A visit to Hekate’s domestic chapel







By Katalina Lourdes



I rode up towards Mas Castellar on the local train to Cerbère, a town just across the border on France’s Mediterranean coast. Cerbère is French for Cerberus, the Hound of Hades – a three-headed dog that guarded the underworld. I’m amused, because I’m headed to a Hellenistic temple that was also a site of ritual dog sacrifice.

In the ancient Greek world dogs were associated with purification, and sometimes used to cure diseases. A few miles away, dogs would have roamed the underground chambers of the temple of Asclepius in Empúries, licking sick pilgrims who came to be healed by the god through their dreams.

Dogs were also symbols of protection, and sacred to the goddess Hekate. Known as Prytania (“invincible Queen of the dead”), Phosphorus (“the light bringer”), and Soteira (“Savior”) among other epithets, Hekate is a goddess of protection, entrances, crossroads, darkness, light, liminality, birth, death, mystery, herbs, and witchcraft. It was to her the dogs were sacrificed.


Hekate is often depicted with three bodies facing in different directions, which may symbolize the three realms she reigns over: Earth, sea, and sky. It could also represent her role in guiding those at a crossroads, or her ability to see into past, present, and future. Or that she is a triple goddess, representing Hekate, Demeter, and Persephone as one; grandmother, mother, and daughter.

I look out the window and watch the endless fields of grain, thinking about how they’re thousands of years old – eternal, even. This is the mystery I’m searching for.

We pass through pine groves and cross streams. Magnificent mountains begin to appear ahead of us, snow-capped.

I get off the train south of Figueres, where my  accommodation is across from the village’s only restaurant. Everyone greets each other as they enter. They even greet me, out of place as I am. It’s filled with farmworkers and older men who were once farmworkers.

As I look around the room I wonder if any of these farmers’ ancestors lived at Mas Castellar de Pontós. If they drank the Kykeon at the temple there.

I wonder where its inhabitants went when the site was abandoned at the turn of the 2nd century BC.

Did the Romans destroy the settlement as part of their crackdown on the Dionysian Mysteries in 186 BC?

Did the priestesses sacrifice dogs to Hekate for protection before fleeing to the Pyrenees?












The Dionysian Mysteries




The Dionysian Mysteries (or Bacchanalia) was the Mystery of the cult of the god of wine. They were known to meet outdoors, performing their rituals in the mountains where all initiates – regardless of their status in Greek society – became equal, creating an ethos of communitas. The maenads, or priestesses of Dionysus, mixed their wine with god knows what else. The sacrament was equivalent to the god – by drinking it, initiates became one with Dionysus. Music and ecstactic dance were also used to induce trance states. Welcoming everyone, including outlaws, the cult of Dionysus apparently became a hotbed of political radicalism. The Roman senate deemed the cult a threat to state security and issued an decree in 186 BC to outlaw it and its Mysteries throughout Italy. Dionysian temples were destroyed across the peninsula, and thousands of priests and initiates into the cult of Dionysus were put to death.


Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus

“No man is to be a priest; no one, either man or woman, is to be an officer (to manage the temporal affairs of the organization); nor is anyone of them to have charge of a common treasury; no one shall appoint either man or woman to be master or to act as master; henceforth they shall not form conspiracies among themselves, stir up any disorder, make mutual promises or agreements, or interchange pledges; no one shall observe the sacred rites either in public or private or outside the city, unless he comes to the praetor urbanus, and he, in accordance with the opinion of the senate, expressed when no less than 100 senators are present at the discussion, shall have given leave.”



The many figurines and incense burners found bearing the likeness of Demeter or Persephone at the temple at Mas Castellar de Pontós, and a psychedelic sacrament mixed in beer rather than wine, suggest the rites practiced there were an adaptation of the Eleusinian Mysteries – the mystery of the cult of Demeter, not Dionysus. But would the Romans have known the difference? And it was just around this time that the Romans were beginning to settle in the province now known as Alt Empordà.

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries were the most famous – and secretive – mystery cult of the ancient world. Symbolized by an ear of grain, they were known for bestowing knowledge of immortality on their initiates and making them “better in every way.” Hundreds or perhaps thousands traveled to Athens to take part in the Mysteries every year for over a millennia. From Athens, they embarked on a 10 day pilgrimage to Eleusis, reenacting the story of Demeter, the Earth goddess, in her search for her daughter Persephone, goddess of the underworld and the Spring.

Once in Eleusis, before entering Demeter’s temple, the Telesterion, initiates would drink a sacrament called Kykeon. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the goddess gives the recipe: barley, water, and pennyroyal. However given the transformational nature of the Mysteries – after which initiates became “god-like” and no longer feared death – it’s long been suspected that an entheogen was in the mix.

The 1979 book The Road to Eleusis proposed that the secret ingredient in Kykeon was ergot, a purple fungus that grows on the ends of grain, from which Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD. Ergot is poisonous, and it will kill you if prepared in the wrong way, but Hofmann concluded that the ancient Greeks could have removed its toxic compounds using an oil extraction method.



It’s a two hour walk from here to the archaeological site, but cutting across fields and highways isn’t always straightforward, and it takes me three. I say a short prayer on my way to the goddesses I’m about to visit.

Across the highway there’s a forest, and I’m invigorated by the peaceful cover of pine trees. I pick up my pace as the light begins to fade from the sky.



The breadbasket of Alt Empordà

Finally I come across the entrance to the site. As I walk up the path a tractor passes carrying farmwood. There’s an old farmhouse with a garden. A kitten poses for my camera, and a bull takes me by surprise, staring me down as I walk past.

Bulls were associated with Dionysus, but they were also sacred to Hekate. She was goddess of the night sky, and their horns, turned sideways, look like the crescent moon. In the Greek Magical Papyrii Hekate is referred to as “Bull-faced and bull-headed,” with “the eyes of bulls and the voice of dogs.” And in the Orphic Hymn to Hekate she is described as “drawn by a yoke of bulls.”


