If you read here fairly regularly, you may have noticed I’ve been on a bit of a consciousness kick lately, posting about dream and nightmare, acid and ‘shroom. It’s a subject that’s still very much on my mind and, in my mullings, I have thought mightily about trepanation, not for the first time in my life. Good old trepanation is, as Wiktionary has it, “The practice of drilling a hole in the skull as a physical, mental, or spiritual treatment” and it’s an activity that first crossed my radar close to 30 years ago, when I read the book Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions by John Michell. In that book there is a whole chapter, “The People With Holes in Their Heads”, devoted to the subject. Now I’m not suggesting I’ll be taking the old drill to my own head (or anyone else’s, for that matter) any time soon, or even any time not-soon, but for all it’s absolute crazy, awful grossness, I’m deeply, weirdly compelled by it. I love Cynthia Girard’s poem “There is an insect” because I swear to god it’s about trepanation.
But I want to be clear, okay?: I don’t believe for a moment that trepanation is a good idea. I don’t. But I really really understand the compulsion towards altered consciousness. The older I get the more I find I’m madly attracted to otherness and dream state and that Paul Éluard thing about the other world that’s in this world that I’m always on about. I’m not a church-going woman — am indeed quite cold-hearted towards organised religion in general — but I do crave the solace and comfort that believers appear to experience and the epiphanic revelations that are given to the few. Very hotly indeed do I crave those things.
Attaining a state of tranquillity is high on my list of priorities, probably because I am a ridiculously roiled-up woman at the best of times. My natural default setting is “Grrrrrrrrr”. And the very notion of revelation makes me weak at the knees, so ardently do I wish for understanding and vision. I would like to find tranquillity and revelation without practising risky behaviours and am very much driven to search. Running can get me to a place of altered consciousness, for sure, because runner’s high is for real, yes it is. If you don’t believe me, go run a 10 — miles or kilometres, your choice — and see what I mean. Certain music can give me a beautiful case of visiony dreamhead too, things like Brian Eno’s Apollo and also the Surf Champlers, who I am loving on immoderately these days because they let me have that floaty fuguey feeling I like so much and help me glimpse a strange and beautiful landscape sometimes.
I won’t be boring a hole in my skull today or any other day, I promise. But I’ll always want to read about it and to think about it and to seek out some of what the trepanners are seeking out, albeit in a less bloody and infection-courting way.
There is an insect
There is an insect
On a branch
The branch is in my head
Yes it is in my head
I drilled a hole
In my skull and I inserted the branch
A beetle came and walked through my skull
On the branch
The beetle is sad and crying and
Her tears fill a pond in my brain
In the grey jelly of my brain there is now
A pond with goldfishes and waterlilies
The water is salty
They swim through the beetle’s tears
The goldfishes are my dreams
— From the poem “There is an insect” by Cynthia Girard
Dans ma tête
sur une branche
dans ma tête
il y a un insecte
Oui dans ma tête
j’ai percé un trou et j’y ai inséré une branche
un scarabée (s’y est déposé et est entré dans mon crâne)
sur la branche
le scarabée est triste et il pleure
ses larmes forment un étang dans ma tête
dans la gelée grise de mon cerveau il y a maintenant
un étang avec des poissons rouges et des nénuphars
l’eau est salée
ils nagent dans les larmes du scarabée
les poissons rouges sont mes rêves
— Extrait traduit du poème “There is an insect” de Cynthia Girard
The first migraine-plagued caveman
who countered his aching cranium
with crudely pounded flint (and lived)
surely shared his medical breakthrough.
Headcutting is old as woodcutting.
Aztec shaman or Greek physician,
a good doctor knew the value
of airing out a fevered brain.
In dark ages before Lister and Pasteur,
chirurgeons didn’t know a virus
from a curse, but they needed a name
for the rusty saw they used to open
a blow-swelled skull: the trepane
saved careless courtiers from coma.
Modern surgeons’ steel is clean, but treat
tyro trepanation with trepidation. Teen
mystics sing high of tuning third eyes
and praise their cordless doorknob drills
for opening new windows of perception
even as they lie blinded, bacterial feasts.
Fan video set to “Deep Blue Day” from Brian Eno’s Apollo:
CD cover for Roots Manuva's Slime & Reason. Design: Oscar & Ewan. Photography: Pelle Crepin.Via Creative Review Blog