Working With the Dark Waters of Autumn
It is no secret or surprise that fall is probably most people’s favorite season, and it’s easy to see why: the beautiful changing colors of trees and falling leaves, the relief of cooler weather (in many regions), seasonal treats made from pumpkins and apples and, definitely not least of all, the ubiquitously popular holiday of Halloween. Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, originated as the pagan Irish holiday Samhain (SOW-in), which occurs when the veil between this world and the world of the dead is thinnest, and the spirits roam freely. Keeping unwanted spirits away resulted in enduring customs such as costumes and lanterns carved out of turnips (which would evolve into carved pumpkins, which Irish immigrants found much more readily available in the New World in the 19th century), as well as leaving out treats to placate the wandering souls.
There is certainly something in the autumn air itself that seems to testify to the inherent magic and mystery of the season. I know I’m not alone among worshipers of nature and practitioners of magic in feeling like I come back to life in the fall and have much more energy and motivation for journeying, rituals, meditation and magic. Summer stifles and suppresses me on every level, and just makes me cranky. Being fair-skinned and blue-eyed (descended almost exclusively from peoples of the far north) makes me physically sensitive to heat and bright light, and everything else about my personality means that darker, quieter, mystical surroundings are much more conducive to my magic and creativity.
I am especially and unsurprisingly appreciative of and tuned in to the watery energies of fall. Anyone who practices the more common forms of western magic or is familiar with classical occult correspondences knows that the element of water is assigned to the season of fall and the western quarter. While water in her myriad forms is obviously applicable to any direction or time of year, fall does seem to be the most fitting to water in her most common and basic forms.
I’ve come to see the Underworld as the main bridge between the element and the season. One of the more popular and detailed underworld concepts is that of Greek mythology, the realm of Hades which contains five rivers. One of those rivers (Styx or Acheron) is crossed by newly dead souls with the help of Charon, the ferryman. Each of the rivers’ names is based on an emotion associated with death. This is consistent with water being symbolic of emotions, and death is a very emotional thing.
An even more watery underworld is that of Adlivun, the realm of the Inuit goddess Sedna. She dwells in a whale bone palace at the bottom of the sea, to which she sank and transformed into a goddess and the mother of all warm-blooded marine creatures. There is no shortage of emotion in her dark tale or in the sea itself.
I recently discovered a poet named Adrienne Rich. I did so by stumbling upon one of her books on Ebay while searching for something completely different. I was characteristically attracted to the title of the book – “Diving Into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972”, a winner of the National Book Award. I looked up the poem and read it online, loved it, and then ordered the book. I’d like to use this poem and the analogy it presents as a foundation for the kind of personal shadow work and other rituals of self-healing and discovery that are ideal to do this time of year.
Having first read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
board the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
We all have wrecks behind and beneath us; our own personal Underworld. I still bear the scars and anger of many a wreckage, most of them in very recent years – the abuse and betrayal of my first husband, the betrayal and abandonment of multiple people I thought were my friends, and even of a few family members (as one intimately acquainted with water, I can promise you blood is not thicker).
Earlier this year I revisited the shaman who had done a healing for me a few years ago, right after I left my first husband. When I saw her for that second healing she said that she sensed a lot of anger in me. I do still carry a lot of anger and pain and even hatred. Hatred which I know has at times been a poison in my life. As I read this poem, it occurs to me that there is more work I have to do to continue to heal and let go, that there is more that I have to understand about myself, what happened to me in the past, and what it has led to – the good, the bad and the ugly.
I think of the tools she mentions in the first stanza – the book of myths (one’s own history, or an imagined version of that history?), the camera (our eyes? Our intuition or memory?), the knife and the black body armor (protection, both offensive and defensive?) and immediately I imagine journeys and rituals involving introspection and shadow work, which we do not aboard a sunlit schooner, but all alone in the dark.
The third stanza reminds me of the descent into one’s subconscious or the underworld…
First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
And the fourth tells me what, perhaps, my (and anyone’s) purpose could be this fall…
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
the words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
We all have damages, but so much damage can and often only does lead to certain treasures. Do we have the courage to dive down and recover those treasures? To pluck them out of the wreckage and rise back to the illuminated surface with them?
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
We know the story, we have the memories. We find ourselves down there. We must find our real, true selves; the thing itself, and not the myth of the thing, not the myth of ourselves. This age has made it all too easy for many people to live as a myth and not as a genuine reality. Through social media, probably more than anything else, people now create new myths, new and false versions of people that don’t actually exist but desperately want to be believed in.
It was exactly this kind of personal “mythologizing” that was actually a significant factor in certain betrayals I experienced, when one person in particular was forced to confront the reality of herself and her life which was not the myth she created and presented to everyone else. She had pulled my (now) ex-husband into that myth but it could not sustain itself, as nothing false can, and created the worst and most painful wreck of my life.
But I found treasures in that wreck, and there are probably more yet to be recovered. We all have treasures we need to recover from our wrecks and fall creates a wonderful, calming, releasing time to do just that.
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
© Meredith Everwhite 2021 – All Rights Reserved
Poem “Diving Into the Wreck” © Adrienne Rich 1972