The Hidden Room

The Hidden Room

The other week I had an old friend come to visit. Apart from a chance meeting at St Pancras station about three years ago, we’d not seen each other for over four years so there was a lot of catching up to do. I also managed to arrange for some other old friends to come over for a few drinks on one of our amazing local pubs. Happy faces all round, and talking at a hundred miles an hour as we packed years’ worth of chat into a few hours; there’s been a lot of changes in the companies I’ve worked for (one I do still work for but has changed hands since I began) and not all of them have been good. The building where the companies were both based when I began working for both has now been sold; it was a listed building just off the old historic high street in the small port town where I used to live. I spent very little time there but it was the sort of building with funny little winding stairs, steps up or down in odd places, and after dark a somewhat uneasy feel to it. I never went upstairs, much to the surprise of the others, but when I mentioned that, a secret about the building emerged.

There was a hidden, inaccessible room.

On the very top storey there was a large room that ran half the length of the whole structure, for which there was no door. Given the cramped nature of the various offices at the time, this is baffling. My friend who now owns the company(which is based elsewhere now) wanted to knock through and find out what was there but the boss emphatically told her to leave it alone. In the past, a ladder had been put up to peer through that high window; the room was very dark and contained lots of what might be classed loosely as lumber and rubbish but there was no visible sign of why the room had been bricked up and made inaccessible.

While I was growing up, there had been a large house on my way to school. One of the rooms there had been bricked up: a bedroom where at some point probably in the 1960s a schoolboy of seventeen had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. I know little more about this story but when the family of someone I knew from confirmation classes moved into the house, I finally entered the house. I’d know the previous inhabitants very slightly, enough to say good morning to on my way to school but never to ask impertinent questions about this tragedy. The house was elegant and well cared for when I visited with my friend, but her mother (who still chats with my mum) told me a bit about that hidden room. The previous occupants, an elderly couple of military background had had the room unbricked but it had never been used as anything other than a storage room, apparently avoiding it even though they had chosen to open it up again. My friend’s mother told me the room had had an atmosphere that was very dark and sad-feeling; no one wanted to stay in the room for long, whether or not they knew the story. “I wasn’t having that,” she said. “I could sense the boy’s spirit still there, somehow, so shortly after we moved, I waited till the family were out. Then I went in there and I prayed that the poor boy would find peace and be released.” She spoke some more about this time of prayer and what she felt and experienced, but that’s not relevant, other than that the atmosphere of doom and misery lifted and as far as I know, has never returned.

So why had a sizeable room in a building that was pressed for useable space been blocked off and lost?

We speculated, sometimes wildly, as we talked of it. Had it been my property, I would have had it opened for sure. Yet the potential for menace and unwelcome discoveries had put off my former employer. The place has been sold now and I have no idea whether the new owners have even spotted they have a significant extra space they can’t currently get to.

I have a dream that recurs on a fairly frequent basis. I dream that I have found a hidden door, one that has always been there yet I have never seen or noticed. When I open it, I find either an extra room or more often an entire suite of rooms beyond it, fully furnished and ready to inhabit. Often there are signs that someone does live there already; furniture and décor is present that I vaguely recognise as mine, though when I recall details later they’re not anything I can assign to any home or period of my life. It’s not an uncommon dream, as I have heard of a number of people who have it. During our time on the coast, when we’d moved from a larger house to a smaller one, I dreamed it quite often. The sense of needing more room perhaps influenced it.

While the story from my teens might well have been involved in the creation of this dream, it has persisted for many years. I wander through hidden chambers, exploring sometimes fearfully what lies there. The interpretation might be to do with how we all have unrealised potential, or possibly hidden and lost memories that we only acknowledge during our nightly wanderings through the landscape of our dreaming psyches.

Yet just as that original hidden room in my home town was walled off due to such tragedy and trauma that the family was unable to ever set foot in that room again, I wonder if the hidden room in my dreams also houses events and memories that my psyche has chosen to build walls against, yet lets me through from time to time, to see if I am ready to remember and deal with whatever truths or tragedies I’ve shut myself off from?

