Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sweeping out the cogwebs

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
Goes by to towered Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

This is Part II of Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott.  The Lady of Shalott is doomed by a mysterious curse so that she is unable to look down upon Camelot directly and can only observe things via a mirror.  She spends her days weaving to occupy her eyes, prevented from experiencing the joys and sorrows of life for herself, only a dim reflection.

I've read this many times but suddenly I felt a kinship with The Lady of Shalott.  I can apply this, like a metaphor for life in a my case a 'cultish' church.  You are trapped by a mysterious 'curse', you know you cannot leave, but you cannot articulate why.  You observe life as through a mirror, you don't have religious experience for yourself but through the lens of another.  You are kept locked up in the 'tower'...the cult protecting from you're not sure what. The leadership tell you that it isn't safe out there.  It isn't safe to listen to teaching other than you hear from the cult.  It isn't safe to have a different understanding of God or the scriptures than the leader.  We are like children and he is our 'spiritual daddy'. No there is a mysterious curse for those who leave the cult, but if someone asked you what it is you couldn't answer.  We can only understand the world and the faith as reflected by the leader - it isn't 'spiritually healthy' to go elsewhere for understanding, but if someone asked you what that means you couldn't answer.  It's become a 'truth'.

I could cry at the words, "I'm half sick of shadows".  That's how I felt.  Jesus had become a shadow, an idea rather than a person to me.

One can wonder why I fell for all this nonsense.  I'm not unintelligent, I wasn't totally locked away from the world...I was taught to mistrust 'the world' but I wasn't in the type of cult that lives in a commune and stockpiles weapons.  The tower I was locked away in was one of psychological manipulation - the cogwebs of my own mind.  Like the Lady of Shalott, I wove a web that I believed was beautiful - but like the Lady of Shalott after time the web wasn't enough I wanted reality not shadows. 

'Cogweb' was coined by Kathleen Taylor in her book Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control (which I am reading at the moment).  It is short for cognitive web in which constant repetition of a simple message creates patterns of activity in the brain that creates schemas and beliefs that direct a person's life. Such pathways are so well worn that behaviours that arise from these cogwebs are done almost unthinkingly - like the typist who has learned to touch-type can find each letter almost without a conscious thought.
Credit: H.Adam, Flickr
From the age of 4 I built up my cogwebs gradually, through manipulation, coercion, group pressure, and repetition the cultish church became my understanding of the Christian faith.

Yet! Looking back must always inform looking forward - in a positive way!

Firstly I can see how God gently lead me out of it.  The people he put in my life, the scriptures and books that had sudden meaning.  Then began the process of unlearning.  Of beliefs and thought patterns being challenged and stripped away.  As you can guess from my blogposts, this has been extremely painful.

That church was my emotional and spiritual bedrock.  The place I turned to for understanding of life.  All my energies were turned towards its vision.  Having that bedrock removed has shaken the very foundation of my life.

My entire existence had been built upon manipulation.  The greatest gift I ever received - Jesus - had been almost taken away from me - twisted by a man for his own ends.  It had got to the point where I had very few real friends.  My only social contact was at church and at work.  Even our blossoming friendship with another couple of a similar age to us at the church was stopped because 'it is too much like socialising'.

At the age of 39 I found myself with almost nothing; I still had my family! Praise God that my husband and my mum left the church at the same time.  I had no really close friends.  My two best non-church friends had both moved to the other side of the world.

I realised a number of things - and this realisation, though painful, was good because it meant I could begin to make a change.

Unlearning. Sometimes we need to learn things and sometimes we need to unlearn.  To sweep away - gently - those 'cogwebs' of the mind.

What I am learning/unlearning:

That unity of mind is not the same as unity of Spirit.  That it is OK to be persuaded in my own mind and even be wrong about it.  It is Jesus I rely upon for righteousness.

That preaching is one man's interpretation.  That it is OK to disagree with preaching /teaching /prophecy and again, even be wrong about it!

That the Holy Spirit dwells within me as fully as any other Christian. That, as a Christian, I am just as anointed as the preacher to understand scripture and spiritual things.

That my entire week shouldn't be geared up towards a church service as if God only dwells in a church meeting, but instead church meetings ought to equip and encourage us for life and the rest of the week.

That I absolutely believe that fellowship is essential, but missing a church meeting is not the end of the world.

That many church leaders are obsessed with church numbers and their lives revolve around building up their own particular church and therefore they will be constantly encouraging members to attend church, to join in with programmes, and to serve in various capacities.  That is their job.  But it is my job to live out my own faith, and as I grow close to Jesus only then can I serve from a good level foundation.  It isn't my job to make a church leader feel better about their job and the 'success' of the church.  If I serve to please a church leader I'm on a shaky foundation.

That sometimes a church leader will be so consumed by the 'vision' for the church and getting people on board with this vision that they may well fail to pastor the church.  They become so 'big picture' that they miss what is going on in the lives of the people. (I think that sometimes the line between administrator leader and pastor leader get mixed up - you can't be both unless you have a very small church).

Realising these things I can move forward.  I have to remember to stop and think.  To take time before taking things mentally on board.  To take time to search the scriptures.  To take time to pray and reflect. To stop and think before saying 'yes' or 'no'.  To take a step back on occasion and see what is really going on.


  1. Well I said on FB I am dim. Good to see you again. I was reading back through this blog - has it really been that long? It does take a long time to recuperate from the human failings of a church. It has been eight year since we left our old church. Our new church was exactly what we needed and we've grown in many ways. However, Tim and I feel the need for something with more focus on God's holiness and less focus on the me and we of the individuals which is the bane of so many churches and so we are starting to look. It makes me so terribly sad - but we want the girls to seek God's holiness not their own personal gratification and so we are beginning a new chapter. This is my long and short way of saying while it has been a long time since you left you've still got time - cause God's timing is perfect.

  2. You're not dim! You're awesome! :) So glad you found my blog anyway. LOL

    It's good to find a church that focuses on Jesus. I hope you find the right place that will bless you with that life in abundance that He promised us.

    Big hugs. x

  3. Just found your blog. This is powerful, please keep writing! The analogy is so apt. Also, mental health problems work in a similar way. It looks scary out there in the world, too scary to take risks... I think I'll stay at home, at least loneliness is familiar. Cult leaders take healthy people and give them the minds of someone with a mental health disorder.

    1. Hi Caroline, glad you visited! Thank you for your kind words.

      Yes, you hit the nail on the head there, loneliness [and fear] can feel safer - a bit like a bird raised caged, when the cage door is opened they are afraid to leave and fly. x x