Entheogen: Happy Pills 2/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Previously on the Codex of Poesy :

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

The sort of proto-wishcraft I practiced at that time focused on empirical evidence of psychism, with the idea that the mind was the key. To clear the mind of the usual chatter would invite intuitions, so fellow practitioners claimed. Intuitions could tell us the number or suit of a playing card before we could see, or the thoughts and emotional states of the people around us. Willpower directed forcefully through a clear mind could move physical objects.

I could never manage any particularly consistent outside effect. Sometimes, I’d dabble in guided imagery, which would never yield any insightful result. Those quests would usually go in some nightmarish, unhelpful direction. As for within: I could clear my mind, though. I could notice and simply be with the pain, and my mind would go silent, no images would come to mind…and, it was something like peace.

This did not improve my attention span, when depression began to dull the world. This did not hold my thought process high as the structures crumbled into ruin. This did not improve my memory, in those exercises to clear the mind, I may only be now but everything else carried over pains and troubles of the past.

Myself out of meditation knew that my health was failing and I was losing my mind and I’d never meet my goals, the way everything was going. So, I started on what they gave me.

The next time I tried to sit still and clear my mind, the usual chatter would not stop.

That one thing I could do from years of regular practice, now rendered impossible by a pill the size of a rice grain.

It wasn’t so devastating. Once I decided to act to change everything, my mind, my life, my family’s habit of alternating abuse and comfortable silence, I can hardly complain about the changes.

So, I allowed my mind to create images around the chatter. My mind chatter was like that of a crowded, noisy room…like a restaurant, I thought. I saw the milky sunlight through the windows, the swatches of color of so many people’s clothes, heard the chatter and the clatter of metal utensils against porcelain. I could shift my attention to the tablecloth, and the backrest of the chair, and the noise wouldn’t go away.

I didn’t quest in a way that occupied my Surreal Fetch, back then, I would always be watching my Surreal Fetch from somewhere outside myself—another reason these quests annoyed me. This time I was embodied, I knew, seated and smoothing over cloth.

Then I saw myself approach my table, and draw a chair to sit across from me, and sit and watch me. Ey was ready to listen, and to talk.

Much as I loved biology class and the neuroscience unit, and the security it lent me in that I was doing a factually correct and right thing, it’s not what prepared me for the shift in value priority: Forget empirical evidence of telekinesis. This was our life on the line, so now this was the Work we’d do.

~

The skin over my sternum felt as though someone had rubbed mentholated ointment over it, though I was certain this wasn’t the case. When I’d looked up models of the Fetch in other traditions (Otherreal, or Sidereal) I wondered if this were some vortex of compassion activating. Incidentally, I was beginning to care again, about wilting plants and injured animals and what people anticipated or loathed.

Eating used to be like arm-wrestling with myself, the defending champion you damn well know how your mother resents your eating your life away since you were born and now she knows that job security is a lie she hates still having to feed you because she’ll never have a good life like she did as a rich kid, the challenger of but I’m going to faint and they’ll notice and fuss and blame me (which might not be unwarranted, but certainly doesn’t inspire more positive changes) and I’m shitting bloodclots from the ulcers.

If I could muster up the temerity to request therapy and psychiatric medication, I could eat. The oils around meats tasted awful to me, but fine to everyone else who knew it to be my favorite. Eggs and dairy products took on a cloying texture that I couldn’t bear. Fish was barely tolerable. My psychiatrist told me that she’d never heard of a side-effect like that.

I went vegan, and carried it on for far longer than the aversion and tastebud weirdness alone would have kept me away from real proteins. I considered the lifestyle change a result of some spiritually superior calling, which I’ve got to admit was a huge mistake.

~

I chose life. My birth family really hammered in how badly I should regret it. It surprised me that I could enjoy something at all, so maybe when I would have taken a silent satisfaction in an outfit I liked, I’d smiled. “What happened to my kid?” My mother snarked, “You’re smiling and eating and interested in fashion.”

