No matter what authority one exercises, one can never fully take possession of another’s story, as long as one knows one’s power (and is not physically contained, or rather detained), one can thwart narrative containment – grab the pen and throw in a plot twist.
In this lyric essay, author Sankofa Backwards-Looking Prophetess weaves together poetry, prose, and prophecy to reflect on the nature of shared and created realities for survivors of trauma. Sankofa writes from the intersection of the Mad, 2SLGBTQA+, and Black liberation movements, punctuating wry observation with cascades of magic and metaphor for a read that is as much disquieting dreamscape as it is social commentary.
The following piece was written on traditional, ancestral and unceded ʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō, Stz’uminus and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories, where the author resides.
Content warning: includes references to trauma; incarceration; sexuality; Christianity and Christian imperialism; child abuse, including childhood sexual abuse
Genesis of a Mad Person
Being told the same false narrative again and again can change who you are. Since I was a tween, I was told by my white mother, that I, her Black child, once a girl, am a delusional person who is projecting sexual abuse onto a nonsexually abusive cis man relative. In 2015, I traveled to Ghana to connect with my roots and heal from that narrative – to feel what it is like to be surrounded by family and free from external whiteness. In my pursuit of escape, the trap that my mother had been laying for me all these years finally sprung, and I finally blossomed into a crazy person who is projecting sexual abuse onto an actually nonsexually abusive cis man relative in a setting that was then new to that (now) crazy person.
My mother was shocked, but the thing about the kind of trap she was setting is, you can’t control when it’s going to spring.
Amoebas very much resemble European ideas about God. Amoebas don’t create life through sexual intercourse. They replicate their DNA and split in two. Essentially, they create their children in their own image – very precisely, given no genetic mutation occurs.
But humans are not a uniform species by any means. How can it be then that humankind was created in God’s image? Especially when those who have been claiming to resemble the Christian God most closely for the longest, white cisgender men have proven themselves to be the species’ most violent members and have weaponized their claims to divine similitude against all other members of the species with a systematicity that could only point to a systemic problem? I.e., if humans are created in the Christian God’s image, why are we all so different from each other, and moreover, why are his mightiest self-proclaimed messengers most responsible for the spread of Christianity, so violent and evidently flawed?
What makes humans complex is our power to create. What makes humans complex is our power to create – ourselves, others, realities and entire worlds. A God who creates a white cis man in his white cis man image is a God not unlike an amoeba.
The Bible is a book that tells the story of humankind’s ability to create a world, for the self and for others, just as God made Adam and bears direct dominion over him whereas Adam births Eve from his rib and names her, “woman,” and she is his “helper,” not God’s helper directly. In the sense that Eve’s reality orbits around Adam’s, she is being created by him in a way not unlike the way that Adam’s world was created by God. God empowers Adam and not Eve to name every living thing in the universe, which reveals Adam’s secondary position in the chain of command and also it shows and enacts a human’s divine ability to create reality, just as we create Gods in our images – (but perhaps not with the physical similitude of an amoeba’s creative power [– but then again, amoebas aren’t trying to convince other amoebas to worship Lord Kevin, or whatever all-powerful version of the self one can dream.]) In the Bible’s representation of the first human naming the universe, we witness Adam’s creation of the world, even as the Bible creates our world for us.
So Adam went around naming the universe – he named Eve “Eve” to designate her as the “mother of all living” (New Revised Standard Version, Genesis 3.20), according to the scholarly New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV) – he named the creature that was created to be his helper “woman,” also according to this scholarly version of the Bible – in fact, he created the category of “woman.” Before she was even birthed, he assigned Eve to the role of “helper,” which is bounded up in that categorization of “woman” for many patriarchal Christians. But so? So what? How is naming stuff creating a reality? And further, the Bible describes how the world came to be how it is and what the world essentially is, and it prophesies how the world will end, but is that really creating a world?
Consider these lines from John 1:1 taken from the NRSV, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” If the Word, or language, is God or even precedes God, as a more eccentric reading my suggest – if the Word is God, then the Word, as God, creates reality, and the word is reality – just as God is believed to be the truth and to infuse and comprise everything (i.e., God is reality) – and those who speak or communicate are reality-makers.
And now for a little prophecy:
Origins – one’s origin story is magical as one’s genetic code
(which the origin story encompasses and which records and perpetuates one’s origins.)
Origins – we are our origins.
But we are not entrusted with our own origin stories directly through firsthand witnessing that can be remembered by us – not in this life, anyway
~just as the eyes cannot see the full picture of their own face on their own~
Because humans are made so intelligent and therefore vulnerable and sensitive emotionally, they are given not only prolonged childhoods, but Heavenly and earthly parents to guard over them.
*An act of love?
