When I was ten, my maternal grandmother came to stay with my mom and I for a visit. I was terribly excited because we lived two thirds of a continent away from all family so I almost never saw my grandparents. My paternal grandmother had died when my father was very young, my paternal grandfather had died a few years previous, and the woman I had always known as my paternal grandmother was a very dim memory who sent regular cards for holidays and my birthday but was otherwise unknown to me. My maternal grandfather was likewise a dim memory; she and my maternal grandmother had divorced several years previously but my granny and I exchanged letters and phone calls a lot. Out of all my relatives, she and my aunt (my mother’s sister; my father was an only child so my mother’s brother and sister were my only aunt and uncle) were pretty much the only family I felt really connected to. So when my mom told me she was coming for a visit I was ecstatic. In fact, ecstatic was kind of an understatement. But like so many times, I hid the extent of my feeling because I was so used to disappointment I told myself over and over to not get too excited because chances were something would happen and I would end up getting disappointed when Granny ended up not coming.
But she did come! And I was so happy! She came shortly before my tenth birthday, and all sorts of incredibly exciting things happened. My mother had separated from my father just before Granny’s visit, and at the time I didn’t understand that Granny had come to be protection and moral support for her. Granny ended up staying for almost a year, always postponing her departure; I didn’t understand why that was. By the time she left I almost hated her because she was a stern disciplinarian and I reacted very badly to the removal of my father from our lives. The vacuum of his violence and abuse is a very complex matter yet very textbook when looked at from a psychological standpoint. But I was a child, living in that horrible situation; my mother and my grandmother were themselves suffering in that vacuum and in the 1970s and early 1980s in the high desert of California, a single mother on a very tight shoestring budget simply did not know what to do. In retrospect, it is extremely clear to me the incredible depths to which my mother was damaged by extended, long-term abuse and gaslighting. Not only by my father, but by her father before her. I recently discovered that my paternal grandfather was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in the mid-1970s and at some point, for some length of time, institutionalised for it. In the 1970s just about any mental illness was categorised at some form of schizophrenia. It’s very probable he suffered from bipolar disorder and because it was untreated, and the horrible things bipolar does to those who suffer from it and the manners in which people self-medicate, it’s likely a secondary mental illness such as borderline personality disorder manifested. I don’t know this for certain; I can only guess based on extremely spotty family stories (my family absolutely does not discuss my paternal grandfather or any of their personal histories; this is a form of stigma that hinders adequate mental health care, and the hiding of this sort of “family secrets” is a horrible, horrible thing), and piece them together with my own experiences and the experiences of others in support groups and copious amounts of research. And lots of talks with my therapist and psychiatrist.
One of the first things Granny and Mum and I did together was get my ears pierced for my birthday. It was a surprise. We pulled up to the salon, and when my mother told me why we were there I nearly did cartwheels for joy. My father had expressly forbidden me getting my ears pierced forever because he didn’t like it; he thought it was trashy and whore-like. All three of us hugged and said words of shared rebellion against him when I brought up the fact that he would be mad, and my mom said it was ok and she was the mom and said it was ok because I was a whole ten years old now. I picked studs in the shape of stars, and gloried in my pierced ears. My father was indeed angry when I went for visitation and punched me repeatedly in the ears while screaming horrible things about my mother and grandmother, and then me. We were all cunts, bitches, and worse. I was going to end up being a whore. I would end up spreading my legs for any man that came along. I had to strip and show him that I had no blood between my legs or that my boobs had not started growing. He had to tweak my chest to make sure. All while screaming at me and hitting my ears. I never bothered telling my mother any of this because it was all so routine by this point, I thought it was normal. I thought everyone’s father was like this. It was just something to be endured; you shut down and just go somewhere else until he was done, or at least wound down enough to go guzzle another beer or stalk off muttering to himself. Then it was safe to come back to myself and let the ringing in my head sing me back to full consciousness so I could read, or wander off into the desert and cry or let my imagination soothe me with fantasies about something better. But never for too long or I would be late for the cooking lesson or the welding lesson or whatever other lesson he decided to teach at the spur of the moment. Never be out of earshot, because when he eventually calmed down he would want to teach me something that would make me worthy.