“It’s a lot sooner than the doc said the meds would work,” my sibling said pointedly. “You’re just looking for attention.” Drama-mongering faker isn’t really sick. After our mother died, she tsked at my continuing to purchase antidepressants, saying, “I’ve spoken to friends of mine who went through depression. You only need to take meds for one year, then you’re fine, and you’ve had your year.” She’d never studied psychiatry. I’d doubted that she’d even taken a proper survey of depressed friends, plural, it was probably just the one whose personal experience she’d consider the most convenient to impose. “I respect what you’ve gone through,” she lied, “But you were a bitch. You’re not allowed to get depressed or eating disordered again. I know I’m not allowed to say this, but your not-eating thing was a choice.”

~

I’d described to my therapist long ago what the mind fog felt like, like white mold growing on the inside of my skull so I could only find the fuzzy outlines of my thoughts. She suggested, knowing what an iron-cast meditative practice I had, visualizing a way to make that mold go away. I’d made a metaphor out of my experience, couldn’t I make an experience out of that same metaphor? No. No, I could not. It was neurological, biochemical, not a matter for the quests. I’ve read that some people find half an hour of meditation effective in doing away with what they describe as brain fog, and I envy them.

I ran away from home to home and to almost homelessness. I had a roof, at least, and walls, but could only afford to eat so little that my fingernails began to splinter as they grew from the quick. The brain fog came back. I could have a whole meal for slightly cheaper than a single antidepressant pill, and ought to have the meal instead, if the brain fog was from malnourishment rather than depression. It was that sort of way of working within financial limitations. The fog felt familiar as depression, so I took the meds on an empty stomach. I needed a clear mind to work.

Besides, a fusion deity of Hela and the Morrigan was wandering around my room, and I was beginning to get the sense of what She really meant. I named her Lady Hawthorne.

Nausea had always been a side effect, but this time it was surprisingly incapacitating. It’s amazing how nauseous a body can get without vomiting even stomach acid, and by “amazing” I mean “torture” and I can’t brag about it as a feat, really, it’s more like a betrayal: How could my corporeal fetch do this to me. Why would my corporeal fetch do this to us. I wanted to die. Once it passed, I decided against taking the other half of the pill when I was supposed to, and I still wanted to die, but at least I wasn’t nauseated.

Before it passed, I sat on the floor and leaned into the corner, trying to breathe as slowly as I could without fainting, because inside movements made the nausea wane, which meant it would wax full right in a trice. I was trying to keep the nausea steady until it flowed away, like trying to find a part of a river that flowed without ripples.

I’d been reading about the Ophelia, a modern god of rivers (of course: the greatest civilizations in human history formed around a river or two), time, death, and depression. Depression had taken on a broader definition to me: the cold and hollow exhaustion of anxiety, the eroding attention and memory, the restless slumbering.

The suicidal ideations, that’s what Lady Hawthorne attended to. The Morrigan aspect of this fusion god represented the battle, the aspect of Hela (from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” … Literally “concealed place” compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”, from Proto-Indo-European *kel- “to cover, conceal”) represents the hidden nature of this particular kind of battle.

When I thought about the Ophelia as a god of depression, this included the recovery, no matter how nauseating. Time and death, too, it occurred to me had life as an integral part, at least the way my nascent headcanon of the Ophelia claimed. Should I die of natural disaster, injury, illness, or age, I expect to glimpse the Ophelia in that last moment. If I kill myself, I’m the Helrrigan’s.

And if I starve to death in self-imposed poverty rather than eating disorder comorbid with obsessive compulsion (or depending on who you ask, choice)…? Eh, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

They were both in my room then, new gods perhaps summoned by new rituals and new ways to travel so far beyond your ken into the realm of horribly wrong. We three got through it all right. We’re still getting through it all right. All three of us, around this.

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Entheogen: Happy Pills 1/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

The psychiatrist showed me a pill the size of a single rice grain.

“Eating one of those a day is going to make me not want to kill myself? That one whole thing?”

She looked surprised. No, of course not! You should cut it in half.

