The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury

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Cover art for “The Halloween Tree” by Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon

I have actually never read this short story. The version I know best is the Hanna-Barbera animated TV movie version from 1993, which I watched as a child and liked quite a lot, and the more I learn about it now the cooler it gets. Ray Bradbury, who also authored the book lover’s dystopia book Fahrenheit 451, of course wrote the short story on which the show was based; and he wrote the script for the show, and provided the voice for the narration. The psychopompic Grim Reaper type character, Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, was voiced by Leonard Nemoy (who played Spock on Star Trek before Zachary Quinto took up the torch.)

The story basically goes that a group of friends gear up for trick-or-treating, only to find that one of their number, Pipkin, is… well… dying. From what I recall, everyone’s life is represented by a jack o’ lantern gourd that grows on some tree, and Pipkin’s ghost (not technically, though, as he’s not dead yet) steals his so as to keep it away from Mr. Moundshroud. Pip’s friends and Mr. Moundshroud chase Pip’s ghost through space and time, conveniently providing a platform on which Mr. Moundshroud can educate them on the origin stories of their costumes.

From what I’ve gathered, Ray Bradbury himself wasn’t much of an expert on, for instance, Egyptian history for the mummy costume, or else academic opinion has progressed since the time of writing (as it does.) The cartoon traced the title of Jenny’s witch costume from “the one with the wits,” which was a palatable fabrication.

Still, I really appreciated The Halloween Tree for bringing such an easily digestible meta-analysis of the Halloween spirit. Appearances could be deceiving or transformative, speaking to the choice of costume. Monstrous gargoyles, like what Wally dressed as, turned out to be necessary for the protection of the magnificently beautiful Notre Dame cathedral. The ultimate rite of passage, as shown with Ancient Egyptian mummification and the festivities during the Day of the Dead in Mexico, is nothing to be feared because it’s been a part of life throughout history and all over the world.

…Okay, death is still to be feared, but it doesn’t have to be mysterious.

…Okay, death is still mysterious. What am I trying to say?

Death, or anything we might fear, can be turned into a cute costume, for kids to sort of sit in whatever depth of that mystery, whatever level of challenge, that they’re comfortable with. Halloween is the time that those who celebrate it can inject a bit of fun into fear, or set themselves up to face fear and go ahead and fear if that’s the sort of consciousness that a person (at any age) might be at. We don’t always have to wait for a potentially devastating occasion to face our fears. We can mock it up, with candy and fandom.

Lately, I’ve even somewhat taken to the candy and fandom parts, and forgotten the fear.

Vorpal Sword 3/3

swords

It doesn’t matter that my weapon is a sword. At least, it doesn’t matter in the way that I thought it would matter. I thought, “Why a rapier? My short stature wouldn’t have an advantageous reach: why not a spear? I don’t like direct stabby-slashy confrontation: why not an archery set? I don’t like combat at all: why not something defensive like an invisibility cloak, or a shield? Sure, I wanted a sword, but I wanted a katana.”

My sword does have ranged attacks. I don’t “blast” out billows combatively without my hands—my sword does that. My sword also creates protective bubbles and warps, so that’s a defensive function that doesn’t suit the symbolic form. That’s archery and shielding together, and I don’t know how or why that is.

The form that it takes, if it means anything, means something else that I haven’t figured out yet.

So, I propose a notable difference between the real world and otherworlds: form doesn’t always determine function.

I noticed that there’s a certain kind of anger that arises in me, that seems to correlate to the sword’s blade lengthening. There’s another kind of anger that correlates to the sword’s color darkening. Other times, I feel like I won’t get carried away with any sort of anger, and my sword turns into something that looks like silver or ivory. (It doesn’t turn into a flower, or anything like that.) This started on New Year’s eve, 31st of December 2012.

In mid-January of 2013, my sword took on the appearance of a gold hilt with a red gemstone: definitely not my style, but there was a rightness in that form. Or so I thought. When I descended into the surreal with the red-gold sword in hand—I was wandering the most unhappy grade school I had ever attended, and not voluntarily—I encountered what appeared to be an aggressive figure. I also identified it as an acceptable target, because (I sensed) it would continue to be aggressive and do harm without any capacity for negotiation—so, I ran it through with my red-and-gold sword. It only grew bigger, and appeared jauntier, without necessarily becoming friendly.

I snapped out of Surreality, and haven’t seen the aggressive figure again, but I figured that this was yet another example of form defying function in Fairyland. To wit, when you attack a target with the intent to damage, that target shouldn’t get healthier.

It continued to bother me that this had no name. I could think up of some way to refer to it or another, but it would always feel vague or wrong.

In September 2013, I was walking around the mall with the extended family. We passed by a hardware store, and I saw a wrench. We chatted, had dinner, and I recalled that the red jewel on the gold sword sometimes pulsed like a heart.

I named it Heartwrench, and while I recognized it when it was in my hand the next time, the form had changed to one even more cumbersome. It was a broadsword, with a central fuller groove.

Sometimes it would darken, and I would feel the cursedness of the sword being its main feature, and then it would be useful for attacking. Other times it would redden, and I would fall upon the blade and come out feeling healthier.

It remains terribly ugly and not at all the weapon I would have chosen, but it’s mine–perhaps it’s even me. I don’t need to use it, I’m even loathe to use it—but I like having it. I never thought I’d be like that.

