My slow worms, curled up
Contentedly in compost,
Do their needful work.
Phobic rope now snapped,
Boat of Fear, unmoored, drifts off,
Ocean’s healing depth.
Jaw hinged on each tail
Ouroboros, Spring mating:
Joyous in the sun.
My slow worms, curled up
Contentedly in compost,
Do their needful work.
Phobic rope now snapped,
Boat of Fear, unmoored, drifts off,
Ocean’s healing depth.
Jaw hinged on each tail
Ouroboros, Spring mating:
Joyous in the sun.
This will be hard to read, for some. It was hard to write, harder still to experience. But I want to say one thing loud and clear: My attacker was never caught. Many are not. He did not actually rape – and, therefore, his actions were seen as, in some way, less serious, less damaging. This angers me still.
I write this in order to use the harrow to plough over the fear, churn that bitter soil into something of goodness and potential nourishment.
The man whose actions triggered panic the other night has made me think – and remember. Not him. He is not at fault. Simply, his movements took me back. Only this time, the man – a dark, wiry shape exuding menace – was approaching me along a narrow street, late at night.
Do you know: After all these years, I can still remember what I was wearing: A flowery longish skirt in shades of cream and crimson; a white blouse and a crimson fluffy cardigan. Thirty years old, I was, pretty, slim – and drunk, though not incapable.
Normally, these pavement passings lead to one person letting the other through, or a brief nod of acknowledgement.
Did I feel the energy within? Yes. It was acidic, deranged (or drugged), barbed wire instead of muscles; it was chemical scent and blackness. But I was still unprepared for the pounce, cat upon a dozy mouse; I was still in innocence when it came to hard fingers, with sharp nails, prodding and poking beneath the waist line, into territory I had, previously, associated mainly with pleasure. The thought that someone could press fingers hard enough into my breasts to leave marks, bruises, which stayed for ages, would never have occurred to me. The punch to my face, which left a bruise and cracked a tooth, was completely outside my experience.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing of all was that this man was not aroused, in any normal sense. It was not about sex. It was about anger, violence, the need to hurt someone.
But at least – as some people said, as if I had been making a huge fuss about nothing – he did not rape me. True. But not the point.
Fast forward a few days – though, muffled by trauma as I was at the time, it could just as easily have been months – and, calling a taxi, I made my first trip into town: I had run out of food, did not drive in those days. I asked – then, and for some time to come – for a female driver.
I can remember standing on the bottom step of the side entrance to Weston-super-Mare’s Tesco, shaking, cotton wool in my head, trying to get the courage to take that first step, literally and metaphorically.
A dishevelled man, rough, smelly, swaying, chose that moment to stagger out of the store. He was mumbling under his breath, swear words a vomit-like stream being puked out of his anger-bag. I can see now that he was mentally ill, that his life of decay was, in all probability, not his fault; that the system had let him down. More to be pitied than censured, in other words.
Then? He was lurching in my direction, clearly not in control.
I froze. Breathing accelerated to a frantic gallop. The space where my brain was, where control arose, dissolved into an echoing cavern. I recall it vividly still. Legs and arms began to shake. Tummy was prodded with terror’s sharp and painful sticks. Light-headed, I was certain I was having a heart attack and would die, right there, in front of this guy – and maybe, at some level, this is what I was hoping.
All thoughts of food and shopping abandoned, I ran, crying and jagged of breath, certain that he would catch up with me and hurt me.
He didn’t. I did not figure in his tormented inner landscape; I doubt he even saw me.
That was where it began. And yet it wasn’t and didn’t. For there were other contributory factors which, buds in themselves, only flowered in the aftermath of that early September night in 1988.
I am not writing this for attention, or pity, or because I am a Drama Queen (all of which have been levelled at me at some point); I am tracing the present by accessing dark parts of the past. I am attempting to gain control of my current panic by going back to the origins.
The man in the Assembly Rooms the other night, battling his own demons, inadvertently pulled out the stopper of the bottle which holds mine. His lurching walk, his aura of barely-suppressed rage, reminded me of my attacker.
But maybe this unknown man in 2017 has done me a big favour. Maybe that bottle needed to be smashed open, in panic’s flailing around; maybe I needed, once again, to face that night and see the attack again.