If I squinted, I could see the groove where it was meant to be halved. “A chisel would be too large for this. I’d need the flat screwdriver from my spectacle repair kit, and somebody to hold the magnifying glass.”

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

(Ten hours after that first dose, taking hold of a glass of water became as difficult as horseback archery because my whole body kept shaking and twitching. That’s a side-effect. I consider it more like an effect, actually.)

My sleep pattern and appetite should get fixed up eventually, too. Oh, speaking of what I shouldn’t eat: no liquor, no caffeine, no chocolate.

“No chocolate! How can life be worth living?” I didn’t really say that, because I hadn’t gotten even my morbid sense of humor back. I did eat chocolate and the teeny tiny happy pill, though.

~

The psychiatrist also hastened to clarify that this was a misnomer. Antidepressants don’t make people feel happy for no reason, like some chemical puppetmaster. Medications targeted thought processing issues, memory problems, stress metabolism, fatigue, oversleeping. Dissipating suicidal ideations coincided consistently enough, but this would never lead to a drug high.

Perhaps I was merely happy to feel normal, two months into the regular dosages. No, I’d made an online acquaintance to whom I could not commit to a friendship, unfortunately, though the way her liminal experiences carried her through a bad situation made our shared conversations something I ought to have clung to; she told me that her mother died and her father physically abused her, and on the other side of the Internet where she couldn’t see, I erupted into giggles. It wasn’t even absurd or unbelievable, maybe I would have begun to laugh at that time without anybody talking to me. Had this been an offline friend, this would come off horrifyingly callous, and I was genuinely and completely horrified at myself for laughing. I couldn’t stop, not even when I desperately made the effort to recognize that someone else’s situation was horrifying and painful to them. It was like the tremors and twitches, in that respect, but I can’t say it was purely mechanical—like, I began to hyperventilate as though I were laughing. Instead, bubbles of sheer delight filled my chest. It was an intrusive mood: I was not delighted.

Fellow depression recoverers would say things like, “that’s the depression making you think/feel that way, not you,” and I would never understand that dissociation. Happiness wasn’t me, especially not this kind, this was the pills. The psychiatrist told me it was a misnomer, and I don’t want to say she was mistaken. I’d heard the opposite too often, too, a derisive, “go take your happy pills,” or “take your chill pills” whenever I came off glum or angry. Even if it weren’t the case that psycho-social stressors (from, say…people who take the same lousy health-bigot attitude as that…) played a significant role in triggering my depressive episodes…it didn’t work that way. It wasn’t a way to get high.

Some new magazine research or another would inform this friend or that how antidepressants caused depression. I’m inclined to blame the stigma associated with medication, becoming itself a psycho-social stressor. I’d also differentiate between stages of depression. I’d go quiet and shrink into the conviction of my own worthlessness if someone so much as informed me that my shoelace was untied, and that anxiety would carry over into every little thing I did. Learning not to care about every little thing could be healthy, or could be a sign of further depression, because then I stopped washing up or eating—but that’s probably more like ennui. Then there’s suffering so much physical and emotional pain that I’d chase death just to make it all stop, every waking moment like I was being stabbed in the head with all the tears I forced myself to hold in because crying wasn’t helping anymore (but not crying wasn’t helping, either, it was just bothering people less,) and the heartburn and stomach ulcers.

Starting on the antidepressants got me back to anxious about my shoelaces. I’d almost preferred the bleakness, only because serenity and joy and adventure didn’t feature as options. Maybe depression is a way for the psyche to modulate the focus and sensitivity that leads to distress, dulls the senses, gives a bit of mindspace to find one’s center again…but, then nothing can modulate the modulation. Not philosophy, not theology, not activity—I’d gone for all that—and certainly none of the advice from people who condescended to care but really refused to get a clue (not that I explained or described it well, then or even now—but I can’t believe it was all my projected frustration.)