Another part of my birthday celebration that year was a trip to Universal Studios. Back then Universal Studios was not as flashy and glamourous as it is today. The big thing was the Jaws ride. In 1981 it was still the biggest draw, and people lined up to be tormented by Jaws almost snatching them off the jerky “boat” at the end of the track. But what I was superduper excited about was the Battlestar Galactica show and exhibit. Who cares about Jaws? Stupid shark. Give me the cylons! Give me all the Gallactica pilots! Especially Starbuck, omg! Will they have Muffet?! Will there be a fighter you can get inside? My mind was whirling and my imagination was running wild. I think I went through that thing maybe three times before my mom and granny begged me to see the rest of the park. I remember the damn Jaws ride. Only because I was unimpressed: it was so obviously fake…let me get back to the freaking cylons and the battle of Galactica, dammit! That stupid shark isn’t going to eat anyone, sheesh. But those cylons just *might* take over this time! After our time at the park we went to a restaurant right outside the park for dinner; I can’t remember the name of it even though I swore to myself I never ever ever would forget. But I remember the inside clear as a bell. Typical early 80s decor of dark wood, dim mood lighting, even those weird hanging lamp things that had a woman inside with these filament nets on the outside that had some kind of oil/water running along them so it looked like she was inside some sort of fancy waterfall thing. I was always fascinated with those things. Still am. Anyways, we had a divine leisurely dinner, but what made it super awesome was that there was this guy doing card tricks right at our table!!! I don’t know if my mom and grandmother told him it was my birthday and got him to come over and perform at our table, or if he was going around to all the tables and stuck around for a bit after finding out it was my birthday, but man! That was like an extra special birthday present! I felt like a superstar! It was the very first time I ever went to a restaurant and had special attention paid to me. It was magical. It is why, on my birthday, I love to go to restaurants that do silly crazy things and draw attention to the birthday person (my favourites so far are the local chain Three Margaritas, which put a big ole fancy sombrero on your head and bring out a big candelabra and sing happy birthday, and a local sushi place with EXCELLENT sushi where the owner brings out a huge gong banging it fit to beat the devil while singing happy birthday, and then you get to whack that gong as hard as you like). Also, there was live music performed by this beautiful ethereal lady who looked just like Juice Newton. And she sang “Queen of Hearts”! Do you know why she sang that song? Because of card tricks guy. I told him how much I loved Juice Newton. I mean…Juice Newton!!! I loved Juice Newton!!! And I told him that “Queen of Hearts” was my favourite song by her, and his card tricks was like serendipity (I loved that word when I was ten, and I still love that word), and I thought the singer looked *just* like Juice Newton. So she sang that song!!! AND THEN SHE CAME OVER AND SAID THANK YOU FOR THE COMPLIMENT!!! I was in fangirl heaven, even though I didn’t know who she was to fangirl over her, actually. I was fangirling over Juice Newton. But the singer lady at the restaurant would do. She came to our table! She told me happy birthday!!! Omg I felt like a PRINCESS!!! My mom and grandmother were so full of smiles that day. They were so happy for me. And I was insanely happy. I fell asleep in the car on the way home.
It was the best birthday EVER. In my family, birthdays are not made much of. I think my mom tried, but I never had birthdays really. It was just another day. That birthday is the only birthday I can remember that was really treated like a special day. More often than not my father forgot my birthday. When I tried to remind him of my birthday he would get angry and tell me not to get uppity because it was just another day. On my 16th birthday he did get me a cake when we went to his friend’s house but I think it was because they told him 16 was special; something pretty awful had happened just before that, and I was terrified the whole time we were at his friend’s house that we were going to go home and something more awful was going to happen. I wasn’t disappointed.
I woke up this morning with Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” stuck in my head, so I pulled up the YouTube video and watched it. I let the song take me back to that birthday. Happy memories like that are few. I keep them in my heart-box, a place inside my heart where I store precious thoughts, feelings, memories, and images that are so good and wonderful they are like food for my soul. These are my inner angels. When I need to bolster myself and encourage myself, the things in my heart-box are what I pull out to help me. When I need to shield myself from things, my inner angels are what I strap on as my armour. It took me a long time to realise I had inner angels. I was so plagued by the things that weighed me down and kept me immobilised I didn’t realise I had thousands upon thousands of wings inside me to raise me aloft. Sometimes “aloft” is only a little bit off the ground. When I am gravid with despair and dim with the greys of depression, it takes many of these inner angels to lift me just enough to get up and do simple things like take a shower or put the dishes in the dishwasher. And when I start to think of my inner angels, they start multiplying.