The Orphic Hymn to Hekate

I call Ækátî of the Crossroads, worshipped at the meeting of three paths, oh lovely one.
In the sky, earth, and sea, you are venerated in your saffron-colored robes.
Funereal Daimôn, celebrating among the souls of those who have passed.
Persian, fond of deserted places, you delight in deer.
Goddess of night, protectress of dogs, invincible Queen.
Drawn by a yoke of bulls, you are the queen who holds the keys to all the Kózmos.
Commander, Nýmphi, nurturer of children, you who haunt the mountains.
Pray, Maiden, attend our hallowed rituals;
Be forever gracious to your mystic herdsman and rejoice in our gifts of incense.


Underground grain silos at Mas Castellar de Pontos

The settlement at Mas Castellar de Pontós was more than just a temple. The town was the “breadbasket” of Greek Catalonia, supplying grain to the nearby coastal cities of Empúries and Rhode. The lead archaeologist of the site, Enriqueta Pons, has estimated that as many as 2500 grain silos remain unearthed in a few hectares surrounding the main structures. 

So it makes sense that they would have worshipped the agricultural goddesses Demeter and Persephone here and even, on the edges of the Hellenistic world, carried out an Iberian version of their Mysteries.




The remains at Mas Castellar

The “domestic chapel” of house 1. Ceremonial activities took place in Room 3, while Room 7 appears to have been an entrance hall. 

At the back of the site, two houses from the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC have been excavated. Room 3 of House 1 is a sort of temple, or what the archaeologists call a “domestic chapel” – a temple within a house, which was typical in ancient Iberian communities.

In the center of Room 3 they found an altar made of Pentelic marble, imported from Greece. Incisions in the marble and organic analysis  indicate that it was used to make bloody sacrifices. The charred remains of several dogs were found in pits next to the altar. In front of the altar was a shallow water pit, probably used for ritual purification or ablution, or possibly to create steam baths.


Room 3 of House 1 – the “domestic chapel” where the altar, chalices, and dog sacrifices were found.

The archaeologists found an incense burner in the shape of a woman’s face, representing Demeter or Persephone. Several like it were also found buried near the site.

And strewn across the temple were 11 miniature chalices.

In the 1990s, the archaeobotanist Jordi Juan-Tresserras examined the remains at Mas Castellar with new technology that allowed for the detection of millennia-old organic compounds. He discovered remnants of pine and cedar in the incense burner.

And in one of the miniature chalices he found traces of “ergotized beer.” He also detected ergot in the teeth of a standalone jawbone from an adjacent room. The same ergot Albert Hofmann used to synthesize LSD, and that he hypothesized had been used in the Mysteries.

Miniature chalice that once held ergotized beer. Museo de Arqueología de Cataluña de Girona.

Tresserras knew what he had found, even if no one noticed for 20 years, until Brian Muraresku published his findings in his book The Immortality Key, which makes the case for a psychedelic sacrament in early Christianity. But Tresserras’s finding is the smoking gun, the holy grail – hard evidence that initiates in the Greek Mysteries were tripping on an LSD-like alkaloid.

While the other archaeologists speculated that this was the site of a grain cult, and more specifically the worship of Demeter and Persephone, in the 600 page monograph on Mas Castellar de Pontós published in 2002, Tresserras is the only one to bring up the Mysteries – or Hekate.

Tresserras cites The Road to Eleusis, and suggests the ergotized beer is the same Kykeon that was taken in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and that the people of Mas Castellar were practicing an Iberian version of them.

Subterranean votive silo

In 1992, archaeologists discovered an underground silo not far from the site’s main structures that contained not grain nor waste, but offerings. A fire had been made in the pit, and votive offerings were carefully placed upon the ashes. They found a terracotta head with a feminine face, nine amphora, agricultural tools, and domestic objects including keys. The fact that the offerings were buried suggests that they were left for a chthonic deity like Persephone – or perhaps Hekate.

Hekate in the Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries are known as the cult of Demeter and Persephone, but Hekate has a prominent role in their myth. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, she is the only deity who comes to Demeter’s aid. Torches in hand, she leads Demeter to the sun god Helios, who tells the goddess that Hades has abducted her daughter with the permission of Zeus. When mother and daughter are finally reunited, Hekate is there to celebrate with them. She becomes Persephone’s guide, escorting her back and forth from the underworld each year, and takes Persephone’s place as Queen of the Dead when the maiden is above ground with her mother. Hekate was also recognized in the ceremonies at Eleusis, where initiates carried torches in her honor.

Tresserras suggests the keys found in the votive silo were offerings to Hekate, symbolic of her keys to the underworld and other realms, and her protective role as the guardian of entrances.

He also connects the dog sacrifices to Hekate, detailing many instances of dog sacrifice across the Greco-Roman world.

When I go back to read the monograph after my trip, I discover that Tresserras describes Hekate as carrying two torches – and accompanied by two howling dogs.


Hekate’s dogs

So I’m sitting in this ancient temple of a room where they sacrificed dogs and drank Kykeon. I feel at one with my surroundings; I begin to blend in with them. Until I flip my camera, and I notice how I’ve aged since the pandemic began, and all the rest before it. An existential anxiety creeps in – what am I doing here? The sun is going down, I’m feeling fragile, and I have to start walking back.

Out of nowhere, a dog runs up to me. She jumps on me, trying to lick me. I’m not a dog person, and I can’t remember the last time a dog has been friendly with me. In my experience, Spanish dogs are reserved with strangers. I ask her what she’s doing in this temple, a site of ritual dog sacrifice, and she digs furiously at the ground in front of me. I call her “Gosso,” from the Catalan word for dog. Her joy is infectious, and before I know it I’m laughing with her. It’s as if she’s come to comfort me, and to remind me that this is the point of life.