And I won’t say the medications were the one true solution, either. I believe that medication eventually did away with the feeling that I was holding a solid iron bowling ball in my skull (though I still wake up to spikes—I may want to learn to cry properly again), and more eventually did away with the sort of misty mold that grew on the inside of my skull so I could only make out the fuzzy outline of my own thoughts. That’s a huge improvement over my quality of life, and I have not entirely been the one to foot the whole cost of that improvement. It was expensive, and hardly worth it to my birth family, who believed I should be somebody else entirely (someone on whom a pressure-cooker of abusive dynamics has no effect; let me reincarnate a few million more times and then maybe I shall spring from the womb so unshakably enlightened.)

One bit of good fortune that I’ll admit to gratitude: I have not required an adjustment in the dosage and kind. I haven’t exactly suffered from an adjustment in the dosage and kind, or days when we couldn’t find a pharmacy that stocked them, or days when we could but my mother muttered about the expense so I would lower the dose. I ate them with chocolate sometimes although the psychiatrist with the million-dollar education in this field told me not to, and the effects wouldn’t be better or worse than times I didn’t eat chocolate with the antidepressants—but that doesn’t make my decision an inherently good decision. When these pills took me from bleak to anxious (and queasy, and so twitchy that I couldn’t hold a glass of water), I made the decision to keep taking them anyway, and the result was good enough for me—but anyone else for whom the drugs leave psychologically raw and undefended, in a different life situation than mine, with vastly different predispositions and body chemistry, well, it stands to reason that my decision to keep taking what was prescribed can’t apply across the board as a good one. When I caught myself laughing at a very real abuse testimony from a dear acquaintance, I lowered the dosage without consulting my psychiatrist—and the intrusive high moods stopped. I will neither recommend this course of action nor heed accusations of my excusing psychopathy with medication: a drug happy-high wasn’t worth eclipsing empathy, no matter how generally miserable I’d become—rather, the matter was that I was exactly as miserable as I’d become, so maybe someone more depressed or differently-depressed would have made a different decision.

Only I can draw a line like that for me: sometimes I’ll get so excited about something that I overstep my bounds and come off like my happiness is so much more important than the comfort of people around me (and I’m sorry); sometimes I’ll flip the bird at what’s clearly a dishonest attempt at emotional blackmail (and I’ll often still be sorry, and have to keep telling myself I’m in the right.) One time I decided that sharing someone else’s pain and misery completely was worth the risk of inexpertly adjusting a rice-grain-sized drug that effectively shakes the nervous system to the mindcore. I’m as likely to help myself to imaginary bone-shaped biscuits either way.

The Human Experience is chemical, and theological, and genetic, and philosophical, and physical, and personal, and social, and circumstantial, and relative, and overlapping-confounding, and clearly distinguishable and objectively conforming to a specific value judgment.

While people who have have suffered less competent psychiatrists than I have would, perhaps, develop a completely valid aversion to the whole thing entirely (and I don’t exactly love my psychiatrist, could be another reason I would do everything to avoid checking in on an adjustment)—I do consider a theological exclusion of psychiatric medication…umm, wrong.

To be concluded…

Discernment, Defense, and Dickweed Indigenous Fae

The following entry may contain triggering material.

After an entry about santol fruit, I wanted to write up a local myth about the taro plant. Taro is best-known as a root crop that may or may not be purple, although I know a recipe that stews the very green leaves into mulch. (Dioscoria alata is definitely purple and a root crop, but called something else.) My research, which in this case means Wikipedia, suggests that taro is one of the earliest cultivated plants, its origins being Malaysian although cultivation has spread as far as the New World since then, whether by trade routes in Oceania long Before the Common Era, or because colonial masters said so.

It could be interesting to consider, because the story I know has an Engkanto in it, and I’m not entirely certain that’s an indigenous folkloric being. Neither do I know how strong the connection ought to be between the story about the plant and the corporeal plant itself. If this is a Philippine myth about a Malaysian plant, and Malaysia is like right there, why is this story so Spanish?

