I have long been fascinated with the mythos around the fertile darkness, the dark feminine. For many many years, I have felt that our culture has been too light focused (we are developmentally stuck in an endless "summer" in how we approach the world as consumers and in the way we work). The cycles of going within, letting fallow have been harmfully ignored and this is where the truly fertile soul work and wisdom-making takes place. We can gain spiritual insight from the light, but the dark turns that insight into body-and-soul-level wisdom. And I think that part of reclaiming our relationship to the darkness is dismantling the pejorative we have assigned to the dark and dense as "bad/evil/wounded" which frankly is also a root of racism and spiritual bypassing.
I especially love the myths that share our ancestor's understanding of these cycles. There is a good book "the descent to the goddess" that talks about the Inanna myth as a guide for "initiation" (as into greater soul mastery) for women especially, which has similarities to persephone's descent to the underworld. And recently I learned that there are even myths where RA, the Egyptian sun god, descends to the underworld and merges with Osiris, the ruler of the underworld. In my own experience with the masculine principle of the fae there is a chthonic (dark/underworld) aspect and a solar aspect that dance with each other throughout the cycle of the solar year.
Just recently I was spending time with the myth about Gwyn Ap Nudd, the welsh faerie king, god of the wild, and keeper of the underworld who battles with Gwythyr, who is a solar deity, over the hand of the maiden Creiddylad who is the embodiment of sovereignty. Gwyn wins, interestingly - it is not the solar that wins. What has come in my meditations on this myth is that sovereignty is the equivalent to the sacred void and that both the dark aspects and light aspects vie for her attention, but she has a special affinity for the dark. This makes me think of the taoist principles of the emptiness that can flow through nature if unimpeded. When the dark and light forces are in right relationship with the void, the state of nature's sovereignty, then order is restored. It also makes sense that the dark and the void are associated with each other (thus Gwyn winning), because they both are void of light. Also with scientific principles of entropy... energy eventually dissipates (unless there is a new injection of energy). I think that some have interpreted this as "renewal always comes from above, the solar" but in the Innanna myth there is a map for how renewal can come from below, in the darkness. Chinese medicine also recognizes this and the work of Lorie Eve Dechar is especially powerful in showing that the lighter energies (Shen) are not the only sources for renewal, but it can come from the denser energies (the Po and Zhi)... and in some ways the work that is initiated from the dark/ground/dense up causes more foundational shifts than the more solar inputs. In the celtic wheel of the year the cycle of creation really is initiated at Imbolc (Feb 1st) and from a tantric astrology perspective this is the root of the root where the energy is at its deepest descent and then rises again through the chakras (peaking at Lammas in August).
I find it interesting that the new cycle of creation doesn’t start at the solstice, that there are 6 weeks of laying fallow - of deep rest - after the longest night of the year before the new cycle is initiated. That speaks to us about the nature of our own creativity in that when we enter what feels like darkness, we are actually just beginning a longer period of stillness before regeneration can take place.
Overall in my mind we need to better honor the dark, the chthonic, the underworld, as it is just as important part of the creative life force on this planet as the light, but we also need to come into deeper relationship with the void, which gets even less attention than sacred darkness (or gets mixed up and confused with darkness). I will also share that my own experience with bipolar - if I get too light or high vibe focused there is an equally dark polarity that forms in the world of my psyche that must be integrated. If I stay oriented more towards the void, a place of neutrality that favors neither light nor dark, I can interact with anything from the full ray of the spectrum from a place of equanimity. It just feels better to my mind, body and soul.
This is really why I felt called to offer "Wyrd" at the first new moon in January - as a way to tune into the deeper nature of reality and forces of sovereignty, the sacred void, in a way that is not tied to any particular tradition, but rather explores it as a mystic would, through first-hand experience. Learn more.
Intentional Peer Support and Maastricht Interviews for hearing voices and paranoia
I hear the voices of nature, the ancestors, and other unseen beings. When these abilities first emerged along with visions at the age of 26 during an internship in India, they caused fear and confusion resulting in hospitalization. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I now leverage my experiences with altered mental states to support others to come into their own relationship with their own experiences of hearing voices or unusual beliefs.
I am certified in intentional peer support for mental health, which means that my approach is to understand the worldviews of the folks I work with, walk along side them as they find their own right relationship with their mental health experiences and share from my own experiences in ways that might be informative or inspiring. Peer support is not about having the answers, I do not have them, it is also not therapeutic, I'm not a licensed therapist, but it is about sharing our experiences in ways that open new levels of acceptance which can emerge into resilience, hope and possibility.
