Column: All That Is Without You

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sacred heart

“Sacred Heart” by Shaun Ratcliff (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head
You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath
And you think I’m crazy, you think I’m crazy

–Monsters, Eminem (featuring Rihanna)

The gods are madness, and so is love.

I couldn’t sleep for the noise; her wails clawing deep into my brain more fiercely when I’d close my eyes. In waking distraction, I could shut her out a little — loud music, pointless conversation, anything to drown out her pain. But in bed next to my lover, her pain was intolerable, becoming pain so loud it became my pain, and I couldn’t make her shut up.

I tried drinking. It doesn’t take much to get me drunk, a beer, maybe two. And I could pass out a bit, let the world spin behind my eyelids, except then, even there in that membranous darkness, she was there. Worse — she wasn’t alone.

My lover said that he couldn’t hear her, but he’d wake from dreams shaking. I saw something in the room last night, he said. Fleshy, like a small man, but not human.

“In a dream?” I asked.

“Uh…sort of. I mean, I think I was awake. I was gonna wake you, but then I went back to sleep.”

I showered, dressed, went to work, said nothing else. At least at work, I couldn’t hear her. At least at work, I wasn’t the ‘crazy’ one. I had a client tell me a bedbug climbed into her vagina and impregnated her with a Pleiadian ascended master. She was crazy. I? I was just going mad.

The difference? My clients can’t stop the voices from coming.
I can.
I can make them stop, but that’s worse than death.


Love is madness, and so is the Other.

You can shut those voices off, close them off.

I remember it well, the day I closed them out.

Close my eyes, and it’s there: the white tower, the ravens flying about them, a pillar of light from a twinned moon. She looks at herself from above into below; she looks back. And there’s the tower, and there are the ravens. And I can’t take it any longer.

Besides, I was in love, and how could he understand? How could any understand? How could anyone?

I wrote in my journal, “I don’t want to see these anymore.” No more tower; no more bones behind the tower; no more whispers; no more trembling power.

And it stopped.

Nothing. Silence, like the grave. I’d go to work; listen to tales of ancient lizard men and psychotronic silver disks, about the machine under the university which, like St. Anthony, helped homeless people find lost things and also urinate themselves.

And I was safe. Safe from them, safe from the Other, safe in an other.

You can hide there for a little while, just like you can hide in work, or hide in drugs. You can even hide in madness, at least for a little while.

Until they come back.


We do not have time for the Other, we do not have time for Love

A few years later, I’m trying to sleep, fearing again the dreams peopled by characters I know too well — and fear.

The woman with the dark iron vat won’t let me pass, but I can’t go back through the town whose streets were so full of those with power, those with power-over, those I must flee.

But the Other does not let you pass until you answer the unasked question.

You cannot hide from the Other. The Other chases you, hunts you. You can flee the dreams of sleeping; flee into waking for a little while.  But then they chase you there.

And so you flee into sleep. You flee in waking, and like that chase of Ceridwen, after the awen-thief. You cannot stop until you are consumed and, too, become The Other.

The Other is all that is without you, and all that is within.


Love is the madness of the Other, the Other is the madness of love

The voices continue, but you can shut them out.  And I remember how a friend shut them out.

She’d been joking one day, a decade ago, flirting, and touched my finger. “I’m giving you a wart,” she says, fingernail touching index above the knuckle.

“Why would you say that?” I’d asked, appalled.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged, looking confused herself.

And I showed her the hand a month later, benign annoying growth, rough, ugly. Then her face pale, her voice cold, she shook her head. “What the? I didn’t?”

“You said,” I said, feeling her terror.

“That’s—that’s just weird. I didn’t really make that happen, did I?”

And I didn’t know how to reassure her, and she didn’t know how to take it back. She became angry. Wouldn’t talk about it. It didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, stop pretending, you’re making this up, I didn’t do it.

“But you said…” I said, worried, upset.

And finally. “Okay, I did. I don’t want to talk about it, okay? I’m sure there’s some explanation. I don’t want to talk about it.