Gosso waits for me to depart, and I’m glad to have a companion. Walking past the farm again, now there are four bulls. Standing in a row, their heads are turned at the same angle, and they’re all watching me with equal intensity. But they don’t make me so nervous this time, because I have a protectress.


Two guides

Gosso meets up with her friend, and they begin chasing each other through the fields, unbridled in their happiness.

I turn to take the road into town, and they follow me. Luckily, cars are few, and Gosso begins to heed me as she and her friend guide me along the road to the town, occasionally disappearing from sight to frolic in the sunset.

Nightfall descends as we come upon the town of Pontós. The sound of sheep bleating comes from a nearby stable, and the dogs make our presence known as the lanterns light up the tiny, medieval village. I look for its only restaurant.

As soon as I find it, a car pulls up in front of us and a man gets out.

“Did they follow you?” he asks me.

Gosso doesn’t want to leave; she lies down in front of the restaurant in protest. The man picks her up and carries her back to his car.

Bolivian energy

I call a taxi and a Bolivian man arrives from Figueres and takes me back through the valley, lights sparkling about us in the night, the sensation of flying. Bolivia makes me think of lithium mining and the 2019 coup d’etat that ousted Evo Morales. And I think of how the energy carrying me and manifesting as light around me has been mined from the Earth. I think of how Morales returned from exile and Jeanine Añez was jailed. A victory for Bolivia’s indigenous peoples and the Earth. A rare glimmer of hope in a world growing dark.

Hekate as the feminine principle

I felt Hekate was with me, guiding me during this journey, bringing me safely to my destination.

Back at the villa I sit in the garden, looking up at the starry night sky that is Hekate’s domain. I could feel her presence with me still, looking down from the heavens.

My experience with Hekate reaffirmed my belief in communism and put it in an ancient, feminist, Earth-based context. As triple goddess over all realms, dark and mysterious but carrying torches, Hekate is Yin, the feminine principle.

Hekate is at once a goddess of the underworld, the heavens, the Earth and the sea. Her priestesses Medea and Circe have been portrayed as wicked witches. However in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, her role is totally benevolent. And in the Chaldean Oracles, a neoplatonic poem (Plato himself was deeply influenced by the Eleusinian Mysteries), Hekate is the World Soul, and the guardian between the spiritual and physical realms.

The Earth goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone are also aspects of Yin, though Hekate encompasses both of them. As in the Eleusinian Mysteries, these goddesses remind us that we live by the Earth. In traditional societies, like the simple farming community at Mas Castellar, what we took from the Earth served to sustain us more or less equally.

As society grew and became more complex, more was extracted. As long as what is taken from the Earth serves the good of all equally, it’s in balance. However evil men take more than their share, and use what they extract from Hekate’s realms and the toil of the working classes to create structures that secure their power and oppress those beneath them, destroying everything around them in a quest for power. Quo vadis? Ad quam finem?

This imbalance reaches an apex with nuclear weapons. Uranium is extracted from the Earth and the underworld, concentrated into the ultimate destructive force that’s wielded by men for the purpose of world domination. It’s a supreme expression of evil. An extreme disequilibrium and an affront to the feminine principle – extracting from her realms, poisoning and threatening to poison Earth, sea, and sky, and enslaving the world’s creatures to a gang of men who care for nothing except their own power – their power over women, other men, and the Earth itself.

Feminine justice

Hekate is an empowerer of women. Some of her followers, like Circe and Medea, take revenge on powerful men through witchcraft. Even Demeter brings the world to the brink of starvation in her grief. In doing so she spites the patriarchy and brings Zeus to his knees. It’s a feminine wrath, and sometimes necessary to restore balance.

In Essays on a Science of Mythology Carl Jung analyzes the myth of Demeter and Persephone. He concludes that the secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries was that we live eternally through reproduction. Hekate is Demeter and Demeter is Persephone. Mother and daughter are one, just as an ear of grain houses its descendents in seeds that fall to the ground, and is born again in Spring.

Carl Ruck, who coauthored The Road to Eleusis, suggests that inside the Telesterion, initiates witnessed Persephone return from the underworld to give birth to a child, Dionysus.

We live on through the Earth. We are born of the Earth, we return to the Earth, through this cycle we give life to plants and other creatures.

It follows that our existence depends on the Earth and our care of it. If we hurt her, she may just starve us all. Balance, respect for nature, and respect for the feminine is necessary for life to continue, for this organic immortality, to live eternally.

In his book, Muraresku describes how the Roman hierophant Praetextatus intervened when the Roman emperor Valentinian sought to shut down the Eleusinian Mysteries in 364 AD. He told Valentinian that the Mysteries “hold the human race together” and that their loss “would make the life for the Greeks unlivable.”

At the end of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Rhea comes to summon Demeter to Olympus. Before setting off, the goddess makes the world fertile again, and teaches the secrets of her rites to priests in Eleusis:




“Straightaway she sent up the harvest from the land with its rich clods of earth. And all the wide earth with leaves and blossoms was laden. Then she went to the kings, administrators of themistes, and she showed them—to Triptolemos, to Diokles, driver of horses, to powerful Eumolpos and to Keleos, leader of the people [lâoi]—she revealed to them the way to perform the sacred rites, and she pointed out the ritual to all of them—the holy ritual, which it is not at all possible to ignore, to find out about, or to speak out. The great awe of the gods holds back any speaking out. Blessed [olbios] among earth-bound mortals is he who has seen these things.

But whoever is uninitiated in the rites, whoever takes no part in them, will never get a share [aisa] of those sorts of things [that the initiated get], once they die, down below in the dank realms of mist.”





If we properly worship Demeter (the Earth) we will be reborn. If not, we die. Hekate is here to guide us towards this worship, to help us find each other, and in doing so be renewed and transformed. I believe she guides women to come into their own power.

