The Many-Headed Goddess, Part 3: On Mutilation And Mysticism, Chesed And Gevurah

February 26, 2008 at 11:06 pm (proclamations, sex)

(Parts 1, 2.)

This post is likely to seem only tangentially related to the others, but they are very connected for me, sister cities in the geography of my mind. I said the first post began in the middle of the story; this one happens closer to the beginning. It is a meandering sort of post.

So, anybody study Kabbalah at all?

The foundational text of Kabbalah is the Zohar, which is a medieval work of mystical Torah commentary. “Torah” means law; “zohar” means light. People who like convenient aphorisms will tell you the Zohar is the lamp one holds to reveal the true meaning of the Torah.

Another very important foundational idea in Kabbalah is the Ten Sefirot, also called the Tree of Life. The way this was explained to me: the Tree of Life is a diagram of the Godhead. It is also a diagram of the soul. It is also a diagram of the world. It is also the map of the process of creation: it begins at Keter, the unified Godstate, unwinds and branches down into Malchut, the manifest world. The universe is a fractal, with the sefirot existing wholly at every level.

Here is a friendly diagram of the Tree of Life, which should serve you well for the purposes of this post:


(Image credit.)

Complete with English transliterations! For extra credit, compare and contrast with chakra systems.

Okay, onto the meat of the matter.

As you may know, I was a self-mutilator for a long time. Or am, maybe, in a “recovering alcoholic” sort of way. I would like to be able to pin this phase of my life down, to say, “I was a self-mutilator from 2001 to 2006,” but mutilation — what a tricky thing to put a box around. Do thoughts count? In many real ways, I think they do. What about acts that permanently changed the contours of my skin, but were carried out in love, or in a lovely form of madness? I wouldn’t count them, but I imagine anyone who happened to notice such a scar would not assume agreeable intentions, a gratifying memory.

During the worst periods, all four limbs and more became war zones. Overall, though, my attacks on myself were focused on a remarkably small area, the inside of my left forearm, the part closest to my elbow. Precisely where my tattoo is, on the other arm.

Of all the events of my adolescence, I can easily point to the one that had the greatest impact on reducing (and eventually stopping) my self-harm: coming out. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were lifted from my heart. I was visibly glowing for days, for weeks. Suddenly, finally, I felt love for my body.

It’s important to note that my coming out story is a little different from a typical one. I was fifteen; I had been struggling to puzzle out my sexual identity for a few years. For me, “coming out” wasn’t telling a secret I had known for years; it was realizing, understanding, accepting, and revealing the secret, all at once, in one great rush of wind.

I have often retrospectively conceptualized my self-mutilation as an attempt to literally cut parts of myself out. I wanted to cut out the queerness. And more: I would cut myself not when I was sad, but when I was furious. I was trying to tear my anger out of myself. It is obvious to me now that sex and rage — my rage at injustice, the anger that follows judgment — are my two strongest sources of power. I was trying to neutralize myself.

On the chart above, you can see that the second circle from the top in the left column is Gevurah. Gevurah is the sefirah associated with the left arm. And what ideas should it connote: judgment, fire, and ultimately, power.

On the right side, we have Chesed: love and kindness. It’s probable that this all happened because I am right-handed, but we are meaning-makers, so let us make meaning. This goes back to what I wrote in the first post about a disconnect between love and sex, which is a disconnect between Chesed and Gevurah, in my thinking.

In my misery, I wanted to amputate my rage and my hunger; so backwards was this desire that it perverted the forces of love and kindness into forces of brutality. And in doing so, of course, I did not get rid of my anger or my desire, I multiplied them. We only have two arms. In order to try to remove the cruel one, I had to turn the tender one into a weapon.

The severing of Chesed and Gevurah also happens when we try to make bold distinctions between nice, loving sex and intense, aggressive sex (something I did as I was first trying to understand things). The best sex, in my experience, is both and neither: the nice things are intensely nice, and the intense things nicely (pleasantly) intense; and we are aggressively loving, and lovingly aggressive.

The Tree of Life is also correlated to the major arcana of the Tarot. More precisely, the lines between the sefirot are connected to different cards. The bridge between Chesed and Gevurah is the eleventh card: Justice. For what is needed to make power and judgment just? Love. And what is manifestation of love? Power.

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