The Selfishness of Desire
Allow me, for but a moment, the indulgence of pouring my heart and pain onto the page.
Content warning for potentially triggering remarks in the next paragraph.
I have been called many things by people, some of them good and some not so good. I have had my appearance insulted, described by a family member as being ‘not pretty enough for men to want’, and having been told on a different occasion by a different person that I should go ‘smash my face in’. I have had people mistaken my social anxiety for stuck-up snobbishness. In my youth, someone once called me a ‘zombie’ due to how quiet I was, having found me ‘creepy’ due to the ‘still and expressionless’ way I tend to carry myself. Likewise, I have had someone I once deemed a friend call my life ‘pathetic’, claiming that if she were to be me she ‘would’ve committed suicide by now’.
But none of the cutting words hurt as much as when someone called me ‘selfish’.
In my eyes, to be selfish is to be monstrous. I had believed (and a part of me still does) that it is selfish and thereby monstrous to put one’s desire above all else. To do all that is to be cruel, to be cold-hearted or even worse, to be heartless and uncaring and inhuman. To be selfless, on the other hand, is to be good. Ergo, to be selfish is to be evil. Such were the simplistic thoughts of a child who grew up thinking that she was a burden upon this earth. Such were the thoughts of the girl that I was, the girl who believed she had to justify her existence by being useful, to be kind and charitable and ever-giving and of course, never selfish.
Slowly, over the years — ever so painstakingly slowly — I learnt otherwise.
It is okay to be selfish, sometimes.
It is human to want, to have desires.
The fixed star Alphard — known by many names such as Alpha Hydrae, Al Fard Al Shujah, or the heart of the snake — is more than capable of love and loving. But, in my view, Alphard isn’t necessarily about love. Alphard is about desire, and desire is about wants, and to want something is to yearn and hunger for it.
In the paper ‘Man the hunter’: a critical reading of hunt-based conceptual metaphors of love and sexual desire by María D. López, the author discusses the work of Andrew Goatly, a linguist and English language professor at the Lingnan University of Hong Kong. Goatly found several metaphors used throughout various sources of literature that tends to relate hunger and food (in addition to the act of eating) to the concept of love or sexual desire. To quote the aforementioned paper:
“In poems such as ‘The Broken Heart’ love is portrayed as being not only violent but also as eating or devouring those experiencing it. This reflects two themes in Metalude: DESIRE IS APPETITE, HUMAN IS FOOD and EMOTION IS FOOD/EATING (HUNTING). By means of these metaphors, love or sexual desire, like other emotions, can be represented as hunger or as something for which you have an appetite or are hungry for. The object of desire may be as attractive as food, i.e. mouth-watering etc. and the loved one, especially if she is a woman, may be represented as the food itself (HUMAN IS FOOD). Conversely the experience of love can be equated to being eaten, as in ‘she was eaten up / consumed with love for Ringo’ or as in ‘he has a devouring passion for Julia’”.
The point I am attempting to make here is that the concept of desire as being equated with hunger is something that is prevalent in our literature and our use of language throughout much of human history. As humans, we swing back and forth from one end of the pendulum to the other: the state of hunger, and the state of satiation. To be hungry — to be unfulfilled and lacking — and to desire — to want to satisfy our hunger — is very much integral to being human. The fixed star Alphard teaches us to listen to the ache in our belly and, in her serpentine ways, teaches us how to hunt. After all, Cupid himself is a hunter, wielding the bow and arrow whose shot no man nor god is immune to. Only through hunting and devouring, through pursuing and possessing the object of our affection, can we be sated and our hunger slaked.
Through my experience conversing with and learning from Alphard, I have come to understand two things:
The first step to hunting is to acknowledge that you are hungry.
The second is to let go of shame.
Have you ever felt ashamed of your desires? I would not be surprised if many would answer: yes, I have.
Of Shame and Shedding
In a world where women are subjected to the Madonna–whore complex, a society where queerness is perceived by many to be predatory, where so-called deviants are ostracized and digressions from the norm are punished, it makes perfect sense why children may be raised to view their desires as shameful and to repress whatever feelings may arose. Many are shamed into abandoning the desires that polite society deem to be wrong. Selflessness is instead glorified and starvation romanticized. The problem resides in the fact that one cannot kill desire, only repress it. If I have learnt anything from reading Jekyll and Hyde, however, it would be that repression only backfires in the long run and anything pushed under the surface will bubble up sooner or later— like a corpse floating up to the shore.
In that sense, Alphard reminds me so much of Kali, dancing naked and dancing triumphantly over Shiva’s corpse. To quote Ramprasad Sen, from Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair:
“Kali, why are you naked again? Good grief, haven’t you any shame? Mother, don’t you have clothes? Where is the pride of a king’s daughter? And, Mother, is this some family duty— this standing on the chest of Your man? You’re naked, He’s naked, You hang around the burning grounds. O, Mother, we are dying of shame. Now put on Your woman’s clothes. Mother, Your necklace gleams, Those human heads shine at Your throat. Prasad says: Even Shiva fears You When You’re like this.”