Maybe I needed to experience what is now beginning to rise: Rage at my unknown assailant.
I have written, exhaustively, about being sexually assaulted by a stranger back in the late eighties – and do not intend to walk down that dark and painful path again.
This post deals with one, to me unexpected, fallout from that moment of horror: The loss of friends, and near loss of my job.
Other people’s emotions can be very hard to handle, even for Empaths. The more powerful and raw the manifestation of trauma, the more confronting it is for those watching. In some it triggers things they have no wish – or, perhaps, ability – to face in themselves. In others, the waters of human emotion are extremely shallow – and they seek froth and laughter and jolliness relentlessly.
Prior to the assault, I had been part of a Word Game Group of friends. We met once a week and had a pretty hilarious time playing Balderdash and drinking wine and chatting and laughing. One of those people had already been my friend for some years – and, even then, we had a deeper bond than the somewhat superficial word gaming scene.
I can see now that I had PTSD – and went into fairly classic shock and grief and anger and acting out mode. I drank and smoked too much. I wept and raged. I withdrew into myself and struggled to be sociable. I felt tainted and damaged and guilty and desperately afraid.
Crucially, for the group situation, I stopped being a laugh – and was rejected as a result.
We all used to meet in the same Weston pub. I still remember the horror of being sent to Coventry by this group of ‘friends’: Of them turning their backs, physically and literally, when I walked in; of being able to hear one of them telling the others, ‘Don’t talk to her…’; of feeling like a pariah, a leper, a criminal; of hearing them laughing at, and about, me. I did not know until fairly recently that they gave my friend a hard time too: Made him, in effect, choose between me and them – and he had little option since, at the time, he was in a relationship with another member of the group and, thus, could not easily go out on a limb.
He has said since that their behaviour was cruel and callous. At the time, I was so busy blaming myself for being broken and faulty and imperfect that I could not see that. All I could see was that I was a naughty and difficult girl, deserved my punishment and had to try harder to be normal and acceptable and socially adept.
The view, both in my social circle and at school, was very simple: I hadn’t actually been raped or seriously injured, therefore I should have got over it very quickly and stopped being so poorly behaved, so antisocial, so self-indulgent.
In vain did I try and point out that violation is violation, that the punch which fractured half a tooth was very real violence, that the imprint of rough hands on my breasts lasted for days, if not weeks.
I do not know, even now, why this assault triggered such a strong response in my friendship group. Were the women frightened that it might happen to them? After all, the man who attacked me was never caught. Did the whole thing engender, in some of the men, a worry about what they might be capable of if sufficiently provoked by a woman? Uncover violent fantasies they did not wish to look at?
Or was it simply that the childlike rawness of my desperate grief and hurt was too much for them to cope with? That it reminded some of them of being small and powerless and prey to the superior (and, at times, punitive) strength of the adult world?
Perhaps some of them secretly thought I had asked for it, walking home alone late at night dressed in pretty clothes.
That wound has stayed with me. Oh, it scabbed over eventually – and I thought I had both forgiven and forgotten. But sometimes, other incidents have the effect of ripping scabs off a much older cut and bringing both the pain and the blood back into the present.
The friend who was put in an impossible situation remained in my life. None of the others did.
The grim truth of the matter is this: The big severances of life (bereavement, divorce, serious illness, trauma, house moves) confront the deepest feelings both of those going through them and those who watch from the sidelines – and ability to cope is not a given in either group.
Something very similar, though far more subtle and, I have to say, underhand, happened during the divorce process – and the wound from so long ago re-opened with a vengeance. For some, the effects of my grief, pain and fear proved too much. Those who mattered, and that included my friend from way back, stuck with me through the very worst of it.
It is a truism that you find out who your true friends are at the darkest moments of your life, and this is, in my view, accurate.
It is easy to be friends with someone when the sun is shining, the laughter is flowing, when all is light and lissom and lilting and lovely. It is far harder when the sky darkens and rain pelts down and storms batter the land and the other person is not always fun to be around.
The state of the world, in the bigger sense, is a reflection of the way we deal with one another in the much smaller sense. Our social bonds and behaviour define us. Our tolerance for individuals, our fidelity, our emotional honesty are all pointers to a much wider theme.
