It Follows is the most important, disturbing, subtle and eloquent statement about sexual shame and magic that I could ask for in the form of a major motion picture.
I don’t usually watch horror movies, but somehow I ended up last night riveted in the theater. It Follows, with its intensely creepy premise of a slow-moving, shape-shifting demon whose haunting presence is sexually transmitted from person-to-person, connected to everything I’ve been thinking lately about sexual trauma and shame and the way it affects how magic appears in our lives.
It Follows does an incredible job of dramatizing the way that traumatic sexual shame can hijack a human being’s will and desire and power of magical manifestation.
The Film Itself
The action of the main narrative of It Follows kicks off after two teenagers have consensual sex in the backseat of a car. One of the sexual partners is a young man, Hugh. In the afterglow of their sex, Hugh’s partner, a young woman named Jay, lies reflecting dreamily aloud to Hugh about her childhood imaginations of what it would be like to go on dates — Hugh snuggles up close to her – and then proceeds to suffocate her. There’s a sense of dread and betrayal to the scene, a destruction of trust. Jay awakes, dressed only in her underwear, tied to a wheelchair in an abandoned building. Hugh promises her he won’t hurt her – and then proceeds to tell her about the deadly demon that’s been following him and how he just passed it on to her through their sex.
Hugh wants to show to Jay that the demon is real (in order to teach her how to recognize and avoid it, to help her better survive its onslaught now that he’s passed it on to her to save himself) – so he’s tied her up so she can see the demon stalking them. The demon is coming towards them in the form of a nude, mature woman (who we viewers later realize looks just like Hugh’s mother). After he proves the existence of the demon to her, Hugh rushes Jay home. He drops her off on the front lawn of her house, sobbing in a fetal position in her underwear.
The film’s implication of sexual trauma and rape is clear: ever-after her experience with Hugh, Jay is haunted by a slow-moving, silent demon who is intent on killing her. No one else can see the demon, though they can see its effects (broken windows and scratches) and it appears to Jay in the guise of various people. It sometimes appears as an old woman, sometimes as her friends, and finally as her nude father.
The Shape-Shifting Demon of Shame
Just as the film depicts, once we imbibe sexual shame it tends to follow us everywhere – it come towards us in the form of people we love intensely, including (very much including, as Freud highlighted) our own parents. It comes upon us when we’re trying to relax and trying to connect with others, and it causes us to base our lives around fleeing its onslaught. When it appears, it seems determined to “kill” us – to stamp out our ostensibly offensive existence, to delete our happiness. We tend to (most often unconsciously) pass it to other people through our own desperation to escape it. The rush of shaming or “using” another person as an object can briefly alleviate the haunted feeling of being shamed ourselves.
The more that I coach magical people, the more the links between magic (which we can broadly define, in affectionate reference to Mr. Crowley, as “the ability to effect changes in the world in accordance with one’s Will”), shame, sex, the feminine, and the shadow become abundantly evident to me.
I’ve learned that by far the most efficient way to injure and even to paralyze someone’s magical power and connection with their own true Will (i.e. their sense of inner authority and authentic desire) is to shame their sexuality and the creative expressions that emerge from it- through violation, assault, insult, taunting, or simple silent disapproval. All of which our culture manages to do very aggressively to just about all of us.
Even those of us who are blessed to grow up in the most sane and approving of families and communities still get assaulted on a daily basis by media messages that are hell-bent on implying that some aspect of our sexuality, gender expression, or body is not okay, not enough, not loveable. And of course, most of us are not so blessed to be born into a situation of utmost sanity and safety. Hundreds of thousands of people are molested by family members or neighbors as children, or experience sexual assault (most frequently, it’s rape by an intimate acquaintance or “date rape”) as teenagers or adults. In other words, sexual violence and shaming dramatically impacts every one of us, whether directly or indirectly.
The individuals I coach are powerful pragmatic people who’ve created what they want at a certain level and yet are wrestling with embarking upon the creative endeavor that’s most meaningful to them. As I do this work, I find that the barrier between a person and the manifestation of their most profound fulfillment and creative expression is pretty much always the same: it’s shame.
The Nature of Shame
Shame is a feeling of lack. It’s a sense of being-against-one’s-own-self, a feeling that something basic about one’s being is somehow bad for one’s own survival and actualization and happiness: it’s a globally pervasive sense of being devalued, unworthy, unwanted. People who are burdened by shame and by an inner sense of self-devaluation can’t properly express valuing and love to others (shame makes valuing others as fellow subjects [rather than fetishized objects] and meeting them in real intimate resonance feel too dangerous and frightening): so the shame gets passed on, transmitted from person-to-person, just like the demon in It Follows.
Shame generates alienation and the desire to hide and disconnect (whether through actual physical departure or just emotionally “checking out” and going to addictions – food, gambling, shopping, achievement, drugs, alcohol – for consolation). It has the pernicious effect of making actual intimate, present connection feel too dangerous and too painful to be risked.