My Granny passed away when my son was two, about 17 years ago. She had a stroke; the doctors said it was a relatively minor one and it was up to her whether she pulled out of it…but she was ready to go. All the family that could gathered at the hospital for her crossing. At the time my husband and I had just decided to start trying for another baby, and that summer had commenced the ritual in the middle of the White River in Vermont. My Granny had told me earlier that year during a visit with us, while holding her great-grandson, how much she wanted a great-granddaughter. I told her I had been thinking about it off and on, and had talked with my husband about it a little, but that we weren’t quite ready. But that I would tell her when it happened. When she was on her deathbed, her breath rattling in and out of her chest while we waited for each one to be the last, I leaned in and whispered to her that her great-granddaughter was in the works. My husband and I had told no-one of our plans to try for another baby, and we had no idea whether we would have a boy or a girl. But I knew my next child would be a girl; sometimes one just knows these things. I knew I could be wrong, of course. One never really knows until that babe pops out, after all. But still…as soon as I whispered to her, I knew. It would be about another year until my daughter was conceived, but my husband and I were patient. All the while I knew my granny was watching and encouraging, because she knew she was the first to know. I honestly forget if my daughter is the first great-granddaughter, because Granny has a slew of great-granddaughters now. But technically she *is* the first because as she lay dying I told her about Brigid before she was even conceived. And my angel granny helped make it so. She’s one of my inner angels, and when I think of her I think of my daughter. I think of my mother, and how crazy frightened she must have been that year I was ten years old but instead how strong she was. It must have cost a crazy amount of money to get my ears pierced, go to Universal Studios, the restaurant, not to mention the gas! Plus we went to the San Diego Zoo that year. We took the TRAIN!!! My ten year old self thought about the money, but I quickly forced myself to stop thinking of it, because I thought if I thought about it too much, something would happen and my mom would say, “Sorry, changed my mind, can’t do it after all, we have to leave.” Or that plans would change and the trip would be cancelled. Or even that we would have to get up and leave in the middle of my magnificent birthday dinner. Or that in the middle of getting my ears pierced she would say something like “just kidding, I didn’t mean it, let’s go home”. Because the disappointment factor was SO REAL and SO PREVALENT. Money was *always* being talked about. “Sorry, you can’t have that, it costs too much.” “Just because you’re an only child doesn’t mean you get everything you want.” BOY, if I had made tally marks in a notebook for every time I heard that last one, I would probably have an entire college-ruled notebook full. I HATED that sentence. I started grinding my teeth every time my mother said it. It has become such a trigger for me I get angry just writing it. I’m not sure how it became entrenched in her mind that the natural desires of children to express delight or desire for stuff became equated with me expressing unholy greed, but to this day she has really messed up perceptions of money and Things, especially when it comes to children. As a child I was so afraid of expressing desire for anything that even looking at the catalogs that flooded our house became a guilt-ridden pleasure. But I had absolutely no concept of money because no-one ever explained it to me; I was never included in family budget planning so I didn’t understand how much my parents made, or how much we actually spent on food or utilites or anything. I just knew that I was supposed to feel guilty about it because I cost so much, and then later that my father was giving my mom “child support” because I was some kind of commodity. A neighbor at one point convinced me that the child support was actually my money, so I told my mom that and she flipped her lid and went on one of the biggest rants I have ever seen her perform and told me that the $200 my father gave her for me every month didn’t even come close to covering how much money I cost. My mother did almost everything wrong raising me, but as an adult working on healing a lifetime of neglect and abuses I have learned a very great deal about my mental illness. Along the way I see a lot of my mental illness reflected and revealed in my mother, most notably severe PTSD. It is so hard being a single mother. I’m not, so I can say that with alacrity. I look back on the years my mother struggled and I frankly don’t know how she did it. There she is, finally having gathered the courage to force my father to get out. I have no clue how she did that. And she’s left with this damaged child with no idea how to cope with her own damage much less the damage of this child. Her mother comes to stay for about a year to help, but then she’s left floundering on her own again. All the while suffering from severe PTSD and not even knowing it. In one of the most sparsely populated areas imaginable, on a shoestring budget, working a pretty menial job (secretary), as a woman in the days of rampant sexism, and to make matters worse she has been so gaslighted her whole life to do whatever anyone in authority tells her to do without question…she does. Even when it completely damages herself and her child. Remember trauma messes with your brain, and specifically your memory recall. Our brains block out specific memories so we will not remember traumatic events or memories we don’t want to face in order to prevent us from re-traumatising ourselves. Not all trauma victims have this problem, but a great many do. My mother has more of a swiss cheese brain than I do, and she can’t recall a lot of my childhood. I ask her about certain things and fifty percent of the time I get that blank “I don’t remember that” response. It used to make me angry, but now it makes me sad because I know why she doesn’t remember. In spite of all of this, my mother is one of my angels. She worked so hard for me and for herself, and the guilt she feels over doing so much wrong eats at her. I try very hard to encourage her to get help now, because it’s not ok to wander through life so horribly damaged inside that you can’t remember the good things.