In the version of the story that I picked up by osmosis, the taro plant is known as gabi because of a girl named Gabriella whose nickname was Gabi. The stress is on the wrong syllable to suggest any association with the evening (gabi) which has more Austronesian vowels than Indo-European etymology anyway. An Engkanto tried to flirt and seduce Gabi into the otherworld to be his wife, and she said something like, “no thanks”. So, the Engkanto cursed her into a plant. Her toes became underground tubers so that she could never move from where she’d been cursed, and also they’re maybe sometimes purple? The plant’s leaves would be heart-shaped so that the whole world would know what her heart was like. The rain would fall upon the leaves and roll off, like his rain of love and attention upon this shrewish soul-eating harpy who couldn’t appreciate it. When her heart softens to him, Gabi can become human again. Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. But how can this curse not have already been broken? Hasn’t this otherworldly suitor been so charming???

Seriously though, there is no story I know about Engkantos that tells of them being anything other than total dickweeds.

Gabi_Plant_th

I think this is a gabi plant but they’re not usually so large.

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Sandoricum Season

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Excerpt
An excerpt from Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection: Malay Peninsula (1803-1818)

Sentul / Sentul / Sandoricum koetjape

Native to Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, the sentul is widely distributed as a backyard plant in tropical Asia. it is a semi-deciduous tree reaching up to 45 m. The fruits are large round berries that become bright yellow when ripe. These are eaten fresh or made into chutney or jam. The plant is also used in traditional medicine. Sentul, also known as kecapi, is an endangered species in Singapore.

Unlike with the durian, I don’t know a myth about this fruit off the top of my head. I do have a story, or more of an anecdote. A memory of the santol tree in my grade school campus serves as the marker for a scape I named Erstvale:

PIC_1638

The tree didn’t corporeally have a door at the root, the rest of this Scape is not from my grade school, and I have no idea where the pine trees on the left side came from. There should be a bamboo grove there instead.

Some of the older kids taught me to throw a basketball at the boughs to knock the fruits down. I’d been so taken up by the sheer novelty of eating fruit from a tree (instead of from a grocery) that I would never notice that it wasn’t entirely ripe. Most would be so tart that my gums went numb after the third or fourth santol, but I’d kept eating anyway. The end.

Pictures of fruit under the read more tag, because it’s currently santol season. The fruit segments are like chewing a damp, maybe half-felted cotton ball soaked in fruit juice. When they’re really ripe, the sugar seeps into the skin, so even that can be spooned out and eaten. Being slightly more tart than the fruit segments, it goes well with chili salt or soy sauce.

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[Ether Err] Tea Time with Lilibell

The following entry may contain triggering material.

"Sampaguita in Birdcage" photo by Faemon

“Sampaguita in Birdcage” photo by Faemon

It’s been raining, and then flooding. The proprietess of the haunted mansion allowed my corporeal friend Cecilia and myself to move from the basement to right below the attic. In the afternoon, Cecilia invited me to the cafe where she was catching up on the papers she was supposed to be writing instead of the asthma diagnosis and recovery that she’d actually been doing. Because I didn’t want to wade through through the ankle-deep swamp that our old room had become to bring another rucksack full of paperback books up three flights of stairs (and because I thought that maybe my adorably effervescent presence would defuse some of that stress,) I accepted. It did excuse me from the swamp trek that afternoon, but Cecilia gruffed that she was going to have to ignore me and then continued typing on her laptop. Occasionally, she would eke out a single bubbly peal of laughter, and I would think it was my adorable powers working effervescently, but Cecilia assured me that it had been deranged laughter. Then she would drink more coffee. As I recall, she’d been on her fifth-and-a-half cup when I arrived. We discovered a third alternative spelling of Taklamakan. I may have laughed in a similar way, because I’d proofread the paper of a mutual friend from Cecilia’s class, and gotten stuck on keeping that one desert’s name consistent.

