from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 10 December 2011

cursing on the rowan tree

In the orchard, migrating thrushes, blackbirds and redwings are feasting on what's left of the windfall apples. The hedges are laden with berries, this year, thank goodness, for the birds.

In the valley, after all the rain we've had, the stream is having a number of different conversations, each at its own register. Walking the footpath I see that several hazel are stretching out new leaves alongside the catkins – they must have had a shock last night with heavy frost.

Simon's cut back an elder – oh no! – I had a few words with it as I brushed past yesterday, reassuring it of its longevity (it was admittedly blocking the path, and a few skidmarks in the slopey mud suggest people have been going past on their behinds as likely as their feet). The local smallholders tend on the whole to leave nature pretty much to do its own thing, and Simon works conscientiously to keep to minimum impact while still tending the land – coppicing, steeping, harvesting the pruned wood to make hurdles and heat his house, leaving the land always looking cared for but in harmony with its environment. He'll never cut a tree unless he feels it's important to do so. I thought the elder was safe. In ancient Celtic times it was a serious crime to fell an elder – a most sacred tree.

Which brings me obliquely onto what I want to try to talk about. I was going there yesterday with my blog on karma but stopped short – partly because my braincell hadn't quite mapped out the scope of the terrain I want to speak of, and partly out of cowardice, as it involves speaking of personal and potentially, for me, painful stuff.

Here's a first foot into that landscape...

I'm thinking of the aboriginal concept of bone-pointing. It was commonly accepted that if the tribal medicine man, or an elder vested with such power, or simply an enemy, 'pointed the bone' at you you were dead. In our European culture, the equivalent is being cursed. This is the black side of magic (where white magic is used to heal, black is used for harm).

Yesterday I touched on the concept of belief – how a belief, a thought-form, will shape our life; and how much more dangerous that can be if that belief is not made conscious. If a culture supports a particular belief system, individuals in that culture will also, subliminally or more consciously, tend to hold those beliefs, at least unless they're aware and bold enough as to challenge them.

What is interesting is that 'bone pointing' or the equivalent doesn't seem to rely only on the fact being conveyed with the victim's conscious knowledge; in other words, it seems to work even if the victim hasn't been told that they're being cursed.

I don't know the scientific materialist's view on this, but anyone who is not the most emotionally detached hardline materialist, philosophically speaking, must be aware of the fact that information can be conveyed to another person not just verbally nor just via body language, but wordlessly via the emotional nature. This realm, the emotional, psychic or astral realm, is a collective place: C G Jung called it the collective unconscious. Our emotions do not respect the boundaries of the individual physical body. Messages are transmitted through this dimension via a kind of intuitive perceptive ability, telepathic at times in its scope. Some people (those with a high level of imagination and empathy, often) are more skilled in receiving and transmitting in this realm than others, but we all (I believe) have this faculty, and it can be developed through meditation and other practices.

I assume that 'cursing' someone makes use of this mode.

That is a digression really from what I wanted to speak of, and deserves a great deal more attention than I can give it here. But coming towards what I want to speak of, I'm thinking here of Gavin Maxwell's belief that his former lover, the poet and mystic Kathleen Raine, cursed him on the rowan tree behind his house on the hill at Camusfearna (Maxwell wrote the wonderful Ring of Bright Water, a book on his time living with otters on the West Coast of Scotland – a book that shaped my childhood and later life, and the epigraph to which, a few lines from Raine's poem that titled the book, determined me, aged 11, that I wanted to be a poet). After that time, Maxwell's life deteriorated dramatically, culminating in a fire that destroyed his home, and his later cancer; for which Raine held herself responsible.

OK, so this is the hard bit to talk about. As you'll know if you've followed my blog, my mum died four weeks ago. I have been thinking for the last six weeks about an incident in the late summer.

My mum had Alzheimer's. One of the implications of this is that someone with that condition is very easily disorientated; there are few, if any, points of reference, and she found it hard to be separated from my father and taken out of the home where they lived. However, the GP felt that a large mark that had appeared on her forehead needed investigation, so referred her to the hospital as an outpatient, as she feared it was a carcinoma. One of my sisters and I took her.

My mum had had a lifelong terror of hospitals. (She herself was almost never physically ill, but two of my sisters had life-threatening illnesses in their childhood; one of them to the point where she was in intensive care.) We had developed a habit of rather protecting my mum from the world, as in many ways she was quite childlike, and the more so with Alzheimer's.

Anyway, we took her, and the whole trip was quite traumatic; but as nothing compared to the trauma of the way the young female surgeon shocked my mother. Rather assuming my mum was deaf – which she wasn't – the woman examined the lump on her forehead and brought her face close to my mum's, making eye contact. 'You've got cancer!' she bellowed – hardly a skillful way to tell anyone, least of all someone as sensitive as my mum, who was, of course, deeply shocked and upset.

The reason I mention this is because, 10 days before she died, we discovered that my mum was very seriously ill. Even those of us closest to her had no idea. As I say, she has always been more than robust physically, if not so much emotionally. We decided that it wasn't in her interests to hospitalise her for further investigation/ops which she might not in any case have survived, and where she'd have to face it alone amongst strangers; more especially since it became obvious very quickly that this was terminal, and she'd be much more peaceful dying, with my dad beside her holding her hand, and us, and a great deal of love and care from the care staff, in the suite of tranquil, light-filled rooms looking on to the garden, in which they lived. It seemed important to give her continual family company, and her beloved Mozart on in the background, and low lights. But the doctors thought, from the severe and sudden significant blood loss, that my mum must have had cancer, internal cancer. And none of us knew; there had been no sign of any prior pain or discomfort of any sort. The journey from that point to the end was swift, and more or less painfree. I also know that it was the right thing for her, and that it happened exactly as it 'should', and the timing was, at some level, her choice. It was undoubtedly the best thing in the circumstances; and despite our sense of loss I still knew that at the time.

When it is one's time to go it is one's time to go, however it happens. There is no avoiding death.

But it does cross my mind that if someone 'in authority', in a position of power, speaks with enough conviction, a vulnerable and impressionable person might internalise that message and manifest it.

Who knows? 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy', says the great man.

And you will understand that I'm not attributing blame; the young surgeon was doing her job, was acting in my mum's best interests, she thought; and if she was emotionally clumsy, or ignorant of people's sensitivities, perhaps – well, so are many people. My mum was particularly sensitive. It's also quite likely impossible that any serious illness can be manifest in a matter of a couple of short months; though it might well have been accelerated (and given where Alzheimer's takes one, and my mum's gradual but inexorable deterioration, I suppose there is a case for saying that might not have been the worst thing imaginable). As deaths go, even in the middle of grief I can see that this was a 'good' one.

So I might be adding one and one and arriving at 42; or, maybe, to quote one of my mum's favourite phrases, perhaps it was a straw in the wind.

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