Saturday, 14 May 2016


Barry Van-Asten

In the foothills of Tibet, in the Himalayan region known as the Zangbo Valley, there is a secluded monastery where devoted monks practice the art of a certain, obscure and unspoken branch of tantric sex. The monks, a splinter sect of Buddhists, worship the god of ‘One-Self’ and attempt to achieve the complete annihilation of the human element within the sacred acts of sex. The monks practice a series of ‘postures’ or ‘damilals’ and following the strict initiatory ceremony known as the ‘fujiku’, the devoted acolytes perfect their art in such care-free abandonment, invoking inner strength to achieve such sacred and distinguished ‘damilals’ such as the ‘Reversed Swan Feather’ in which the two participants are forbidden to touch any part of the others’ body, the only point of contact being the tips of the nose which must not disconnect and remains in ‘asanic’ beatitude with its ‘Sidak’ or ‘adored one’ for an indefinite period of time until it attains a spiritual release. Some of these damilals can go on for many years and for that matter the sidaks have constructed devices to enable the wearers to keep in contact through sleep for instance. The Reversed Swan Feather is therefore a ritual of restraint. In fact the monks are so dedicated in their pursuits and devotions that in a particular posture called the ‘Turned Mare’ the celebrants must have their arms broken in two places to perform the posture correctly and it would be nothing short of a great insult to attempt the posture minus the dislocated appendages!
In another extreme example, the position known as the ‘Flying Haiku’ calls for participants to have their limbs amputated! It is a fact that only a handful of monks have achieved this ‘rhakti’ or ‘sublimation of Self-ness’. In the posture known as the ‘Winged Avenger’ death is the inevitable outcome for its celebrants and it is affectionately called the ‘quiet release’ and the less said about the ‘Bereft Cobra’ the better, suffice to say that the ‘cheetulm’ or ‘admirer’ makes claims to the flesh of his ‘lover’ which he then consumes! It’s all quite gruesome really! (1)


In many respects the monks seem to mirror my own tortured upbringing and spiritual development. I was brought-up in Ireland and as a young girl I attended the Boylan Springs School for Girls in County Wexford, a beautiful part of the country. The school was under the auspicious and sadistic leadership of Sister Monika, a monolith of Biblical proportions for we were Lilliputians under her tyrannical reign of terror! We called her Sister Dominatrix! I can remember as if it were only yesterday asking Sister O’Brien: ‘why do we have April showers and how does the sky know when it is April?’ to which she answered: ‘By the grace of God child, for all the little flowers are a want of water during the spring thirst and God hears their little prayers and sends forth mighty water clouds to quench this great thirst, but the water clouds are dark and not willing to relinquish their store of water, so God sends forth the beautiful Angels to dance with their little bare feet upon the clouds, like the bronzed peasants we hear of treading the grapes in the vineyards in those fortunate regions in France, Spain and Italy, except the Angels that tread the clouds are pure and wholesome for they are born of Ireland where God resides! (2) I asked her why God didn’t rain down potatoes in the great famine to feed the poor who prayed to him in their hunger, but she set me to ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Our Fathers’ which didn’t really answer the question! I believe it wasn’t long after that that I stopped believing in a benevolent God as sure enough as I stopped believing in Father Christmas; for both lies had the same desired effect on me: behave yourself or you will not be rewarded! (3) One thought that was constantly in my mind at the time was that if this is how humanity treats its own kind then as far as I’m concerned they can all go perish in some damned abominable plague-type-thingy and nature can bloody well start again and get it right this time!
But if Sister Monika was unspeakably bad then Sister Bertha, ‘Beastly Bertha’ was a different kind of fish out of water! She always insisted on seeing the ‘colour of my soul’ whatever she meant by that. I think she must have been possessed of a Loudun Devil! (4) I would not say that she was sadistic but there was something not quite right about her. I remember she would creep into the dormitory every night and check the girls to make sure they were wearing the regular, rough as hell nightshirts which itched constantly and that we had not hidden silk undergarments beneath it which in her mind ‘issued forth salacious thoughts’ and made ‘Jesus weep!’ Silly old Bertha!


The school was such a cold and dismal place, a rambling pile of the Georgian period with numerous ghosts and legends attached to it. In fact, my friend Celia knew someone who knew someone who had been told by someone that they had seen an apparition of a woman descending the great stair. I didn’t see anything myself but I did hear the bell ring in the supposedly haunted tower and on other occasions I would hear footsteps following me along the top landing and when I looked round there was no-one there! That was strange. But stranger still is the idea of returning back to this world once we have turned over into the next! Why indeed after so much mortal toil would any ghost in its right mind want to walk amongst the living again, after all, isn’t the next step after life supposed to be a ‘heaven’, an eternal rest for some or a ‘hell’ and an eternal nightmare for others! Perhaps ghosts are those who fear to move on due to being judged of their earthly deeds and finding themselves in purgatory? But there are nice ghosts as well as horrid ghosts so that does not really figure as an explanation. I guess we will never really know until it is our turn to ‘open the garden gate’ and stride across the ‘Elysian Fields’. But yes, Boylan Springs, there was always the odd bang and tap in the middle of the night but nothing as frightening and hideous as Sister Monika rising in the night from her bed chamber like Nosferatu from his crypt, only fatter as if she had been feeding all night long and she was all white face-cream and blood-shot eyes with guilt-covered chocolate lips! She would say in almost sinister tones ‘don’t worry child! Father Callahan blesses the bars of chocolate along with the wine so it’s just like Holy Communion!’ (5)