We all need laughter and fun and joyous shared activities in our lives. A sunny bond is a happy one. Perhaps, however, we all need to ask ourselves at some point, ‘Will I still want to be around this person during the dark times?’ because, Goddess knows, that is a very different, and far more challenging, proposition.
Love, as Shakespeare put it so wisely, does not alter when it alteration finds – and the responses I have had from some people have shown, sadly, that the seeds of love were only ever shallowly planted and became blighted at the first evidence of an emotional Winter.
I think the analogy apt: Those who evince impatience when the effects of trauma do not disappear with the click of a finger are, in the metaphorical sense, complaining because Winter goes on for months rather than minutes. Both, however, will move on to Spring eventually!
And I cannot help feeling that those who campaign vigorously for the world, whilst ignoring the needs of the individual, are, in some ways, rather missing the point.
Compassion and empathy cost nothing. The widespread lack of them, however, could very well cost the earth.
This happened last night, during the wonderful Bardic Finals. I did not include it in my earlier account: The post was meant to be supportive and celebratory, and I did not feel that my momentary lapse into anxiety merited a mention.
As many of you will be aware, I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. The latter can be extremely frightening and debilitating.
Panic is not the same as slight worry, or fretting. It is very physical, extremely scary and, because the symptoms often ape those of more serious ailments, not always easy to diagnose.
I am very easily panicked by threats of violence, and loud shouted anger, particularly when such ‘explosions’ come from men. Male fury I find extremely intimidating – and have a long history of palpable physical responses, usually centred on my tummy or gullet, to its expression.
There was some barracking amongst the audience last night. I am not convinced it was in any way harmful or intrinsically scary – but, without my consciously realising this, my muscles tightened in classic Fight or Flight mode.
Then, a guy got up, and hurling imprecations at the performance then happening, staggered out. The response in my body was immediate and severe. I did not have time to think, ‘Oh, this is a threat…’ (whether it actually was or not, my system responded as if it were); I went straight into a panic attack: Intense pain, terror that it would get worse, fear of being trapped, over-breathing – the whole nine yards.
I will confess now that what I wanted most was to run away and hide. But I made myself calm the breathing down, tried to calm the reaction of pain (always severe in me), pressed my left hand to my ribs (which were hurting the most) and blinked back tears.
From past experience, I am pretty confident that NONE of this showed on the surface; I rarely cry out at such times – and most people are unaware that I am mid panic-attack unless I tell them.
My shoulders, I realised afterwards, had instinctively hunched up around my ears, to protect me from harm I guess – and this, of course, is why I very often get nasty muscle spasms in chest and ribs and back.
I am vulnerable to attack, be it verbal or physical. There is no denying this truth. The fact that this ‘attack’ was not in any way directed at me made no difference; it was the threat of extreme male rage that set me off.
But I decided when I moved here that I was not willing to abstain from all social interactions (the way I had for so long in my previous abode) just in case I might come across scary men. My feeling is that I need to face such things, such people, and learn that I can survive panic, that I am capable of coming out the other side.
It is bloody hard at times, though, and my Flight setting still comes to the fore all too easily.
Traditionally, the Spirit of Inspiration is said to descend, a flame from the Fiery Forge above. This was abundantly clear at last night’s Bardic Finals in Ynys Witrin.
There was a moment last night when Nathan Williams, musician trained under the Eisteddfod Tradition, broke into Welsh: To be precise, he told us the expression for silence which, In Cymraeg, translates as the end of battle: Tawelwch. For SILENCE was the theme outgoing Bard, Sarah Mooney, had chosen for this year’s Trial.
Hairs stood up all over my body and a sob rose in my throat, caught, like rain, between two close leaves. It is so long since I have heard the melodious sound of the Welsh language.
But it was more than that: The power and spirit of the Bardic Finals in Glastonbury, held in the Assembly Rooms, crossed artificial boundaries and embraced the diversity of this island we Celts – and, indeed, Non-Celts – live upon, as well as acknowledging, covertly, all other Celtic strongholds. Won by a Scotsman, Billy the Celt; the beautiful Awen invoked at the start – so that the spirit of Groves and the Druidic Tradition was welcomed in; a nod at the end to Ceremonial Magic and Wicca; but, above all, an evening which celebrated the long Bardic Tradition, from Taliesin onwards – and, since time is circular, backwards as well.