She has the keys to unlock our cages, she knows the plants that make us fly, her dogs protect us, and her torches light the way.











Betz, H. D. (Ed.). (1996). The Greek magical papyri in translation, including the demotic spells, volume 1 (Vol. 1). University of Chicago Press.

Juan Tresserras, J. (2000). La arqueologia de las drogas en la peninsula iberica. Complutum (Madrid), No. 11, Ene.-dic. 2000, P. 261-274.

Kallímakhos. 2010. The Orphic Hymn to Hekate. HellenicGods.org. https://www.hellenicgods.org/the-orphic-hymn-to-hecate-aekati—hekate

Muraresku B. & Hancock G. (2020). The immortality key : the secret history of the religion with no name. St. Martin’s Press.

Oberhelman, S. M. (Ed.). (2013). Dreams, healing, and medicine in Greece: from antiquity to the present. Ashgate Publishing Company.

Pons, E. (2002). Mas castellar de pontós (alt empordà): un complex arqueològic d’època ibèrica (excavacions 1990-1998). (Ser. Sèrie monogràfica / museu d’arqueologia de catalunya, 21). Generalitat de Catalunya, Departament de Cultura. P. 548-556.

Taylor-Perry, R. (2003). The god who comes : dionysian mysteries revisited. Algora Pub.

Wasson, R. G., Hofmann, A., & Ruck, C. A. P. (2008). The road to eleusis: unveiling the secret of the mysteries (30th anniversary). North Atlantic Books.





city budget cuts and mental health services


Accessing treatment in a deteriorating system


By Angel V.

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder about six months ago. Before that I’d had a diagnosis of bipolar one, a severe form of bipolar where rapid cycling and suicidal ideation are particularly common. Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, makes it difficult for someone to control and regulate their emotions, affecting interpersonal relationships, basic day to day functioning, and employment.

Finding treatment and therapy for both of these diagnoses is difficult. Even under the best of circumstances.

Before covid, my options were limited. Most people choose to go on a waitlist and wait for the type of therapy that is known to work best with borderline personality disorder, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, to become available. This type of therapy works best in a group setting and takes the form of a course wherein a person is taught better coping mechanisms, based on a practice of mindfulness.

I’ve been waitlisted for almost a year now.

Covid made treatments like this near impossible. People can meet in Zoom chat rooms, but scheduling can be difficult. And it requires a full group doing the full 6 to 12 week program in order to work.


mental health budget cuts


Cutting mental health budgets, militarizing the police

Part of the problem lies with state funding. Without people who are experienced in this type of treatment, who can facilitate the group, the number of groups that are available dwindles.

Funding for programs in Chicago and throughout Illinois was cut years ago.

Under Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, the state decided to allow mental health services to receive little or no funding during sweeping budget cuts. True to form, it was the most at need that received the least assistance under the new budget.

Psychiatric care for many programs were reduced drastically or eliminated completely as a result. In Chicago, a city of over eight million people, these budget cuts, and the reduction in services that they cause, have had deep and lasting effects.

Under Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, many of the city’s major providers were shuttered because of lack of funding. Unsurprisingly, the first providers to go were the ones in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

The money that should be going to mental health services and clinics is going instead toward policing and prisons.

The 2021 budget allocates nearly $1.7 billion dollars toward police spending. This is nearly 40% of the corporate fund, the largest of funds of the city’s spending plan.

As seen during the Black Lives Matter Protests, the city’s police force is better equipped than some military forces. In addition to full riot gear, tear gas, batons, rubber bullets, police have availed themselves the use of the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, a sonic weapon intended to disperse protesters using an ear splitting deterrent tone, capable of causing permanent hearing damage. Use and operation of these weapons is not cheap. Spending suggests the city would rather deal with the problems that having an unhealthy population cause then preventing the problems by providing services.


A history of cuts to mental health services

Cutting health services is a hallmark of Republican budget strategies: As soon as he took office as governor of California, Reagan decided to slash funding for health services. The number of people suffering from mental health issues in the prison system effectively doubled as a direct result of this action.

Private board and care facility operators capitalized on former patients who needed assistance. There was money to be made providing spaces and services for the mentally ill. Those who didn’t end up in prison ended up in one of these facilities, or eventually on the street if their symptoms were severe enough and they were not receiving proper treatment and medication.

Later as president, Reagan decided to cut funding for health services again, reducing federal spending for mental health and pushing the responsibility for funding services onto the states.

This fiscal strategy of intentional neglect continues today. As recent as last year, 45’s proposed budget for 2021 included $2.9 billion in cuts to the National Institute of Health and another $708 million to the CDC, this during a pandemic.

In January, the senate overrode a veto to pass a $740 billion defense budget while denying us our $2,000 survival checks. The Democrats still haven’t delivered.

National policy affects people who are suffering from mental illness personally.

Shortly after I was diagnosed with bipolar one, I was prescribed lithium to help with manic episodes and to regulate depressive cycles. I was on lithium for a year before switching to depakote after finding out lithium can damage the liver and kidneys.

Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, I qualify for Medicaid.

Without insurance, I would be paying hundreds of dollars for my medication. 

Even with medication, day to day functioning is a challenge. Trying to explain the necessity of taking medication to someone who doesn’t struggle with mental health issues is difficult and adds to the challenges that neurodivergent people face.

I am in constant fear of losing my insurance because of a change in the administration.


Change is possible: cities making progress

Forward-thinking cities have taken matters into their own hands. In 2018, Denver residents passed a measure that would allow for a .25% tax increase that earmarked funds for mental health treatment. Among a rash of suicides and overdoses, Denver wanted to see its citizens receive access to better mental health services. 

Other parts of the country have taken similar steps with positive results. In 2008, King County Washington saw a .1% increase in funding for behavioral health services. Within three years, they witnessed a drop in psychiatric hospital admissions of 29%, with a 35% drop in jail bookings.

