Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Angry Gods of Guilt

In 1980 I was 19 years old. I was living alone in Palm Springs at the time; approximately a year had gone by since I had converted to Christian fundamentalism, and had gotten baptized. I studied much about the faith on my own but forces were working against me.  I absolutely loathed going to church on Sundays (twice) and Wednesday nights; I went out of sheer guilt, in the belief that I would go to hell in a handbasket if I didn't.  That’s the kind of psychic blackmail that got preached to me, and I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, whole-hog or nothing, if you ain’t for us you’re against us, and a whole lot of other menacing threats from the King James Version.  Fear motivated most of what I did and didn’t do, fear of eternal damnation. I fucking dreaded, hated going to church, but I psyched myself into the false conviction that I loved it.

Selling and being fucked up on everything from booze to PCP and Windowpane and everything between for five years straight had turned me into a threadbare husk; I had become utterly lost, dazed and confused, and to conventional religion I turned, after a series of frightening synchronicities.  Right before my official conversion, I had vowed myself to tee totaling and celibacy.  I vowed to the theogonic patriarch that I wouldn’t even masturbate, no sir.  Not ever again.  I repent!

Fat chance of sticking to that last vow.  Though I managed to stay completely high-free for three whole years, my hormones raged against my over-ambitious vow.  The healthy urge to let my semen flow was much too strong; my fearful ego said no, but Mother Nature said by all means yes, what the hell’s the matter with you?  And of course, when I would remember my abandoned sex life, all my ex-partners and cozy times, matters got worse.  My body, my entire being craved to be held and touched again.  I had gone from young Marquis de Sade to Little Lord Fauntleroy, and the dam was damn near about to burst. 

I had gotten mesmerized by a Manichaean delusion.  I had come to believe that the body and soul were conflicting entities.  Well, it was late October, I remember when the demons of Guilt got unleashed.  But first I must introduce two more players of this theatre of the absurd:

I was taking an art course at the local junior college (College of the Desert).  In the class was a man who was mentally challenged, he might have had some kind of Down Syndrome.  He was a jovial fellow, but unfortunately, he was ignored and shunned by the other students, and sometimes even by the teacher.  But it all seemed to roll off his oblivious shoulders, he seemed care free and was unaffected by his pariah-hood.  I don't remember his name.  And then there’s Mark, my best friend at the time, who had gotten baptized at my church one Sunday morning, after a few sessions of bible study.

It was a Friday night.  I was alone in my apartment studio, and up came the pesky erection, the unpredictable Phallus, with a life all its own.  I fought hard, so to speak, against my urges, but could resist no longer. I decided, against my guilt-ridden conscience, to just go ahead and masturbate, and relieve myself; because it was “going to be the last time.”  After I had my orgasm, the ol’ hellfire ‘n damnation Guilt came on with unparalleled force: "Lord forgive my sins!!"

I decided to drive out that night and go to my favorite spot for a fasting session, to pray for forgiveness and atone for my horrendous sins of the flesh.  During those unhappy days, I used to go out often to the desert for prayers, meditation, fasting, and bible readings.  I would discover intriguing spaces in crevices of hills and desert valleys.  I had even found hidden whitewater falls.  I sought theophany in the desert, bible-style.  The little sacred space I headed for was hidden, and it was like a miniature version of Tahquitz first-falls and pool.  

So I parked my truck In the driveway of my parents' house (which was not far from the desert lot from where I would have to walk about 3 miles) that night, and walked toward my favorite secret space, the whole time "smiting" my breast, crying, wailing, praying for forgiveness.  No comfort would come over me. None. I felt dead, spiritually, as if I had finally gone over the edge.  I had no power, no recourse.  I was terrified, in a state of utter helplessness and despair.

 I arrived at the sacred space located at the end of a corridor of desert hills, in a hidden little valley; there was a small pool of clear water there, about five feet deep, and a tiny waterfall. It was a peaceful place to me at the time.  Little did I know that things were going to change.  I unrolled my blanket and slept on a smooth, flat rock, the whole time grieving over my guilt and weakness. My "bowels" felt empty; I was in my own version of sackcloth and ashes, weeping and gnashing my teeth, supplicating to be spared from tarnation.

All through Saturday morning and afternoon, I fasted without drink or food; I stayed in my blanket and slept off and on.  I was so enfeebled from my “aspiritual” plight. that I couldn’t regain a shred of confidence or comfort.  The day wore on---it must have been around four o'clock---and eventually, I had a horribly disturbing nightmare.  I dreamt in real time, that I was sleeping on the rock and brooding, on the exact same spot. On an area above the pool was an enormous beast, which looked like an elephant, of pale skin tone. It had no shape to it per se, it was more like a gigantic blob.  It had one enormous eyeball about the size of a large beachball, which was completely bloodshot and red. It was staring at me; the beast had no expression. It was quietly, ominously lying there, and I knew that it was dying. 

