Thursday, 3 October 2013
Journey to the Dark Goddess
We want rampant economic growth, seasonal produce available all year round (and perfect, of course), lights on 24 hours a day, success, progress, advance - and, with our undiminished desire to raise global temperatures, a sort of never-ending summer.
This is all wrong. There is no light without darkness, no summer without winter. Action and reaction are equal and opposite. To go forwards, we must first step back.
Somewhere in our past, we forgot all that. Our thinking was corrupted. Any sense that we are losing, suffering, sinking became stigmatised (we see it today in Britain, most forcefully, in the ever-growing discrimination against people with physical disabilities or mental health issues). Somehow, it became "wrong" to be in a dark place.
Jane Meredith's Journey to the Dark Goddess, subtitled "How to Return to Your Soul" and published by Moon Books, illustrates why such perverse ways of thinking are so inappropriate. Because what the people of the ancient world knew only too well is that we must honour the darkness as much as we welcome the light. We must embrace death with as much reverence as we greet life. Nakedness, loneliness, illness are all valid and necessary aspects of existence.
Or, if you will, we need to be reminded that recession is as important as growth, darkness as vital as light, regression as inevitable as progress.
Meredith focuses her investigation on three ancient goddess myths - that of the Sumerian Inanna (Ishtar to the Babylonians) and the Greek myths of Psyche and Persephone. Each one involves a descent into the Underworld, the place of death and decay, which is also a place of rebirth.
The book takes a logical, practical approach to the necessary experience of going down into our innermost selves - the descent, that is, of the goddess to the place of no return. In four major sections, Meredith guides the reader through the period of Preparation, the process of Descent, the time spent in the Underworld, and the Ascent or return to the upperworld of "ordinary" life.
This is not a book which can be read quickly, and there is purpose and design at work in that. Meredith uses some clever tricks to relay her messages, repeating each one - as it were - in different ways. Myths are related, personal experiences described, past rituals recounted, future rituals mapped out. These changes of tone or approach break up the material, making it easier to swallow and reinforcing the importance of each stage in the journey. At the same time, each subsection feels as though it should be assimilated and digested before moving onto the next. The book itself is a process of descent and ascent, of going down and rising up, of plunging into the darkness before coming back to the light.
As any good book on what is essentially a religious theme should, Journey to the Dark Goddess prompts a sort of ongoing evaluation of the reader's life. This is intentional, on Jane Meredith's part. How much of your life have you spent (unknowingly) in the Underworld? Are you there now? At what moments did your life fall apart - and did you fight the descent, the "call" of the Underworld, or did you simply vanish into the abyss? Did you try to return, only to find - many months later - that you never really made it back?
These are big questions for the reader to consider. Fortunately, Meredith provides guidelines for several uncluttered rituals which can help, and which together amount to a deliberate and controlled re-enactment of the journey of descent and ascent. She invites the reader to replicate the sacrificial journey of Inanna, shedding seven layers of pride and defensiveness as she ventures into the unknown. Thus, the reader is offered the chance to cleanse herself, sloughing off the numerous skins we all wear, until there is nothing left. From that position of emptiness, nakedness, nothingness - symbolised by the goddess hanging dead on a meat hook, her infernal sister suffering the pangs of her rebirth - a stronger, wiser, better adjusted self can emerge.
Ultimately, Journey to the Dark Goddess is a practical guide, and so best recommended to someone who is ready to undertake the descent and/or to work through any past issues with the "Underworld" part of our nature. It also has a value for the storytellers among us, for the pattern of preparation - descent - "death" - ascent is a perennial model for the journey of the hero.
At the same time, though, the book serves as an excellent reminder of how skewed our thinking is these days. Because we have been taught (by religion, by politics) only to look on the bright side, to go for growth, to eschew anything "dark" and "infernal", we have ruined ourselves, our families, our environment. The Dark Goddess is angry. To some extent, she always is. But if we try to ignore her, we end up worse off.
A timely text, then - for alongside the personal journey, the necessary descent into the place of death, decay, darkness, from which we can come back if we know how, there is the wider issue: that, for as long as we ignore and reject the darkness of the Underworld and its reigning deities, those forces will always catch us unawares. And we have been trying to ignore and reject the goddess for far too long now, at a massive and ever-increasing economic and planetary cost.
Time, then, to give the Dark Goddess her due - both for our individual health and sanity, and for that of the planet itself. In this book, Jane Meredith shows us how to make a practical start.