The major problem with programs like this is how people access them. A lack of standards means that people might have trouble finding them, and without regulation there is a good chance that those most in need will slip through the cracks.

In Chicago, this has been a big part of the problem as well as limited services. People who are computer literate and who understand how to navigate bureaucratic systems are still left daunted by a confusing and complicated, time consuming, frustrating system.

For those who do not have the time, patience, and wherewithal, it’s easier to find other ways of coping with mental health issues.



The dangers of isolation in the UK


The dangers of self-isolation during Covid 19


By Cane Kelly


“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous – to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”

                 Thomas Mann


I have been a hermit for a long time. Writing is a lonely occupation. I spend most of my time hallucinating characters to take readers away from their daily lives or writing about sociological topics. Mostly, the only interaction I have with another person is my editor when they help me polish my work or create more believable stories. 

Before coronavirus locked us in our homes, I was perfectly comfortable with the quiet solitude of my days. It was during lockdown that my contented solitude began to degrade, and forced isolation planted a seed of loneliness inside me. It’s now grown into full-blown depression and hopelessness since quarantine began in the UK in March 2020.

The isolation causes mental fog, irritation, and a yearning for natural spaces. I live in the middle of England where the houses are interlocked like Lego pieces. The two stretches of grass in my neighborhood are dressed in litter, with a tiny, polluted stream separating them. At least once a day, I wish I had a beach or a forest to retreat to and transmute the feelings of isolation into a more enjoyable experience of solitude.



Writers and loners are often familiar with the tensions between solitude and loneliness. The chasm that lies between them is equal to the one that separates health and illness.

Solitude recharges the spirit, while loneliness leads to cognitive decline and can take years off your life. The pandemic has brought both to light, but most of us have been dealing with the darker side of isolation – the one that leads to a twisting of the human mind and absurdity.

The truth is everyone needs human contact. We’re social creatures and spending time with other people is like any other biological need – like water to quench our thirst, air to fuel our breath, and warmth to protect us from the cold.


Consequences of isolation                   


There is an overwhelming amount of research based on human isolation and it shows that humans need one another – even the loners. According to the CDC, a lack of community raises the risk of neurogenerative diseases, heart disease, and early death. Before Alzheimer’s comes a knockin’ though, loneliness causes delayed recall and decreased verbal fluency. When we don’t talk to people, we forget how. 

Even before the pandemic, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) estimated that a third of adults over the age of 45 feel lonely frequently, while a quarter of adults over the age of 65 rarely experience social situations. Between lockdown and our addiction to screens, this is increasingly becoming the experience of the younger generation as well.

Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. People in unhappy relationships frequently report feeling lonely. It’s not just about having another body around you; it’s about having someone to say what you need to say to, and feeling understood.


The first UK quarantine


During the first quarantine, I was eager to practice baking and spend time practicing Italian. I planted scraps of vegetables and learned how to make homemade candles from leftover candles, and beat my husband at Monopoly for once.

Quarantine ravaged spring. The first quarantine here didn’t let up until August. My husband, myself, and our dog visit Pembrokeshire, Wales every autumn after the kids go back to school. We love the beaches, cliff top walks, and castles, which we typically had to ourselves.


Pandemic vacation?


We’ve been visiting Pembrokeshire every fall for the last six years. Last year was the busiest season we’d ever experienced.  

We definitely were not alone in wanting to escape to the sea. We were hoping nature would be restorative. However the usual, quiet landscape we had longed for was crushed by all the other tourists.

The area is one of the most beautiful places in Great Britain. Nature lovers from all over flooded to these Welsh beaches, hilltop walks, and castles. 

Usually our spirits leave renewed and ready for the dark winter ahead. Instead I felt an immense grief fall over me as we left Pembrokeshire because it feels like home, rivaling the forests and mountains of rural Kentucky. 

The long return to the West Midlands felt like a jail sentence; I was reminded of how criminals were sent to Coventry during the Renaissance. I felt trapped as soon as we crossed into England. 

Looking back, we were lucky to have visited Pembrokeshire at all. Cases of Covid-19 again surged rapidly and Wales shut the borders the day after we left.

At first, the neighbors on our streets clapped their heads off and set off fireworks every Thursday to thank the frontline workers of the National Health Service. That hasn’t happened for months. The government has proposed an insulting 1% pay rise for NHS workers, many of whom are traumatized by the long hours and  overwhelming experience of treating Covid. Thursday nights are as quiet as any other.


The second UK quarantine


There has been little reprieve. One year of isolation later, it’s difficult to manage my emotions. I try to be productive by focusing on writing, creating art, or meditating. I tried to keep connected to my friends via internet calls on a regular basis, but depression can interrupt that support. I know I’m not the only one; some of us have just given up on reaching out.

I’m clinically depressed (again), a mere six months after completing three years of weekly Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). 

I was officially declared to be mentally healthy, and my Complex Post Traumatic Disorder (C-PTSD) was under control. I had filled a proverbial toolbox to help me defend against  threats to my mental health. I fought off depression until September when we returned to Coventry. My depression then pushed me further and further down the well of apathy as the pandemic killed tens of thousands of people all over the world.



Voluntary isolation


The Buddhist monk Tenzin Palmo spent 12 years in isolation in a cave and was content. What happens to the rest of us, who don’t have intense training in Buddhism or spirituality? In 1972, French explorer Michel Siffire isolated himself in a Texan cave for 205 days. His cognitive abilities declined so much that he could barely communicate toward the end. After five-months alone in the cave he reported in his notes that he tried to make friends with a mouse who didn’t want anything to do with him. 

His experience has been shared by others exposed to extreme isolation, such as Antarctic researchers and space crews, who have reported mental, cognitive, and sensory issues including confusion, personality changes, and depression and anxiety. Astronauts who have been through prolonged isolation emphasize the importance of routine, laughter, self-care, exercise, and contact with family.