A Yearning for True Magic

A yearning for true magic

A recent dream has been haunting me. I’ll share the basics here.

Magical maze: 18th April 2013

Early morning dream. Tone: Numinous, shimmering.

I can see the entrance to a hedge maze, which seems to be so overgrown and in need of a trim that I am not sure I can actually enter it. The maze hedges are seemingly box, the leaves very fresh and shining green (the previous day I saw the knot gardens at Strangers’ hall in Norwich that are made of box) but when I somehow slip pass the entrance, the way between the hedges seems to have widened. I’ve gone in to see if the maze need maintenance ie trimming the hedges but once I am in, everything is different.

My first impression is that there is magic in action. Not conjuring or trickery but real magic. It’s a funny feeling. I’m very scathing about things that are pretend magic, like Disney and theme parks. I hate it. I hate people pretending that something that is set up to be a kind of backdrop for a scene is real. But this is real. Outside the maze it had been ordinary daylight but once inside I seem to be surrounded by shimmering moonlight and starlight. The light on the glossy leaves sparkles, and there is a sound like icicles ringing, high pitched like silvery bells but very tiny and almost inaudible. I can feel my senses tingling and I have a sense of excitement, of anticipation.

But I don’t know why I am there. I hadn’t planned to go in, I was just investigating to see if the hedges needed cutting and I feel out of place and unprepared now. I remember some lore concerning mazes that if you keep the hedge to your left/right shoulder you will find your way so I start to walk, following the twists and turns keeping the hedge to one side. I don’t want to be there; I have not planned this and I feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel the right time, despite the sensation of magic going on.

Eventually I reach what I think is the centre but I find there is an opening from it back to the normal ordinary world. I can see a street scene, very mundane with a bus going past. I feel odd, I’m not sure I want to leave but I do. I am aware I am going to go back and walk the maze properly when I am ready but when will that be?

Analysing the dream I can see that I want what I call magic to be real and yet I fear constantly that what is seen as magical is nothing of the sort and is a kind of con trick made by corporations wanting to give people a kind of a ride. Yet I do believe in magic, in the numinous encounters that I know are real and yet at times I doubt. I believe in fairies and yet at times I doubt everything. Somehow things need to prove their reality.

I don’t know what the maze is but perhaps it is my own mind.”

The dream reminded me how much I hate fakery. I don’t mean conjuring, stage magic but rather the kind of let’s pretend that accompanies theme parks, role play, cos-play and the like. It’s not for me, let’s just put it like that. I can’t pretend that the glitter really is faery dust or that the artificial special effects are the real deal. I have read a great deal of material from spell books and from esoterica and it draws me, powerfully, this yearning for the numinous, the otherness of the unseen realms. Some time ago, someone sent me a link to a site with fairy pictures. They were clearly just photo-shopped pictures, mostly cutesy children dressed up as fairies, with special effects. And yet, people were believing these were real. I could not. Apart from the fact that I suspect that supernatural beings are well able to evade photographers, the pictures were nauseatingly sweet in most cases.

I want real magic, something that shimmers through the fabric of what I think is reality, and changes how I feel about it. The yearning is currently painful, because there is so much fakery around. I can’t play let’s pretend and truly believe it, and yet, I desperately want to experience something that is beyond the usual run-of-the-mill mundane world that is filled with buses and newspapers and boredom. I need to spend time in the quiet liminal places of the world, trying to hear the silent song of the worlds beyond this one, tune my eyes to the subtle, fleeting incursions of other realities. And if a door opens up, I will step through, however ill-prepared I may seem. In the dream about the maze, I woke regretting that I had not journeyed to the centre to find what lay there. I’m done with caution. 

Ice Age Art ~ the arrival of the modern mind?

Ice Age Art ~ the arrival of the modern mind?

Last week I went to see an exhibition of Ice Age art at the British Museum:

The subtitle of the exhibition was ‘Arrival of the modern mind’ but more or less as soon as I stepped inside I questioned this. The first of the pieces were also the oldest, some forty thousand years old

I found that my reactions were of awe at the sculptures and irritation at the explanations. The irritations were simply because the small snippet of text for each artefact used both simplistic ideas and simplistic expressions; none of which does justice to the artefacts.