I woke up with a powerful sense of unease and dread.  I could find no thought to comfort me; in fact, the awful nightmare was all I could think about: the dying beast and its bloodshot eye, staring at me. I decided to gather my stuff and go walk back to my parents' house.  I was too fucking spooked to stay there.

As I began to walk back, thick black clouds began to gather, off in the distance toward the east; the sky was still clear above, but I could see that the clouds were rolling in fast.  It was extremely ominous. By the time I got back to my parents' house, the sky overhead was completely covered with thick, black storm clouds.  Oddly, there was no rain, no thunder, no lightning.  It was dead still. I went to the den of my parents' house to sleep. I don't remember whether I ate when I got there (I don't think so).

That was when I had the worst nightmare I’d ever had.  In it, I was in a completely unfamiliar neighborhood. I was looking at a house, when all of a sudden, Mark's brother came running out of the house, and went tearing down the street. I could tell that he was in great fear, and that he knew that he had to urgently scram.  I then heard groaning, looked to the ground, and under a brightly lit sky, saw a humanoid being lying on the ground, with flies buzzing all around it, groaning and dying. It was completely covered in blood. I could sense its suffering, which was so intense, that it made me wake up screaming.  I was absolutely astonished with fear when I woke up. This happened near midnight, that Saturday night.

The next day, of course, was congregatin’ day, church-day, Sunday.  I had promised to give Mark a ride and swung by his house, but his mother said he was sleeping, so I drove out to Palm Springs alone to attend morning service (ever so reluctantly). The sky was completely clear then, not a single cloud in the sky; the sun shone oppressively bright.

Now communion was a  part of Sunday services, grape juice and unleavened bread get passed around.  The communion was my favorite worship ritual, but at the same time I feared it the most because the New Testament apostle gave a warning about those who don't partake of the supper "worthily" (whatever that means; the vagueness of the warning enhanced the anxiety).

I was reeling by the time the Sunday morning worship service started.  I was drained and in a state of existential dread. When the grape juice would come by, I had always made it a habit to think of christ on the cross.  But I couldn’t do it this time; the image of the groaning, bleeding and dying humanoid was all I could conjure.  As the contransubstantiated juice went down my throat, I could think of nothing else.  The communion felt like a spiritual death. I went home in ineffable, unceasing, merciless Guilt. There was no comfort whatsoever; despair compounded.

After evening services that same day, I decided to go shopping for whatever groceries I required.  Even in spite of my servile self-indulgence, I didn't want to just wither away and croak.  But lo and behold, I see the man from the college art class, and he is selling the local newspaper by the store entrance. I greeted him cordially, and figured I’d buy a copy of the rag from him, just to be nice;  no big deal, though one thing I never did was buy newspapers or subscribe to them, so this was going to be a first. So I coughed up some spare change and bought the paper from him, as a friendly gesture.  I subsequently went back to my apartment and tossed the newspaper on the table. My phone rang; it was Mark. I asked where he was this Sunday morning when I came over to give him a ride to church.

Now that he had called me, he was hesitant to talk; there was brooding in his voice. He quietly muttered to me that Doug was dead. Doug was Mark's neighbor, whom I had met on a few occasions. We almost got along, and it seemed that he wanted to like me, but his machismo had kept him from doing so. Mark began to explain what had happened.

It was Saturday night, after 11 pm. Mark and Doug were at a local party, and Doug had bought some acid from a guy. The acid had been bunk, so Doug, being drunk and belligerent, threw a bottle of beer at the peddler's head from across the room. The guy ran out of the house and was gone for a while.  While Doug partied on and yacked away, the same guy came charging in, jabbed Doug's chest with a knife, and immediately ran out of the house; he was never seen again.

According to Mark, Doug kept on talking as if nothing happened, until it suddenly dawned on him that he was critically hurt. Mark told me that Doug was lying on the pavement in front of the house, bleeding, and threw up blood on Mark's shoes.  While the police were on their way, the partiers scattered in all directions to split from the scene. Mark said that Doug died at the Eisenhower Medical Center early Sunday morning.

I couldn't believe what I just heard, and how I had caught the infernal vibrations in my nightmares. It was dreadful.  All I said to Mark was some fundie self-righteous bullshit like "See, you shouldn't be going to parties."  After I hung up the phone, it struck me that I had a newspaper on the table, as if it were a witness, a talisman.  I picked it up in trepidation, looked under the column of the headliner, and sure enough, there it was. The news of the incident and Doug's death at the hospital early that morning; it was hot off the press.  I never bought newspapers, but this time, I had one.

I relayed this experience over a decade later to a Zen practitioner-priest, and he explained to me that the event entailed activity of "angry gods" (the words he used), which I had invoked by severe guilt.  It was severe delusory Guilt that downward-spiraled me into a vortex of abysmal negativity; it was my unrelenting self-indulgence in false humility, false servitude, and vain self-flagellation that brought on the divine wrath.