The cruelty of solitary confinement


The worst examples of isolation are in the industrial prison complex in the United States. There are more than 80,000 inmates in solitary confinement, and this figure excludes jails and immigration detention centers. People are often left in isolation for months at a time, but we seldom hear their stories.                               

Isolation is cruel and affects the most vulnerable members of society. Seniors are another example. Like coronavirus, for them isolation is a public health risk. There are lots of studies that show chronic isolation is related to cognitive malfunction. In 2013, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) reported that cognitive abilities declined with recurring periods of extended isolation. The ELSA study showed that humans with fewer social interactions experienced significant cognitive decline in verbal skills, memory, and recollection after just four years.


Blundering Boris


The UK government didn’t do a great job at responding quickly to the pandemic. 

PM Boris Johnson  lifted the quarantine too early for the sake of the economy and now, we’re back where we started.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock estimates it will be a long time before lifting national quarantine. However, the UK and European governments have at least tried to protect their people, while my loved ones in the US are living in a hellscape.

The British people are known for their fortitude and “stiff upper lips.” They fought through two world wars, and many feel entitled to their freedom, but what happens when that freedom is ripped away from us for our own good? Even the most hardcore hermit finds these quarantines pills hard to swallow.

The UK is an excellent example of another massive government error within the pandemic. Matthew Hancock warned, “You must stay home,” on March 16, 2020, but Boris Johnson didn’t officially begin the national lockdown until March 26.  Ten wasted days could have prevented some of the 124,000 deaths.

Families couldn’t have funerals. Families grieved inside their homes and the pandemic showed us truly how horrific isolation can be. It is now March 2021 and strict quarantine is still in effect in the UK, and experts estimate that the quarantine will continue in a tiered system for nearly two more months.

Luckily, the National Health Service in the UK has continued to work tirelessly to help those who have fallen ill to the pandemic. Commercials featuring Matt Hancock pleaded with communities to “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, and Save Lives.” However these orders don’t mean much when they’re not met by mandatory closures or work from home orders: people must still go to work.

Quarantine began in Wuhan, China on January 23, 2020. The UK’s lockdown didn’t begin until March 26, 2020. The UK was months behind China. Thousands of lives could have been prevented if the Johnson administration had taken swift and strict measures. Meanwhile, Trump’s demented rants on Twitter rallied radicalized conservatives to prepare for another civil war if he wasn’t reelected. The Black Lives Matter movement reemerged like never before, with protests that lasted months and occasional riots, bringing international attention to the racism that still plagues “The Land of the Free”.


A year on


In the United Kingdom, it’s late March 2021 and we’re still under strict lockdown in a tiered system. Most communities are only allowed out to get groceries, medicine, help an elder, or enjoy one hour of exercise close to home. Weddings, birthdays, holidays were spent in a hush across the UK and most of Europe. The isolation of the pandemic has created a new world. The consequences of greed and lack of protection of wild areas are starting to kill us off and frankly, I feel like we deserve it.

The disrespect for nature and obsession with consumerism have injured our planet and the Earth is sharing her pain with us as we are forced into isolation. Ask yourself, have you experienced anxiety, depression, or hopelessness during the pandemic? Whatever your response, you must recognize our world is never going to be the same. 

I rarely leave my home. I have groceries delivered and we don’t bring our shoes inside. There is an assortment of face masks at my house. My husband has bought a variety of PPE, hand sanitizer, and we observe the rules obediently due to his asthma and my chronic illnesses.

I barely recognize the world we live in. Naturally, I’m a writer and writers are loners most of the time, but even I am starting to feel the cage getting smaller and smaller. There aren’t any green spaces or forests close to where I live, just concrete, parking spaces, and shopping centers.

I grew up in Kentucky. I remember the hum of the cicadas and the flashes of fireflies at the start of summer. Hawks hunted in our neighborhood looking for garden frogs hiding in the brush. The wild and natural world was so close in Kentucky. It’d take 15 minutes to reach Raven’s Run which is a substantial nature sanctuary that overlooks the murky Kentucky river.


Healthy isolation?


American’s find it hard to imagine obeying the rules set by the British government. During the first quarantine I wanted to learn how to remain mentally healthy during the period of isolation.  I don’t watch the news and avoid social media that focuses on the pandemic to protect my mental health.

I followed the suggestions of a former submarine captain, Ryan Ramsey. Ramsey was the captain of the nuclear submarine HMS Turbulent between 2008 and 2011, at one point he spent 286 days under water in a 276-foot tube with 119 other people.

Ramsey suggested to faithfully keep a routine, make sure spaces are kept clean, look after yourself and make sure you incorporate downtime from doom scrolling. Isolation in a small space like apartments and houses is going to create conflict and cause irritation, it is inevitable, and it is best to have a plan for when it pops up. 

The most important thing is to communicate and work through these annoyances as calmly and quickly. Ramsey also suggested creating a team of support that you speak to on a regular basis to fight the negative effects of isolation.


“Freedom” vs. isolation


My friends in the United States still go out to eat, work out at gyms, visit bars and other establishments where death is certainly close by.

The murder of George Floyd brought to light the massive racial inequality in the American system. The whole world watched, yet little has changed in terms of systemic racism.

I love the ideals of the United States, but that’s all they are. All men are certainly not equal, women and people of color are often poverty stricken and working multiple jobs to pay their rent. Isolation isn’t just related to the pandemic; it’s also connected to the lack of compassion for vulnerable populations who are exploited by politicians and corporations in the pursuit of greed and materialism. I love so many people in the States, but the culture is crippled with a variety of injustices and corruption. My isolation from the USA might be permanent.

The UK passed legislation that forces people to isolate. We can go to the grocery store, pick up medicine from a pharmacy, care for a vulnerable family member, and exercise for an hour in our neighborhoods. It’s also illegal to enter a store without a mask covering your nose and chin.

