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.
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My thoughts on the path of deep animist relationship