Tag Archives: skin

A Selkie Poem

Storing a Skin

 

Not everyone who hides a selkie skin

Has stolen the soft seal fur

To trap a lover on the land.

 

Sometimes the skin is given.

 

Protect this skin for me

This secret self I cannot be

For now, this memory of

Water loving salt and playful

Swimming diving self.

 

Keep my skin safe, hold it

So that when I can bear

To wear it again

When my heart can encompass

The sea again

 

I may put on my seal self

And return to the ocean.

 


Apparently I have skin

It came as a bit of a surprise. There were a few hours, recently, in which I could feel my own skin. There is was, being the edges of me, being real and present, delicate and sensitive. It was a kind of feeling alive that startled me. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced my own skin in that way before.

I find embodied Paganism difficult because I’m not really embodied. I spent some years assuming this was just me doing it wrong. I should try harder. Get out of my head. Do more physical stuff as part of my practice. But the truth is, I don’t have any consciousness of my own skin unless something is impacting on it. It’s not something I can change at will. I’m not even sure what going around with an entire functioning skin would feel like because so far it has only been partial.

I poked about, found out about and looked up disassociation. Apparently this is a common trauma response that can last for hours or even, in more extreme cases, months. The internet has not told me what to do if you find it’s where you’ve been living for most of your life and you are curious about how to leave. Apparently I have skin. Or at least the potential for skin, sometimes.

I remember experiences around the age of fourteen, when I discovered, thanks to my first boyfriend, being able to feel my own body shape. It was a bit of a revelation, feeling grounded by someone else touching me. Experiencing my edges as edges for the first time and having a sense of my own physical presence. I look back at that now, and am wondering if that was normal, because I think it wasn’t.

I’ve never enjoyed being in this body, it has been something I struggle with, fight against, try not to be defined by. It’s never been a happy place, and I start to think there are reasons for this, and that the answer was not, New Age style, to love myself more. There’s something much deeper going on here, and working out how to have skin is going to be a process. I can see how a person could delight in their own body and their own embodied experience, based on that experience of having some skin. So, I shall stop beating myself up for being rubbish at embodied Paganism, and start trying to figure out how to inhabit myself differently, and what might help me achieve that.


Rain on skin

One of the things I’m looking for is the opportunity to have intense experience of my own body as part of the living world. Working on a computer for hours every day, it is all too easy to become a head and hands in relationship with a screen. It is important to me to spend time outside, and time in motion.

I notice that it is the more dramatic experiences that give me the strongest sense of myself as a body. Rain on skin makes for an intense experience because of the constant triggering of nerve endings by the contact of falling water. The literal impact of an element upon me. The coldness of rain against the heat of skin warmed by a summer day and by motion.

I can only afford to be rained upon in these warmer conditions. In winter, getting soaked to the skin is a real problem, leading to muscle stiffness, chills, and pain. In summer it becomes a joyful, sensuous experience and a chance for immersion in a feeling of wildness.


Skin Magic

It’s remarkable how much difference the thinnest layer of fabric makes to human interactions and our experience of the environment. I imagine that people willing and able to undertake ritual naked have a much more immediate experience than is felt by those of us who don’t. Without clothing, there is absolute and direct connection with the space you are in and it is impossible not to be conscious of where you are. Clothing stabilises body temperature and makes it a good deal easier to ignore our own physical presence.

A millimetre thickness of fabric transforms an embrace from an act of intense intimacy, to something you might do with a person you barely know. This fascinates me. I am not, perhaps, as persuaded by the fabric as some people, I am very wary about who I’ll touch and who I’ll allow to touch me. I also tend to have more than minimal covering. Even in summer it’s rare for me not to have a couple of layers on (including underwear) and I’ll cover my back and arms. Most of the time, most of my skin is not at all available to most people.

Bodies produce energy, and energy flows through them. We have all kinds of chemical experiences going on. Skin is a lively place, with yeast and bacteria, whatever you smeared on it, and dead skin and all manner of things. Bring your body into contact with another body, and there will be some kind of exchange. That can include passing on diseases. I’ve heard it argued that many STDs exist because previously fairly innocent skin diseases had to evolve to cope with clothing and reduced contact.

If your reality has magic in it, then you should perhaps ask what happens magically between skins that are in contact. What are we sharing? What are we exchanging? If you believe in auras, in chakras, in any other magical energy system in the body, then you need to ask what you are doing when you put your energy systems in close proximity to someone else’s. A strong heart will dominate a weaker one when they are close together, and one can pull the other into its rhythm. I’ve had this happen, it is a very strange experience to find that your heart is beating under the direct influence of someone else’s heart. Again, it’s not something I’d enter into lightly or casually because it just doesn’t get any more personal than this.