I am also trained in the Maastricht interview protocol by the National Paranoia Network, which is a process of understanding voice hearing and unusual beliefs that cause paranoia. These interviews result in the creation of a document that can be shared with other health professionals as a tool for self-advocacy within the mental health system. They often result in significant personal insight into these experiences and highlight approaches to gaining more resiliency.
I view my own experiences as "spirit contacts" but others may view their own experiences differently. Working with me does not require that we share the same worldview - I support each person in finding their own meaning and relationship to their unique experiences.
I work on a sliding scale basis to make this work accessible. Please contact me or set up a time for an initial consultation to start working with me in this way.
The initiatory power of the smalls
In a recent discussion with Daniel’s Foor’s Practical Animism cohort for Ancestral Medicine and guest speaker Siv Watkins (www.microanimism.com) we touched on an idea that illuminated some of my bipolar experiences from a microorganism perspective. I have heard for years that gut health and mental health are intimately related including claims that people have completely resolved their bipolarity by managing the flora in their gut along with taking certain micronutrients. But what was new for me in this recent animism discussion was to look at the initiatory aspect of the microorganism world from a consciousness-raising perspective. It is fairly commonly acknowledged that entheogens can be used to not only shift consciousness on a short-term basis, but that they can assist people in widening their conscious experience of the world even after the immediate effects wear off. What if instead of looking only at plant medicine for consciousness expansion we also looked at relationships with microorganisms as similar “medicine”?
This idea particularly intrigued me as my own psychotic episodes were directly after bouts of sickness from either a virus or a parasite. Part of my medical narrative has always been “my system was already weak from sickness and so that is why I think I responded so dramatically to xyz input from my life, which ended me up in the hospital.” What is shifting for me now is that I don’t think it was just a simple matter of weakened system, but I think there was a larger shift in my consciousness precipitated by becoming a host for a new entity. When I was in the hospital I was tested for drugs, but I was never tested for parasites (which in later years I did do and they showed up as prevalent in my system). I had always felt that my time in India (which was where my first bipolar episode took place) was psychologically intense, because of the culture, but what if a large contributing factor to my experience of psychosis was due to a microorganism?
I mention my psychosis in the flow of consciousness expansion, because my bipolar episodes have all resulted in a rebirth for me in how I perceive and understand the world. It was like filters I had on the world were reduced or taken away. I could perceive energy and eventually developed my animism practice out of my new found sensitivity as it allowed me to perceive things, including the “voices” and “perceptions” of other beings (putting on the mind of the other being), which wasn't part of my conscious experience before. I think these are all skills that anyone can develop, but that they often emerge suddenly in initiatory experiences and when we are not ready for that emergence it can be diagnosed as psychosis.
And I believe that my ability to perceive other beings definitely extended to my ability to perceive the consciousness of the smalls in ways that I have not been aware of until now. During one bipolar episode (also in India years after my first episode there) I remember trying to communicate with a consciousness which I perceived as causing the episode, but wasn’t sure who or what it was and the way the consciousness presented in our exchange would fit a virus or parasite. It felt alien to me at the time and I remember trying to speak to it of the feeling of love and it was very confused by this concept (a very mammalian one connected to our relationship with oxytocin among other things). That particular episode occurred when I was doing a homeopathic treatment that most likely from my symptoms was affecting my gut. I think that what I was taking was disturbing the symbiotic relationship I had with the smalls and it resulted in what felt like psychosis to me, but could have been a strong conscious reaction from the beings I was host to. I’ve had similar reactions to certain brands of my medication and I am curious as to if the fillers in certain medications affected the beings in my gut in a negative way. All I know is that I would have very persistent feelings of “I have got to stop taking this medication, it is poisoning me” until I found a brand that was “cleaner”.
There have been scientific studies that look at Toxoplasma gondii and schizophrenia and bipolar and have shown a link with this particular small’s effects on the central nervous system and immune dysregulation. There have also been studies that have shown recovery from bipolar linked to treatment of other parasites and this is becoming more studied in regions that have challenges with sanitation and diseases from flies and mosquitoes.
But from my experience I would say that if we looked at things from a pure scientific explanation that we would miss something that taking a more animist perspective of things provides. As I said before, I really feel that my bipolar episodes (and even ongoing navigation of this aspect of my psyche) was incredibly initiatory, as in it initiated me into a new perception of the world around me. I love Siv’s microanimism work, because it honors these entities as the oldest living consciousnesses on the planet. To “commune” with them (and becoming a host for them is certainly an intimate way to deeply commune with them) is to commune with a very direct lineage from the origins of all life… and death.