I guess Heartwrench represents the warrior ideal, which is that it’s an innately noble and harmless thing to have a warrior’s spirit. To be a warrior does not mean just being a mass-murderer with good public relations. Rather, it’s a philosophy that adds fullness to life…I’m guessing. I haven’t quite figured any of this all out yet.

Later on, I consciously recalled this “black, red, white” psychological jargon that I’d read in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves, and “nigredo, rubedo, albedo” that my own therapist had mentioned. When I finally got around to looking up alchemy, I found some version which had four color-coded stages: black, white, yellow, and red.

The symbol for psychological alchemy was more applicable to my psyche than I’d thought, then.

Vorpal Sword 2/3

 

01 December 2012

First, for Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family, Miasma didn’t say anything that renewed my trauma or even offended me, and I didn’t spontaneously hallucinate bird-winged lizard knights standing between us just so that I could stand to be near her. (That’s another story). I mention this in order to present conditions wherein I am perfectly sane and fine, in Miasma’s presence! Unlike other times, when… well, bird-winged lizard knight, because it appears that I can’t bear to be anywhere near Miasma, otherwise. Although, it was just the one. There wasn’t, like, a flock of them.

So, this was odd that less than two weeks later, the extended family then invited both of us to a casual dinner.

The invitation wasn’t the strange part.

The dinner wasn’t the strange part.

The casualness was a bit forced, but that wasn’t the strange part.

When we all sat down, I sensed–no, more than sensed, I witnessed–a dark stormcloud that rolled and billowed around Miasma, and it extended towards me, to hover above and then around me.

At this point, I also want to clarify that I have developed some mundane ways to sense and resolve conflict. I can make a note of muscle tension, and physical pains, in my own body and interpret it as the effects of cortisol. Deep breathing, or massaging myself, can alleviate this affliction. I can hear words and interpret concepts, and then talk it out with other people with a sentence constructed like so: “When you X, I feel Y because Z.” This is supposed to break down many interpersonal communication barriers. Additionally, I can interpret my dreams as a collection of symbols for my inner state in the face of waking life conflicts, and sort it out in myself rather that outside…

This wasn’t a dream. I could interpret it as such, because it was a very strange thing to witness while awake. And, there are reasons for it not to be there: Miasma isn’t an extensive practitioner, to my knowledge as Miasma’s sibling, which isn’t much or else we wouldn’t be estranged. My psychic mentor (ex-mentor now) had taught Miasma some visualizations, so that somebody else could help him prevent my going out-of-body, and neither of them told me more than that, but that was a few years back and I doubted that he would mentor Miasma much more than that. Yet, this stormcloud behaved… very… skillfully.

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Admittedly, I didn’t confront Miasma about it afterwards, because, on the social level, I very much dislike any and all interactions with that person whether so-and-so thing said was intended the way it was understood (conveniently for Miasma-on-the-offensive, it never was)—so, what more with something like this? Language actually exists. What I describe isn’t merely something that “I see that no one else sees”. If no one else sees it, then it doesn’t exist and I am at fault for being out-of-touch with reality, and I only upset myself. Those are the rules. I only play when I share my experience, so… no, I won’t, not then and there, not to that person.

Here, now, I will express this certainty: A stormcloud tried to eat me, and I believed that it came from Miasma and not from my imagination of what Miasma can throw at me, even though it very much sounds like something that I would merely imagine Miasma throwing at me, because we have issues. According to Miasma, hers are bigger than mine.

Did I mentioned that I had a sword? A sword that, when stuck in the ground, (in my mind–the sword in my mind, the ground in my mind) it grows a bubble-shield that feels far more effective than anything I ever consciously made? I could make a bubble in my mind but that never had any sort of protective effect, not until I found the sword.

Even if I wasn’t doing much more than hallucinating, then, at least I could hallucinate a solution. That would be my point, except at this point in the story, I would speak too soon. There was something about my sword-generated bubble that indicated to me that it wouldn’t hold up effectively– or wasn’t completely holding up effectively– against Miasma’s cloud. So, I visualized pulling my sword out from the ground. This diffused the shield, and I changed my strategy to something I’d read but never practiced.

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The techniques were deeply rooted in the visual, spatial, and temporal. The writer explained “psychic attacks” as a garden hose. Instead of attacking what was coming out, instead attack the extension towards you. This should turn the attack away. I tried, even though my present experience of the cloud was that it was not shaped like a garden hose. When I scanned for parts that could be considered “for extension” and not “for attack”, and attached myself to the concept of “seeking target”, and told it to “seek another” with the force of my thoughts. That simply didn’t work. The attack itself had target-seekers at its teeth.

So, I resorted to the final strategy I remembered from that tutorial—-forgetting the sword, forgetting the analysis and suggestion, and simply reaching for a billow that I felt deep in the ground beneath my feet, pulling it up—and around—and cocooning myself in it.

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Immediately, I ceased to suffer. I didn’t feel put upon by any cloud. I no longer could see any cloud, or sword, or cocoon. I still felt on edge, but that was emotional rather than intuitive. Miasma appeared to be as fine as she was on Thanksgiving. Nothing was pulling my attention to the otherworlds, and I couldn’t even see the very thing in the otherreal that seemed to be keeping me comfortably out of attunement with the otherreal (and surreal, where most of this battle took place.)

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Some Explaining to Do

 

When the surreal doesn’t come to me, I find assistance to let me go to it. I probably shouldn’t, in case the surreal swallows me up only when it has something worth imparting that I need to attend to and therefore must pay attention to, but I usually enjoy just being there nowadays, so I do direct some conscious effort to facilitating exploration of that world.