The idea that suddenly there was a leap of massive proportions from brutish empty-minded cavemen to exquisite primal artists annoyed me. The concept that human beings had gone from no art to fully formed and finely tuned creations is ludicrous, but in essence that was what the text in the display cases suggested. To be fair, the multimedia guides one could pay to use, and also the book that accompanies the exhibition may well go into much greater and more subtle explanations, but the impression someone would garner solely from the explanatory labels is that ‘as if by magic’ human beings learned to create art overnight.

Art of any sort is a process of long hours of practise, on top of generations of other artists’ work. All art is derivative of earlier forms. So the Ice Age art here is not the first art at all, but the first art that has survived for us to see. I imagine a great deal of early human art was ephemeral: body art, drawings in the sand, patterns with flowers, dance, song and so on.

So what made the difference? Why do we have such tangible art remaining from artists whose bones have been dust for tens of thousands of years? The answer: enforced leisure time.


This remarkable sculpture is thought to have taken around 400 hours to change a mammoth tusk into a figure that even today holds immense numinous power and visual impact:

But it cannot have simply leapt into the mind of the artist one day when he or she picked up a piece of ivory. The figure existed within the mind first, perhaps borne of legends already ancient, of myths already lost in time and drawn back for the tribe by a clever carver. Perhaps it was a familiar face, drawn on the sand in front of shelters since time immemorial. We’ll doubtless never know, but whatever it was, it mattered enough for someone to spend hundreds of hours creating it from raw ivory.

The Ice Age was a time of enforced inactivity and stillness. Long winters around the fire, with the same people, with little to break the monotony, meant that, as the saying goes, people had to make their own entertainment. You had to keep busy in some way or go mad So a project that might take all winter would be something to treasure. A reason to keep going when the snows piled higher and higher and when it felt like spring would never come.

Art is what brings hope. Whether it’s art that you can see, or art that you experience in other ways, art is what keeps us going, whether we know it or not. It may also be something that is crucial in retaining our humanity during tough times both personally and tribally. Both the creation of art and the appreciation and participation in art lift us out of the mindless fog we can easily slip into when winters literal and figurative drag on and on.

One of the pieces that moved me the most was not a depiction of a person or an animal but rather a possession. A flute crafted from the leg bone of a griffon vulture drew my eyes. It held the fine patina of an instrument polished by continual use, by perhaps generations of fingers that played tunes for others to listen to, or kept a lonely wanderer ‘s spirits up during dark cold nights. It made me wonder about its maker and its owner. Was it buried when the owner died, did it fall out of a pocket on a journey? Was it passed from generation to generation.

Art is cumulative, tribal, personal and above all, vital. Without art in our midst, civilization itself begins to crumble and vanish.

I’d like to end with a snippet of a work in progress, currently entitled Tabula Rasa. It’s something quite different from other work I have done but hopefully you will enjoy it and find it interesting.

“The men make bold figures of reindeer, wolf and whale from their scraps of bone, antler and firewood, and I watch carefully their craft. They seem to be freeing the creature locked inside the solid substances, finding clues to what lies within, and then whittling and carving till the shape becomes evident to everyone. They must sharpen their knives at times for the bone and antler especially are harder than they look. My guardian’s son sees me watching and decides to show me how to carve, taking my hands and directing them. I am still weaker than I ought to be, but I learn the techniques and when I find a piece of knotted root among the firewood, I can see within it a shape.

It takes me some weeks to free that figure from within the hard old root, and once I have found that shape and refined the lines, the sight of it brings a whistle of admiration from both the men.

You have the right sight, girl,” says the younger man. “That came out well. Now you must polish and finish it.”

They show me how to smooth the wood by rubbing it with sand, finer and finer until the grain begins to gleam. Then I must rub it with a mixture of fat and charcoal to darken it so that the wood appears ebony black and shines slightly. The figure is small enough to hold and almost cover with one hand, a kneeling woman, her head bowed and her hair falling in an arc over half her face. When it is completely finished, and every inch is polished to a soft black shine, the family admire it.