We hadn’t talked for a decade. A decade later I see her, after seeing standing stones and gods, after druid mountains and visions. She’d never spoken of it again. In a cafe, she and I. Would she believe what I’d seen, or deride all I’d been? I’d tell her anyway, though the tale would be touch.

But she spoke first, fearful. “I hear voices, Rhyd. Not like I’m crazy … but more—I cry. I can hear all the sorrow of people sleeping, and I can hear their voices, and I turn up music to make it stop.”

Her magic radiating like silver, tinged with fear, and I laugh, tell her my tale.

So you understand? She said, only half asking.

“I think I do,” answering, and then “remember that wart,” showing her where it’d once been.

And she shrugged, smiling. “That was weird, huh?”


Love is the Other.  The Other is Love.

I’d shut them out, like she’d shut out that power.

You can shut them out, the terrors, all the illuminating fears. The Other whispers, but you can talk over this. The Other speaks, but you can shout them out. Sometimes, even the Other shouts but, by then, you can’t silence them without drugs.

Or you can, because there’s always an other to which you can run, someplace safe, someone in which to hide, and the Other will eventually fall silent. But when you do this you have not won, but have very much lost.


The Other is like love, and just as terrifying.

What are we afraid of?

The Other is not myself; the other is not me.

And suddenly, you are not all there is; you are not one; you are not complete. You are you, and there is an other. And no longer are you complete, no longer are you one.  You are broken, divided between self and World, sundered ground broken open to make room for something both self and Other.

Meet him and you are terrified, and you call this desire, you call this love. Hear her voice, and you are missing, empty; though you thought you’d been full.

And suddenly every song reminds you of them. On the street, a woman shakes her head, hair cascading for a moment in sunlight like the way you saw her hair once do. And that woman is her, but that woman is not her, and you are broken, and you are happy. You were everything before her, now you are nothing until she is near you again.

Meet him and you cannot breathe except when he is there holding you, though your lungs have never once failed. You are strong, but suddenly weak unless you see his smile, and also weak when you see his grin, and nothing is ever the same.


Love and the Other are indivisible by one.

Love of an other, or others, reminds you are sundered, infinity no longer divisible by one.

And just the same, the Other.

See a crow feather at your feet and hear a god, an angle of sunlight and see another. Hear winds through branches; there’s a third, embers in a hearth and yet another Other.

The moon is no longer just the moon, but also every goddess of her face.  But the moon is also just the moon, but no longer alone, no longer just itself, just as you are no longer just yourself in love.


And to see the Other, to fall in love, you need only surrender to the endlessness of being.

I remember when I saw the tower again, because I no longer wanted to unsee the tower.

I remember when I saw the moon again, because the moon would not stop being seen.

I work with the mentally-ill, those who hear the voices and cannot shut them out like us. And they are told that they are sick; they are told that they are unwell, and they are given what we can give to help quell that sundered pain.

And I try not to admit what I see when they are staring, shouting at a corner at a voice inside their head. I try not to look there, where there they are looking, because I do not want to admit, I do not want to say, I do not want to allow that I see their Other too.

A client shouts at a ‘demon’ in a corner, and I see the lingering spirit and shrug, unable to help.

A client predicts the birth of my friend’s twins, and we shake our heads, pretending what we didn’t hear.

A client medicalized for talking to rocks and trees, and I try not to think on him as I lay under Alder by granite, hearing them talk back.


The Other’s all that is without us, and all that is within,

And what are we doing, shutting them out?

We’re being good workers, we’re being good slaves.

Stand in ritual; call a god; wipe them off and tuck them away when you’re done, when it’s time to go home to the television and kids because the weekend’s over and you’ve got to make a living.

Fall in love and call in sick, but love can only be love ’till the rent and cable’s due.

It’s easier to be alone, cut off, shut down. Close them out, the other and The Other, and though without meaning, everything is safe.

The gods linger, the other waits, the madness beckons.