This is key: since magic primarily manifests through synchronicity and connection, paralyzing someone’s ability to connect to others and to approve of a fundamental aspect of their being (their sexuality and desire) effectively paralyzes their magic.
When I realized this phenomena of shame-dimming-magic, I saw how very well the pervasive shaming of femininity (meaning not just the oppression of women, but the oppression of literally all that evidences the feminine characteristics of being fluid, shifting, non-binary, extra-rational, yielding, cyclical, subject to ecstasy, occluded, non-obvious, non-dualistic, generative, messy, bloody, dark) has screwed up our collective magic. We’ve manifested a whole society that’s based on objectifying each other and the natural resources of the world, extracting and exploiting.
I’ve read psychological discussions that talk about various sorts of shame: class and economic shame, racial shame, shaming of various emotions like anger or sadness. I would actually argue that while shame does indeed emerge and get triggered surrounding all of these topics and conditions, actually all shame, at its base, is fundamentally magical and sexual. This is because shame is a global sense of “wrongness” regarding our own life force, drive to connect, creativity, and expression (i.e., sexual energy) that we human beings pass on to each other.
Think about it: shame creates oppression. Oppression objectifies people. Shame objectifies people.
Objectification is the beginning of all horror, all violence, all misuse of people and the earth.
Shame feels that it has to objectify others (reduce others to “things” to be exploited, as means to an end – whether racially or economically) because recognizing the presence of another’s vivid, alive, whole subjectivity and agency and loveability is painful and dangerous – because that other subjectivity might abandon one or reject one.
In short, shame is a hex, it’s a lie. It’s a confused notion that crept itself into human awareness a long time ago — in the Garden of Eden, according to one very popular account — and has been virally perpetuating itself ever since.
Shame, Magic, and the Garden of Eden
The story of the Garden in Eden is perhaps a very psychologically accurate myth: the naive feminine part of us (Eve) in her innocence and receptivity, accepts the serpent’s lie that she is lacking. The serpent tells her that she lacks, she is deprived by God of the knowledge she could have from eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. She accepts this lie that her very being is lacking, is not enough, is deprived by God and she thereby decides to eat the fruit and share it with her partner, Adam. Then the two of them, for the first time, “become ashamed of their nakedness” and hide from God. This results in them essentially kicking themselves out of Eden.
We kick ourselves out of Eden — out of the experience of a benevolent, divinely-ruled world abundantly, magically, flawlessly providing for us – as soon as we accept the lie that Eve accepted, the lie that we are lacking, that we are wrong, that we should hide and be ashamed. It’s the acceptance of this lie in the creative part of us that dooms us to have to labor and stress in a world that feels indifferent, cruel, haunted by alienation and objectification.
When shame bonds to sexual feeling in a person, that person becomes alienated from their own locus of positive creative and magical energy.
The shadow part of us is the shamed part of us, the dimension of our being that we want to hide. The generative, creative, receptive (i.e. feminine) part of our selves, our very soul, our magnetic center, gets shamed, disowned and pushed into the shadow.
How Shame Affects Our Magic
Briefly put, shame affects our magic by causing us to manifest a world of scarcity and deprivation (of love, money, resource, time) all around us.
The cycle goes something like this: the innocent, receptive part of us unwittingly accepts shame (usually as children or young adults), we internalize the shame and then wish to distance ourselves from the part of us that drew shaming attention (our sexual energy – our own magnetic, attractive power). As we distance ourselves from our sexual energy (i.e., deprive it of our total approval and love), we literally lose our connection to our own generative, creative center. We become weak and we start to rely on outside inputs of energy to keep us going through life (the approval of others, drugs, self-harm, violence to others, gambling, eating disorders, shopping – whatever it takes). We’ll even manipulate and be dishonest in order to get our outside energy hit — because we feel we “need” it, we’re dependent on it, we’re alienated from our own internal locus of power and joy.
Furthermore, since we’re sending the creative, receptive part of ourselves an energy of deprivation and scarcity (shame), the creative part of ourselves has no choice but to magically project around us a world of relationships and situations around us that reflect deprivation and scarcity.
In this projected world of scarcity and lack, we begin to believe that we want “objects” – money, possessions, achievements, objectified people — in other words, our True Will is perverted and hidden from us. What we hope that these objects will do is relieve us from our sense of shame and self-alienation – and that’s exactly what they are not able to do. Ensnared by this web of objectified, alienated wanting and seeking – we have lost access to the power-house of our actual inner magnet and compass of True Desire, True Will.
In my experience, the work of freeing ourselves and our magic from shame and changing the world we project to one of fulfillment and joy is intense. Shadow-integration processes like The Work of Byron Katie have gone a long way to helping me in my journey to freedom, as has Orgasmic Meditation.
I’ve also found that receiving help from coaches experienced with navigating the waters of shame and shadow with abundant attention and approval has aided me greatly, and I’m glad to be able to offer that kind of coaching to the clients who work with me. If you’re interested in exploring private coaching with me, I invite you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
image: It Follows promotional still
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