Audio recordings of guided meditations help me immensely, and the ones that I like best usually lead to a meadow. I’d described it before: the memory of a tree from my grade school playground, beside the lake from my mother’s friend’s summer house.

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Lately, though, I’ve felt that the tree and even the actual summer house being there made it feel too crowded.

So, I walked around looking for another meadow.

Where I started from used my memory, and so beside my mother’s friend’s summer house was a dirt path that sloped upwards.

There was never a stairway.

Well, now there was, and I didn’t put it there. Not consciously, anyway. The steps were cut from something like sandstone, and built into the coarse wall of a cliff by the ocean. Wasn’t I in the mountains? Wasn’t that ocean and sandy shore, a lake with clay banks just a few moments ago? Weren’t the slopes gentle, not these tide-crumbled bluffs?

Those sudden and surprising changes could be interesting.

And then they wouldn’t be, because as I ascended the steps, I sensed a movement behind me, and from a cave in the cliff emerged a tall, cloaked figure.

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It was a very tall cloaked figure, and the cloak was black unlike in my drawing.

It blasted something out at me, a sort of flame I guess, which I turtled myself up against with Heartwrench (my sword that makes protective bubble-shields when the point gets stuck into the ground.)

It didn’t insist upon defending its territory. It just straightened up and ambled on past me and the stairway, all fifteen feet of it.

I followed the stairway up to a meadow, where a sort of round clearing had been sort of paved by polished panels of some light wood. I seemed to have walked in on some sort of meeting…

That was a few days ago. Today, I returned and the clearing was once more uncrowded except for Foxglove. For some reason, I had a parasol and was dressed in some Edwardian-era gown.

PIC_1793 The tall cloaked figure was there, too, and it seemed humanoid-shaped but I can’t remember if it was just wearing a very plain masque.

So, I asked Foxglove, “Do you know what that is?”

Foxglove only gave a slight knowing smile, a slight affirmative nod. He continued to watch the fifteen-foot-tall cloak pass by the meadow, I guess in the same way that corporeal-world people sometimes stop to watch somebody busking.

I watched with him, except that I considered this sight much, much stranger than busking. “So, what is that thing?”

Foxglove did answer, but I didn’t understand the syllables. I tried to get him to repeat himself, but he wouldn’t.

I nagged, “Why don’t you want to tell me what it is?”

“Because you’re too bloody cerebral! It doesn’t translate.”

So, that got me thinking about the process that I use to understand and communicate with characters in the surreal world.

In my mind’s eye, an image simply comes to me: Foxglove’s mess of wavy black hair, the angles of his eyes, his uncommonly pointed chin, and a ghastly complexion that’s white as paper.

The same isn’t necessarily true for voices and the content communicated. They usually feel more like ideas transmitted first, accompanied by some expression that I can witness. So, if instead of writing: “Because you’re too bloody cerebral. It doesn’t translate.” I wrote: “You rely on logic far too much. You wouldn’t understand something like this.” Or, “You’re waaay too heady. I couldn’t explain.” It wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate, because I didn’t hear any actual words. I only caught at ideas.

Somehow, though, the general idea has a cadence and quality that I tried to capture using the sentence fragment, the use of “bloody” as intensive rather than adjective, the neutral observation phrasing of “It doesn’t translate” over “You wouldn’t understand; I couldn’t explain.”

When he spoke the syllables that I could not understand, I could see his mouth moving and sense some ideas being transmitted, but it was all a garble. It was a garble, though, that I could hear with my mind’s ears. I’d wanted Foxglove to repeat himself so that I could catch the exact pattern of consonants and vowels that I’d heard as the garble, so perhaps the explanation of this tall cloaked creature’s habits, motives, uniqueness and so on–all that could be understood, but the word for the creature itself would be otherworldly (or should I say “other-wordy”?)

Apparently, it doesn’t work that way.

A rare couple of times, the words did just come to me. One bad day in the corporeal world had people calling me all sorts of names that I didn’t give myself, and I went into the surreal and took it out on Foxglove, confronting him with, “You’re the part of my psyche that’s out to turn me into an immutable heterosexual and then convert me to monotheism, aren’t you. Who I am now is getting crushed to death by cultural pressure, and you’re the harbinger of a future version of me who would spit on my own grave but nicely and then project so much unnecessary suffering on anyone who seems to be like I am now.”

His, “No,” was a concerned murmur, followed by another that was personally amused but recognized and respected what an awful day I’d had. “No.” But I’d heard the words first.

Another time, I made a momentarily bad decision for the wrong reasons, and Foxglove called out my name in a panic. Not the idea of, “Alert, you!” Or, “Radiating sudden emotional reaction!” But my offline name that my mother gave me, the one that goes on my birth certificate, which I’d actually never told Foxglove and didn’t think he’d use if he knew because I don’t identify with that name.

Most of the time, though, I do get the sense that I’m mostly missing out on stuff that doesn’t translate.

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Vorpal Sword 1/3

swords

25 August 2012

It didn’t feel like falling asleep. It really felt more like rolling over and falling off the edge of the world. This was not my usual transition into dreaming. I remember that my mind followed the feeling of motion, into a dream-body of mine as the waking world was suddenly and completely shut out. That was a little disconcerting: I had been ready for bed, but had been fully awake only a moment ago. What if this happens again while I’m walking in the middle of the road, or cooking something with real fire, or something?

