There’s a place I encountered on a recent journey that keeps calling me to return, in daylight and dream alike, for deeper insight into these times.
This journey begins next to my sacred tree where I am standing and warming myself by a fire. The spirit guide, a black snake, comes forward to take me on an underworld journey.
Sometimes black snakes come to take my clients on journeys as well, though they aren’t always welcomed. After all, aren’t black snakes evil?
Antipathy to the color black—and to snakes—illumines just how uncritically our culture has adopted the symbolic vocabulary of Christianity.
The color black is associated with humility, health, wholeness, and fertility among my Basque ancestors. The opposite of black—the color of life—is not white but instead the color red.
According to the wisdom of these indigenous European elders, red is the color of pride, fever, lack, and barrenness. This is no simple inversion of the color-coding that informs our culture but rather represents an entirely different and pre-Christian constellation of symbolic wisdom.
We build hierarchies of meaning—and whole social orders—from our understandings of color and their oppositions. To free ourselves from the colonizing impulses of Christianity, we would do well to revisit the belief that any color, or creature, is inherently evil. Whenever I see a black snake in these realms, I know that I am on the path of life-giving insight.
As I follow my guide through a series of tunnels in the earth, I notice that there is a faint orangish glow, an echo of light, that enables me to see in these underground realms.
Soon we enter a cave that is almost entirely filled with fire. This is the source of the mysterious light in the underground tunnels. My guide isn’t interested in stopping or slowing down here, even for a moment. Instead, she presses on, staying close to the rock wall at the edge of the cave, and then disappears down a darkened tunnel to the right.
I grab a stick from the ground, plunge it into the fire, and then hurry to catch my guide before she disappears completely from view.
The tunnels seem to be getting larger now, or perhaps I am getting used to the traveling within these networks of constraint, much as we have grown accustomed to the limitations of pandemic and quarantine. Whatever the case, I am feeling more confident in my ability to navigate these pathways with the help of my torch and guide.
Then, suddenly: the air changes. The path stops. I manage to catch myself just before taking another step. The familiar landscape of restriction and containment has ruptured into a land of bewildering immensity.
Here, at the end of the path, with neither stars nor horizon visible, there is no sight to orient me, only sound.
The resonance of this place suggests the presence of a massive cliff rising up behind me, towering over the scene. Just ahead, a chasm plunges down deep into the earth.
My torch, representing human ingenuity, tool-making, and intellect, is of little use here, except to illumine the narrow band of solid ground before me. By its light, I can see the black snake arranging herself into a coil at the edge of the cliff.
The scale and size of this place give me vertigo. I take my seat, gingerly, in the dark.
This place is a metaphor for the times in which we now find ourselves.
In the visible world: pandemic, flood, fire, and ice. In the unseen world: the path, as we know it, ends here.
What does it mean to reach the end of the path? This is what I have been turning over in my mind as I listen here at the cliff’s edge.
The fires, the arctic storms, the pandemic itself, are telling us that we have reached the logical limit of controlling and rearranging the natural world to our liking. Any attempt to move forward from here on the path of business-as-usual is lethal.
Yet, there remains a small band of time, a sliver of solid ground, upon which we still stand.
The scale of the energies at play in our world is downright overwhelming. Unforgiving cliff walls rise up behind and plunge down before us. This moment is so much bigger than we are.
This is how the ancient ones felt when faced with the raw power of nature, the absurd task of feeding and clothing and protecting their people, and the realization that a lifetime is but a small sliver of ground in the face of eternity.
But at the end of the path, a narrow patch of ground remains. It is small, precious, and precarious, as ever has been the case.
Spirit’s question for us at the end of the path is this: what do you want to do from here?
What liberating, scary, delicious gift have you been waiting to bestow upon the world?
Whatever it is, whatever your circumstance, now is the moment to begin.
If you would like to explore the place at the end of the path and your part in the larger story of these times, this might be a good time to book a shamanic guidance session: http://gaiashamanism.com/shamanic-guidance/
Or you might want to consider embarking on a larger journey of four journeys for $200 with the Wayfinding package: http://gaiashamanism.com/shamanic-wayfinding/