I believe it is very arrogant of the human race to presume it is the most intellectual of organisms upon the earth for we are but one link in an infinite spectrum of life-forms. Man looks down upon the monkey who in turn looks down upon the mouse; the mouse looks down upon the mollusc and the mollusc looks down upon the mite...and so on, but man is only a small fragment for our pitiful senses are very limited. What does an ant know of Canada? It can know nothing of it whatsoever because not only is it beyond its comprehension it is beyond its simple means of travel, unless it happens to live in Canada, in which case it would not know nor care! What does a small organism living at the bottom of the ocean know about rain or snow or trees? Nothing, and in this way man is also ignorant of many things which it cannot understand, explain or control; they even believe earth to be the only planet with life upon it! How absurd and how primitive! In the future we shall be humbled to the fact that not only does other life exist beyond our small galaxy, not life which simply crawls upon its stomach all day drinking, eating, fornicating and defecating, much like some examples of humanity, but a life capable of intelligent reasoning far beyond our own thought and a life capable of inter-stellar travel. To them it is us who are the underdeveloped monkeys or perhaps only the mice in our stage of evolution!

When I came to England I became drawn to the Wiccan craft and I felt an instant connection to its theories and practices and their belief system concerning nature and sex. It was all rather beautiful and natural and not stuffy and practiced in the darkness of inhibition under a clerical roof! God, you’d think they’d be more open about such a natural and ‘sacred’ act wouldn’t you? But then again humanity is a nest of shame!


My friend Mona, you don’t know her, asked me recently what I thought of the human race, about its hypocrisy and its greed and its nasty ways when she suddenly burst upon me like a broken sewer pipe saying ‘you have no idea about the very worst of humanity, you cannot even conceive of how ugly mankind is!’ I was shocked, flabbergasted, now there’s a word I don’t often use! But the way she turned on me! ‘I beg your pardon!’ I said, ‘not seen the worst of humanity! Not seen its ugliness!’ so I told her straight ‘I’ll have you know’ I said ‘I’ve stood on the concourse at Euston Station in London on a Friday afternoon’ I said ‘with the great and the good and the unwashed waiting for the platform number for the London to Birmingham train! Not seen the worst!’ and I did I told her good and proper of how it’s ‘every man, woman and child for themselves! It’s alright’ I said ‘if you’re the public school, Oxbridge, rowing and rugby, boxing and sodomy type of chap, you know, tired suit heel-booting down to the platform, all elbows, knees, teeth and snot, then at the doors like a greyhound, inwardly snarling and snorting, huffing and puffing behind the newspaper and boom! Doors open! Children are unceremoniously thrown into the carriage to secure a seat and the ‘suits’ spread their awful weight in the seats, all armpits, bald heads and bad breath! There’s no room for the lame and the latecomers and damn those who fall by the wayside! Pregnant women and cripples haven’t got a chance’ I said.
‘We don’t use that out-dated word anymore’ she says ‘it’s not politically correct!’
‘Oh do excuse me!’ I said ‘perhaps I should say “expectant mothers to be”!’ I knew exactly what she meant but I am not one for pleasing the eyes and ears of society! I got so worked up about it that I had to go and have a sit down with a nice cup of tea, a cigarette and a few custard creams!


Sitting there enjoying my tea I suddenly thought ‘whatever happened to the good old Lincoln biscuit?’ I used to eat those things one dot at a time in a circular motion, I’m sure many people did and it took ages but the discipline involved has stood me in good stead! (6) No doubt the author will here insert some florid piece upon the romantic and tortured aspect of the famed Lincoln! (7)

A Eulogy
Sweet concentric tormentor, friend;
Companion to the cup, ‘ere dream
Of tea-dunked bliss, that doth ascend
The shortcake crunch, devoid of cream!
McVities, hail! Ye disc of gold
Swore I allegiance, youth struck dumb
At dough-passions, serene, foretold
O circular monarch of biscuitdom!
To thee love stirs, your glory’s grace
Is more than bland accomplishment, see
The delicate crumb, grown far apace,
Superior shine over Malted Milk and Rich Tea!
Moribund, thy crown hath slipp’d askance;
Heartache – thou art poet’s bread!
Fare thee well Lincoln, thou didst entrance
And forge link ‘twixt living and the dead!