That is beautiful,” sighs my guardian.

I place it in her hands, and I bow my head so that my hair falls as that of the statue does.

It is yours then, Mother,” I say and when I lift my head again I see the glitter of falling tears.

I will cherish it,” she says and after an awkward moment of throat clearing, we all begin with our tasks of settling down for the night. There are dogs to let out, reindeer to be tended. But as I climb into my sleeping skins, I see that the figurine has been placed in the niche at the back of the cave where my guardian keeps a light burning even when we all sleep. The light dances on the soft sheen of the burnished wood and as I fall asleep I see that somehow out of that unnoticed root I had carved a facsimile of my own form.”


The Magician’s Nemesis

The Magician’s Nemesis ~

I have a very special knack of getting things wrong sometimes. Really, really wrong. I sometimes unconsciously pick up on the underlying currents of relationships and somehow come out with the precise remark that was either in the mind of the other person, or the very thing they would rather never hear. I do it a lot, and sometimes it’s a little spooky and sometimes it seems to be enough to topple a whole house of cards. I’m working at becoming a bit more conscious and censoring it long enough to consider what I am saying. But when I get tired, ill or stressed, it seems to happen even more and things can go wrong.

I also have a knack of being in completely the wrong place at the wrong moment. At school, I was a great fielder at baseball and rounders because I kept getting hit by stray balls. Over the Easter weekend I was at Phantasialand near to the city of Cologne for work. The group I was with all loved roller-coasters and rides, so it was quite a lonely day for me. Added to which it was so cold and snow kept drifting down, and I was suffering with an ongoing migraine attack that meant I was hazy and unfocussed, and the cold had got to my kidneys(which are somewhat scarred after infections), making them ache like crazy. I loathe roller coasters; they make me ill and I simply cannot see the point of them, so there was no way I was even going to go on any. I’ve tried enough in my time to know I’m never, ever going to enjoy them and I’m not going to do something that will make me ill just to prove something.

But one thing I did really want to go and see was the magician. I love magic. Even knowing it’s all fake makes no difference. I love watching even when I know how it’s done. There’s something so incredibly clever about it all. Christian Farla’s Sieben show was superbly Gothic, with elements of steam-punk and delicious costumes. I was a little late, and was the last person into the theatre, scurrying to the back where I thought I’d seen a spare seat. But when I got there it wasn’t spare at all, so I sat on a box at the back that I thought was probably something to do with storage. Almost as soon as I sat, the show started.

Mesmerised, I watched. But about halfway through I was startled to find a man in black coming down a ladder next to me and informing me (in German) that I wasn’t sitting in a good place, and needed to move, now. I shifted off my box and sat on the floor, feeling horribly embarrassed. Ten minutes later, the escapologist act that involved a giant, steam-punkish scorpion and a circular saw showed me why I had been sitting in entirely the wrong place. The box was where Mr Farla descended from the gods once he had escaped from the fatal scorpion. Had I not been moved, he’d have landed on me. I felt a complete idiot. Perhaps I am.

Or perhaps I am simply The Fool. That person who does and says the things that exist behind the serene surface of what we think is reality, that dark underbelly that most are oblivious of. That person who taps into what’s really going on and like the small child in The Emperor’s new clothes, actually blurts it out to the horror of all who would prefer to keep a lid on it all. That person who instinctively knows that things are not as they seem and somehow manages to blow the whole illusion sky high, showing all the naked flaws and ugliness beneath the masks.


Notes from Jung’s The Red Book (part one)

Notes from Jung’s The Red Book (part one)

As a birthday gift this year my husband gave me a copy of Jung’s The Red Book, a reader’s edition as the facsimile is very large and very expensive. I’m not especially visually orientated so the absence of pictures isn’t something that bothers me. (I do intend to get a copy of the complete book one day when I can justify to myself spending £150 on one book). I’ve long wanted to read this rather mysterious book, which was only made public in 2009, long after the death of Carl Gustav Jung in 1961. It’s hard to say what lured me most, the mystery or the possible clues to an inward journey. I’ve long held Jung to be something of a personal hero, for his work in realms few have dared to explore, and there is something that draws me to such work myself. Of course, his descent into the world of archetypes was backed by decades of study and thought, and mine is quite different. I’m no hero either. But I do believe that there is something that I must seek within my own unconscious, that it holds the key to my soul.