During those days of solitude, I would often go out to the desert for prayer and fasting.  Every time I would fast for long periods of time (e.g., a whole day), the skies would begin to get cloudy. Cloudy skies are rare in the desert, but the phenomenon would never fail to occur. I relayed this to the Zen practitioner-priest and to another Light Body practitioner and Buddhist priest, and neither of them was surprised. They both said it's a common phenomenon with strong psychics, and that the heart center connects to the ethers to produce the clouding effect. 

My indulgence in Guilt was self-righteous and misguided, a quicksand of self-destruction; but I also had nobody who could guide me back then, either. In the socioreligious  context of the evangelical-fundamentalist church I attended, there were no mentors and spiritual adepts; I had only one friend that I genuinely respected. Those were lonesome, unhappy days.

(Postscript.  In 1994 my ex-wife and friend and I went to the Living Desert Reserve, where the vision took place by the natural pool.  My ex-wife stretched her arm and got poked by a cactus.  She yelled and the cactus came off its main "trunk," and stuck to her hand.  She shook her hand to get it off, and it stuck on her foot.  The three of us walked together near to the little valley that leads to where the vision took place.  But there an earthquake a couple years earlier had devastated the rocks and hills.  The trail was closed off with boulders)  

 Eisenhower Peak, on the way toward the hidden valley: Living Desert Reserve, Palm Desert, CA


  1. There are some truly dreadful experiences in you story, and it took a lot of courage for you to share. If I understand you correctly, I don't think the horrific event that took place was a result of your negative energy invoking the 'angry gods'; rather, it might just have likely been a presentiment of events about to unfold.

    This 'clouding' effect is very interesting - I had a similar experience once. I was camped at Okanagan Falls with a group of my friends on our way out to the coast, in August 1973. I was seized by the idea to strap my guitar onto my back and climb this mountain overlooking our campsite. It was a beautiful, sunny day. When I got to the top of the mountain and took out my guitar, I noticed a cloud had moved in front of the sun. I thought it would blow away, but it stayed right there. Eventually, after a few hours, I got tired of being in the shade when there was sunshine all around me, so I came down from the mountain, pretty bummed and taking the cloud as a personal insult, and had dinner with my friends. Most of us played guitar, so we took turns singing the songs we knew, or playing along. By then it was dark, and I was feeling a little better. Some people in nearby campsites heard the music, and came over to listen. I remember very clearly singing "For No One," by Paul McCartney, and being very nervous about playing in front of an audience, but still made it through pretty well. I was glad that I didn't sabotage myself by messing it up, and felt good about being able to share my sense of loneliness. I was pleased and surprised when I had finished the song and received a warm round of applause by the other campers. The loneliness was gone, and the cloud, which I had figuratively brought down with me from the mountain top, finally dispersed.

    I later looked back on the cloud incident as something quite natural, which I had taken as nature's 'curse' on me. Since then, I have seen time-lapse photography of cloud formations, and notice that some, especially over heights of land, are stationary, despite that fact that they are constantly changing shape and appearing to move. Even though I 'redeemed' myself that day, I know enough now that I wasted my time on the mountain top, trying to 'will' the cloud away.

  2. Hi Jim, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. There are parallels in our paths, for sure. Yes, when the events unfolded as if they had been scripted by some kind of sinister Lovecraftian puppetmaster, I felt at the time great despair, not knowing where to turn. The universe to me was a disparate mosaic of estranged stuff, I was just an isolated being without a connection to anything. I adopted the paradigm of evangelical biblical teachings that I embraced hook, line and sinker. But after about 13 years after the experience and talking to someone about it, I came to understand the premonition and "angry gods" as one and the same, just different facets of each other.

    The cloud phenomena occurred every time I would fast, back in those days (I don't do fasting any more, except very rarely, and only for a less than a day at most in anticipation of some kind of practice), and they'd be noticeable because it was during a severe drought, the skies were completely clear almost every day of the year. The clouds would begin to gather, and I would freak out, and eat, and the clouds would go away. This event with the black clouds was the clincher. I never "willed" any of it, in fact the happenings scared the hell out of me.

    I used to debunk the whole thing as having been a series of coincidences. But I view it like the joke of the guy who prays to God for help when he's stranded in a flood, three helicopters come to the rescue and he turns them all down because he claims that he has faith in God to save him. He winds up at the pearly gates and asks God why he didn't come to his rescue, and the punchline is 'But I sent you three rescue helicopters.'

    I believe that your experience was something that was synchronistic, and shouldn't be dismissed as having been "just a natural phenomenon." It was a natural phenomenon, of course, but it wasn't _just_ that, and I feel there's a dimension of big meaning to that lovely experience.