Ghouls and Good Hearts

November 2012 I was in Palestine, touring schools in the West Bank. Then as now (but at a much, much smaller scale) bombs were raining over Gaza. The 17th of November I wrote a blog post on my storyteller webpage, which currently is out of order. I have reuploaded it here.

Three days ago, I was sitting on a floor in a library in a village close to Tubas, West Bank, Palestine, surrounded by kids, listening to a girl from the 5th grade telling us a story with variants found all over the world: A stepmother sends the heroine out to the ghoul (a man-eating demon) to get her killed. Instead she returns with great treasure because she has a good heart and dares to face and comb the evil ghoul’s hair. She faces the darkness bravely, and it doesn’t hurt her, it gives her gifts. Every time she speaks, perfume and flowers emerge from her mouth.

The stepmother sends her own daughter out to do the same, but, being filled with spite and hate and refusing to have anything to do with the ghoul’s filthy locks, she gets another gift – she starts spewing worms and spiders instead when trying to communicate.

While the little storyteller was telling her tale, the Gaza crisis was escalating. I thought about the stories we tell to ourselves. Some say that evil has nothing to do with them, it only exists outside themselves, behind walls. Hiding away the evil, telling stories about it, but never actually seeing it, makes it easier to believe that beyond this border is the land of the soul-less flesh-eating ghouls, where all men should fear to tread. Cross this line and be devoured. We can not guarantee your safety.

Signs like these (right), in signal red, are all over the place here. Close to the border of the Palestinian Territories. Some, by the area of the West Bank defined as Area A, say that Israelis are not allowed by law to enter these areas and that it is to the risk of their own lives. It’s a modern euphemism for skulls or rotting bodies along the perimeters of a fence.

It is funny. I have lived in the land of the ghouls for almost two weeks now. Do you know where area A is? Among other places, the areas around the city of Tubas. It’s a rural and peaceful Muslim community, as are most of the areas in this region. People just trying to get on with their lives, concerned with their families.

Earlier during the day of my visit to this area, I told a story to a girl school class in a village close to the city of Jenin. Coming into the class room gave me a bit of a start, because I was faced with a uniform mass of twenty fourteen year olds, all dressed in white, including snow white hijabs. They were fourteen, but they looked somehow much older. In the beginning, this group of young women felt almost alien to me, as if they were from some other planet.

But then, as I started telling my story, recognition kicked in. I could hear the shy giggling of teenagers not sure about the situation. I could see the attentive eyes of children wondering what would happen. And when I called, they responded. I told a universal story of love, regret and hope in the face of great adversity. About everything that makes us human, about everything that makes us, all of us, reflections of one another. In a space beyond the wall, where no Israeli citizen is allowed to travel.

I am in Palestine. I was supposed to attend a workshop here, an artist’s workshop under the supervision of Al-Mahatta Gallery, a collaborative foundation of young Palestinian visual artists. The workshop did not happen at the appointed time, may not happen, due to problems with visas for participants from Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt. All lands of the ghoul. I travelled here anyway. Here, in the areas beyond the red warning signs, I feel safe. And welcomed.

There’s one other place in the world I have been met with such a high degree of friendliness, openness and hospitality.

And that is Iran.

In last year’s Al-Mahatta workshop, an American Jew (I will add his name later) was one of the participants. His mother was terrified! He would surely get beaten or killed. Under no circumstances should he reveal that he was Jewish while in Palestine. In the security check at the airport, the officials told him that he was taking a big risk, and that Jews foolhardy enough to enter the lair of the ghoul, would get burned. Palestinians were not to be trusted. This guy, having a good heart, paid no heed. He opened the gate, ignored the decapitated heads, and decided to make his art project based on these fears.

In the city of Birzeit, he stood on top of a wall. There was a drop of several meters from the wall to the ground below. He told people that gathered about the fact that he was Jewish, about the stories he had heard, and that he wanted to check if he could trust Palestinians. He had a strap around his chest. Two ropes were connected to the strap. He gave one of the ropes to the people on the street, total strangers. And the other rope, which had a heavy rock attached to it, was dangled over the edge of the wall. He was at their mercy, put his faith in them. And they didn’t let him down. Returning to the US after this experience, whenever he would talk about his time in Palestine, perfume and flowers would fill the air, fighting off the stench of the worms and the spiders.

Worms and spiders still dominate the global discourse about the Middle East crisis. World leaders, high ranking officials and media conglomerates are spewing them out at an alarming rate. But we have to remember: They are nothing but stepsisters. If they enter the lair of the ghoul, they refuse to get their hands dirty, they refuse to see beyond the tangled hair, the language they don’t understand, the religion they feel is a threat. If they had but showed kindness, and combed the hair of the ghoul, instead of listening and reacting to the fear and hate in their hearts, they would see that behind the ugly mask there is a mirror.

