Every descent into dark and scary places, every journey into the Underworld involves finding the right medicine, a medicine that can be retrieved and brought back into daily life where it may be put to good use.
Like Inanna or Ishtar, Dionysus, Jesus Christ, Persephone or San Juan de la Cruz, we will choose to harrow hell in order to find healing, wholeness, and true, bone-deep, holiness.
So we go, we go to the crossroads and then we descend down into the belly of the world where we are asked to see not with our eyes but with our hearts, minds, and physical bodies. We learn to see a crisis for what it really is: a choice. And to make that choice wisely and descend into the unknown is often the hardest part requiring the greatest courage
As I see it, many of us, many of you, in our own ways have agreed to this task. We have signed up to look at our own scared and scarred places, and many of us again, through various activisms, have signed up to confront the shadowy realms we find in our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities, our regions, and our countries.
Yes, we say again and again: yes! We will go into the unknown places, and we will do the hard work!
And we do. Bless us and all that we are. There are so many of us, far more than I think are typically recognized or acknowledged.
But in the doing and confronting, in the healing and the dealing, in the hard truth-telling and the brave action-taking, we often forget that the struggle itself is, after all, not the story. The struggle is only one part of a much greater tale. The end, the goal, is the gleaming treasure, the victory, the cup of blessing, the medicine that restores life, not merely the struggle, the bitter, the challenge.
The Underworld in the old stories is traditionally understood as the most dangerous realm not because of what you encounter there. Every demon was, after all, once upon a time, just another angel. No, the Underworld is the most dangerous realm because it is the place that will trip you up and keep you stuck, mired in a swamp of your own waste.
This is why Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell is not the hottest part of the Inferno, but rather colder than cold, frozen in place and time, still and deadly. It is what can happen to each of us as we confront our shadows. We can remain locked in a never-ending struggle, like the figure Sisyphus in the old Greek tales.
But hear this: our lives are not meant to be lived as one eternal and exhausting Sisyphus-like struggle. The underworld, also traditionally known as the realm of illusion, has pulled one over on us, so that every victory we accomplish is not met with a period of peace and rest as it should be, but instead is met with yet another crisis to solve, another journey to go on, another descent ever deeper this time, to make.
Does anyone else feel stifled and even hopeless by this scenario? So what can be done?
The answer is clearly not to go back to the surface and become satisfied with superficial answers and options to tough choices.
No, the answer is found when we look again to the ones whose footsteps we first followed: Inanna or Ishtar, Dionysus, Jesus Christ, Persephone or San Juan de la Cruz. Descent is followed by ascent. We go down so that we might come back up to the topside world, changed and carrying the needed treasure, the life-saving medicine.
Or, if that seems abstract I would say this: in every cave and every underground place physically in the world, you go down far enough and you will hit water. Even and especially in the most dry, deserted, heaven forsaken places this is true, go down far enough and you will find water, you will find life. And when you do finally find it, the water surges and springs up through bedrock and shadow, through cave and root systems it springs up, enlivening and enriching everything it touches until it reaches the surface where it flows and nourishes all creatures and the land upon which they live. The spirit of this life-saving medicine we seek works for us too in just this way.
Even in the places receiving the least light, places which leave us feeling most terrified, most empty, most bereft. Even here, if you will go down far enough, you will find a well of water, a well of life, that given half the chance will spring up, healing what is hurting, mending the broken pieces, calling forth restoration and carrying you back up through the shadowlands into your one, blessed life.
You and I, all of us, have what it takes to confront adversity or necessity. Go down far enough and you’ll find it too. Necessity, once known as an ancient and powerful Goddess, demands from us our most creative and inventive aspects, makes us stronger in ways that matter, and provides the occasion for betterment. She is a whetstone against which we sharpen our minds, a deep note with which we may attune our Souls.
And so for those of you who feel the weight of crisis after crisis, who feel it is always a struggle, always so hard, and rarely getting easier I simply say this: there is a well, deep within. It is time to dig down let it spring forth!
In love and blessing~