Legislation allows the quarantine to run up to two years. The fact that we cover our faces because we have poisoned the air should be enough to wake us up. Instead, conspiracy theories spread like lice on social media.

The only saving grace is the internet. Thank the stars for social media and video calls. They might not cure the side effects of isolation, but it is all the comfort we have during this life-changing pandemic.


Silence in the deserts of the heart


Spectres of post-colonial Algeria

Hauntology & silence in the deserts of the heart

By McBond


« Il fallait quelqu’un pour exprimer ce silence, lui faire rendre tout ce qu’elle contenait de tristesse, pour ainsi dire la faire chanter. »

“Someone had to express this silence, make it give back everything it contained in sadness, so to speak and make it sing.”

– Marguerite Yourcenar, Alexis, ou le Vain Combat.


Three squirrels skipped across a sodden lawn bilious-green under a grey Saturday sky in Lanarkshire. The house of the Society of Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo seemed hunched down on top of a hill beneath the Cathkin Braes.

Twenty-six years earlier Bartholomew McCorquodale had been ordained in a nearby Catholic parish, in July 1993.

The bishop was lucid for the occasion, and theres a picture of McCorquodale in the habit of the Society of Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo going into St Finbarr’s church hall. Boxy 1990s cars in the background. He was trussed up like aspahi in a borrowed burnous.

The cardinal who founded the Society in 1868 must have seen the locally recruited spahis of the French colonial army in Algeria: did this inspire his choice for the habit of the Missionaries of St Geronimo? McCorquodale’s own military experience was limited to the Glasgow University Officers’ Training Corps — mornings on drizzly ranges firing off a few desultory rounds from the Sterling submachine gun and the Belgian-designed SLR — but he would later encounter clerics who had served in the French army, and who had retained something of a martial snap.

McCorquodale had recently heard of a now-deceased French priest who returned to Algeria after independence in 1962 to atone for his misdeeds as a French paratrooper during the Algerian independence struggle of the 1950s.

A few weeks prior to his ordination he had some cards printed in Toulouse — where he had completed his seminary studies — with a reproduction of a fourth-century Ravenna mosaic of the prophet Jonah being vomited out of the whale. The card was presently in one of his notebooks at an art gallery in Carthage, so he was recalling its details from memory.


Algiers, still a site of war


Just over two months later — September 1993 — he arrived in Algiers via Toulouse with little idea of the gravity of the situation. The conflict between the Algerian state and Islamist extremists had been background noise in the French media since early 1992. Two French surveyors had been assassinated in September 1993. He did not recall receiving any particular words of caution or guidance from the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo about the situation in Algeria.

In his Journal d’Algérie (2003) the photographer Michael von Graffenried mentions a figure of 700 Islamists killed between summer 1992 and October 1993, 400 members of the security forces, while 10,000 political activists were held in detention camps. Graffenried gives a figure of 140 “random” murders over the same period.

A Swiss confrère had attended McCorquodale’s ordination in July, and seemed more concerned about the need for lines of demarcation between his future activities and those of a pugnacious French member — let’s call him “the Duke’’– of the Saharan community for which he was destined. The Algerian embassy in London dealt with McCorquodale’s tourist visa application by post, no questions asked.

In his Journal d’Algérie (2003) the photographer Michael von Graffenried mentions a figure of 700 Islamists killed between summer 1992 and October 1993, as well as 400 members of the security forces, while 10,000 political activists were held in detention camps. Graffenried gives a figure of 140 “random” murders over the same period.

The Society’s regional house in Algiers was in the Rue des Fusillés in the Belcourt area of Algiers, not far from Albert Camus’s birthplace. A large colonial-era street map of Algiers hung on the wall near the refectory, its wooden frame seeking to corral an unruly reality.

The same map, printed in the 1950s, appears from time to time in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 film The Battle of Algiers. French military officers in the film use the map to plan their campaign against the FLN in 1957. There’s a similar map in Julien Duvivier’s 1937 film Pépé le Moko. The street names on these kinds of maps included those of French military mass murderers of the 1840s and 1850s: Cavaignac, Pelissier, Bugeaud — specialists in organized pillage and asphyxiation (by smoke) of hundreds of indigenous fugitives in the grotto of Kabylia. A haunted haunting map.

The atmosphere in Rue des Fusilles was, however, cordial.

Image for post


After some jovial remarks, the then-Regional Miguel Larburu asked if he had drafted his last Will and Testament. Friar Georges Bergantz had the courtly manners of a fencing-master, while the taciturn Friar Saffroy had, McCorquodale would later learn, compiled a chronology of the Touat region of southwest Algeria.

This initial stay in Algiers lasted but a few days and was marked only by a somewhat comical incident in which McCorquodale and his Swiss colleague accidentally drove onto the runway at Algiers airport, passing within 100 metres of a stationary Boeing while retrieving from Air Freight a green tin trunk — similar to those in photographs of missionary “caravans” circa 1890 — containing his baggage sent from Toulouse.


Atlantis and the Sahara


The term “the South” had a special aura among the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo at that time, summoning up images of Saharan sand dunes, camel caravans shimmering in a heat haze, while Charles de Foucauld — soldier turned desert contemplative — meditated in his Tamanrasset fastness. The South was seen as removed from the tensions of northern Algeria, both in the pre-1962 period of French occupation and in the decades thereafter until the 1990s.


Desert nights by bisbiswas


A few days later they set out in a white Renault 4 for Ghardaïa, 600 kilometres away, heading southwards.

Until the 1960s the Sahara had been a separate territory for the Missionaries of the Venerable Geronimo, with around 50 priests and brothers involved in education and professional training as well as pastoral activities among the French civilian and military population of the Sahara.

The vision of an idealized Saharan landscape had been crafted over a lengthy period. In the late nineteenth century the Touareg nomads were reinvented by French scribes as noble lords of the desert with hazy links to Christianity and northern races.

