Bits about Ordeal and Madness

Disclaimer : I apologize in advance if there are many misspellings and grammatical errors due to “mis-typing”, this post was pretty loaded, and hard to write, so I expect it to contain many flaws.


Thanks to an online interfaith community on facebook, I was able to gather some pieces about what ordeals are. I got some remarks by a friend of mine which kind of triggered the realization I might have missed the whole point of my two year diploma. This article by Del is absolutely marvellous, please read it also entirely for it possesses a rhythm and a progression of its own. But I wanted to extract bits here and there in order to show what mattered the most to me, which might help other people wondering about ordeals, and might provide a path to follow for sharing personal stuff.

Many people ask me about ordeal, and they’re surprised when I tell them about my own; we expect ordeal to be physically painful, to be about blood and sweat and tears, and we turn away from that and let it be the story of other people. […] But my story, my ordeal experience, looked nothing like what someone would expect. Many people come to me for ordeals because in their mind, “ordeal ritual” and “hook suspension” have somehow become linked; in the same vein, more ordeal workers than I can count have asked (or sometimes demanded) that I teach them hook suspension, because they feel without that knowledge they are somehow lesser. But my ordeal, my most transformative experience, had nary a hook in sight.

… no black leather, no whips and chains, no sexy dominatrices forcing me to my knees. My ordeal did not happen in a darkened room fitted out to look like a torture chamber or dungeon; my ordeal happened in the middle of a green field, at the peak of summer, during the afternoon.

I had always read that ordeal is personal, no ordeal is like the other. Nevertheless, I was myself subject to those “common views”, I thought that ordeals were close or linked to physical pain. I was looking for definitions because what I experienced, of course, couldn’t be an ordeal. It was all in my head, once again, like everything spiritual…

But what I felt was very peculiar. A feeling, an urge, a need… unidentified, for something greater than myself, some sort of answers, that could only be found through the ultimate kind of test. It is very close to what Del describes here :

Once in a great while, something will come along and afford us the opportunity to have an adventure. But how many times have you heard about something, felt a longing for it deep in your bones, but let the voices of scarcity convince you to stay home? I don’t have enough money. I should be cleaning my house. I need to get more sleep. My body won’t be comfortable traveling for that long. It’s scary and unknown, and I need more comfort in my life.

We yearn for something more, but the yearning passes as soon as we go back to what is familiar. 

 I have enough pain in my life, we tell ourselves, and I don’t desire to be in any more of it.

Something that is entirely unacceptable in the face of Reason with a big R, everyone will talk you down, because it’s not worth it, too uncertain, etc etc. And yourself, you can’t reconcile your good common sense with this urge. It’s antithetical. You have to chose : do you want security, safety ? Or do you want to live this experience ? And the unknowable is weighing on the scale, on your shoulders… those “what if”, what if it’s useless, wrong, what if I fail… It’s a great leap of faith.

We have to find a deeper truth to our lives, in the corners where we do not know all the answers, do not know what to expect, can not set our watches by how long it will take, and most importantly, be in a realm where success is not assured. In order to truly engage in the realm of ordeal, there must be the chance that you’ll never know the real answer. In most ordeals, we only learn that we are asking the wrong questions, over and over again, increasing in volume; if we’re lucky enough to get the answer, it is never a comfort. It only reminds us that we aren’t thinking big enough, wide enough; stuck once again in our boxes of expectation and instantaneous comfort.

It is really about going out of the comfort zone, the control, and the knowing. I wonder how it happens for other people but mine almost drove me crazy.

The interesting thing is that I’ve always rejected physical pain, and I really thought it had nothing to do with that… I focused on the mind. But I’ve just come to realize how wrong that was. It was a double ordeal, or two-folded. It was both physical and psychological. My body started by shutting itself down, bringing me down, to a point of exhaustion beyond anything I had known, and to a point of vulnerability that I couldn’t bear, because those are some things I don’t want to show to people. A part of that trial was to accept that I was sick, highly sick, and that I needed rest, that I was fragile and needed help, and I had to tell people about it, and not hide myself like I’m used to. Then I had to figure out, to waver between two attitudes : accepting that I would have to act despite the sickness, to move forward carrying it ; or, finding a milder equilibrium between action and rest. But the trick is that in both cases I never knew what would come of it. I had to release my wish for control, and to accept that I could fail.

