Friday, January 16, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 3

Let's have a brief chat about repressed memories.

In the 1980's, the idea that memories of traumatic events could be "blocked" from conscious memory was very much in vogue in the psychotherapy community. This blocking process was thought to be an unconscious and automatic defense mechanism to protect the mind from undue suffering and stress. These memories were supposedly recoverable through specialized therapy, usually involving hypnosis or mind-altering drugs.

The only problem with this theory is the fact that human brain =\= camera or computer hard drive. Memories are actually pretty fluid and malleable, especially in highly imaginative people, and it's distressingly easy to create false ones through the power of suggestion. A lot of psychologists don't support the idea of repressed memories anymore for this reason.

Keep this in mind while we discuss the next chapter.

Michelle comes in for her next therapy session and continues the process of "unblocking her memories." We get our first explicit description of a "Satanic ritual" from her. She recalls being in a dark room where robed women are setting up candles and an altar. She calls the women "mommies," assumes it's a birthday party because of the candles and hopes a birthday cake will appear, and talks in general like an overly sentimental adult's yuckily cutesy and cloying idea of how an innocent little five-year-old talks, and it makes my teeth hurt.

Then we meet an unnamed woman in a black cape who seems to be in charge, and things get strange:

She's being like a mommy. And then she kisses me! She's kissing me and sticking her tongue in my...mouth! [....]
They started to talk about getting me ready...preparing me...She started rubbing me...Some of the people grabbed my wrists.

The women strip Michelle and rub her down with some sort of foul-smelling ointment. Then they produce a number of different-colored sticks from somewhere. The caped woman begins to dip these sticks (size unknown) one by one into a silver chalice containing...some substance (name and chemical composition unknown). Once she has anointed each stick, she briefly inserts it into Michelle, first into her rectum and then into various other body parts (purpose of ritual unknown).

Then the women (apparently) perform some sort of divination with the sticks. At least, that's what Dr. Pazder seems to think they were doing, which is odd given that Michelle hears them saying "Try this...see if this works" to each other during the ritual, and that seems like a more appropriate utterance for people ineptly trying to assemble an IKEA bookshelf than for future-gazing witches.

This passage is incredibly incoherent. It is so very vague and disjointed that it took me a while to figure out that the witches removed the sticks from Michelle before divining with them. But I've already talked about that issue, so I'd like to focus on another one. Specifically these passages:

I don't want them to hurt me! I can't stand being pinned down!...Someone's rubbing something on me, on my chest! It smells icky. It's mucky...

They stuck them everywhere I had an opening! They just kept poking and rubbing...The inside of me hates them [...] They are putting ugly in me.

Along with the creepy kiss from the caped woman, don't those passages sound weirdly sexual to you?

Like a fantasy an excitable, highly imaginative young woman whose formative years were mostly within the simultaneously lascivious and repressed, double-standard-riddled 1950's might concoct out of her anxiety about sex and her conflicted relationship with her own libido?

Now, I am not a mental health professional. I am quite possibly very wrong about this. But my gut feeling is that Michelle's "witches" were projections of her insecurity with her sexuality, and Dr. Pazder was not equipped to help her with what was really the problem.

Or, since he eventually ended up divorcing his wife and marrying Michelle, maybe he helped her too well in that department.

I would also like to note that this chapter just has to sneak in one more awful thing before it ends. Once the session is over, Dr. Pazder thinks about the work he's done in Africa and points out "that the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria (among others) used cola-bean pods in a fashion similar to the way these people appeared to use sticks: to predict."

Which carries the unfortunate implication that those people in Africa are all filthy child-molesting Satanists. And I'm told that this isn't the last time Pazder will bring up his experiences with the religious practices of Africans in conjunction with Satanism in this book. Damn it. Stand by for rants about the harm done by the demonization of indigenous religions and White Man's Burden crap.



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