Dear Reader, much has happened since my last article regarding the LifeRites Foundation course. The Universe has seen fit to initiate a series of events which have changed my life and the lives of others around me. As I write this article we are in the midst of Winter, the Child of Light has entered this world, and I am at the end of one cycle of life and about to enter another. Cold, short dark days tend to focus the mind inwards. I see death and decay all round me including those aspects of my own life that need to be released. This is no bad thing. A timely reminder that I have been out of kilter with the world around me, enmeshed within the artificial bubble created by our modern world. I have left a job which was becoming increasingly dissatisfactory and leaving a toxic environment which was draining my energies. Stagnant waters breed dis-ease. The old self was in the throes of death, but I was reluctant to let go. My spirit had given up, numbed by a lack of creativity, reason and fear. I sense that this situation is not unique to me.
Something was rising up from the depths of the subconscious and it was scaring me. Forgive me for sharing these personal details, they do have their place within this tale, which is one of death and rebirth. I am speaking of course of things symbolic, of experiences we share on a deep psychic level with our remote ancestors. These experiences are rites of passage –into adulthood, into wisdom of elder years, the birth of a child and death, both physical and symbolic. These are only a few of the threads that connect us to our ancestors across a divide of thousands of years and one can only speculate at the ritual mysteries unveiled to the participants in those ancient times. Things are not so different in modern times, the human spirit is still in need of healing and integration but the healers and shamans have metamorphosed into different entities now. Let me be frank, change and transmutation are not easy experiences. Pain is pain whatever century you find yourself in. Human nature does not intrinsically change. You may or may not agree, that is your prerogative. For one moment though I ask you to shed your modern niceties, find a quiet place, preferably outdoors and just listen to the sounds of your inner world. What can you hear? Are you able to bear the inner silence? (more of this later in our journey)
At times our burdens seem too great to carry but one must not underestimate the courage and endurance of the spirit, if not its practicality. The Universe will only tolerate so much miserable self-absorption on our part before delivering a good kick up the bottom and we then find ourselves in the path of a fast moving vehicle. Ending up as road-kill, to be fed upon by crows. The bloody aftermath can be a little unpleasant don’t you think?
The human psyche is a complex country, our travels along its highways affected by dreams, eureka moments and intuition. Such is the canvas that our Heroic journeys are painted upon, “perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul's destination.”
Quite. As we contemplate this bloody mess our eyes look up to see a great forest unravelling before us. It looks forbidding, almost stretching into infinity. After a little hesitation we move forward, already dead, what else can happen to us? The passage through “dark and devious ways” has begun and we cannot turn back.
With that first step from the road going nowhere we have now entered the realm of the supernatural, the liminal. The Heroic journey has begun. Before we go any further it may be useful to shed light on the constituent parts of a rite of passage (an initiation if you may), a three - stage process that is culturally universal. Consisting of:
A call is answered to initiate a change in your life. This can come in many forms. Preparation is made to leave the old life (its death) and journey towards the new life.
A time spent between the worlds, living a life which is filled with trials and tribulations, where you may be pushed to your limits. Your soul and spirit are tested, as is your resolve to overcame the adversities and remain true to yourself. Rebirth has not occurred at this stage. Usually this period would be spent alone in nature (if your were on a Vision Quest for example) but if this is not possible it can happen in our everyday lives. Perhaps harder to manage in a lot of ways if this is the case.
This is the final stage whereby you leave the place of initiation and return to your community, family and friends. Rebirth has occurred and sacred knowledge is brought back for the benefit of the whole. You are not who you were when the journey began, a change in consciousness has occurred.
I hope you are still with me. Where to now you ask? We move forward into that great unknown expanse of our inner world, that’s where. The sun is streaming through the green canopy creating shadows on the forest floor. Gigantic trees rise majestically into the skies, sentinels guarding the sacred ways. There are deep slashes in the bark of one of the trees, claw marks. Curiosity causes us to place our fingers into the grooves. A surge of energy shocks and exhilarates. For a brief moment we can see through the eyes of this elusive creature, revered totem of many cultures for millenia. Signifying strength and resilience, providing courage in the face of adversity, in touch with the Earth and natural cycles. For it is Bear who guides us in the journey towards healing and well-being on all levels. Out of the corner of our eyes we spot something moving in the undergrowth, the bear stares briefly and then moves swiftly on as if to say hurry up. We lose sight of them in this vast space. It makes us uneasy.
This primeval forest is not at all what we imagined it to be. It feels sentient, knowing and filled with immense power. What is glimpsed between the trees causes us a little anxiety. We ask ourselves whether it was a good idea entering this area without a guide. At this moment the bear makes its presence known to remind us that this is not the case. We ruefully acknowledge this fact, not totally able to relinquish our “civilised” sensibilities. What the hell are we doing in this place? A good question and not easily answered. The world spins around us for one terrible moment as it grows dark. We collapse and fall awkwardly on the forest floor. Nothingness envelopes us. There is no “I”, no memory. This world does not exist.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Series XVII, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2004