The Other is madness, and so is love.

And we are never alone.



This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.


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14 thoughts on “Column: All That Is Without You

  1. I have often had the same idea of people who are “mentally ill.” Interesting that I’m not the only one.

  2. Rhyd, have you read “I and Thou” by Martin Buber or “The Idea of the Holy” by Rudolf Otto? Otto’s the guy who coined the word “numinous,” defining it as “the feeling of the wholly Other.” I posted something about these two here:

  3. TWH owes Hecate Demeter all sorts of gratitude for nurturing the Muse to give the site completely other dimensions of the soul.

  4. I remember being a child curled up in my bed, plugging up my ears trying not to hear the talking, the laughing. Every night I would wish they would go away. One night i had a dream where the voices told me they were sorry they scared me and that they were going away. I never heard them again. 40 years later I am feeling a little sad about that fact. Although I am sure I would have probably been drugged up in an institution if I had ever told anyone or maybe have asked to be because no one in my immediate family or community to help me see it as being anything other than me going mad.

  5. I’m going to say this respectfully as I can. As someone who is a mental health professional, who works with people who have these diagnoses, I think there is a lot of romanticizing going on here. As an occultist, a magician, and a witch, and as a practicing mental health professional, I have worked with a lot of people with mental illness. I have never met any who had any deep insight into the Other Worlds or into the minds of the gods. Most of what my clients experience is terrifying delusion, generated by brain chemistry that has gone very wrong. The illusions they see, and the thoughts they have, lead them to hurt themselves and make their lives a living hell in ways that I don’t even want to describe here. I am sure I will receive a lot of negative feedback over this, but I can only speak to my truth. Someone else’s may be different.

    • You will certainly receive no negative feedback from me, and thank you for your concern regarding the romanticisation of mental illness.

      I do not think our society yet has the language to explain quite what happens to a person suffering from internal stimuli who may (or may not!) also have profound experiences with the Other.

      My mother suffers from schizophrenia, and I do not consider her condition a ‘gift’ at all–rather, it’s a horrifying condition which has led to much suffering. Simultaneously, I’m unable to dismiss her occasional (and startling) precognition.

      I fear the very difficult truth is beyond both the stark medicalisation of mental illness and modern Pagan notions of magic, but since the psychiatric community still clings to Western secular models while Pagans still argue about the existence of gods or the correct use of wands, we’ve got a long way to go before we have the tools to address this.

      • It’s a real conflict of needing medical treatment but not entirely trusting medical treatment due to the history of medical abuse. Fortunately, my team has been relatively cool so far, and it’s not like their treatment plans are any less built on metaphor.

      • When you wrote:
        A client medicalized for talking to rocks and trees, and I try not to think on him as I lay under Alder by granite, hearing them talk back.

        …I saw that you were demonstrating the lack of language for readily differentiating the two experiences.

        I believe that the voices I hear in a Pagan context are not the same voices in the “Ittybittyshittycommittee” or IBSC (it’s a friend’s term that is just so damned useful!) in my head, never saying anything positive, those backstabbing “nattering nabobs of negativity” (remember who said that?) tearing me down when I’m already feeling bad about my self and my worth. I am so thankful that the IBSC has not been around for a few years now–likely quieted by medication.

        The Voice I attribute to an unknown Goddess, which I’ve heard only a handful of times in my life, never directs me to do anything, but drops a pointed message for me to contemplate and then act as I see fit. My pdoc (that’s a psychiatrist, not a pediatrician, although what you’d call a pediatric psychiatrist in such a system was never revealed to me) understands my spiritual world includes non-human speech to me, and non-corporeal entities, but isn’t entirely easy with the idea because of her Western Medicine training. She accepts that I know the difference between benign and malignant messages–never have been told to do anything, much less do anything stupid or harmful to myself or others–but we don’t have the language to clearly delineate one from the other.

        Rhyd and Happydog–do either of you, as P/H/P MHPs have an idea of how do clearly delineate one from the other?