I was in some room lit up everywhere by this steady red glow from the walls. I’d seen this red glow before, once, years ago, during one of the first nightmare sleep paralysis experiences where I also sort of went out of body. I never figured out exactly what it signaled, but take it as something unpleasant and out of the ordinary. The room—that appeared more like a mix of my childhood home and the apartment I had just fled—was filled with giant black beetles, swarming the walls and around a silhouette in the corner. I could make out a humanoid figure, with two horns curved upwards.

I mentioned before that I have a couple of dream weapons, the larger of which I use for larger-scale battles–a white-handled katana that I named Mercy. So, I used it now, slashing across things, building up the energy in the sword to blast out clouds of white ball-lightning… those cool stunts that usually end in a satisfactory victory and I don’t dream of those enemies again, at least, not for a long while.

For this battle, though, they wore me down. There were so many of them, the beetles, and they just kept coming, and while I could keep them at bay I noticed that my efforts were keeping them less and less bay-bound. And… I didn’t want them scuttling on my skin. I mean, eeurgh. So, I decided to fly out the window instead. The scene outside was of a peaceful night, over my childhood neighborhood. So, by then I must have been dreaming. The red-light critters didn’t follow me, it was like they were really confined to my room in the dream of my old neighborhood.

28 August 2012

Since then, I’ve dreamed of leprechauns, Spanish donuts dipped in hot chocolate, a castle of my own with sparkly violet stonework everywhere, Snow White from ABC’s TV series Once Upon A Time discussing lace lingerie with the one-eyed aunt from Pushing Daisies on a long pedestrian bridge between the fairytale land and the real world* (you could see the cities), and ballet dancing with emerald green pointe shoes. That has nothing to do with anything.

The dream that does having something to do with the previous one, was of me walking around the mall where the waking life, corporeal person that I was upset with, moved me to tears with his verbal bullying, all these months ago. In the dream, in almost exactly the same spot of that humiliating waking-life event, I found a sword stuck in the ground.

I pulled it out and just kind of decided “finders keepers.” It was almost like a rapier, long, thin, and double-bladed, with a black hilt, the bottom half of which was inlaid with gold squiggles that looked to me like narrow wreathes of flame.

29 August 2012

Seriously, though: in waking life, the only thing I really know about swordfighting is that the blunt end goes in your hand, and the pointy sharp end goes into your attacker.

So, sometime later– just now woke up from what I’m about to describe, as a matter of fact– still non-lucid, I just spontaneously dreamed of barging back into that red room with all of the beetles, and holding ready with my brand new (unnamed) sword.

This time, all the beetles (which were still there) just stopped moving. They weren’t dead, they just sort of all turned to see, but didn’t attack. And if they aren’t attacking… I don’t want to. So none of us moved for several awkward moments. I don’t know if this had anything to do with anything, but the horned figure was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, I relaxed a bit, and sort of got the impression that the beetles were waiting for my order, because they saw my new sword, or something.

But we remained at an impasse until I woke up.

Considering that this all converges towards that person who I had been so upset with, I’ve considered commanding all of the beetles to swarm and torment that corporeal waking-life person, but since I’ve fought the beetles before, and that was unpleasant, I reconsidered if I really have that much hatred. But then I figured, this was all much too well-tailored to my psyche, so I might as well do it because it would make me feel slightly better and have no ill effects on that other person really.

30 August 2012

I dreamed of that room again, this time with the horned thing present, and I called across the room to it–just out of curiosity, it wasn’t a challenge–asking if it liked my new sword. It responded by shooting giant grubs and maggots at me from its midsection. They were slow, but definitely aggressive, so even though I felt bad about killing what I essentially understood to be babies… I hacked at them and the pieces didn’t move. And the horned thing kept shooting more at me, which I just cut in half in mid-air while I ran towards him. The closer I got, the more frequently it shot, until I stabbed at the shadowy part where I hoped would be under the rib (since it was humanoid-shaped) and into the heart. Then I swung upwards, because the ribcage if it had any bones, was that frail, so that I essentially sliced the upper half in vertical half. And then it exploded. When I set the sword down in the ground, because it didn’t have a sheath, it made a bubble around me… just as a few of the beetles flew into it, because they’d been trying to fly at me, because they were all angry again. I told them that whatever I just killed, it was its own fault, because I was just trying to have a conversation.

07 September 2012

The rapier remained unnamed, and I had been feeling an aversion to using it. I haven’t needed to use it, and it is definitely more effective than my katana, perhaps because I found it in the depths of my psyche instead of forging it at a conscious, lucid, ineffective level of personal experience.

Whenever I expected it to be present, whether in a dream or in waking life or somewhere in-between, there it would be. When I forgot that I had one, it wouldn’t be anywhere. When I had it, I would also consistently feel it: the thirst of its blade, the scream of its presence, and the nigh inviolable shape of its protective bubble. That wasn’t something my katana did.

I’d been play-training with its bubbles since then, in waking life, visualizing myself sticking the sword point in the ground and seeing if I could make a blue bubble, a black bubble, a white bubble, make it spiky… It was fun, and I could actually feel protection working on another level.

For all its inspired efficiency, it bothered me that I had no name for it, and that it had no sheath. If I thought up of either, it would just feel wrong.