Memories of Cynghanedd surfaced. Times in castles and manor houses when the Bard, harp in hand, would tell stories and accompany them with song. The Bardic presence upon the battlefield, still alive in pipers and ‘Flowers of the Forest’ amongst other laments.
It was a time of love and recognition of the word:The Oral Traditon – so rich and ancient; the written form which, although more recent, has given us the most famous Bard of all: Shakespeare. It celebrated the way that Story unites us and gives us back our common heritage; the way that some of the very old languages have stored atmosphere, colour and emotion in the very bones of the sounds which make up words, hence my shuddery shiver when ‘Tawelwch’ resonated round a darkened, incense-rich, room.
I write this in excitement and fellow feeling – for I am of the Bardic Persuasion myself; also in humility, for the five Bards-in-Waiting were so fabulous in their different ways, so moving, lively, funny and talented that I felt but an embryo in comparison. Their grasp of the Celtic Mythology that unites us was profound, their expression of it beautiful. They sent inspirational light to dark area of the Western Mystery Tradition – and, in the case of Stephen Cole, accompanied the tale of Bran the Blessed upon the harp.
His was a wonderful performance and I was mesmerised from the first twinkly notes of his little harp. It touched upon the Matter of Britain and echoed much of my own private musings upon the Wasteland and Grail Question.
Tristan’s words upon the subject of the silence that both divides and contains great emotional treasure; his plea for emotional honesty; his recognition that artifice is dangerous – all brought a deep-seated acknowledgement from the crowd.
Billy, the Celt, was magnificent, musing melodiously upon the identity, meaning, history and purpose of the Bard, singing to guitar and playing ‘Silent Night’ upon the harmonica. The importance of the Bardic Tradition in our troubled world was particularly touching and stirring.
Annabelle’s lovely piece on Bridie was both poetic and emotional. Clad all in white and with a bell to toll certain moments, she looked and sounded beautiful. We were each given a slip of paper with printed words upon it so that we could celebrate and share some of the words with her.
Rick’s take on silence was very different, but absolutely brilliant. He was the Fool, who became two other characters, one female and the other male, in a series of rhyming couplets which, by the magic of his performance and his great acting skills, became spontaneous-appearing dialogue and sobering commentary upon the way we humans are treating this fragile world, so full of song and the Word, we inhabit and share. Hilarious and moving, I loved it.
While the judges were conferring down below, and plumes of incense created spirals and strange pictures in the air, three talented Bards in the Musical Tradition came forward to entertain us. Nathan, I have already mentioned – and he was fabulous, his singing (which we all joined in with) of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ both apt and evocative.
JyaRaine, who accompanied herself on guitar and had a wonderful voice, had terrific stage presence and I loved her songs, all composed by her. Huge talent there
Dora, who followed her and also sang to guitar, had a very different, but equally effective, musical presence. She had been in Wales and sang of its magical beauty. Her words of love for landscape took me back to my time in the West part of the Principality.
The moment arrived. The judges trooped back. The five Bardic hopefuls stood in a circle, facing outwards to the audience. Tim Hawthorn, Elder Bard, explained that the judging had been both difficult and very close. This did not surprise me. I would have hated to make a distinction between five such fine performances.
But, winner there had to be – and this honour, to be held for a year and a day – the duration between Sir Gawain beheading the Green Knight and his journey through the Wasteland to meet his destiny – was conferred upon Billy, the Celt, to rapturous applause from the audience.
The Bardd Newydd was ceremonially robed and seated upon the Bardic Chair. Sarah gave him the gift of Taliesin’s words as her farewell and handing over act. I felt tears rise at this point.
What is so strange is this: My musings, and my editing skills, have, of late, been turned towards my own Love Song to Wales and to the Bardic Tradition – and this evening very much stirred those stifled embers into new, and I hope exciting, life.
It was a joy to behold – and a reminder to us all of the fact that we are all in this business called Life together; that unity within diversity is not just possible but urgently to be desired; that the Bardic Tradition is alive and well – and that the wisdom of past Bards fires the forge of creation still.
Unfortunately, a problem has arisen with my mobile phone connection and I have been unable to download the images I took last night. There are, however, plenty of lovely photos on Facebook.
My words will have to suffice!
