S. Elizabeth on exorcism though writing
How have you used writing as a healing or trauma recovery tool? How does it give you autonomy and self-understanding?
I often find that I can’t focus the whirlwind of my thoughts, be it with regard to trauma or grief, or maybe just an irritating exchange with someone, until I have written them down. They’re just so...wily and nebulous and shape-shifting while I am thinking about them, trying to suss out feelings and emotions and responses.
They won’t sit still. It’s too much for me to deal with on a mental level and it’s not until I’ve sat down with a focused intent and begun to channel them through my various filters and out through my fingers via pen or keyboard onto words on a page, that my thoughts and feelings begin to take custom papers written form. Writing is a form of wrangling for me. Wrangling up those ghosts and banshees and poltergeists wailing and flailing around in my head, giving them substance with words and then hopefully, in the process of writing them and in the body of what I have written, exorcising those things which have been haunting me.
A good example of this is a confession, of sorts, that I wrote in 2014 about coming out the other side of an abusive and toxic relationship. Is it a remarkable piece of writing? Is it even particularly well written? No, and no. But the act of having written it, having engaged with the memories of it, and with my trauma, provided a great measure of catharsis for me, and gave me a greater sense of agency and autonomy.
Do you integrate writing into your ritual/spiritual/magical life?
I wish I had a coherent answer for this.
I write my dreams every morning. I tease them out of my head, faint filaments at a time, looking for imagery and symbols that speak to me and which I can put into words. Not in terms of some sort of oneiromantic prophecies for the day, but in pinning down the dark flittering moth wings of my nocturnal journeys, I often find inspiration for my poems, essays, interviews. I write out lists and plans and schedules as a form of manifestation, I suppose. I play around with recipes and cobble together rewritten Frankensteined versions that made me feel a certain way when I was making them. Loving, enraged, supportive. I bake them again when I want to conjure those energies. Unlike the very intentional writing I mentioned in the first question, I don’t know if I intentionally integrate writing into these daily, maybe mundane rituals. I feel like it works a little backward for me.
Magic finds its way into my writing, as I’m writing, but I don’t know that I’m always consciously thinking about it as I am doing it and definitely not beforehand. I almost have to work around the magic, really; if I think about it too much, it’s like watching a second-hand perpetually wavering, and that never makes it to that crucial time on the clock. If I take my eyes off of it for a second, that’s when it all comes together. I don’t know if this makes a lot of sense, but I think so much of the magic that I practice happens in my hands and my heart--not my head. But it's my hands that are wielding the pen or tapping on the keys so the magic happens eventually!
If we put three writers or books into a circle to summon you, who/what would they be?
Sei Shōnagon, Remedios Varo, Shirley Jackson
Is there a single piece/book of writing that has helped to heal you? How has it helped?
Megan Devine’s It's OK That You're Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand. I experienced a lot of family death in a very short period of time--my mother, and both my maternal grandmother and grandfather--in the space of about 3 years. I was providing care for all of them, which was particularly difficult, because I was working a full time job and doing it mostly alone. My mother and I had a complex and complicated relationship (she was a recovering alcoholic and dealt with depression and personality disorders) and so it was all...very fraught. Mentality, spiritually, emotionally, physically. And this was hot on the heels of coming out of a long-term, toxic abusive relationship.
It's OK That You're Not OK, while it didn’t directly address the non-death related things (i.e. layers upon layers of childhood trauma, surviving an abusive relationship, etc.)it contained so many pieces of wisdom and insight that spoke to me...in perhaps a broader sense than it was intended, and it did actually spur me to begin a plan fort healing these other pieces of me. There’s one thing in particular that the author reminds us, and I can’t recall if this is actually in the book, or just something she said on facebook, but it’s this:“You cannot manifest death or health or loss or grief just by thinking about it. You are many things, but you are not that powerful. Your thoughts did not create this loss.
If thinking could keep people safe, none of us would be grieving. If thoughts alone could prevent illness, accidents, and suffering, we would not have any of these. Magical thinking doesn’t control reality.” Read more here.
I understand what she’s saying and honestly this in no way conflicts with my spiritual beliefs, which of course do include a practice of magic and magical thinking! I wasn’t at fault for my mother’s mental illness and addiction when I child; I wasn’t to blame for my ex-lover’s psychotic and abusive behavior; I couldn’t wish health and prolonged life upon my beloved grandparents. None of it was because of anything I did or didn’t do. It was beyond my control. I think the magic comes into play with how I survive, how I walk away from these things, how I move on and come out on the other side of it. This is the magic I practice when I write about it.
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