 

 

 

* On the 22nd of August 2014, I had deja vu for this exact dream while walking this bridge overpass from a rail transit line that I had only just discovered. Snow White wasn’t there, the aunt from Pushing Daisies wasn’t there, fairytale land wasn’t there, the ocean beneath the bridge wasn’t there, and the city was different…but, the bridge was exactly the same. It was like a two-and-and-half-minute deja vu moment.

Vorpal Sword 0/3

 

Granny Weatherwax had never heard of psychiatry and would have had no truck with it even if she had. There are some arts too black even for a witch. She practiced headology—practiced, in fact, until she was very good at it. And though there may be some superficial similarities between a psychiatrist and a headologist, there is a huge practical difference. A psychiatrist, dealing with a man who fears he is being followed by a large and terrible monster, will endeavor to convince him that monsters don’t exist. Granny Weatherwax would simply give him a chair to stand on and a very heavy stick.

—Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

 

12 November 2011

For as long as I can remember, I have dreaded and feared this invisible shadow, this inaudible chord, these intangible bonds. Perhaps these were all just in my imagination, but this consideration did nothing to assuage the fear. When my imagination gave these form, however, then they felt like something that I could fend off with that same. Sometimes.

For one example, the dread of walking a hall at home after lights-out took on a more specific location, and the form of a hooded figure with a gaunt face. I could imagine a wall of electricity between this figure and myself, and this accompanied with the conviction that going near me was against some sort of playground rule. Whether that conviction created the wall, or the wall supported that conviction I don’t remember. Sometimes the figure would be caught in the electric net, and this would give me some time to run past it until it lost me. Other times, it would float right through or appear within the bounds, laughing, and I wouldn’t know why the wall wasn’t working this time. I certainly didn’t want anxiety, conflict, or even adventure. I tried to imagine it all away, but whatever logic, courage, or dismissive attitude I could muster would crumble into gut-wrenching horror. I didn’t want this, but I didn’t know how to exorcise it.

I grew out of it, but maybe it did have something to do with the depression I fell into much later. I worked on recovering many aspects that most people have naturally, and just didn’t have what I needed to grow into self-sufficiency. My only parent died. My only sibling continued the pattern, adding substance abuse to the mix, and systematically tripped me every step forward that I could take. I wrenched myself out of there, no plan, no skills, no real connections—to the house of a friend of the family’s. In this strange place, I had two spontaneous episodes of far-fetching. The corresponding overlay would be remarkably peaceful, even stagnant. Strange, then, that I would return to the Mainland and sense sharp threats growing towards me from the corners and edges of the room they lent. Maybe it was me.

This is the only relevance to the story: While I lay waiting for sleep, I would imagine standing ready with a sword. I’d leap up, land, slash across—and whatever I was fighting, it or they would shrink back. I made a story, just for myself, about what I imagined, and by that I don’t mean that I wrote a story (except for this text, which is actually telling this story) but that I conceptualized a story that I would live. It was about the name of the swords: the katana, Mercy; and the wakizashi, Justice. My sense of these respective names, I decided, were what had given these weapons form. I had defined the concept, lower-case, justice and mercy, in a way I hadn’t been able to before.

11 June 2012

I dreamed that a man made out of water, that I’d met before, also in a dream, and named Eddy– he laid four swords before me. I certainly recognized the swords.

Eddy asked me if I could tell the difference between the two black-handled wakizashi, Justice and Spite. It was like the ritual for locating the Dalai Lama, where a bunch of toys and other items would be laid before an infant, and if he selected the items that used to belong to the previous Dalai Lama, then he must be a reincarnation because he was drawn to what was familiar.

I couldn’t do it with my own weapons, in this life. It might have ended there, with me just having to admit that I simply do not know something as basic as Right from Wrong, but when I felt the compulsion to tidy up, I picked up Justice and Spite and held them together. They melded into a single weapon, which gave me an epiphany.

“I forged these as part of a psychic sort of symbolic fighting style that I envisioned,” I explained to Eddy. “It came from the conviction that mercy and justice are one and the same thing, if given that the entire conflict is fully understood. Mercy without justice is not true mercy, because coddling will enfeeble the receiver of such a virtue when real virtue will not do such harm; likewise, merciless justice is unjust because it only perpetuates violence and corruption of power. A full, true kind of Understanding shows a middle way, a course of action that incorporates both, so that both can truly be their respective virtues. I thought that they lacked one another, and that separation and subtraction was the illusion.

“I thought that I could keep them as separate parts, than when brought together dispel illusion and create a whole. Some illusions are necessary, if a subject’s capacity to understand is rudimentary–” I went ahem and pointed at myself, “– so there were times to implement Mercy alone, or Justice alone, for a needed and/or satisfactory outcome. Now I see that, that these virtues are not merely incomplete when they are separated– they are infected.

“Mercy without consideration of consequences, is Ignorance, necessarily it is willful ignorance. Justice alone is necessarily spiteful– consider the phrase ‘brutal honesty,’ honesty does not necessitate brutality, it necessitates truth, so if somebody is brutally honest, then the aim is not to be honest but to be brutal.”

To sum it all up, “I will never perfect the fighting style that I envisioned– not with these weapons. Phooey.”

Eddy nodded, unimpressed, and I sensed that whatever test or trial that I’d been dropped into unprepared– was over, for now. I also got the impression that there is no right or wrong answer in something like this, but there was just my answer. Still, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed, as if there should have been some great double gates that opened up somewhere to symbolize my graduating to a higher spiritual level.