This fiddle is part of a living heritage: My father learned to play it (though not for long); one of my siblings got to Grade 8 on it – and I took it over when I started to learn many years ago.
I love it, though I don’t practise enough and am technically pretty inaccurate. But the gift of music has been passed down the generations of my family and, although Son does not play this particular instrument, he has certainly inherited a considerable talent for music (far greater than mine, if I am honest!).
It touches me to think that this one violin was tucked under the chin of a small boy in the thirties, a little girl in the late sixties and early seventies and now belongs to a fifty-something women; it touches me to think that blood kinship and music connect us and that, when I am gone, this beautiful fiddle will grace the next generation to come into the world.
Living heritage indeed!
Who could be more notorious than Adam and Eve and Lucifer, eh? And yet, as with all notorious beings – whether historical or hysterical, legion or legendary – how we are drawn to their dark glamour, their rebellious shine, their aura of danger!
Attraction to danger, to the dark side, to a disturbed aura is a well-known and documented phenomenon. We see it in literature, in psychology, in survivors’ groups, in our everyday dealings with friends, in our own souls.
To put it in earth-based context, thunder and lightning are both full of exciting energy – though both have the capacity to scare us and, in the case of the latter, to inflict serious damage.
In many ways, falling in love and developing a huge sexual attraction for another is very like being struck by lightning. The way lust lights up the sky of our lives; the way it zings beautifully through our inner landscape; the way it illuminates the darkness and turns us on (for many are secretly excited by storms) – all of these are enormously arousing.
It is, I suspect, no coincidence that my first sexual experience took place during a wild and wuthering storm, and that the backdrop to passion’s heaving gig of primal noises was the full orchestra of thunder, lightning and driving rain!
What is it about those individuals with jagged auras, or disturbing colouration to their energy, though? The Heathcliffs of this world, I mean! What is it about this kind of cruel-edged personality that fascinates so many of us? Why is a frisson of nastiness often more alluring than kindness and sun colours?
Is it all to do with the Fall, whether reality or allegory? Is it the race memory of the delight of temptation, the dizzyingly erotic call of the forbidden? Does light call to darkness and vice versa for some form of completion? Do edgy types quite simply have a greater tank of sex pheromones at their disposal?
Is a storm necessary for the highest expressions of Eros? Is niceness, actually, not particularly sexy? Is the creative side of sexual amour aided and abetted by the merest hint of the destructive?
I think that, for many of us, the Fallen Angel is far more attractive than the Archangelic and ascending variety. We may condemn Lucifer for his rebellion, but we can never forget that his name means Bearer of Light or Morning Star, and that he was, symbolically, an essential counterpart to the God figure.
I have flung myself body and heart into caverns of ice and darkness, sure that I could provide the heat necessary to melt the former and light to heal the latter – but also intrigued by the sheer splendour and beauty of those underground stretches of frozen time.
And I think that the phrase ‘frozen time’ may provide part of the answer, for there is something rigid and unmoving about many fascinators (human, not hat!): Often deeply wounded in early childhood, these people remain stuck – and this can easily be confused with a reassuring firmness of purpose and a rock-like steadiness. But also, and more sinisterly, the frozen aspect can leave them immersed in the hardened amber of youthful beauty and grace far beyond the time for ageing.
Often we sense the portrait in the attic, see it, perhaps, as a sack of darkness attached to the back of the individual we love or lust after. We can feel the reality of Dark Wings, but we romanticise them and sympathise with the act of rebellion which caused our Lucifer – or Lucy – to be thrown down from Heaven in the first place.
But I think it is also very simple: Religion has very much associated sexual desire with the dark side, with guilt, with sin. I think it no coincidence that many priests and priestesses are required to live a life of celibacy and that the great religious icons are portrayed as sexlessly beautiful beings.
I think we are programmed to see sexuality and our own sexual responses as bad, wrong, even evil, an endless wicked striving for forbidden fruit, with the Wrath of God hovering just out of sight if we take the teeniest bite!
And, if this is so – and many of us, at a deep level, see those hidden urges as dark and sinister and wrong – it is, perhaps, not surprising that we seek reassurance, and affirmation, in other dark auras, not always seeing clearly that there is one hell of a chasm between guilt and deliberately choosing the Dark Side.
Perhaps we are just looking for a snake to blame for our own arousal!