My bipolar experiences have brought me psychologically into deep relationship with the forces of death. I believe this is why the suicide rates are so high for bipolar, it is common with this diagnosis to feel life and death in the extreme. In fact, one of the medications I take simply helps me to narrow the range of shadow and light (life and death) that I feel in myself and the world around me, so that I can navigate reality in a way that feels comfortable and normal. I do dream of a day where I can handle those more extreme states of awareness without that narrowing, but am aware that it would take a higher level of conscious integration physically, mentally and emotionally than I am currently at.
Talking about the initiatory aspect of relating with the powers of life and death reminds me of the book “Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women.” In this book the initiatory experience is one of descending to the death realms, which is also the birthplace for all new life. It follows the myth of Inanna, a goddess of fertility, who descends to the underworld to visit Ereshkigal who rules there. When she returns from the underworld (after being killed and reborn), Inanna now has the power to not only give life, but she also has the power to send the soul of the first person she looks at to the underworld. This story of gaining new initiatory power through death and rebirth rings true from my own bipolar experiences.
And what if one way of initiation could be facilitated by microorganisms and the more conscious relationship with them as primordial intelligences of life and death? I have a curiosity that this may have been the case for me. I know that the death and rebirth process can take place in a multiplicity of ways (through entheogens, shamanic or spiritual techniques or life events including trauma, the loss of a loved one or illness), but the influence of the smalls might be a less explored source of initiation, one that could have therapeutic implications in how we assess and treat mental health issues.
My psych meds kill my soul. They add a layer of toxicity to my energetic system that takes near constant alchemical work to transform. They distort my soul’s onboard navigation. So in order to remain centered and clear on my path, I have to work to listen to the world around me and to transform the negative effects. I will never be as clear as someone who is not on meds. But does that mean that I do not have a message to be heard or support to be offered? No. In fact with so many people around the world being put on psych meds, I think I hold a very important key to navigating this brave new world. And that key is my own experience with alchemical healing...of soul work.
So why take meds at all? For those who have never navigated altered mental states it may seem like a poor decision. It is one that I definitely fought for years. And it is one that I may reverse some day. For now I know that my meds allow me to navigate the ordinary world in a way that I would not be able to without them. I wouldn’t be able to have a regular job, which means I wouldn't be able to support myself in a way that has allowed for my learning from many of the influential teachers on my path. Staying oriented to normal time and space continuum is challenging for me without meds. It is hard for me to even remember what is me and what is the rest of the world. Boundaries and protection are nonexistent. I walk with a permeability that is risky at best and a complete hazard to my own existence at worst.
So the meds have their place.
Why not work on boundaries and strengthen my system until it is strong enough to not be on meds? People with a higher level of spiritual mastery have often viewed me with pity or concern because I have not developed a strong energetic body. The meds deplete what is already depleted. However, I am one who does not force practices on myself. There was a time where I naturally had a daily yoga and meditation practice and it still didn’t prevent me from psychosis. I’ve come to accept that I have a certain “way” and that way is a bit more challenging and requires different kind of work to maintain. It is this respect of individual paths that I bring to my work with others. The trick is to find your way and walk it.
So for me my way requires a LOT of internal processing of poisons. From my meds to all of the junk I absorb from the outside world, I am constantly working to remember my truth and my path in the sea of muck. The alchemical process of changing the lead in my system into gold has been critical for my health. And there are days where I am closer to the lead and days where I am closer to the gold.
Perhaps some day I will obtain a higher level of mastery where I will get to lay down some of the struggle. Some level of alchemical work will always be there… otherwise one is at true homeostasis, which is death. Until then, I offer my insight into the struggle as my unique balm for the world.
Madness in a Mad World
There is a secret world that floats beneath the surface of the one we mostly collectively recognize. I call it the imaginal realm, but it has had different names in different cultures, dream time, magical realm, collective unconscious, faerie realm, mythic or archetypal realm. Each name has a different nuance, but they are all pointing to a similar idea, that there is a place that our soul can access that glides silently behind the ordinary world. I name this the imaginal realm because it is so interwoven with imagination. It is this place that our prayers, intentions, imaginations access to find inspiration and to move blockages impeding our path. It is this place that the shaman accesses to find strength and helpers as well as perform healing for themselves, another person, or the collective.
There was a time when those who were able to access this realm were initiated by an elder and shown ways to navigate this world. But in the modern world those guides are few and far between and so most are relegated to finding their own way, mostly disastrously, through already troubled ground.