The lost city of Atlantis was reputedly located in the far Sahara, and gave its name to the main hotel in Gao in northern Mali where McCorquodale had sojourned from 1988-1990. He thought of Atlantis and the eponymous 1919 novel L’Atlantide with its mysterious desert queen Antinea loosely modelled on a fourth century figure of Touareg folklore. While in Namur a few weeks before, he had seen that Antinea was the brand name for a range of lingerie.


A landscape of ghosts and silence


Moving south towards Ghardaïa there were however traces of a darker past: old French watchtowers from the 1950s in the mountains pressed back into service by the Algerian army, and earlier constructions used as observation or heliographic posts as the French pushed southwards into the Sahara in the mid-nineteenth century. They passed through Laghouat en route to Ghardaïa. Laghouat was the oasis city where the Catholic bishop of the Sahara resided— a restless, rangy Canadian named Michel Gagnon, who had arrived in Algeria in 1958.

McCorquodale and his fellow-missionary were following the route taken by French forces moving southwards from the coastal territories occupied by France in 1830. French forces occupied Laghouat in a particularly violent assault in November 1852. 2,500 people were killed and the year is still remembered as “sanat- al-khlā’”or the “year of desolation”. French military eyewitnesses describe crazed soldiers bayoneting civilians indiscriminately.

The artist Eugène Fromentin travelled through Laghouat in 1853 and hisUn été dans le Sahara (A Summer in the Sahara, 1858) is haunted during its Laghouat passages by phantasms of the slaughter of the previous year.

Bullet-riddled doors, crowds of beggars, and half-buried corpses were tangible traces of carnage by which Fromentin seems psychologically scarred.

At the time, McCorquodale had little awareness of Laghouat’s violent past as an “assassinated city” (to use Fromentin’s expression), and his Swiss colleague preferred to “live in the present”. Other clerics would recount how they had singlehandedly won the battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. Radio silence generally prevailed on matters surrounding colonial Algeria.

While silence had often been characteristic of clerical life in McCorquodale’s experience, there were, he thought, particular reasons for postcolonial opacity among the mainly French clerics in 1990s Algeria.

A small number may have been unable to “process” episodes from the Algerian War (1954–1962). Were individual missionaries as enthusiastic for the Algerian national cause as later missionary historians would claim? How divided were communities over the course of events as Algeria moved to independence in 1962?

McCorquodale’s studies in Toulouse had alerted him to scholarly work on colonial history and memory by figures such as Benjamin Stora, although this was still in an incipient phase. He recalled films such as Indochine, where colonialism was seen through the lenses of romance and glamour.


Hauntology and the mysteries of Algiers


The Algerian-born philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) would introduce his concept in 1994 of hantologie, a “puncept” coined to make a play between things that can be said to exist and things that cannot, but nonetheless appear, haunting reminders of lingering trouble.

One can be haunted backwards by things that no longer exist but still have impact, the ghosts of history — the map in Rue des Fusillés, for example — as well as by ghosts of an unrealised future, such as a soon-to-be demolished Brutalist structure from the 1980s. Perhaps the missionaries McCorquodale encountered were themselves haunted by the cancelled future of the optimistic nation building of the 1960s and 1970s, with which they and the wider Catholic community had been in solidarity.

Journey through the Algerian desert

The tin-can Renault rattled southwards beneath blue skies and a rocky salmon-pink landscape. They could not have foreseen how events would spiral out of control in a landscape haunted by memories of past violence. McCorquodale recalled that he had with him a copy of Robert Irwin’s novel The Mysteries of Algiers.

The novel begins in the Sahara during the Algerian war of independence. Philippe Roussel, a French intelligence officer, veteran of Indochina and prisoner of the Vietminh, has transferred his loyalties to Communism and is working as an anti-French agent. Unmasked in the Saharan post of Fort Tiberias, Roussel takes flight, eliminating anyone who stands in his way, passing through Laghouat on his mayhem-strewn progress towards Algiers.

Robert Irwin is a specialist in the Arabian Nights, and The Mysteries of Algiers is peopled by deranged genies. McCorquodale recalled later meeting a Catholic monk in Algiers coincidentally called Philippe — an ex-officer in the French army who revealed that his father had fought on the Eastern Front in the Second World War in the Legion of anti-Bolshevik Volunteers alongside the Germans. Irwin’s novel describes with particular relish the “Children of Vercingetorix”, a right-wing activist group of murderous tendencies who invoke the “God of the Franks”.

The sounding of the gong for lunch interrupted McCorquodale’s reminiscences. The mist was lifting over the Cathkin Braes. The Mysteries of Algiers had taught McCorquodale that things are not always what they seem.

Not a bad way, he thought of engaging with the opacity and silence of what W.H. Auden calls the deserts of the heart.



With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

W.H. Auden



















“God is gathering us out of all regions till he can make resurrection of our own hearts from the very earth, and teach us that we are all of one substance, and members of one another. For the one who loves his neighbor loves God, and the one who loves God, loves his own soul.” 

– St. Anthony of the Desert
















“The person who abides in solitude and quiet is delivered from fighting three battles: hearing, speech, and sight. Then there remains one battle to fight-the battle of the heart.”


– St. Anthony of the Desert




















“Learn to love humility, for it will cover all your sins.  All sins are repulsive before God, but the most repulsive of all is pride of the heart.  Do not consider yourself learned and wise; otherwise, all your efforts will be destroyed, and your boat will reach the harbor empty.  If you have great authority, do not threaten anyone with death.  Know that, according to nature, you too are susceptible to death, and that every soul sheds its body as its final garment.

– St. Anthony of the Desert












A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

– St. Anthony of the Desert





































“It is interesting too that, in all the religious traditions, deserts and places where there is a minimum of sensory stimulation have always been regarded in an ambivalent way, first of all as the places where God is nearest and secondly as the place where devils abound.”

– Aldous Huxley