The last line of the excerpt particularly struck me as being poignant: ‘Even Shiva fears You When You’re like this’. It is common for people to fear what they do not understand. Yet, should someone were to — in an excess and without restraint — allow themselves to be possessed wholly by desire, then they would be no different to the maenads of the mad god Dionysus, mad with ecstasy and rapture, mad with pleasure and all the heretical bliss that intoxication brings. Desire, when expressed unabashedly and unapologetically, may be too overwhelming for society-at-large to handle.
Because of this fear of the chaos that indulgence may bring, desire is deemed monstrous— in certain cases, perhaps rightfully so. In some cases, monsters should be feared.
But is it so bad to be a monster, sometimes?
To quote Sasha Ravitch in her Patreon post Hissing Season (currently open to the public):
“That same annihilating hunger is dressed in the preferred finery of obsession. The curdling, crucifying experience of lack which disfigures the spine in favor of an inviolable but futile reaching and grasping. Fingernails split, broken and bleeding as you drag your tattered belly across the ground toward that which consumes your thoughts. There is such a repulsive pleasure in obsession, such an erotic magic in this negotiation with lack. So much fecundity, so much creative potential in the empty, aching vacuum of need. […] Hydra is the Witch as greedy, covetous, and starving for what is not hers–but that which she will take, which she will curl around and asphyxiate until every precious drop of vitae has been siphoned […] Frankly, we need Hydra. We cannot have our heroes without our villains, and we cannot learn to love our monsters if we will not call them as such.”
The shame of being monstrous is something that should be shed and discarded away. Even serpents have to shed their skin sometimes. Carrying around all that shame and dead weight can only hurt. In the sultry, hissing voice of Alphard, I was given a short but profound message: To shed your shame, you must realize that shame is but a blade directed towards yourself. So, drop the blade. Or, better yet, point it elsewhere. Point it towards your quarry, your kill— your love-object to be consumed until your belly is filled and your hunger slaked.
Shame, as I have discovered, prevents us from asking ourselves: what is it that I really want and how far will I go to get it?
When I asked myself that question, the answer shook me to the core. Forced to face the immensity and intensity of what I want, the thought of living a life deprived of it becomes unbearable. Hence, Alphard presented to me a choice: do I accept my desires and make a decision to actively go after what I want, or do I ignore that gnawing pang of hunger and continue to live a lacking, dissatisfied life?
I know my answer.
I’ve made my choice.
Have you made yours?
Venerating the Hydra-Serpent
My first (formal and ritualized) contact with Alphard occurred at the beginning of this month. Photos of the rite are depicted below.
As could be seen, I had chosen to represent Alphard with the card of Lust from the Thoth tarot deck for reasons that should be obvious. Following the advice given by Sasha within her Discord server, I chose to offer to Alphard a raw, whole (albeit headless) chicken, with additional offerings of eggs, honey and candle flame.
I began to call upon Alphard using a pre-written invocation during Venus’ hour when Venus (conjunct Alphard) was in the 7th house. Divination to confirm Alphard’s presence was successful too, for I drew three cards: Prince of Cups, Ace of Cups and Lust. Upon seeing the final card, I was certain that Alphard had heard my prayers. The rest of the ritual was simple: I made my prayers, confessed whatever was burdening my heart to her, and then played some music (songs such as A Smaller God by Darling Violetta, for example). Intuitively, I then felt an urge to read poetry, so I switched my music to some fitting instrumental songs and began reading Faustine by Algernon Charles Swinburne, the first poem that came to mind that reminded me of Alphard.
After my poetry recitation was done, I entered a light trance and conversed with the hydra-serpent star. It was no surprise to me that the conversation brought tears to my eyes— a phenomenon I had experienced in my previous, informal interactions with Alphard. Somehow, in a strange but maternal manner, Alphard has a way of stirring up memories and emotions.
I know this post is already filled with quotes (that is, after all, the beauty and consequences of consuming and assimilating within me the arts and stories I very much love), but I would like to end with a final quote by one of my favorite filmmakers, Guillermo del Toro.
“In fairy tales, monsters exist to be a manifestation of something that we need to understand, not only a problem we need to overcome, but also they need to represent, much like angels represent the beautiful, pure, eternal side of the human spirit, monsters need to represent a more tangible, more mortal side of being human: aging, decay, darkness and so forth. […] And we invented creatures that made sense of the world: a serpent that ate the sun, a creature that ate the moon, a man in the moon living there, things like that. […] But the real enigmas became social. All those impulses that we were repressing: cannibalism, murder, these things needed an explanation. The sex drive, the need to hunt, the need to kill, these things then became personified in monsters. Werewolves, vampires, ogres, this and that. I feel that monsters are here in our world to help us understand it. They are an essential part of a fable.”
Alphard, the Hydra-Serpent, is a monster.
And yet, she is necessary to our world, as much as desire is necessary to life.