My angels take so many forms that sometimes I forget how innocuous they can be. Flowers. Flowers are so ubiquitous. But they are literally everywhere. In the grocery stores. Fake ones in craft and hobby stores. Pictures of them by the millions online. I’ve even got clothes with flowers on them and I’m a good goth girl. Since getting out of hospital I’ve added funny animal videos to my angel repertoire. Lately I’ve been struggling with my depression; it’s not really surprising. December is always a tricky month for me. This year I went into the month knowing it was going to be difficult, and I did my very best to go in with eyes wide open, communicating with my loved ones about my fears and hopes, and coming up with a game plan with my therapist. The plan worked well. It sure wasn’t a total sunshine-and-roses happyhappyjoyjoy fix-it to my perennial December darkness, but it helped me stay ahead of the depression, and it helped me stay strong. December has a lot of unpleasant anniversaries as well: I got my DUI in December, and it’s the anniversary of our house fire. It’s the six-month anniversary of my hospitalisation. It’s also birthday time for my son and husband; if my son had been born six hours later he would have been a birthday present for my husband. It’s always been difficult having their birthdays ten and nine days before Christmas; since my birthday was never treated specially, I have always treated my kids’ birthdays like the really special days I think birthdays are. And since my son has a birthday ten days before Christmas, I was always very very particular about making sure people distinguished between birthday and Christmas for him. It annoys me to no end when people do that whole “here’s your birthday/Christmas present” to him. RUDE! Someone said recently “well I can’t afford to buy him presents for both” and I wanted to reach through the phone and perform Darth Vader strangulation. It’s common knowledge that in our family we totally dig handmade gifts, and this person is a crafty person. In fact, they spend an inordinate amount of time crafting for other people. Who are not family. Who they don’t know at all. This sort of thing, at any time, pushes my buttons. In December, it sends me into the Never-Never Land of Instant Pissyness. The reason I stopped celebrating Christmas a few years before I met my husband was because of the stark materialism of the holiday. To have it consistently thrown in my face, especially by someone close to me, made me physically sick. That anxiety sickness that comes upon me when I have been pushed beyond my limits to physically cope. My son was depressed on his birthday, too, which piled more onto the growing December mountain. I couldn’t make my husband his traditional birthday cherry pie for lack of ingredients. But still…I had so many more tools than I have ever had before, that I was able to still shine.
There’s another angel I have in my heart-box, and this is a literal angel. Or, angels, I should say. When I was a toddler we lived in Germany as my father was stationed both in Bitburg and Spangdalen via the Air Force. While there we bought some angel chimes. In Bavaria they are called Pyramids and they can get insanely elaborate, but the one we had was just a little thing: a brass contraption of a base with a stand upon which was a strut with some bells, a spinning thing with some angels with some clappers hanging from them, a flat spinning blade, and on top an angel balanced. On the base were holders for four small candles. The heat from the lit candles spun the blade, which had the angel clappers attached to it, and they would ring the bells. The chiming it produced was so magical. When I was little I would beg and beg my mother to pull this out every Christmas. On a few occasions she would. On even fewer occasions she would light the candles, and then I would be transported by the magic. Watching the light sparkle off the brass and listening to the tinkle of the chimes is another of my few happy memories. It would only last a few minutes though: my mother would extinguish the candles too soon, and when I asked her why, she would say we couldn’t waste the candles because we might need them in an emergency. She would put them away in a drawer with a bunch of other emergency candles. That we never used. We had a few other decorations like this, almost all of which were from Germany, that I would beg to be put up, but almost never were. They would be broken, she would say. I always felt so disappointed and hurt. I know that the reason my mother stashes things away is because my father would always go on rampages and smash and break things, and she would rather have these beautiful things from Germany that she couldn’t replace safely in a box rather than smashed all over the place. It happened plenty of times, after all. Christmas always ended up like that: him in a drunken rage breaking things and hitting us. But those angel chimes stayed locked in my memory and I have always kept them and their sparkle and sound as something magical and precious. This year, I saw a bunch of them for sale at a local hardware shop and asked my husband if I could buy one. When he said yes I was overjoyed, and that evening as I put it together I told him why it was so precious to me. So as we lit it (the lighting of the candles also being a huge milestone, it being the first time I allowed candles in the house after the fire, and the first time I actually lit them since the fire), we held each other in the darkness and the sparkle, listening to the soft chime tinkle through the living room. I looked at my daughter and named the angel on the top for one of our favourite angels from our favourite tv show and we laughed.
