“The Devil represents the psychic aggravation.”
- Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes
“It’s a challenge in the face of something so vast and so dark, that all the pain on earth – and do you know how much suffering there is on earth? – all the pain comes from that thing you are going to face. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why it should be unleashed against you. I know only that it will be. And I know that if you carry…through to the end, it will be a victory…not just for you, but for something that should win, that moves the world – and never wins acknowledgment. It will vindicate so many who have fallen before you, who have suffered as you will suffer. May God bless you…You’re on your way into hell.”
- The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (p 133)
#IAccept what haunts me.
#IAccept my alter ego.
I pulled these prompts out of my “magic box” on two consecutive days. I think I was desiring a double-dose of the “darker” side because it is the side that is all too often ignored, silenced, or thrown into that deep muddy hole on the back of the property – the one we pile all the dog poop on.
Today I’m going to focus on the first one. What haunts me.
Before I go into detail, I need to offer up a bit of background because my brain space (or soul space as it may be) leading up to this time was already consumed with the imagery of devils and demons and hauntings and ghosts. Seems I’d been spun around in the cosmic dryer and the static charge I was attracting was socks and underwear of the more notoriously villain-esque themed variety. They were shocking me to attention.
What will you do with us?
The silent creeping.
The unnameable substance that lurks in shadows.
I’ve never been much of a horror movie or haunted house fan, but I wonder if the allure isn’t that we all have a child inside us that has his or her hands to the face, with just enough space for the eyes to peek through and see how bad it really could get. What is the worst that is out there, and are we strong enough to face it? Or, oddly enough, what is the worst within us and are we strong enough to accept it?
“Devil gonna follow me e’er I go
Won’t do me no good washing in the river
Can’t no preacher man save my soul”
- Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars
The demon/devil/satan archetype is an expression that has helped us put words to the thing that we fear the most. But what happens if we stop fearing it, running from it, burying it? What happens if we turn and face it?
A month or so ago I drove around in my car after the sun had set, windows cracked for fresh air, tasting cloves on my lips and airing out my soul. My friend says it’s good to air out your house when you’ve been sick, and so I figure it’s good to air out my soul when I’ve believed the lie that it too is sick.
I spoke out loud the things I had buried forever ago, the things that certainly are not resolved and may very well never be resolved and I put them on the dashboard and let them slide back and forth as I took turns around the intersections of my town. When something is on the dashboard you feel like you have to reach up every so often to catch it, to stabilize it, to keep it from dangling too close to the edge, but I didn’t do this that night. I just let them slide. And I thought, what’s it to me if all these things have to slide around for awhile?
“She is strong in her insistence on her sorrow, and this causes the thing that wishes to destroy her to withdraw.”
- Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes
These hauntings are made of styrofoam, the stuff the environmentalists warned us about because no matter how long they stay underground they just aren’t going to decompose. No amount of water washing, preacher exorcising, or self-flailing is going to breakdown the imperishable. But maybe it’s not a substance that needs to be broken down at all. Maybe it’s only the enemy if we say it is.
“Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear.”
- Home, Phillip Phillips
My art journal currently lays open on a coffee shop table. No one around me knows that it is open to a page where I have documented all my most current haunts. No one knows that I carried all those within me for so long and no one knows that I’m laying them open, exposing them to fresh air and cobweb-free space. But they are there just the same, floating in the air above our heads and each person in this shop has their own ghost cloud hovering at different distances above them. A walking cloud of blackmail, waiting to pounce. What do we with those clouds? Are they really something to be ashamed of?
Among other things my ghosts say,
“That I’ll miss a cue.”
“That I will never let myself enjoy now.”
“That I’ll get pushed (or I’ll willingly walk) past the point of forgiveness.”
“That I will forget how to listen to me.”
“That I chose wrong.”
“That my imagination is useless.”
“That I won’t be taken seriously.”
“That there is no such thing as momentum.”
“That the days will drone on like this.”
“That this earthly life – 100 or so years – is all I get.”
“That the people I give myself to will never once see me for the me without this costume that I wear.”
“That I am trapped.”
“That love is lonely.”
“That I’ll fall back asleep.”
“That poetry will refuse to meet reality.”
“Bag of bones and blood red cheeks
Guilty from the words I speak
Say the truth will set you free
But it won’t for me…
The chorus sings
This is home
The devil’s been talkin’.”
