When it came my time to journey through the Underworld, I went kicking and screaming. It was not an easy journey and I didn’t go willingly. In fact, it wasn’t expected; all the circumstances in my life got scattered into the chaos and confusion of loss. When Hecate nudged me, I ignored it. “Not now”, I thought. I’m not ready. When Hecate knocked and called again, I allowed fear and complacency to keep me from opening the door. “Not now”, I shouted, tearfully. “Now!”, was Hekate’s response.
A relationship of 15 years was over- no explanations; no working whatever it was out. It was not my choice- we had a life together, a family of sorts and it all went under. I lost my familiar of 20 years and 2 other elderly pets. I lost a job I enjoyed. My life simply dismantled itself before my very eyes. I just lost my capacity to have any control. I liked keeping my life in order, proactively making the choices that affected me. But every time I‘d try to get organized or reorganized, something happened that wouldn’t allow me to do what I had expected. I suffered a total lack of faith and hope for a time and dropped into a deep despair that everything I had learned– the Goddess Path and Hedgewitch Way; the Medicine and Beauty Way; everything was gone from my life. I was launched into a silent darkness.
I felt annhilated by and alienated from Spirit; I felt totally alone and had no real sense of the Universe supporting me, possibly for the first time in my life. I had arrived at the place of utter alienation from Spirit for the second time in my life. And that it was- the pit, the absolute bottom, the dregs. The image I had of myself at that time was of free-floating in a turbulent abyss- a thick, black sea, madly flailing on the surface as I tried to stay afloat, the current sucking at my feet and legs threatening to pull me under. I could not look behind me and I could not see before me- just a swirling, silent, black darkness surrounding all that I thought I was, all that I knew myself to be- that I could not escape.
Finally, in the midst of that panic, in the midst of that blackness, I called for help- I offered another poignant naked prayer. What could I do? What was it about? What was I being taught? That staying afloat was taking a lot of energy. It was exhausting. I couldn’t sleep and no matter what I did during the day, I was psychically flailing like a many armed, ineffecive Goddess- every arm slapping the surface of the black, choppy water, getting nowhere. And that voice we have inside, that voice that is literally not our own, spoke and said simply, “Surrender. Just drown. Just let go and drown”. Everytime I fought, struggling to stay afloat the voice came again, softly, patiently, gently- “Surrender. Just drown. Just let go and drown.”
I stopped flailing and allowed myself to sink into the black, murky water; I surrendered terrified. I had never allowed myself to sink- to surrender to that blackness that seemed to threaten to envelope my very soul. That darkness filled my eyes, slipped into my lungs and clogged my ears. I drowned but did not die.
I slipped into a dark sea of calm, serenity and peace- no, peace is too strong a word- it didn’t have the positive energy of peace but there was nothing negative about it either. It just was. It was still emptiness and loss but it didn’t drain my energy. The deep, slicing pain in my heart softened to a dull ache. My mind began to clear as panic and despair began to subside. Things began to look as though they would be alright. I could just be there in the void, sit quietly at the bottom of that black sea, the turbulence far above me and do what was in front of me to do. I could look up and see the swirling, angry waters above me but they no longer affected me. It wasn’t a bliss filled pink cloud; there were no rainbows, noisy happy birds or sleek, pristine white unicorns; it was just still, shadowy and silent. I could sleep again and almost immediately the energies that flowed through my life shifted, supporting me, and provided me with a new, darker, quiet buoyancy.
I wish I could say I stayed put in complete trust. I tried to jump back into life with both feet, pick up the ball and take off with it. My natural tendency has always been to bob back up and start swimming toward a new goal regardless of failure or fear. I was immediately smashed back to the beginning. A month or two would go by and I’d try it again only to find I was wrong. This cycle continued for nine months. The challenge is seemed was to not emerge too soon from the Underworld.
I began to understand that making the descent is a process, being in the darkness is a process and making the ascent – slowly coming back- is a process too. If you short circuit any step along the way, you’re going to have to make the journey again- at some time, at some place in your life. I took one such journey when I was 23 and another in my mid-thirties. Once a decade is plenty for me.
I’m mostly an optimist, I enjoy feeling good and I like to see myself as doing fine. To see myself crumble and to see all I knew crumble was painful and humiliating. I got great support from a few of my women friends who told me that it was and would be okay, that I didn’t have to be the strong one this time- the together one. I got that mirrored back at me a lot. I’m always the strong one and I’ve mostly enjoyed to be so to see myself so completely crippled was extremely embarrassing and uncomfortable. I kept telling myself with the encouragement of friends that I wasn’t going to try to pick up the pieces. I wasn’t going to pretend I had it all together. I acknowledged and accepted that I was at the mercy of caprice on the journey I was on.
For some women though, I think the trick is to re-emerge at all. As I experienced my descent into the Underworld, another challenge was not to get stuck there for a decade or the rest of my life but to be present for the process and move with it at an appropriate speed. Not ahead or behind, just present each day, each moment. The confusion comes when you realize something has to die. I am not suicidal by nature, it’s contrary to everything I am. But in my agony, embedded in my despair, I could easily see how some women are wont to kill themselves- Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s an error in logical thought knowing that something desperately wants to die and confusing it with your physical being rather than just that piece of you that needs to transform in order to live instead of just survive. And yet, when you’re filled with terror and despair; when you’ve come completely undone; it’s a far too easy conclusion to arrive at.
Maybe we all have fantasies of aging without a hitch- just doing what we do better, giving and talking as we
please while becoming wise and old. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. Instead, it appears that in order to know and exercise real wisdom, we must first be taken to some Outland, some distant shore far from our comfort zones, far from our accustomed identity. The myth of Inanna teaches that at the deepest point on her journey to the underworld, she met Ereshkigal, the Goddess of the Great Below, who hung her body on a nearby hook to rot. Inanna struggled to keep her soul and body together and was reborn in grace. And didn’t Hecate light the way for Demeter in her search for Persephone? If we want to successfully undertake such a journey, we too must yield into dimensions that are broader than what is reflected to us through the content of our experiences.
Is there any way to prepare for this leap of faith into the darkness? For myself, I’ve found that this depends largely on my willingness to give in and move beyond what I have known. The more I feel satiated with experience, the more I have to reckon with my demons and mistakes throughout the years. I own the pain and humiliation of failure and transform it- create magic in my own life. I am more likely to believe that anything is possible and I can take that leap of faith with relative ease now. Having been to bottom of my darkness and now making my ascent back into light, it is Hecate again, who watches, lights my way, and hears my calls as I walk the Crossroads and come more fully into my own.
When there’s a feeling of bitterness, fear or incompleteness, faith is more difficult to come by yet, by definition faith is based not on proof but devotion-enduring fidelity to what one is bound to by pledge. And what have I pledged to? In my spiritual circles, sisterhood, kith and kin means we our pledge our support to one another in living life to the fullest extent possible. Whatever mistakes, transgressions or omissions we may have made, open disclosure to others and receptivity to their response can help us surrender to some of life’s hardest and most important lessons.