I had had health issues for several years, wondering how I could be so fragile and yet so resistant. So the symptoms, the tiredness… there were a pain in the ass and yet manageable. But there were so many of them yet, that it was a bigger burden that the usual. And then I realized another trick, which leads me to the psychological dimension. The disease, which was first and foremost biological, had also known neurological aftermaths, which started to make me doubts : I started losing all concentration, I could not focus on one thing for more than 10 minutes ; then I started being incapable of reading, putting two words together to form noun + adjective, or noun + verb, and make a sentence in my mind, I just couldn’t ; and last but not least, I started forgetting. Everything that I was trying to put into my mind was vanishing, and old stuff that were there disappeared to. I just freaked the fuck out. It was, and sometimes still is, like losing yourself, like being eaten by a disease, and often you think of Alzheimer – except that I am 24. I was losing all my memories, my knowledge, sometimes I couldn’t even remember my day. Who was I ? How could I be someone when I was collapsing this way ?

And apart from the personality issue, it weighed hard on me, on my project and my “public face”. I was disappearing to myself but trying to conceal it. And more, it was disabling me from doing what I was doing. Who may need concentration, reading and memory the most ? I was, and still am, a student and researcher in literature. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t learn, I couldn’t concentrate. What the hell was I doing in those seminars ? How could I pretend to write my dissertation ? I was losing myself, again, completely. I was cut from my capacities. How could I manage getting in my diploma ?

Ordeal is about showing and facilitating parts of yourself that you’d rather keep hidden; your fear, your rage, your failures, your shortcomings. If you can’t be honest about what those are, the ordeal is meaningless. You must be willing, enthusiastic even, about standing in the fullness of that which you’d otherwise hide. If you’re not ready to bare it in front of witnesses, you’re not ready for an ordeal.

I had to accept to try without being sure I would get it. I had to accept to try and tell other people what was happening. I had to try and do it myself, as I was at that moment, fragile and most, unsure, with my whole being.

And then, I started running straight into a a brick wall. If I don’t look at my issues properly, there were strengthening the brick wall, and I was the stupid wolf trying to blow it away. My issues unknown, deep in my subconscious, were gathering strength and beating me down ; also, acquiring irrational energy, and creating angst.  The writing of my dissertation started getting the worst out of me : it put me into uncontrolled altered states of consciousness, it loosened my grasp on reality. It put me on an alternative madness road. It was excruciating. It is one the most intense and long-term pain I have ever encountered in my life (two years). I was paddling vainly, rather sinking deeper and deeper. It was torture. I wanted to flee, and yet I had to try and do it. But the fact I could fail was killing me. Every attempt was a torture. Uncertain. Vain. Getting my fears and angst stronger. Weakening my mind and my body. I started feeling very fragile : I felt insecure, in the very sense my life was like in danger. My sanity was in danger, when I was getting to my studies, I was unsure if I would slip never to return again. Why “return” ? I experienced the exact same process as the madness that watched me when I went through my shamanic ordeal.  In put me like in another world, in altered state, and every day I was doubting myself, feeling I would be stuck there and lose reality for good. And I felt really, really weird, for I was working on this such brilliant mind, I was feeling closer and closer to this woman of old times… who was sinking and sinking into depression and losing her grasp. Who one day decided she couldn’t stand it and drowned herself. Where was I myself ? Wishing to be brilliant, to deliver some achieved form.

And during this time, I had the impression that the Spirits were letting me cool off. Letting me rest in peace… Was I ? No, in fact,  they were witnessing the whole process, which was part of my spiritual / personal path. Something different was at stake, needing the whole space and discharging me from my death work.

The Spirits are teaching me about myself, about my weaknesses and strengths. About being oneself 100% without shame. About pushing oneself further and succeeding without many handicaps. They are also teaching me about being “bigger”, taking more space, asking for what is mine, wishing for something more, wishing to achieve great things. And they are, once again, to my surprise, teaching me to write. I still can’t accept that but I’ve written about it before on this blog, and I have opened the devotional site they wanted, but I still have no faith in myself and in this message. I assume they will push me harder until I do. And I will try to learn, I have a monograph on the way, I will try to get back to my devotional Death Work pieces, and more. I’m following the stones along the way.


