We awake as if from a deep sleep. Above us the canopy opens up to reveal brilliant blue skies and the feeling of claustrophobia dissipates. Sunshine bathes us in golden light, energising and life-affirming. Our previous reluctance to proceed any further has vanished and insight finally dawns upon us. We must push on, it is imperative that we reach a place of safety before dark. Our destination lies further down the steep-sided valley, but to reach it we have to make our way along the river. The air is warm and comfortable here, the vegetation lush and profuse. Soon we spot the huge cave entrance high up the mountainside. Our steps lead us to the mouth of a cave along a narrow path. The cave is symbolic of the womb and the Void. It is a space in which we come to face our fears and our true selves. The experience may either strengthen or destroy us. Regardless of the reasons for entering this otherworldly place, transformations will be set in motion.
The Great Mother Bear will welcome her children and prepare them for the journey into the Void. They will be laid to rest within the darkness of her fecund womb until the time of rebirth in the Spring. Before that can happen the person undergoing this rite of passage must reflect upon their reasons for this undertaking. This is important, otherwise the journey has been of little use. We emerge from our musings to find a figure watching us. An androgynous figure, clothed in an animal skin and carrying a thick staff. Two serpents are entwined round the staff which is topped with a pine cone. Their dark eyes survey us humorously. This is our Guide, entrusted with our safety and guardian through the worlds. We are invited into the cave, a simple lamp handed to us to light the way. Now begins the transformation.
This is such an ancient place. It has seen the passage of tens of thousands of years, a place of great power and ritual. Deeper and deeper we travel into the earth, it feels like a place set apart from time. There are images of animals painted upon the cave walls, conveying such beauty and grace. Wildlife flow across the walls, rhinos, horses, bison, lions. All executed with such finesse and artistry. A feat never to be equalled by modern humanity. As we travel deeper into the cave these paintings start depicting cave bears etched in red, to be followed by composite creatures, part bear and part human. Curious…We look back at our Guide, who remains silent. This is our journey, so the insights must come from within. Finally we enter the deepest part of the cave, into a broad, circular chamber. In the middle of this chamber is an altar, upon which is placed the skull of a bear. Numerous bear skulls have been placed around this chamber.
The only illumination comes from a fire behind the altar. By now our sense of reality is slightly distorted, something about the air down here is affecting our sense perception. A circle of figures are sitting round the fire, we cannot be sure whether they are human or animal. Each is clothed in a large bearskin. Their eyes glint brightly at us. The fire throws huge shadows on the cavern wall. Our Guide smiles reassuringly and gestures towards the bearskin placed in front of the altar. We lie down on it automatically, hands then wrap the skin around us.
A rhythmic sound snakes its way around each of the figures and when it reaches us it throbs intensely, echoing the beat of our frightened hearts. This seems to go on for some time. We feel our eyelids closing and try to stop falling asleep. The sound ceases suddenly, the quality of the air changing subtly. We feel our breath force itself through our lungs until it stops abruptly. Our hands reach upwards and to our shock they appear to be huge, clawed paws. No human voice issues from our mouths, only a plaintive mewl. A low hum begins drowning out our cries, strangely it seems to soothe our fears. We look up to see a beautiful, luminous face looking down at us, we see Her. She offers her blessings, love and protection to sustain us through the final part of our journey. We are now ready to release our old selves. She turns to our Guide who nods and bestows a blessing upon us. We cross the threshold between this world and the next and the mists close. In our dreams we enter the cave of our ancestors, to seek their counsel and join our essence theirs, this was our tradition from the dawn of time and will continue until time ceases to be.
The journey is not yet over as we will have to face the truth at the centre of the Labyrinth and return totally transformed by its revelatory message. That is the reality of this experience, we must either return or be destroyed by what has been revealed. Make your choice. There is one certainty though, we will leave the cave when the time comes, as to linger in this sacred space would lead to repercussions. Remember that. It is not to be used as an escape from your problems.
We slumber on the ship of death as it flows towards the Great Sea. The world around us does not stand still as the hand of Time changes all that it touches. Our Guide remains steadfast by our side, that much we can rely on throughout this transition. Soon, so soon we feel the hand of Life touch us. The Universe begins to stir, nature awakes from its sleep and unveils her beauty. We feel her kiss upon our brow. Time to return. We take a deep breath and draw in the universal life force. It kick starts our heart, sacred temple and sanctuary of the Soul. Our Guide gently helps us up and leads us through the labyrinth of passageways to the cave entrance. We look down at our hands and feet, reassuringly human now. Words of wisdom are whispered in our ear, simple words yet so powerful in their affect. The Guardian of Souls and Psychopomp watches another initiate leave, for this what we have become. We traverse the valley and forest at great speed. We have found our mojo! Finally we emerge from the reality that is the Subconscious to the Conscious, the road is crossed and we are home. We look back and notice that there is no sign of the road kill. In fact there is no sign of the road. Curious…
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Series XVII, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2004