Having inner angels is a wonderful thing, because they counter the inner devils. And how, how we need counters to those inner devils. For a long, long time, I thought all I had were inner devils. The demons of spirit and mind that ate me alive when I was consumed by the dark feathers that covered me when depression seduced me into pits of bloody rage and self-destruction.
I find it incredibly ironic that my father shoveled fundamentalist Christian faith down my throat with a fire hose opened full-bore but insisted consistently from a very early age that I was a whore, damned, and worthlessly disgusting and beyond saving. And even further ironic that it’s because of his incessant shoveling of that faith that I ended up turning my back on it to become a Wiccan because of questions due to his scientific outlook and the science he introduced me to. In his clearer moments he would say things to me like, “The preachers will say things like evolution is not real but they forget that God says to him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day…so there is no reason why God cannot have created the universe and evolution happened at the same time.” When I was very little he utterly blew my six year old brain by handing me a book on the universe, and I read it, and it said the universe is constantly expanding and thus it never ends. And I went to him and asked him to explain this and he said it was true but also tried to explain entropy to me. Mind. BLOWN. I had nightmares. Seriously. I also had nightmares when he explained black holes. I still find science infinitely more frightening than religion because religion is a creation of mankind, but science is utterly ruthless and dependent upon nothing and no-one but itself. It cares about absolutely nothing. It just is. Once in a very great while I will have people ask me how I can justify my faith with my love of science, and I always shrug and say that it’s just something I do. I quote Arthur C. Clarke: “Today’s magic is tomorrow’s science.” I also ascribe to a lot of Jungian philosophy and the idea of archetypes, and I mesh a lot of my faith in my gods with those Jungian archetypes. But mostly I don’t overthink my faith. I just take it for granted that that’s the way I feel, and I trust my faith to help me when I need it, and I set it aside when I need science to be sciency. It’s a balance I’ve worked out. It’s personal. It’s not a formula I can quantify or set down on paper, because it’s taken me 44 years and all that personal experience and thought and meditation and countless discussion with countless people and so much reading I can’t describe to get here. Everyone has to find their own balance. I’m always telling people that their relationship with the Divine is between them and the Divine and it’s nobody else’s business. And if you’re an atheist that’s just groovy as long as you don’t tell me I’m wrong or ignorant. What goes on inside my head and heart is mine; what goes on inside your head and heart is yours. Let’s share and compare notes, but let’s not project right and wrong onto each other’s soul unless it comes to blatant ethics violations like pedophilia or baby sacrifice or human rights violations.
