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.
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.
I have had a vision of my spirit very first incarnating in another universe at the end of that universe. This might be my mythopoetic way of coming to terms with the fact that I am alive during a time when humanity is facing the void in terms of how we have lived up until now will no longer work and we must change or be destroyed. The universe I was in was destroyed, so I’m not sure how hopeful I am about our times. I was recently told a quote that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. You can insert just about any self destructive feature of our society in for “capitalism” — pollution, consumerism, individualism, racism, sexism, etc. But what I want to talk about here is the gift of my experience with the void. In my personal mythology, my spirit emerged from the void and into incarnated form only to experience the frightening collapse of all space and time back into the void. It was like I was invited to experience going back into the void with all of my senses and in doing so became one with the void in a new and profound way.
My soul gravitates towards death as most gravitate towards life. It is enamored with the void. I find life to be intriguing at best and confusing and alarming at worst, but it always seems foreign to me. I love the foreignness at times just as I loved living in foreign countries. I love the sense of confusion in life, it reminds me of crashing into the churning water while surfing only to be pearled underneath the waves, never quite knowing if you will come up for air. That is life for me. So the void, the void is home. It is the awe inspiring expansiveness that contains the potency of every potential. It is intimately clothed with becoming, it resides inside everything that is created. The void wears the energies of earth, air, fire and water like one would wear a hat or mittens or scarf. I joyfully play with her in these disguises. But I revel in the times she comes to me unclothed. It encourages me to disrobe and remember my nakedness. Because she is that which underlies everything, my intimacy with the void allows me to touch into all things. It is like speaking into her ear is speaking into the ear of any part of reality. I find myself in conversation with the plants, trees, water, rocks and it is the void that is the psychic conduit for these conversations. She is my telephone wire. But she is a telephone that you become. There is no picking up and putting down of this instrument of communication, one only becomes this communication by merging with her.
I’ve always been curious about death as an initiation. The myths of Inanna, Osiris and Jesus are examples of the archetypal energy of dying to be reborn. In the Inanna myth she meets with Erishkagal who is the goddess of the death realm. Erishkagal embodies the primal void and in order for Inanna to truly come into herself, she must pay Erishkagal respect. The void opens doors that are otherwise closed to us. Each time we grieve, each time we enter heartbreak, we are invited closer to the void. And our union with her brings us into union with all things only if we do as Inanna did and make it back to the realm of the living. There are those who get lost in the void, never to quite come back to life. These are those who fought the gravity or clung to the thing that brought them to the void. She asks that we let go and fall into her, to disrobe as Inanna did on her way into the underworld, so that we can stand naked before the primal void. Only then can we be right with the void and she can take her proper place as the center of all life.
My thoughts on the path of deep animist relationship