Well, I did keep the swords, because samurai swords are just wicked cool. Perhaps there would have been pomp and circumstance if I’d given them up for a slingshot named Insight, or a rocket launcher named Awesome or something.

The Uninhibited Imagination

The following entry may contain triggering material.

 

When I was very young, I had a pet lizard (Physignathus cocincinus, common name: Asian Water Dragon). Her name was Peachy, although it might have been a he. She’d escaped from her cage, and we were never fast enough to catch her, and there were too many nooks and crannies in the house, so we just decided to leave out some food in the garden and leave her alone whenever we found her. One day, she escaped from the house.

I suppose that I was upset about it, but I didn’t know how to deal with that. When pets died, I could cry it out and get it over with. This was a new thing to me.

Dinner a few days after this event was boiled shrimp. My mother peeled them with her own hands, set them in front of me, and encouraged me to eat up. After a couple of bites, the shrimp on my plate started talking in shrill voice, one after the other: “Stop eating us!” “Eating hurts us! Stop hurting us!” “We’re Peachy’s babies!” And together: “WE’RE PEACHY’S BABIES!!!”

This certainly was very upsetting, because I was hungry and would never dream of bothering my mother or the cook to whip up something else. At the moment, I also didn’t think of drawing attention to anybody else that my food was screaming accusations of infanticide at me. I was thinking that this didn’t make sense.

I knew basic zoology, that is: dogs are different from cats, neither lay eggs, chickens don’t give birth to live young…and a shrimp can’t be a direct descendant of a lizard. Also, where did these learn to speak English? And how could they talk with their heads ripped off, without vocal cords or lungs? And, as most cooked food usually was, they should be dead.

So, I kept eating. The voices didn’t stop, even though I knew it didn’t make sense, I didn’t think that not making sense meant that it wasn’t real, only that nobody should care.

What they were saying continued to hurt my feelings, anyway. When my mother refilled my plate (because, it seemed, I was old enough to talk and feed myself, but young enough not to be asked, and I wouldn’t dream of refusing food for reasons that will follow) I couldn’t take it anymore and burst into tears. I begged my mother to stop putting them on my plate, at which I vaguely recall she launched into a tirade about how she hadn’t even eaten anything yet because she was busy peeling shrimp for me and I was so ungrateful and there were starving children in the streets outside our comfortable home…

Well, that shut me up. I didn’t stop crying, nor did I continue eating, but I did give up on telling her about what I was hallucinating. I don’t remember what happened after. It was likely that I was just sent up to my room for having a temper tantrum, and I’d just taken from that that I had been Bad for causing even that much fuss and trouble to everyone. Obviously, that wasn’t real, (for the commonly given value of reality) but it was far too undeliberated and vivid to be imagined. So, I call it a hallucination, thankfully the only one to have happened in my life.

What really got to me, while I was growing up, was anxiety. I was terrified of pulling T-shirts over my head because a huge part of me was convinced that the world I entered through the torso hole would be a different one than I found beyond the neck hole. That it never happened never dismissed the fear I held, each and every time I dressed up, that it would happen this time. I tried not to step on the grotting between tiles because I thought that I had bad thoughts (which, actually, I didn’t very much) and that the tile grotting would know it and the tile grotting would judge me and… that would just really hurt my feelings. The constant sense of impending doom really wasn’t something that I could ever just turn off.

All things considered, I really am very lucky that full-blown hallucinations were no daily struggle that I can’t trust my senses anymore, sort of thing. Perhaps it’s also sheer luck that the way the neurons in my brain were organized gave me some leeway to reason it out, that, “I can’t trust my senses right now.” Mostly, though, I owe the distribution of scientific knowledge that gave me the best tools with which to reason it out, because trust or not, personal experience was the only thing I had to go by. However I reasoned, these experiences couldn’t be ignored. But, I could doubt, and I could function somewhat because of that doubt.

(I have never been diagnosed with or treated for anything other than depression.)

 

That’s why evaluation has been so important to me, when it comes to experiences I have that nobody else in the immediate vicinity can validate. And, from my perspective, what I deal with now (that I wrote about once or twice before) is different enough that, even though they engage directly with me in an immediate experience, I can accept them in my life and make more sense of it without this being destructive. They’ve even helped.

Of course I’d say that, if I were so profoundly insane that there was no coming out of it, and I accepted nonsense as sense, and upheld destruction and harm as the highest virtue. However well I think I structure my arguments, check my heuristics, form my opinions… the ends invalidate the means.

All of this must either be the product of insanity, or a lie.

I’d also say that my uninhibited imagination, or hallucinations if that’s what these are (because when I say “uninhibited” it’s sometimes just deciding to let down my inhibitions and sometimes that I have no choice) are helpful… if they’ve been helpful. Isn’t that simple enough? Isn’t it likely that any complications to take a turn for some other conclusion coasts on willful and basic misconceptions?

I believe that a lot of the most profound and significant experiences I’ve had come from lowering the repressive/dismissive inhibitions on my imagination and simply letting imagination happen within the designated time, space, or world. If I don’t have a choice, if shutting that down and tuning it out is too effortful that I’d given it up as impossible… I can still manage them.

So, the line between hallucination and imagination isn’t that much of a concern, as I can function.