Celebration of the Written Word

On this 11 January 2011, I join Sannion in his praise to the Gods of wisdom and writing and to the Muses. Here are some verses that I love…. despite the shame that I can’t remember on this day more personal likings… (no French poets ! Shame)

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death

“Bright Star”, Keats

“How happy is the blameless Vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d

Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard”

Hymn to Winter Fairies

My holiday trip to the East of France lead me to an incredible land of winter and snow…. And inspired me this hymn to Winter Fairies.

“A mysterious train flies by at midnight, dark shadow upon white mantel ;
A winter tale from a strange land, magic is at work ;

The wind blows over the empty fields, ripples on the river ;
There’s something in the air, energy flowing round in a dance ;

Fairies of Snow.”

Hymn I to Belenos

First attempt to write an hymn to Belenos.

Belenos the Radiant
With the goldened hair
Invite me to dance
On a cheerful air.

Belenos my Lover
The outburst of laughter
A passionnate look
A warm embrace

Belenos my Father
Take me by the hand
Kiss me on the forehead
A reassuring smile

For there is no time for joy
Your blessing is everywhere
Hail to Thee dear Beloved
Belenos three times Fair

Masters and inspirers

In response to Sannion’s post, I’ll try to write here the list of my “masters” as I like to call them. People I admire for their work/vision/action. Most of them are writers because I’m a literature girl, but there are others.

(to be modified and continued!)

J.R.R Tolkien : for the impossible task he achieved creating the ever so marvellous world of Arda, his incredible studies of languages (and the creation of fairy languages), his so damn’ good poetry (read the HoMEs), his incredible…. There’s too much to say. He’s just my number one.

Edgar Alan Poe : fascinates me with his all his masterpieces in the fantastic genres, so full of intranslatable poetry, and great narration style.

Sitting Bull : I learned by heart several of his speaches when I was a kid (10), and it continues to blow my mind away each time. Vision of humanity, vision of nature, the ultimate peace, …

Virgil : for his Eneid mostly, because I read him in old latin and translated him… It’s just an incredible man, an awe-inspiring writer, with his unforgettable poetry and narration skills.

Tacitus : my favorite latin historian I guess, he just left me breathless with the ultimate precision of his accounts (despite the SO concise style).

Philip Pullman : modern genius with the “Dark Materials” series, which is mind blowing, for renewing the SF genre, for his so great vision of the world(s)… I thought it was now impossible to be great today, but he showed me that one can still symbolic, powerful, moving, disturbing, even when writing in century where it is supposed to be no more good writers. A real tribute to Milton and Blake by the way. Impressive.

Emily Brontë : because she gave me a vivid example of my own inner turmoil. I was apart from the young people my age, I was undergoing a crising, and I then realise that I was not the only to feel “that” way. I discovered how it was called : the gothic. And I understood I was not sick, I was not alone Just a temperament most people do not understand.

Virgina Woolf : Because she is just… impossible to fathom, because her writing and her personality are just sexy. She was a thinker and philosopher in a time when women were ust crap. She had the chance to be independent and she knew it. She had something with the five senses which pervades her writing. Her diaries are great. Her novels are mind blowing. Her aesthetic is my life. And I hate to study her, that I HAD to do it for work, because her writing suffices itself. It’s sensual, it’s deep, it’s visionary. It speaks to the seeress that I am, it speaks in images like my brain do communicate, it speaks of a mix of painting and poetry and prose… it’s impossible to go beyond, to do better. It’s its own aporia.

Andersen & the Grimm Brothers : because those tales are unforgettable, because they shaped me and they shape the collective mind. Because they’re true and real. Because tales never die. Because we need more of them.

To be continued.

Prayer when in distress

I wrote this piece last year, around February, as I was undergoing a very harsh time. I was looking for something sacred, something superior, to support me through the process. It was unpersonified, without a face… I think it is stronger so, but it can be devoted to any deity I guess.

Oh Thee, Highest above all
Pure Love, pure comfort
Thy glory is ever shining
Outstanding, even in daylight
So true, overwhelming
Like inner evidence.

Hold me in Thy Holy Hand
Bless my path with some light
To dispel the shades and to offer Thy guidance.