- Devil’s Been Talkin’, Need to Breathe
While we may be busy personifying this devil as a murderer and this song as depressing, meanwhile, the man who sings such lyrics has actually been about the tough business of creating his own way home. The true home. The home that is not afraid to say, you better believe there is a devil that talks to me sometimes. And he’s not the keeper of eternal damnation that I should fear and he’s not red horns and a bag of tricks passing out candy on a doorstep that I should laugh off. This is a haunt that is real, and when it’s not there, I’ve shamefully buried something that was never meant to decompose. It’s a haunt that is mystery and when it’s not mystery I’ve numbed myself to a discomfort that keeps me alive.
”There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back
Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right
Your mind is playing tricks on you, my dear
‘Cause though the truth may vary
This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore.”
- Little Talks, Of Monsters and Men
I believe at our core we don’t want to lie to ourselves. We long to acknlowedge the presence of ghosts, of haunts, of demons. And we long to acknowledge that sometimes it gets a bit confusing in our head, which voice is actually ours and which is that dastardly devil who’s trying to trip us up.
I think the archetype is helpful because it gives us some outward source on which to cast some blame and throw some fists. Afterall ,we’re all just scrambling for somewhere to cast the blame. The devil made me do it, we say unconsciously, but consciously we may learn to say, “The devil made me realize I have a choice to make.” If we allow it to, this acknowledgement of the demons can free us up from self-mutiliating ourselves into proper beahvior. “That damn demon is back again,” we may tell a close friend, and the close friend will remind us, “No matter. The ship’s still going to get to shore. Let’s just ride this one out.” Or the friend will tell us, “Wake up will you, that damn demon doesn’t get to win this one.” Or perhaps that dear friend will say, “So be it. Cheers to this life anyway, even with the occassional dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight. I’ll play the banjo, you’ll beat the drum, and we’ll get by.” That dear friend is well acquainted with your ghosts, and if they go missing, they’re not afraid to help you find them.
I suppose the trusted friend is the common denominator in this scenario. So be sure to get yourself one of those. And yes, I know they are a rare commodity. But the devil, the demon, the ghost, the haunt, it’s going to show up regardless, and it’s a lot more manageable when you have a friend telling you, “You’re not crazy. By god, you’re not crazy.”
“And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t
So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope
It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat
Cause looking for heaven, found a devil in me
Looking for heaven, found a devil in me
Well what the hell I’m gonna let it happen to me”
- Shake It Out, Florence and The Machine
Until that good friend comes along, you’re going to have to be the one reminding yourself. The one saying to all those witchdoctors and headhunters and excorists and healers and ghostbusters:
“I don’t need no surgery
Take those knives away from me
Just wanna die in my own body
A ghost just needs a home”
- Weighty Ghost, Wintersleep
Because the deal is you’re not broken and a haunting doesn’t always necessitate a fixing. Sometimes the most healing work you can do for yourself is to strap on your own vacuum pack and suck up the ghostbusters themselves. Because the ghosts always come bearing #secretmessages, and if you’ll give them a place to rest they’ll teach you things everyone else would rather you avoid. We get off easy in this world when we cast off and bind up demons instead of leaving some space for a late night, perhaps I had one too many drinks, “Scrooge Haunt” to lead us down a dark trail to our own glowing grave. Death begets life, even when we’re peering at it through the barely cracked slits of our own fingers. Don’t let them take that slit finger gazing experience away from you.
And you know, sometimes the ghosts are just going to be present, like the Hogwart’s floating phantoms in Harry Potter. You’ll get used to them floating through every now and then, and you’ll be able to give them cordial names for their dramatic personas. Instead of Nearly Headless Nick you’ll call them Nearly Wordless Nora – the ghost of writer’s block or Nearly Stagnant Norma, the ghost of paralysis. You’ll let them slide back and forth on the dashboard and you’ll drive onward anyway.
The things that go bump in the night may well also be the speed bumps in life that wake you up and keep you from falling back asleep.
“That which haunts only remains in hopes we will change our intention. But we know better. #noapology.”
I’m just saying, if there’s a devil scheduling a moonlight hoe-down near the poop pile in my own backyard. I’m going to be sending back an RSVP check-marked in bold black marker beside the box #IAccept.
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