As a child I read Keats, I was far too young of course and he somehow disagreed with me and now I am constantly cursed to regurgitate large chunks of him! (8) In fact one of my favourite poems is not by Keats but about him; Alice Meynell wrote an excellent poem ‘On Keats’ Grave’ which was published in 1869 and I think it captures something of the divine about the young doomed poet:

On Keats’ Grave

Down from the low hills with pines
Into the fields at rest, the summer done,
I went by pensive ways of tombs and vines
To where the place I dream of is;
And in a stretch of meditative sun
Cloven by the dark flames of the cypresses
Came to the small grave of my ended poet.
I had felt the wild things many a dreamy hour
Pushing above him from beyond the sea,
But when I saw it
It chanced there was no flower;
And that was, too, a silent time for me.

It’s simply magical and those lines: ‘I went by pensive ways of tombs and vines/to where the place I dream of is’ just pushes it beyond our reach into another dimension! It should certainly be my epitaph! (9)
I wonder if Keats would have enjoyed a Lincoln biscuit. I’m sure he would, although I see him more as a malted milk sort of man. Perhaps Housman or Hopkins would have favoured the melancholy aspect of the Lincoln! Other poets are known to have been great dunkers in their time, let us suppose them here with a great plate of assorted biscuits, who would choose which? I like to think that old Byron would be partial to the odd chocolate bourbon or two and that the lovely John Betjeman would simply melt into his armchair with a custard cream! Yeats, a little sterner perhaps would opt for the simple digestive while the wonderful Sylvia Plath would dive into the ginger nuts! Coleridge and Ted Hughes would argue over the hob nobs and covet the chocolate ones while nice Mr Browning would indeed choose nice biscuits! Rich tea would be the choice for Wordsworth (and his sister) with Keats as I have mentioned nibbling the malted milk. Larkin would be scowling across the table with a handful of coconut creams while Eliot I see as a morning coffee sort of man; Elizabeth Barrett Browning sneaks milk chocolate digestives into her tiny delicate mouth, soaked to perfection in her tea cup; Shakespeare of course, I believe to be a secret admirer of the dark chocolate digestive and Wilde goes absolutely wild over a box of assorted biscuits for he finds it difficult to choose and so picks them at random as indeed an aesthete would so as to sample all the delights that life has to offer him in the world of biscuits! (10)


1. Other postures include: the ‘Becalmed Devil’; the ‘Vigilant Serpent’; the ‘Taut Dragon’; the ‘Braided Bear’; the ‘Gilded Unicorn’; the ‘Sedate Toad’; the ‘Tree Goat’ and the ‘Bemused Panda’. In the year 1929 the monastery consisted of 811 monks. In the present time there are only 5.5 monks.
2. The exact address of God is still unknown but it is said by those closest to him, that he toils most lovingly and industriously in the wild and beautiful plains of Ireland.
3. We cannot ascertain the exact point in time at which Lady Lo Lo lost her faith in God, or indeed father Christmas, but it most certainly occurred sometime between the goings and comings of Blue Peter presenters Tina Heath and Sarah Greene, 1979-1980, in which case our young heroine would have been eleven years old!
4. Loudun Devil: In Loudon, France, during 1634 a convent of Ursuline nuns described being visited and possessed by demonic spirits and after an investigation by the Catholic Church it was found that father Urbain Grandier (1590-1634) a parish priest of St. Pierre-du-Marche, in Loudon, was responsible for the summoning of the ‘devils’ and he was duly burnt at the stake as a witch. For further information see: ‘The Devils of Loudon’. Aldous Huxley. 1952, and also Robert Rapley’s ‘A Case of Witchcraft: the Trial of Urbain Grandier’. 1998.
5. It is not substantially correct to assume that all nuns are habitual chocolate masticators and therefore the author wishes to withdraw this statement before serious harm is done in offending the good nature of those gentle sisters of God who do such splendid work in keeping the rivers of chocolate flowing!
6. The Lincoln biscuit has attained cult status among biscuit aficionados.
7. I did! – ‘He inflicts upon the world, unique but unreadable tosh!’ [The Times. 14 September 2001] Quite right!
8. The author here advises caution as exposure to Keats, cold, at such an early age may be harmful to one’s health!
9. Alice Meynell (1847-1922) Her first poetry collection ‘Preludes’ appeared in 1875 followed by books on her essays and further poetry. To learn more about Meynell I can do no more than refer you to the excellent ‘The Slender Tree: A Life of Alice Meynell’ by June Badeni (1981) and for her complete poems: ‘The Poems of Alice Meynell’ (1923) which comprises her ‘early’, ‘later’ and ‘last poems’.
10. At this point Lady Lo Lo fell silent and stepped aside to, as she later explained, allow an angel to pass. She thus spoke no more and her monologue came to an abrupt end.

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