I scribbled some developments on Ogdoad, a form of wishcraft symbolism based on chess. Zugzwang could be my word for a meditative state of mind, of stillness and emptiness, by which which intuitions could develop. The protection spell for Castling kingside (or shortside) would be target-specific nullification, like a shield; Castling queenside (or longside) would be more like keeping everything out except that which would be invited. When it came to the manifestation of a creative force, expressed by Queening the Pawn, there could be some advantages to underpromotion such as Knighting a Pawn. It all depended on what I called the Weird of the board, the rules that I shared with whoever and whatever the Ogdoad pieces would affect, and this sharing would not be so much agreed-upon but subject-to (with luck and perspicacity, maybe, noticed); that was what the Weird would be. Some spaces would be more chaotic or less well-understood, more Wild, and if the rules changed or there were no rules, there Ogdoad would have a different meaning or become meaningless. I still didn’t understand en passant Pawn capture, but there must have been something there to do with approximations of liminal transferring of information…

These were a lot of rules to re-learn. To set those up as mirrors to liminal experiences would be important, to keep the meaning, but might begin to contrive the liminal experiences to suit the rules instead.

Untitled by Guillermo Tolentino

Untitled by Guillermo Tolentino (detail) photo by Faemon

An image appeared in my mind (or in what I call the Surreal) of a young girl, fine hair as white as lightning, and a lunar glow to the rest of her body softening the outline of an already softly-shaped figure. This I recognized as my headcanon of Lilibell, first formed during a read of Lilibell of Two Hearts, and she sat at a table across from what looked like C-3PO from Star Wars if redesigned by Steve Jobs in the early 2000s: a slender humanoid form cast in seamless yellow gold, with no musculature, no hair, no unnecessary protrusions in the way of nipples or genitals or ears, and maybe there were facial features but they gave me a headache to squint through all the golden surface reflections to make those out. My headcanon Aletheias tended to look like that. What appeared to be a strobe light shone on the table between them, the shadows of the room around them concealing an audience like an amphitheater.

When I brought my mind back to the cafe, the glow at the edge of the Surreal table remained in what I call the Otherreal—a glow at the edge of the corporeal cafe table that probably no one else could sense.

My thought processes had leapt to a story-shaped conclusion:

Lilibell had been something of a champion in something like a ritual-sport-game-thingummy that was somewhat like chess. Aletheia 002 had been built and programmed to calculate all the possible moves in this game, and to play each move to the best advantage. The Clarene had apparently taken some pride in raising them both to this point. Lili played A002 to a stalemate seven times in a row, and on the eighth, A002 won. As this particular string of games hadn’t been particularly fun, Lili decided to not play for an ever again.

The game grew in popularity among the star spirits who had settled in the West, and the King began to grow suspicious. This had, emphatically, absolutely nothing to do with the King’s not-unwarranted prejudice against star spirits. The King had simply grown to realize how domineering and divisive the nature of the game was at all, creating ranks and hostilities between players. Its very structure generated a desire to win out over others. This game could not be good for society. And By Complete Coincidence, the minority of society that built a subculture around the game happened to be…in proportional majority…stars.

Lilibell, in a show of support for them, took once more to the competition area even as Centries reinforced the closing of the same. This may have involved some amount of violence and noise. Lilibell made a convincing case to the gods to the contrary, and the game once more became playable by anyone who wanted to play.

Eventually everyone should be utterly flabbergasted by all the fuss.

I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and wrote a letter to this presence, I thought of as Lilibell. What I took to be the ensuing conversation didn’t bring about anything particularly revelatory. Mostly, I remember the mood shifting in her glow. To me at that moment she carried such a charming, easy company. She could technically be snarky and rude, I was sure, inasmuch as that could jolt someone out of their comfort zone. Still, I couldn’t word it that way when twining wreathes of uncontainable compassion and goodwill rippled between us like the beating of mighty wings. If ever she suggested I change anything about myself, I’d do it, because she was the fulcrum between honesty and compassion, the spoke of that wheel. That sort of glamour can easily be used for evil, I thought, which was much less cynical than my usual thoughts. A front such as that always conceals some sort of evil, for one. Nobody’s really like that inside and out, unless their world is too small to know better, in which case there’s the bigger world for that sheer ignorance of damage to further damage. (For another.)