My father made me very, very confused about my inner moral compass for a very long time; when I began to question the faith I was raised in I thought I was evil and that I was going to go to hell. It all began when, as an assignment for the Christian school I was going to, I was to do a paper on witchcraft. Using the Bible as a reference, and only the Bible. This proved extremely difficult because I found exactly one reference to “witch” in the Bible. My teacher, when I told him this, told me (looking very confused, and stammering and hemming and hawwing a bit) to expand my research to other sources. But first he had to look up witches and witchcraft in the Bible to make sure. He looked it up in several Bibles, as a matter of fact. So began my foray into the occult. And I discovered that the word “witch” in the King James Bible was a mistranslation of the word “poisoner”, which itself was a mistranslation of a much more complex Hebrew word that basically meant a tribal herbal healer who was a woman. I was completely flummoxed. I had no idea what all this meant. I knew all about mistranslations and languages because I was a Tolkien fanatic and he had introduced me to linguistics; I had always been a wordy girl and had gotten into trouble more than once in school for writing too much or using words that sometimes my teachers didn’t know the meanings of. Sometimes I had even used elven or dwarven runes along the sides of my pages. One time I wrote my name in dwarven runes at my previous Christian school on a book report I did on The Hobbit thinking I would get extra credit but my teacher FLIPPED OUT thinking I had written Satanic glyphs. Yeah, it was that kind of school. Anyway, by the time I finished my report I had dedicated myself to witchcraft. Secretly. Very, very secretly. I was thirteen. My report was very, very carefully written to glorify the church and the political statements of Christianity. I got an A and my teacher mentioned to my father at the parent-teacher conference how amazing it was. Secretly I was consumed with fear that he and my teacher would find out that I was committed to this arcane religion of dark secrets. At that time, it was impossible to find out very much at all about witchcraft other than historical references. There was no internet. There was a card catalog at the library. My library hours were very limited, and the books I brought home were scrutinized heavily. I was not permitted to read past certain hours. At this time I slept on a cot in the same room as my father, right next to his bed. My secret devotion went absolutely nowhere for the next three years. The whole while I was convinced I was going to hell.
When I was fifteen I transferred to a public high school, and that transformed my life. I had teachers and curriculum that opened my mind to critical thinking in ways I had never ever experienced before. But the thing that really opened my heart was my friend Mary. Mary taught me that I was not going to hell. Mary had been raised to be able to think and feel how she wanted and needed, and Mary was a witch. Mary taught me magic. Mary’s dad interjected solid wisdom from time to time, such as how to pay attention to the root chakra and the lovely earth spirits that are drawn to it so one can stay grounded. Mary and her family (I’m still in touch with them, bless their everloving souls) saved me in so many ways. Over and over again, they return to my life and live in my heart. Some people are in our lives for reasons we cannot fathom, and Mary and her family will always be a part of mine. It cracks me up remembering that my father came to their house one day (bear in mind that Mary’s mom was my English teacher at one point), wearing a sports jacket and tie and doused in cologne so they couldn’t smell the booze and pot on him…and proceeded to do a hellfire and brimstone lecture to them on how he knew they took me to their back bedroom and smoked pot with me and proceeded to perform Satanic rituals with me. Mary’s mom Cammy later said she was so shocked she had no trouble keeping a straight face while he was there, but after he left she collapsed into a fit of the giggles. I tried very, very hard to convince my family during this time that I was a good little Christian girl. I continued to go to church (which my father didn’t; he never went to church after a certain point when I was little in spite of all his rantings and ravings about sin and hellfire) to try and seek some balance to my inner feelings and faith. But it all came crashing down when I simply could not reconcile the vastness of God with man’s narrowness in interpreting it, and science. I questioned my pastor about it multiple times and he suggested I have a heart-to-heart with my youth pastor, so I sat down with him one day and did just that. Afterwards I never went back and turned my back on Christianity as a source of any sort of personal faith and quit pretending to my family. I asked him what was going to happen after the rapture and the events of Revelations; I had my Bible and many passages marked for our discussion. He said, quite simply, “We will sit and bask in the glory of God.” I asked him to elaborate, saying that couldn’t be all there was to it. He said again that we would sit in the house of the lord in and glory in the presence of the lord. It went on like this for a few more exchanges, and I got increasingly frustrated. I tried to engage him in more detailed explanations, telling him that such a thing was scientifically impossible, and a being as massive and powerful as god would not want his creations to simply sit there at his feet like a bunch of imbeciles and drool all over themselves after going through all that trial and turmoil and spiritual anguish to transcend and just SIT THERE. And that idiot just kept repeating back to me the same line over and over, that we would sit in the house of the lord and glory in the presence of god. And finally I had had enough. I screamed at him, “THAT IS ENTROPY AND GOD WOULD NOT STAND FOR HIS GRAND CREATION TO WASTE AWAY IN ENTROPY LIKE THAT WITHOUT SOME GRAND FINISH OF ENLIGHTENMENT!” And then I stood there for a few seconds but the guy just sat there, and then finally said, “Young lady, you will respect your elders!” And that was that. I do feel compelled to say this was a “congregational” church and the most progressive sort of Christian church I could find in the very progressive city of Pasadena in the mid-80s.