*Or the enactment of a chain-of-command? 😛
~ ~ Are we made to obey and submit? ~ ~
But there is a balance, of course.
The ladder of ascent and reaching is the ladder of descent and lording over is the ladder of ascent and reaching.
And I vacillate in reading that ladder. I have to, to appreciate its multifaceted nature.
The ladders are the same in one.
Both ladder-realities are divine tools of survival perceived through intuition.
True human strength lies in the cross-fertilization of the spiritual and intellectual (intuition and creativity).
Humans are given creative powers, not only because they are distant from God and are closeness-craving creatures, but because pure intelligence (if it existed) would certainly be a vulnerability for those who are not Gods (let alone for those who are).
Humans are incomplete. We are never more than stars within constellations, individually, anyway1 ~
No matter what authority one exercises, one can never fully take possession of another’s story, as long as one knows one’s power (and is not physically contained, or rather detained), one can thwart narrative containment – grab the pen and throw in a plot twist. < Kind of like I just did here.
~~ Magic ~~
Magic in the secular white-dominated racial capitalistic world is very much alive and well. Because humans do not have the autonomy of self-replication that the amoeba has, and yet crave to know and see the self, they are given the power to create, symbolically – or perhaps “magically,” using the more holistic language that I and my spirits indeed prefer. This can be done in ways that are healthy, and it can be done in ways that are unhealthy.
Humans have the power to create worlds, to create stories and make them real. They will set traps and capture you, if you’re not careful. One example of this potent witchcraft can often be seen in the socialization of a child:
A child from birth will imagine themself/themselves as a God, a mover and a creator. As they proceed to name and capture and enchant their universe, they will find themself/themselves reigned in. By other humans who will try to delimit the reach of their powers and translate and syncretize the child’s own magic, channeling it into more acceptable, legible and/or supposedly socially beneficial forms (typically not undermining power structures and systems).
Not only this, but the others, humans of authority and/or of favouritism by systems, whether or not they possess extraordinary persuasion, may begin to work wicked magic on them (the child). They (other humans) may create for them (the child) a degrading role and story about the child. This story may be as far from the truth as the human imagination can dream. But if the magician is particularly nefarious, they will not only create a story about the child, but they will create for the child a gloomy and daunting picture of the child’s entire world. Perhaps (and most effectively) with co-conspirators, they will act towards the child as if this world is really in existence – everything the child does and experiences will be interpreted and proclaimed evidence of this fictitious truth. If the spell is successful (which these sorts of spells usually are) the child will come to perceive this imagined world as real and believe the totalizing story to be true – various parts in different ways and varying degrees. If the child comes to believe the story as entirely true and submit to its subsuming power, they are effectively trapped.
The God that is the Word of the Bible made two human beings (become) “male and female.” Many others were and are pigeonholed on that authority, which became and becomes an oppressive reality, to challenge which meant – and sadly often still means – facing pathologization as “mad.”
Caveat: the truth is that oppressive reality creation takes not only words, but “power,” as white supremacy understands it. I use the term “might” in this essay.
But if we can story our realities, we can reality our stories ~ ~
No matter what authority one exercises, one can never fully take possession of another’s story, as long as one knows one’s power (and is not physically contained, or rather detained), one can thwart narrative containment
~ ~ As I am doing, by writing my story now ~ ~
My musical mentor Leela Gilday led a music workshop for Vancouver Poetry House’s 2020 Word Camp in which she explained that the voice is controlled by involuntary muscles and therefore is exercised strictly by conceptualization and abstraction, through exercises such as imagining one’s centre filling up with a balloon or imagining one’s voice coming out of one’s forehead as a ray of light.
~ ~ Words and ideas create biological realities.
My mother turned me into a crazy person who made false accusations against a cis masculine relative. That is evidence of the power of the divine-human power of creation.
I don’t have answers, I only have threads. I am incomplete
1 Francis B Nyamnjoh’s Drinking from the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds taught me that incompletion is fundamental to what it means to be human.
I write from traditional, ancestral, unceded and occupied ʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō, Stz’uminus and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories, where I live.
I am indebted to Akwaeke Emezi for teaching me about the power of naming through their writing and publication of the novel, Freshwater.
Gilday, Leela. “The Power of Your Voice.” Word Camp, 7 Nov. 2020, online. Workshop.
The Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Bible Gateway, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1. Accessed 6 Jan. 2021.
About the author: Sankofa Backwards-Looking Prophetess
Sankofa is a Black and mixed poly, queer, trans and gender-transcending possessed and shapeshifting survivor and prophet who writes from traditional, ancestral and unceded ʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō, Stz’uminus and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories, where Sankofa resides. Sankofa knows that art is key to decolonization and a better world. Sankofa’s pronoun is Sankofa’s name.