The darkness is not something outside of ourselves. We all carry darkness. And if we don’t face it, we will always see it elsewhere. The result being the murdering of innocents. Yesterday, the loss of life in Gaza amounted to 24, of which 15 were civilians. Of the 15, 8 were children from the age of eleven months to thirteen years, 4 were seniors and 3 were women. 280 were injured, of these 197 are children and women. In Israel, three civilians have been killed, in a settlement close to Tel Aviv.

A part of me is still sitting on the floor in that library, surrounded by children, listening to a folk tale found in all parts of the world, told by a 5th grader with gleaming eyes. In the end, this is the ghoul. The fear of discovering and accepting that after all this bloodshed and carnage, the mirror behind the mask will show you this girl, scenting the air with flower and perfume as she speaks.

She has a good heart. She deserves a good life. Don’t let fear and ignorance take that away.

The Pillars of Polarity

Recently, I had a dream. The details of the dream are not important. What felt important was the fact that I kept waking up from said dream with the image of two pillars in my mind, both embossed with the Roman numeral “II”. Three or four times those two columns kept pulling me up from the depths of dream and onto the shores of wakefulness before I, just as quickly, became submerged anew.

The pillars were not directly linked to the dream I was having, but they kept on insisting on their importance, as if they were saying:

You have forgotten us. You have to remember us.

As soon as I was fully awake, I started wondering about these persistent pillars. I knew that I knew them, but from where?

Continue reading

The Fall

This December all the trees were bare
but for a chestnut that I passed
It still retained a small retinue of leaves
all sickly green
as if they refused to accept that the season
had changed

It reminded me of us
of our society
believing that summer
is eternal
clinging onto the idea
of unchanging fortitude
like those chestnut leaves
desperately holding onto chlorofyll
refusing to let go
to fall
even though the summer is long gone
the autumn also passed
and winter is not coming
it’s already here
but we refuse to see it
out of fear

Continue reading

The Sacred Clown

Trump is probably the most famous person on the planet right now, eclipsing even the Pope and the Dalai Lama.

The Clown with a Thousand Faces

An aspiring tyrant of Nero-like proportions to the political left, and a holy crusader to the political right. But there is also a third mythical perspective (and certainly more, but we will focus on this particular one here):

Trump as The Sacred Clown. Continue reading

Technocracy vs. Ecocracy

We are at a crossroads. The world as we know it is ending – it has been ending for a long time, but now most of us are becoming aware that it is happening. The question is – what story will we choose? What macro narrative will inform the new world? Or to put it in other terms relevant to this blog -> What myth will we live by?

From the decaying corpse of turbo capitalism two children are emerging, fighting for our attention. These fraternal twins both want the same – a safe future, a predictable environment and peace on Earth. But their modus operandi and underlying values are widely different. Their names are Technocracy and Ecocracy. Continue reading

A Tear in the World

Still waters. Clear skies. High spirits.

She closed her eyes. Familiar red-tinged darkness. Entoptic larvae crawling in imaginary space, a spastic dance of perceived light. Her hands resting on the skin of her qayaq. The soft sound of water caressing its underbelly. She imagined the waters within. The ebbs and floes of her inner reservoir of H2O, the swirls, the eddies, the crushing waterfalls and deep, still ponds.

„I am a mirror“ she whispered, allowing her mind to float and dissolve into the vast ocean below. Picture: Her lines of thought as erratic strands of photons falling apart, dropping like fairy dust. Small submerged specks of energy interacting with the informational content of the liquid surrounding them. Becoming one with it. A somewhat guided vision, to be sure. Yet she also tried to stay open, to receive whatever intutive imagery that would come to her in this state. Every time she did this. Every day. There: A flash of darkness, something deep. And a lingering memory of too much death. Translated in her being as a tightness in the chest and a welling of the eyes. Continue reading

The Unbearable Everything

This Easter, when the world is in relative isolation, forced to look within, my thoughts go back to last year’s Easter. I was in The Netherlands, readying myself to join about fifty other people of all ages, all dressed in white, in communion.

The sacrament that we were about to imbibe was not the blood of Christ, but Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a Quecha word meaning Spirit Vine and plenty of people have written about what it is and what it does. I won’t go into details about the composition and history of this entheogen, but I will speak about the journey. A journey that I can best describe as diving into the realms of myth. Continue reading


The grapes were shining. Giving off light, a reflection of the raging firestorm in the city below.

“It is true, then.” he said, looking up at the red, shaking sky; a canvas of hell, “These are the days of the Apocalypse.” Silent tears streamed down his cheek, pooling up in the shallows of his beard. A piece of cloth appeared in the corner of his eye, dapping his moist skin. He turned to look. It was her veil, still covering her hair. Seeing his surprise, she withdrew her makeshift handkerchief, letting her hands rest on the box between her legs. Continue reading