But I can believe in some aspects of the stories about her. I can believe Lilibell had made compromises, faced consequences, suffered fear of abandonment and betrayal. I was particularly inspired to write her internal struggles with evil. (As in, evil so pure that it can’t exist and yet it still manages to evil in its own evil absence. Even its privative remains evil. That’s how evil the evil evils.)

I can still believe those aspects, and Lilibell in the cafe didn’t come off as disagreeable on that point. Yet it remained difficult for me to believe that anyone could go through, or even brush up against any of that, and not sustain some stain that will never become wisdom, something irreparably broken in the beat of a wing or a heart.

How did you do it? I wondered. Whether it is fronting because we’d only just met for Otherreal, or one of numerous aspects (neither the Dierne’s joy or fear are necessarily less authentic for being different traits within one god), or the defining feature of Lilibell’s true self—it would be helpful to know. As I mentioned, though, the conversation was nothing revelatory. I couldn’t understand the response, or couldn’t translate. Maybe she really can’t give me a how-to, or won’t as she doesn’t and shouldn’t have to. She gave me a thought to the possibility. I feel like that’s a lot.

Notes on “Daughters of the Dreaming” by Diane Bell

Cecilia started her anthropology course earlier this month, gained access to the university library, and borrowed for me the 1993 edition of Daughters of the Dreaming. The book was authored by Diane Bell, a white Australian feminist anthropologist who lived with and studied the Warlpiri (mostly) and the Kaytej (to a lesser degree of exposure) in the late 1970s. One incredible criticism that I skimmed in the epilogue concerned Bell’s evident “bias” towards gendering, as she had been confined to studying the women (by the tribal council that allowed her to live with and study them), and therefore she was not documenting an accurate picture of the whole people…unlike male anthropologists who were barred from women’s spaces and took it along with the reader as a given that their notes would not be gendered?

But from what I’ve read of this (the first and only book I’ve read about Aboriginal culture) Warlpiri culture is so binary gendered that I can’t believe Bell could possibly have made up something she was looking for that wasn’t there, not when it comes to the presence of binary gendering at all. Bell does acknowledge that it’s impossible to retrieve for comparison Aborigines culture before colonialism, although she notes the elements of colonialism now: alcoholism, poverty, imperialistic education, exploitation and sexual abuse in both educational and professional spaces usually by white people to Aborigines, and even demonstrates how imposed welfare and food rationing shifts the power to patriarchal from the practice of hunting and gathering (both of which had been considered women’s work, and very important work because the women were gathering food and some still did at the time she studied these people.)

But the spheres of responsibility in the society the Bell studied had very clear lines between male and female, so clear that they had been very complicatedly organized in order to keep it clear that the masculine spheres of societal responsibilities and the feminine spheres of societal responsibilities would not overlap over generations. This was not merely a matter of patrilineal or matrilineal, but of patrimoiety and matrimoity, and of course many Warlpiri words for concepts of organization that require spidery charts and graphs for outsiders to understand.

Then again, Bell also wrote that colonialism had sparked skirmishes that often targeted warrior men as a matter of state policy. The only way that the culture could have survived as it did were that the majority-female survivors could pass on knowledge of the masculine responsibilities to their sons. This must have been what happened, and yet cross-gender knowledge and interactions continues to be more verboten than not. Early on in the book, Bell recounts the story of a Warlpiri woman that she drove back to camp, and took a wrong turn because wasn’t “enough room” in that part of the camp; physically, there was plenty of room, but customarily a woman wouldn’t dare go so close to her son-in-law and they would not even be allowed to speak to each other.

Bell wrote that the culture at the time she studied still did not have the concept of an “old hag” as white people do for women who have outlived their primary purpose of sexual object in society, but that the most wrinkled of Warlpiri women still consider themselves desirable because of the separate-but-equal genders of tribal culture. Bell wrote that Warlpiri women had a patronizing view of masculine violence as expressions of infantile insecurity, never as a real threat but an inconvenient fact of life that boys will be boys. Bell wrote of the culturally-accepted commonplace extramarital affairs of Warlpiri women. All this, it seemed to me Bell insisted rather than merely noted, while later also describing the Warlpiri women she sheltered in her house because they feared the violence of their drunken husbands returning home.