Anyway, I began reading and have decided to share some of it as I read. Things that resonate with me and things that have leapt off the page as being worth considering more closely. This first essay is prompted by a passage in the introduction:

In 1922, Jung wrote a paper on, “The relation of analytical psychology to poetic art works.” He differentiated two types of work: the first, which sprang entirely from the author’s intention and the second, which seized the author. Examples of such symbolic works were the second part of Goethe’s Faustus and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. He held that these works stemmed from the collective unconscious. In such instances, the creative process consisted in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image. The archetypes released in us a voice that was stronger than our own:

Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthrals and overpowers…he transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces than ever and anon have enabled humankind to find a refuse from every peril and to outlive the longest night.

The artist who produced such works educated the spirit of the age and compensated for the one-sidedness of the present.” ~ The Red Book, C.G.Jung (introduction by Sonu Shamdasani)

Among writers one of the most entertaining of the memes that appear is the apparent irreconcilable differences between the Plotter and the Pantser. A Plotter will have worked out the entire plot, have folders of character background information, of research, often even chapter plans before ever starting to write the story. A Pantser writes by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go, and are often as surprised as the reader where a story ends up. I’ve seen a number of massive arguments going on in social media between proponents of both strategies, and have been baffled by them. There seems to be a sense of moral outrage that someone else uses a radically different strategy to produce a story.

Plotters claim that Pantsers are somehow lazy and disorganised, and are at the mercy of their own imaginations. Pantsers claim that Plotters take the joy out of storytelling, by being so meticulous and having so little spontaneity. It’s a conflict that’s unlikely to ever end.

I’m not going to come out entirely as either. I do write without much conscious planning, I admit this but I have begun to recognise that any book I have written was already mostly formed before I ever began to write it. A few have emerged fully formed, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and making me write at breakneck speed. The Bet is one such. But every work is in there somewhere, fermenting, roiling and boiling away in a process of alchemy that I cannot control but can only be scribe to. I know there are writers who get very annoyed about other writers who feel as if they are more like archaeologists uncovering a pre-existing text, translating it perhaps or merely cleaning off the dust of millennia. I have seen arguments presented that this attitude denigrates the hard work and effort involved in inventing and crafting a story from scratch. I have no answer to that. I am one who is seized by the work, and I cannot either change or deny that. I have no control over what emerges from the unconscious, either mine or a collective one. I’d like to believe that I write in a voice that is stronger than my own personal one, that I channel something larger and more mysterious than stories. But nor do I deny that those who meticulously plan their work may also be subject to such a seizing either. Just as each of us reacts differently to life because of our own unique psychological make up, so too do we react differently to the promptings of the unconscious.

In essence I consider myself open to being seized, to become an oracle for something that needs to speak through me. It’s not a comfortable place to be. The process of being seized is akin to ecstasy, of loss of self and of being subsumed by something greater than the simple self. When it is done, there is a sense of being a shell, or being abandoned. There is a need to be willing to go where it takes you, of letting go of the reins. I have studied literature, I have read widely and I know ingredients make for a good story, yet none of this is ever deployed consciously when the voice of the unconscious seizes control. There is also the forlorn feeling when it is over that one may never again experience such a thing or produce such a work alone.

There is also trepidation because while it can seize, there can be prolonged hiatuses where it withdraws seemingly in the very middle of dictating a story (so to speak) leaving you high and dry. I can only speculate about why this happens. There are forces at work that are beyond my own reckoning. One can get a way through a work and then have it falter, the words drying to a dribble, then to nothing. I’m still unsure what to do when this happens, whether to keep on by dint of determination and invention or whether to retreat, withdraw and allow the flow to resume when the time is right. If my ponderings are correct, then for me it is time to take stock, go into the cave and become still, become ready and wait for the seizing to return.