The imaginal realm has always been fraught with fierce archetypal entities, the things that lie in the subconscious of our collective minds, the impulses that cause us to act out the most instinctual parts of being human, desire, love, rage, jealousy, revenge, grief. So it has always been a pretty gnarly place to navigate and every shamanic tradition has some sort of guidance for navigating this space safely. But those in the modern western culture who have shamanic tendencies not only usually step into this world by accident without any sort of guidance, but also are required to deal with a modern version of this realm where knots tied by our culture’s impact on the unconscious become extra slippery. The path for healing and the role of the healer in this context begs for a level of clever awareness most of the uninitiated are not able to rise to.
I was one of the uninitiated plunged head first into the imaginal realm during my first trip to India. There I met people who are working with that realm to serve their own nefarious purposes, praying on the unaware. If there is something to abuse, humans have found a way to do it. I was ripe for initiation, my soul had been in deep grief for the loss of a friend and mentor for a couple of years and then the physical separation from my love partner during an incredibly creative period of my life sent me riding waves of sublime highs and crashing lows, sometimes in the same moment. My soul had expanded to encompass more of the human experience and it was this expansion that allowed for the alchemizing drop of initiation to take hold. The drop came in the form of a deluge, really. India was that deluge. The roller coaster of internal emotions I had been experiencing for months prior to my trip were exploded out around me. Life and death danced in a chaotic fury in the streets. My soul had found a new home. And so India brought me deeper into herself. A press of the center of my palm while exchanging money at the produce seller jolted something awake in my energetic body. And I began to dance. Life shifted into a dream and I walked through synchronicities and experiences that made only half sense to my mind but felt importantly potent to my soul. I could no longer keep to a clock, but I lived to the heartbeat of a different time, much older.
This dream state slowly turned to nightmare. I got sick and my body weakened. My neighbors’ care for me felt manipulative and one night one of them asked bluntly if I had anxiety. I had never felt that in my life but as soon as he said it my heart started racing and panic filled me. I knew I must leave. I initially went on a chaotic flight around town trying to find a place that felt safe, almost hopping on a train for Mumbai, a city I would later live in for four years.
But finally I knew I needed to get help. A coworker helped me obtain a ticket home and I left the next day. I knew I was in a vulnerable spiritual state and so I performed my first act of magic. I asked that no one who could harm me see me. It was strange to be in an airport full of people and to see people blindly walking past me. But the imaginal realm needs no eyes to find you. My anxiety found me through blind manipulations of what I can best describe as “sentries” for the many layers of the bardo. I exposed myself by answering their blind inquiries. One tried to find me by inquiring to a woman sitting next to me about my flight. Another made broad statements about religion to the crowd knowing that his words were like invisible arrows initiating a rise in fear in me. Finally the anxiety became too much and I tipped my hand. I acted on an urge to leave my belongings behind and was arrested by airport security ending up first in a terrorist detention center and then in a mental hospital.
This was my initiation and it ended with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a sentence to taking meds for the rest of my life.
I often wonder if my entrée into the world of what is labeled “madness” would have been different if it had been sacredly held by someone. If I had been guided. But this was my fate and a well that I have learned to drink deeply from.
I’ve been to the mental hospital three times and each time I sense the sanity of the people there. They are simply reacting in a very raw and real way to the insanity of our culture. Most people don’t realize how complicit they are with the insanity, but I have met people who are channels for the collective unconscious without any awareness of what they are doing. I’ve also met people who are channels for other beings without their awareness. We are breath-close to the unseen world, interwoven with it. And the detritus that we feed our minds is the detritus that becomes a living throbbing being in the imaginal. Like the space junk that now orbits the earth, we now have a collective consciousness that is filled with junk. But it is not inert junk. It lives and breathes and weaves, collecting power and ability. The ancient ones knew this. They told the myths of these archetypal beings and created temples and shrines in their honor. What they may not have understood was that they were co-creating these beings as they worshipped them. They were complicit in giving those energies form in the collective mind.
And so along comes the monotheistic religions and all the sudden the conscious relationship to archetypes gets monocropped, and as no one entity can do a good job of capturing the complexity of what happens in the imaginal, we start to repress parts of our collective psyche, demonizing them or shaming them. Then secularism declares that the archetypal realm never existed in the first place and so most of what happens there is now unconsciously made. We only see it when it emerges in some select few as madness. Then we suppress it with chemicals, sweeping it back under the rug.
