelation (in my opinion, anyway—immensely sobering.)

For that, I can almost forgive the negligence of Franz’s Shadow & Evil in withholding judgment on this circumstance described: that it’s traditionally (not only commonly, but ingrained in lore as a trope) oppressed and abused people who suicide, having a communal Shadow laid on them in life, having to go through more of the same after death.

(…) there are many types of ghosts, but the worst are those of people who hang themselves. Generally these are the ghosts of women of poor peasant families who, if ill-treated by their mothers-in-law, or if hungry, or over-worked, get discontented. If they quarrel with their sisters-in-law, or are scolded by their husbands, if they don’t see any way out of their trouble, often in despair they will put an end to their lives. They take poison, or jump into a well, but most hang themselves, and such people make those awful ghosts. Our grandfathers say that the ghost of a woman who has committed suicide always tries to seduce other women, for only thus can it go to the Beyond and be reborn (…) and return to life. Until they have found a substitute they have to wander

This post from last year on Gods & Radicals, “Thinking About the Dead” has a more advanced commentary on this, that I like.