The line between imagination as metaphysical access and imagination as fictional construction, now, while not quite blurred yet (except in the telling of it, because it’s literally all in my head and whoever you are, reading this, you only have my words for it compared to your experience and understanding of the world,) is an area of interest to me, the nature of inspiration in either divinity or frivolity.

Queen Myrtha and the Wilis

 

The following legend described is most popularly told in Austria, although its origin is Slavic. It is the legend of the spectral dancers, known by the name of the Wilis. The Wilis are the spirits of young women who died before they could marry. These pitiful young creatures cannot rest in their graves, for their dead hearts, their dead feet continue to yearn for the joys they could not satisfy in life, and at midnight they swarm the main roads together. Beware any young man who puts himself in their sights! They throw themselves at him in a chaotic frenzy, and he becomes compelled to dance with them until he dies of exhaustion.

The Willis are often seen wearing their wedding dresses, their hair adorned with flowers and ribbons, their hands adorned with sparkling rings. They dance in the moonlight, similar to elves. Although their faces have a fair and youthful beauty, their laughter is edged with perverse joy, so dangerous and desirous, yet so enchanting that these undead Bacchantes cannot be refused.

When people look upon young brides who have passed on, they can never be convinced that such innocence and beauty could perish completely, and so created the belief that these brides go on to seek the joy owed to them even beyond the grave.

Heinrich Heine, “Elemental Spirits”

The above passage (well, a better translation of the above passage than I could do from Babelfish) inspired the 1841 ballet Giselle, ou La Wilis.

I would be remiss not to highlight the sexism of this legend, as vilifying or fetishizing young women’s sexual and romantic desires for men, and coasting on this cultural presumption that a lady’s main goal in life is marriage, to a man, heterosexually.

Still, I like Heine’s interpretation of it as simple empathy: Dearly departed should have had the life that she wanted. It just isn’t fair that hopeful people die young.

Why would this projected yearning manifest as a supernatural hazard to society, though? How does that even happen? I think the fantasy becomes a horror because it’s the nature of grief to figuratively tear people apart. Perhaps when societal conditioning forbids the grieving process in the men left behind, in particular, it takes the external form of a legend such as this. Grief doesn’t react well to gloss. The ink of its shadow will inevitably bleed through.

This legend could even have subversive elements in that it’s the men that are objectified (and overpowered.) It doesn’t matter which man it is. Then again… in the context of a gender-based power imbalance in society, this could be setting up the everyman to be identified with while vilifying the significance granted to women’s desires, othering and marginalizing women in the legend: it doesn’t matter which wila it is, either.

Or does it?

Queen Myrtha

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Basic Silversmything

 

Sometimes, we believe things that aren’t true so that they can become so. This is more effective than it sounds, especially if we consider how we already live, in part, in an intangible reality made up of beliefs that shouldn’t be true. If we truly released all of our unexamined prejudices related to gender, race, class, physicality and conventions of physical attractiveness, religious affiliation, and so on…well, our world would be very different. The shift in personal perspective influences the behavior, which then has an effect on economics, legislation, and artistic expression among many other things. As well as the effects of prejudice, privilege, and oppression on culture, society, and civilization, there remains an effect upon the individual psyche that does not simply dissipate when an individual quits investing belief in those prejudices. This investment can even be done passively, taking for granted that these notions are true, and therefore not even noticing that they are notions; what’s required to negate this is not conscious effort, but insight. (Or circumstances to the contrary. That works, too. It’s nigh impossible with some issues to find or cultivate such a circumstance, but I think that should principally be effective because I personally believe in a “real world” outside of our minds and beyond our psychological projections. So, it’s not always a matter of blacksmything internal work or silversmyth reframing.)

There are some things that do dissipate when they’re no longer believed in. This doesn’t mean that honor, duty, purpose, principles, values, virtues, the pursuit of truth, and even reasoning are unworthy of sustaining just because they don’t technically exist if people don’t believe in them.

The notion of potential effect forms the centerpiece of a process that I like to call silversmything. This is the actualization of potential. That’s silversmything in its positive form.

The first lesson that I had in silversmything was in its negative form: willful ignorance of notions unworthy of attention.

*

We have no dominion, directly over the attitudes that other people would have towards us, although I was also taught that I could influence other people’s attitudes with my own behavior. To this point, I invested too much of my early life. I did my best not to get caught in someone else’s crosshairs, and had hostility and vitriol heaped upon me anyway.

The potential for the next attack became a constant preoccupation, which had the same effects of an actual attack anyway except that I would be doing it to myself. Although, I wouldn’t have “done it to myself” had that first attack never happened, or if I’d attributed it to something other than an irrepressible evil innate to me, or…this next thing.

I never got the concept of “just ignore them.” Wasn’t responding to environmental stimuli a sign of life? Life was misery.

Until, that is, I overheard a schoolteacher advising another student to, “Look inside yourself for the switch that says ‘care for what other people think’ and flick it OFF.”

Maybe I’m less of a conceptual learner and more of a tactile-kinaesthetic learner, because the way my teacher put it just cleared up all sorts of distortions that had prevented me from enjoying life.

That’s the distinction that I would make between this “perishing the thought” and mere repression, denial, or delusion that comes about from inappropriately willful ignorance. In the latter three cases, what one resists will persist. In basic silversmything, that which is unworthy of attention will dissipate. So, it probably did really help that, when I heard this, it was a matter of shaking off a habit I’d taken to that wasn’t appropriately responsive to the situations, rather than trying to cultivate ignorance while still being mired in some very real, inescapable, undeniable circumstances.