My extended family implied that I was possessed after my first manic episode. In a way they were right. I had been opened to the consciousness of the other world. But it was our own collective mind that I was experiencing, not some outside hellish demon. I was experiencing our family’s own struggling soul, so possessed with a puritanical need for perfection that all else becomes demonized. And this is a micro level example of what is happening on a macro level in society.
Teilhard de Chardin wrote about the noosphere, a collective “mind” that surrounds the earth like our atmosphere. This exists and those who have experienced madness have peered into what is held there. It isn’t pretty. But if we are anything, we are a creative creature and there are those who tend this realm. Be it the monk that meditates or the nun that prays or the psychonaut who journeys or the dancer who authentically moves or the artist who passionately creates, we can open our minds and bodies to tend this space of collective consciousness.
We also have the gift of the earth in all of this tending. One misperception is that the imaginal realm is only the construct of human minds. But any good shaman will tell you that the greatest gift are the non-human beings that inhabit the space with their consciousness. A tree, a mountain, a lake, a little weed, an owl, a coyote, all these are part of this realm and can act as guides and wisdom keepers. We have allies, even though we are killing them off. The natural diversity of a place is one of the greatest boons our consciousness has been given. And our connection to it is infinitely precious. You do not have to be a shaman to experience the benefits of being in nature, immersing oneself in the consciousness of the natural world. It is not just the benefit of fresh air and the disconnection from electronics, there is something more happening to our minds when we step outdoors.
And when we look at who has access to nature through an equity lens we also see how the people without access are also the people who are already facing the challenges of historical trauma compounded by modern day prejudice (from systemic racism to daily microaggressions). These community members are forced to hold a very big piece of the disturbed collective mind. But as one who has struggled with madness, I know too that there is a resilience that comes from these struggles. Those that face challenges are asked to make a more perilous journey, and some do not make it, they may get caught up in the whirlpools of substance abuse and insanity, but those that do make it come out with a strength, clarity and wisdom that others will never have. This is the poisoned apple that does not kill, but rather initiates one into a deeper hold on the full dynamics of what it means to be human. As others navigate life half awake, the gift and burden of awake-ness offers an opportunity to tend this poisoned world in more profound ways.
I am a bird. When I journey I can fly. This is more than dream or imagination. As I stand at rocks ledge at what has been colonially named Washington Pass, my cells scream with the memory of being able to shapeshift. The mountains awaken the urge to take bird’s form and fly down their slopes. I clutch the railing in front of me to be sure I won’t fling myself off the cliff. If I ever try to commit suicide, it would probably be here and it might be half accident. I make a mental note to not come here if I’m in a state of bipolar mania.
Even at my sanest, which is still outside of the comfort zone for the limited view of most psychiatrists, I come here to weep with the mountains who have seen such change. But they assure me that their spirit is full. Full of life even in this poisoned land. They have their sisters. They are even honored by the people who visit. I ask if it offends them that it is a “taking” honoring, as in people take photos and memories but very rarely offer anything. It is a choice, they remind me. You can set up accounts and tally who is giving and who is taking or you can accept the honoring. But they do thank me for the offering of my tears and my willingness to open to the grief of the long memory of this place.
Even though I was born in this corner of the world, I know that I will never feel at home here until I fully open to this grief. But it costs so much to feel the tragedy that my people have brought to a land once filled with abundance, a land once in sacred relationship with its thriving Native people. I can feel the clear cutting as I wind my way up Highway 20 through the north cascades. I feel the carving of the road where there were once only foot trails. The views that are now only a couple hours drive from my home were once earned by days of walking. I try to feel what it might have been like to walk this place when it was still what we now call old growth. The mountains remind me that there is always change. This is earth who has seen ice ages, heat and volcanoes. I accept this and bring it into the grief I feel as the heart’s tender way of marking of time.
I once thought that it was my guilt that prevented me from connecting to this place, but over the years I have come to see that my guilt was a way of keeping out the heartbreak that true connection would bring. It is heartbreak born of knowing that unlike ice or fire, this change was brought on by my people. It is a heart break that begs the question of if I, as a colonizer, can ever belong here. I’m not a stranger to grief and so I open a little crack in my heart and start to invite in the story of this place and the complexities of relationship. And as I do so this place brings me the gift of the memory of my wings. It awakens the knowledge held deep in my DNA that no amount of colonization, patriarchy or capitalism could entirely snuff out. I see why I was taught to fear myself and repress myself as a woman, because the dreaming of my womb is powerful, a power we fear so much we label it crazy. We were once magic - just as the world around us was. We have forgotten and the world has slept during our forgetting. It is time to awaken and bring new life to this poisoned land.
My thoughts on the path of deep animist relationship