We’ve had hundreds of years of covered skin, prudery and serious taboos around making bodily contact with each other. We’ve had less than a century of radical swing the other way, exposing skin and casually making what would once have been considered incredibly intimate contact with humans we barely know. Somewhere between those two excesses lies something more workable, more comfortable and rewarding, where the magical possibilities of skin can be properly explored. Both extremes are likely to make the magic of skin unavailable – an excess of contact mutes awareness just as an insufficiency denies opportunity. Considered, boundaried, conscious contact between people requires a middle way, and that’s where the magic lives.


Non-dogmatic skin options

As an author, and a person involved with politics, I hear a lot about how you need a thick skin. I don’t have a thick skin, and I don’t want to sacrifice sensitivity for the kind of obliviousness that seems to make politicians less than compassionate. Apparently there are other stories to tell about skin.

I spent yesterday afternoon reading David Dillard-Wright’s lovely book At Ganapati’s feet. The story of how we even got to this point deserves a blog, but not today… One of the comments that leapt out at me, was about the skin of elephants, which although thick, the author says can be incredibly sensitive.

I’ve been wandering through the wisdom on the internet today. Apparently elephant skin can be up to 2 inches thick in some places, and is incredibly tough, especially on the soles of their feet. The baggy, wrinkled look increases surface area to help manage heat, so elephants have a lot of skin. They also have places where their skin is incredibly thin. Thick skinned doesn’t have to mean thick skinned all over, and it doesn’t have to mean insensitive. I really should have known this. I walk barefoot, my own soles are hide-like, and my fingertips lack sensitivity after decades of playing stringed instruments. Other bits of my skin are not thick, tough or unfeeling.

Left to its own devices, my body grows thick skin where it needs to, and doesn’t where nothing is required. I ought to be able to apply the same approach to my more psychological skins.

So why the elephants? Why was I reading about Lord Ganesha? That’s hardly indigenous Druidry… except that there were elephants in the UK after the last ice age. Smaller, furrier ones, now extinct. There were mammoths. It’s entirely possible that the Romans brought military elephants here.  There is elephant armour too; I saw it in the Tower of London, although I think it’s now exhibited somewhere else. There are elephants in our zoos and circuses, and have been for a long time, and thus there are also remnants of departed elephants in the soil of this land. If living and dying somewhere doesn’t create the option of being a spirit of place, what does? And since there are elephants, and have been for a long time… how could it possibly be undruidic to contemplate an elephant headed God?


Healing the heart

Wounds to the heart and mind are an all too normal consequence of being alive. Mostly they do not show, and far less time and attention is given to fixing them. If you aren’t too broken to work, the odds are no support will be available. All too often, what the heart-wounded get are basically just pain killers; anti-depressants, to blot it out and keep you going. Sometimes time off from the distress can be a great help, but it isn’t reliable.

Wounds to the heart and mind can be made slowly, over years. You don’t see them happening necessarily, but each day a little bit more can be sandpapered off you. Too small an injury to be worth protesting. Just a slap. Just an unkind word. Years of small wounds can take a tremendous toll.

I don’t really inhabit my own body. I don’t feel my own pain unless I make a point of paying attention to it. I do not notice my own skin, again unless I bother to concentrate. That’s not about skin damage, but heart-wounding that made me retreat from the surfaces of myself in order to cope. I learned not to feel anything at all. It spared me from being both hurt, and manipulated, and that was helpful. Now it means that most of the time I am rock and ice, and very few people who touch me actually register with me as any kind of sensual experience. That sucks. It’s not who I want to be any more.

These are things I have only noticed in the last few weeks, a kind of waking up to how closed and dead I have been. I get sudden, brief flashes of being aware of all my skin. There’s so much of it, and all of it is capable of feeling, all the time. Temperature, texture, pressure, comfort, discomfort… a whole universe of possibility to explore.

This waking up in not an accident, nor is it of anyone else’s making. It comes after years of my working to rebuild myself, and it has been triggered in earnest by choices I’ve made lately, pushing out of my comfort zone. I cannot, however, do this on my own. Now begins the interesting process of figuring out who might be able to help me take a few baby steps forward. Who do I trust, to quite literally hold my hand while I try to figure out how to climb back into this skin? How do I have those conversations?

I’m starting.