If only this worked the other way, too, that I’d still be bothered by the unmet needs or violated boundaries of other people when I should be so bothered, but this method really is a privilege (which, as I just mentioned, can be revoked…for the wrong reasons, as well as perhaps some contextually correct reasons.)

At the same time, another result would be essentially staying within one’s boundaries. It was none of my business, really, what other people thought about me…at least, to the extent to which I had concerned myself.

Character Building

 

Previously, I wrote:

The otherreal characters were another think coming to me.

It began with an attempt at far-fetching. Even after I failed, I began to experience a person in the otherreal who couldn’t have been there. This experience did have a similarity to imagination, like I would imagine a piece of furniture in the room that I hadn’t bought yet, except that I hadn’t deliberately put this person in my mind, hadn’t expected it, and I didn’t want that person there. I thought it was imagination, so I deliberately imagined this person walking away.

This deliberately imagined scenario would dissipate, and the otherreal person would remain with the same clarity, as my own manipulation of my own experience had not interfered one bit. I considered this troubling because this clearly-formed person in the otherreal was unpleasant

I interpreted this as at least partially my fear of surrendering conscious control to some evil force or personality that would act through my body. I’d read and heard the stories of this happening, and it was usually to deeply troubled youths without any hint that it had anything to do with far-fetching.

The experience of far-fetching, though, is dissociating from the body. I couldn’t help but think of the mind as like water, and the body like a pitcher or a glass. Far-fetching would leave it empty for more evil waters to fill. I couldn’t get unstuck on that thought.

So, the character described above appeared, at first, like Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist movie. That much at least was from my mind, but as I described, I couldn’t control its behavior even if its appearance were from my mind. Then, even its appearance began to change. PIC_1731The teeth grew pointed and long, overlapping the lips like a Venus fly trap. The scars faded, leaving a complexion that was white and gray as the moon. The hair became black, and coarse as a haystack. The character became naked and doughy, maybe appearing more like Neil Gaiman’s personification of Despair, but with an evil smile that wasn’t despairing at all.

It crossed over, in a bad way, from something imagined to something inspired. Even if I didn’t consciously deliberate this form and in fact had been trying not to think about it and rationalizing that there was nothing to be afraid of, it was still imagined because it came from something I’d seen. Inspiration showed in the autonomous behavior of the character.

What it eventually became was something that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, unlike when I took a billow and made a character from it. Turnkey billows had no effect on the character described above, and neither did conscious imagination. This made it more inspired and vivid than my childhood monsters. I also noticed that it didn’t behave as if it were on a spectrum of personification between billows and character. It was a notion, or a character, without any billowing in between.

Right now I also want to note that when I do imagine a character that is inspired for a fictional story instead of an immediate experience, they, duh, are not immediately experienced. I’m a voyeur of these fictional characters’ lives. Those don’t ever try to communicate with me or interfere with my life. Their actions can surprise me, and I also call that inspiration. They never know that I’m watching.

Contrast all that with the dragon.

dragonthoughtform

The friend who sheltered me after I escaped my abusive sister and the people who enabled my sister’s abuses, let’s name her Alpha. I offended her during my stay with her, and she told me to get out, which I did because she has greater boundaries than I had needs. I did have wants for clean drinking water and enough food to survive, and someplace to sleep that would be safe from weather and uninvited people, and for that I burdened my extended family immensely, and felt hurt and guilty without blaming Alpha for any of it at all.

Alpha and I got back in contact with each other a year later. Despite my rudeness, really, she hadn’t lost my respect or trust. She told me that she should have been more understanding, and I was embarrassed that she thought that way, because she’d taken me in and owed me nothing.

We’d continue to meet and talk, and she would voice opinions that I believed were decreasingly less well-formed. She spoke very confidently of them, though, and I’m easily convinced by that.

Or I used to be.

When she spoke so, I’d sometimes get distracted by little billows coming off me and floating towards her like dandelion tufts. I would spin out more billows to net those before they went too far, and with the force of my mind I would pull them them back into me.

I believe represents how I chose to reserve my own right to a different opinion.

Couldn’t I just do that notionally, like everybody else does? Why does it have to billow? Why do I have to hallucinate?

And then, why did the billows have to turn into a character?

The billows that I wove began to flow by themselves, with the regularity of Alpha’s sermons. This otherreal experience was largely tactile, not visible.

Then it was visible, or at least I thought that if physical light were physically bouncing off the shape of what I wove…then, it would be red.

The shape would be serpentine.

The otherreal appearance of it developed into a sort of hologram of giant, disembodied crab claws. They were red-orange because I’d mostly ever really seen cooked crabs at dinner, only occasionally the brown-gray ones at the beach.

After that, it became the hologram of a serpentine shape with ears. It would stretch its neck out and swallow whatever was floating away, but I wasn’t afraid of these important parts of me being digested because I knew this red serpent was a part of me even though I wasn’t actively weaving it. What sort of serpent had fox ears, though? Or were they horns like that of a goat or a bull? Or was it the crest of a bird, like an owl or a falcon with feather tufts that made it appear horned? My senses don’t work the same way in the otherreal as in the corporeal, so it could be located well within my domain, so to speak, of consideration; but all these details only caught like they were beyond the corner of my eye.

Eventually, it settled on the shape of a Western dragon: bat-winged, plate-scaled, and red all over. Perhaps that was just more effective a shape, than that of a giant crab.