But that’s the kind of environment where my inner devils were born: an extreme fundamentalist father who convinced me I was dirty from the beginning, and it was pretty much a foregone conclusion I was guilty and going to hell. I stole a couple of quarters from the workbench of his boss (a side job he had fixing radios) once, and later he asked me if I had any quarters so he could do laundry. I said no (freaking out because I thought he was tricking me). A little later he was going through my suitcase and found the quarters. And he ended up beating me with this whuppin board he had made out of mahogany with holes drilled in it (because he said that would hurt more) until it broke. He was pissed I had made him break it, because he had spent so much time making it. He had even stained it. And then later he had my mom take me to the police station and had the officer there put me in handcuffs so I knew what happened to thieves. Apparently my little petty thefts (which I occasionally did; I haven’t figured out why I did that) had gotten so out of hand beatings no longer sufficed. I was 11. My inner devils also grew out of an environment where nothing was explained to me. Literally nothing. One day in church, the Southern Baptist church we all went to while my parents were still married and the one I was baptised in, they were passing around communion. Or whatever communion is called in the Southern Baptist church. I was about six. Wedged between my mother and some other person. The tray of grape juice in pretty little glass cups and crackers went round, and everyone was taking one. I don’t know what the preacher was talking about; it was all always incomprehensible to me. My mother took one and passed it to me so I reached out to take one and she gasped and snatched it from me and hissed, “That’s not for YOU! You can’t have one!” And hastily took the tray and passed it to the person next to me. And proceeded to drink her grape juice and eat her cracker and ignore me. And not explain. And continue to not explain after the service. Not even when I continued to ask why. My “whys” were always answered with “because I said so” or “because you’re not old enough” or “you don’t need to know” or just with flat silence. I eventually just stopped asking. I figured I just wasn’t worthy. I was a screwup. I didn’t deserve to know. I was a mistake anyway; I had been told I was an unplanned pregnancy and from the way I was treated my inner devils took things and built elaborate stories that told me exactly how terrible and un-needed I was.
Conditioning like this leads to cognitive distortions so deep they are carried around forever, no matter how long or how thoroughly one works on them. No matter how much healing one undertakes. My inner devils will always be with me. When I was a teenager I was so full of rage and hatred for my father I literally tried to sell my soul to the Christian devil I had renounced in order to kill him. I was 16 and had tried to jump off the second story of my high school English building. My friend Mary’s mom pulled me off. I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for about a week, underwent the standard tests to determine a diagnosis, observation, the whole shebang. They determined I was “just depressed” and that there was no evidence of abuse. That I was just seeking attention. To this day I have no idea how this could possibly have happened. The only explanation I can come up with is that they interviewed my father and that he was so thoroughly convincing that they disregarded my test results. That they did not interview anyone else. That as usual, lack of visible bruising was considered no evidence. That my repeated reports to the school nurse were considered simply manufactured drama. This mistreatment by the mental health industry has become one of my inner devils, but at the time I was so full of rage and despair I felt there was no other way but to use the occult to do away with my tormentor. I felt that to turn my father’s own devil against him was supreme poetic justice. I almost went through with it, but once again that good old time religion programmed deep within me convinced me I would go to the firey pit and be eaten by worms forever if I did it. So instead I went home to another year of physical, mental, psychological, and sexual torment before I walked out.
The inner devils dive deep. They hide in the nooks and crannies of our psyches and wait oh so patiently, oh so cleverly, in the darkness. They wait until the cycle comes round again and then start whispering in that darkness. When the light starts to dim, you can hear their insidious voices. Sometimes you don’t even realise they’re whispering. You just start to feel bad; your energy dips a little. Then a little more. Their claws and talons have snagged you a little. And before you know it, you’re laying on the couch and you haven’t showered in three days or a week. Your dishes are piling up and your hair is a mess and your family says “what’s wrong” and you scream “I DON’T KNOW!” But you do know. It’s those devils. They’ve slithered out of the darkness and they’re laughing because they’ve got you again.
But we’ve all got inner angels, too. And you know what? Each angel has a sword. A mighty, shimmering, light-bringing sword forged in the crucible of our being that is more magical than any Excalibur. And those swords each chime with a soft chime that has more power than oceans.