This is about some of the darkest points in my life. There’s no helping me of the past, but it may be useful to someone else along the path.
Dion Fortune was a great occultist and contemporary of Aleister Crowley. She was a proponent of light and protection while exploring the occult, so, naturally, she and Crowley were bitter opposites.
Dion wrote the book Psychic Self Defense from first hand experiences. Knowing the nature an attack allows us to build threat models and defenses to protect ourselves in the future.
Reading this book, something slid into place. There are things that happen to a mind that become slippery. There is no memory of them having happened, just a painful lump attention skids over. This was done to me. Thankfully, it was a sloppy job.
These excerpts are from the preface of her book. They describe what happened to Dion when she was a young girl of 20, entering the employment of a woman known as the Warden.
It was [The Warden’s] custom to control her staff by means of her knowledge of mind-power, and she had a steady succession of most peculiar breakdowns among the people working under her.
I had not been with her very long when she wanted me to give evidence in a lawsuit. She was a woman of violent temper, and had dismissed an employee without notice and without wages, and he was sueing her for the money due to him. She wanted me to say that his behavior had been such that she was justified in thus dismissing him.
Her method of collecting my evidence was to look into my eyes with a concentrated gaze and say, “Such and such things happened.” Fortunately for all concerned I had kept a diary and had a day-to-day record of the whole transaction. If it had not been for this I should not have known where I was. At the end of the interview I was dazed and exhausted, and lay down on my bed in my clothes and slept the sleep of utter exhaustion till next morning. I suppose I slept for about fifteen hours.
Then the Warden gets someone unjustly fired using Dion’s unwilling assistance. The Warden attempts to bleed dry an orphan of considerable means. Finally, when the Warden does this to an elderly woman, Dion stepped in secretly and helps the woman escape. The Warden found out, and Dion realizes that she needs to leave in a hurry.
I was up late the following night packing, in preparation for my intended flight, when there came to my room another member of the staff, a girl who seldom spoke, had no friends, and went about her work like an automaton. I had never had any dealings with her, and was more than surprised at her visit.
It was soon explained, however.
“You are going to leave?” she said.
I admitted that it was so.
“Then go without seeing the Warden. You will not get away if you don’t. I have tried several times, and I cannot get away.”
Dion didn’t take the advice that would have saved her.
As soon as she learnt that I was leaving, she said: Very well, if you want to go, go you shall. But before you go you have got to admit that you are incompetent and have no self-confidence.”
She resumed her old trick of fixing me with an intent gaze, and said: “You are incompetent, and you know it. You have no self-confidence, and you have got to admit it.”
To which I replied, “That is not true. I know my work, and you know I know it.”
My employer did not argue or abuse me. She kept on with these two statements repeated like the responses of a litany. I entered her room at ten o’clock, and I left it at two. She must have said these two phrases several hundreds of times. I entered it a strong and healthy girl. I left it a mental and physical wreck and was ill for three years. (emphasis mine)
Some instinct warned me that if I admitted I were incompetent and had no self-confidence my nerve would be broken, and I would never be good for anything afterwards, and I recognised that this peculiar maneuver on the part of my employer was an act of revenge. Why I did not pursue the obvious remedy of taking refuge in flight, I do not know, but by the time one realises that something abnormal is toward on these occasions, one is more or less glamoured, and just as the bird before the snake cannot use its wings, so one cannot move or turn away.
Gradually everything began to feel unreal. All I knew was that I had to hold on at all costs to the integrity of my soul. Once I agreed to her suggestions, I was done for. We went on with our litany.
Then a curious thing happened. I distinctly heard an inner voice say: “Pretend you are beaten before you really are. Then she will let up the attack and you will be able to get away.” What this voice was, I have never known.
The next several days were spent in a stupor in bed, feeling no cold or hunger. And then she forgot what happened.
After about three days my especial friend, who thought I had left the house, learnt of my continued presence, and came along to see me; an act requiring some courage, for our mutual employer was a formidable antagonist. She asked me what had happened at my interview with the Warden, but I could not tell her.
My mind was a blank and all memory of that interview had gone as if a sponge had been passed over a slate. All I knew was that out of the depths of my mind almost terrible state of fear was rising up and obsessing me. Not fear of any thing or person. Just plain fear without an object, but none the less terrible for that. I lay in bed with all the physical symptoms of intense fear. Dry mouth, sweating palms, thumping heart and shallow, hasty breathing. My heart was beating so hard that at each beat a loose brass knob on the bedstead rattled.
Fortunately for me, my friend saw that something was seriously wrong and she sent for my family, who fetched me away. They were exceedingly suspicious. The Warden was exceedingly uncomfortable, but no one could prove anything, so nothing was said. My mind was a blank. I was thoroughly cowed and very exhausted, and my one desire was to get away.