Bell can blame colonialism for alcohol and conditioning women to civilized passivity of character that traditional Aborigines life wouldn’t have had (I imagine that wouldn’t help the cause of coexisting with some of the deadliest flora and fauna on the planet) but such inconsistency does give me suspicions about how deep the roots of the empowered Warlpiri feminine really did go. What Bell portrayed as female empowerment that is old as dirt seems more likely to me to have been the desperately ironic sass-filled bubble of women’s spaces that sometimes form in a man’s world, or the rose-tinted goggles of a hopeful feminist of the 1970s who aimed to enter some exotic (endemic, really, but othered) world that hinted at some bygone world of matriarchy, if not egalitarianism.

*

Then again, I’m no peer to review this. I just wanted to look up the magic, even as I know that “magical tradition” is a modern and ethnocentric distinction. The importance of understanding the cultural context of what “magic” I’ve decided is magic and want to look up is something I do my best to keep in mind when researching seidhr or the process of laying a geis…and it’s something wholly in my face when I’m reading about Warlpiri Dreamtime or Dreaming. I don’t know how much is owed to Bell’s organization style, but far more obviously than any study I’ve read comes through this fact: the rituals of these people aren’t a product of culture, the Dreaming is not a philosophy or theory that is a product of culture. It is culture and more than culture. It is World As Is.

Much of it is also secret, not only from other tribes or those of the other gender in these couple of tribes…but through time, and even vocabulary. The Warlpiri and Kaytej had divulged some forbidden rituals and information to Bell, who has kept the particulars honorably secret, and the generalities that she had been allowed to publish gave me a lot to think about: the designated significance of symbols, the reunion of the spiritual with life and land, and especially the significance of performance storytelling.
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On Transverse Thought

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a compilation of folktales with analysis and commentary added. I read it when I was about nine years of age because I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to. It had fairy tales, so it was age-appropriate, wasn’t it?

In any case, that was when and how I caught the idea that, in fairy tales, the main character’s parents tend to be dead before the call to adventure if they aren’t going to be antagonists in the story. This wasn’t a realistic representation of reality: niceness isn’t fatal. This wasn’t a moral demonstration. If it was an artistic choice on the part of the teller and retailers, then the cliche would eventually be enough to put audiences off…wouldn’t it?

The prevalence of this trope, as Estes explained, was in its symbolic value: that of the turning point of self-actualisation, when a person realises that their value system is different than their parents’. Stories represent this shift through the death of the good-and-perfect parent, and often the introduction of the wicked step-parent. In some extradiegetic life, supposedly, they are the same person or the same idea of authority figure, but the psyche of their child tends to make some distinction or else acknowledges the shift through understanding the event of an in-story death.

How, then, would an extradiegetic death be symbolised?

It could be by some grand natural disaster that ends all existence or life as we know it. Or it could be by the fall of a single leaf. Death could even, confusingly, be symbolised by death.

So goes the transfer between the corporeal world and the otherworld.

The nature of any given focal point in the otherworld, too, is (from what I’ve observed) not only mutable but multi-dimensional. How the word “fae” can retain its meaning when applied to all of the following: to the powers of order, to the powers of disorder and madness, to the liminal beings interacting with humanity, to personifications of non-people entities, to people on the other side of some insular idea of people that somehow still remain people but in some other reality, to beings who speak in a language like the sound of bells and that were born of the laughter of newborn humans, and to miniature humans that grow out of flowers and have butterfly wings, to corporeal human beings who claim bloodline or inner nature that is fae…is a mystery that I can respect.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t know what I’m doing, unless I’m doing it wrong. I find out by doing, translations, transliterations, interpretation, creation, and all the warp and weft of fabrication.