I did not recover, however, as had been expected. The intensity of the symptoms wore off, but I continued to be exceedingly easily tired, as if I had been drained of all vitality. I knew that, somewhere at the back of my mind, was hidden the memory of a terrible experience, and I dared not think of it, because if I did, the shock and strain would be so severe that my mind would give way altogether.
Finally I gained some measure of peace by coming to the conclusion that I had simply had a breakdown from overwork, and that the whole queer transaction was the fruit of my imagination. And yet there was a lingering feeling that it was real and this feeling would not let me rest.
Eventually, she began to recover.
I obtained my release from the bondage of this fear by facing the whole situation and determining to find out exactly what had been done to me and how I could protect myself against a repetition of the experience. It was an exceedingly unpleasant process, in fact the reaction caused by recovering the lost memories was only a little less violent than the original one; but I finally succeeded in freeing myself from my hag-ridden condition of fear, although it was a very long time before my physical health became normal.
I have told this story in detail because it is a useful illustration of the manner in which the little-known powers of the mind can be abused by an unscrupulous person.
The attacks done to me in the past were more subtle and less powerful, though done to me by someone that had more access to the deep parts of my mind than most anyone: My father.
When I did something wrong in his eyes, critically non-conforming or slipping out from under his control, my father had a habit of lecturing me, and later my sister, for hours at a time, repetitively knocking in messages of our deep inadequacies.
This got worse when I had sex with someone in my senior year of high school, because I wanted to, because I was a horny teenager and I felt like I should have the last say in what I did sexually. When parents found out, lectures became multi-hour, multiple times a week.
The most memorable moment of my childhood was during one of these lectures. My dad was the lead and my mom provided support. I don’t remember a word that was said, but remember when I begun to hyperventilate, my fingers curling up. I was panicking, not knowing what was happening to me. During this panic attack, the first in my life, my parents watched without any sign of kindness. When I was able to breathe deeply again, the mental assault continued.
The litanies I had to accept, pretend to accept, or fight until I grew too tired to not accept:
- If I don’t listen to my dad or do what he says (which I didn’t) I would be a failure.
- I was the one that was dangerous and that I was hurting the people around me by not complying with the control my dad was exerting over me. I admit that this process did hurt my mom significantly, which for me to take responsibility for would be believing the narrative my father provided.
- I couldn’t have wanted what I said I wanted. I was being manipulated by others. I didn’t have agency over my body, I didn’t have power in choosing my romantic and sexual partners. How could I trust that I knew what I wanted?
- If I shared this with anyone else, I would bring shame upon the family, because I was shameful.
I felt unloved and unworthy of love. My parents were the cause of deep hurt. There is a part of me somewhere that is still baffled, “How can someone that loves you hurt you so much?”
There isn’t a simple answer. One is rewriting what love means. If love were what I described above, then love would be abuse, pain, and control. It made sense that I sought out abusers after that incident.
Love is something I had to learn outside of my family.
The rest of my senior year of high school, all I had was the soft tongue of a golden retriever that lived nearby, as a poor replacement for love and acceptance from any humans. I obsessed over that golden retriever, the only loving contact I had at the time, and knew that it too was not the real thing I was craving. That dog represented a sliver of goodness in the world when all else was dark.
It was a sad moment of camaraderie when this happened to my sister, too, when she was in her senior year of high school. I think that around that age we both hit a point of freedom and independence that triggered my father into trying his best to re-exert control. I don’t know why she didn’t leave as soon as she could. I know she felt the same fear.
When I return to Santa Barbara, I am careful to never sleep in the house that has my dad in it. There is a part of me that lives in terror when I am near my father, shutting me down so there is no surface left open for another attack. It is easy to fall into an exhausted stupor, unmoving, unthinking, not present, when I go back home. Because I don’t fully understand how to protect myself from another mind-attack were it to happen again, something that could give me poor health and low energy for years.
I don’t have an answer for how to protect myself in the future from this type of attack, besides stepping carefully. Trusting my strength that I’ve developed now is not enough. I can see now that what would happen is that I would fight to stand up for myself, my dad would continue to tear me down, and that I would have to yell or attack him. Walking away would be near impossible, a form of accepting that I am weak, bad, inadequate.
I was hoping I would be more heart-open with my family this Christmas. But it’s feeling like it simply won’t be safe.
There’s no neat conclusion to this story. I wish I had something less cynical to say than leaving us at “Happy Holidays, good luck.” Threats like these are hard to defend ourself against. We try our best, developing new defenses that hopefully protect us more than hinder us. We do the best we can.