When you go to the deep places, where the dark and the moist and the fetid meet together to Create, something within you stirs. It is probably nameless, dulled by life in cities of concrete, light, noise, politicians and dirty air. It probably scares you when this thing turns over and you suddenly catch glimpses of it in the mirror; sometimes too bright to look at, sometimes so dark a shadow you can’t see it if your gaze is direct. Many of us tend to train our gaze toward the light, keeping buoyant in the ever happy constant optimism and everlasting camp of joy abundance and positive thought regime. This only serves to press down The Other and the effort of always always looking on the bright sides only fuels the dark fire.
In my journey to the dark in me, I discovered a small, broken and withered thing fueled by pain, fear and a bitter angry hatred sour enough to rot my own insides. She stirred and pointed wordlessly at The Truth In Me as I read this article. She wept and screamed and howled as I visited the Witness Blanket in the Hamilton Public Library, an installation to bear stark witness to the plight of the Indigenous children, and their ruptured families upon their forced entry into the Residential Schools where many of them would die or break and I could not unsee. She shuddered with rage and the understanding that I, a good white woman, stand in a position of elevated and unearned privilege built on the broken backs of Anishnaabe men, women and children. I am here in my very sick culture because their very integral culture was broken to pieces. And that is my heritage. It is not possible to be me without their blood staining my feet, their bones tearing my soles. The grief of this unwanted inheritance and the overwhelm of “what do I DO about this?” is enough to be deafening… If not careful it is enough to be defining too. Striking a balance within the cacophony of the cognitive dissonance these two seemingly opposite truths creates is one that can not be done without understanding the nature of The Dark one.
Many fairy tales and myths, likely every major religion, has a story or fable about The Dark Twin. For my purposes, I will share in brief the story of Inanna’s Descent and the discovery of Erishkegal.
Inanna is the Queen of Heaven. She is exalted by her worshipers as the most beautiful and all who meet her or even hear tell of her are instantly in love with her. She is powerful, intelligent, clever, beautiful, kind and wise. In the story of Inanna’s descent, she meets her twin, Erishkegal. Erishkegal is the Queen of the Dark, Queen of Death, Queen of the Underworld. She is Inanna’s other half, her true soul mate. Inanna is called to the underworld by some curiosity or instinct to know where Death goes. As she descends, the guards at the various levels of the Underworld tell her she must leave behind items of her identity; jewels, her crown and robes are left behind as she descends until she is completely naked, only herself, free of the mantles bestowed upon her. Here she discovers her other half, Erishkegal, who is angry; she has been repressed. The people above, who worship Inanna, have lost their respect for death, have lost the understanding of the value of death, of the careful balance that exists between life and death. In their bewilderment of Inanna’s glory that have lost sight of the other side of that glory, the dark and cold of the Underworld. The place where Death goes. And so… Erishkegal has become wretched with the burden of collecting death, the chaff, the waste, the cast off, turning it over into the foundations of life and renewal, but without any of the recognition or gratitude worthy of her. Upon meeting, Erishkegal is angry that Inanna has arrived, for the living can not come here, especially the Queen of Light, Heaven and Life. This is the land of Death and Life can not come here without becoming Death. Inanna understands and comforts Erishkegal. She see’s her plight, she see’s what has become of her, and in Inanna’s own ignorance, the land of Death and it’s Queen have suffered terribly. She understands the necessity of the balance and so her life is given/taken to fill the hole left behind by all the taking of her people, to keep the balance between the worlds. When it comes time for her to return to the surface, she ensures another takes her place, to keep the hole filled. It is decided that for a portion of every year, the Queen of Life will descend to the Land of Death to break bread with her sister, to ensure that Erishkegal is remembered and her task is honoured; during this time the one who hangs in Inanna’s stead is free to return to the land of the living, thus ensuring the balance is maintained, no hole left unfilled.
This story is similar to the mythology of Sedna who, in her pain, recalls the ocean animals to soothe her and so the Inuit Shamans must descend to Sedna and pay her homage, honour her and bring her their love and compassion.
Recently I watched a documentary called Griefwalker about a man named Stephen Jenkinson who also discusses this hole. This hole is how the Queen of the Underworld becomes The Wretch.
Within ourselves, the repression of the dark, of death, of anger; the repression of desire, of instinct, of the WHOLE SELF turns this magnificent being into the whining, scared, raging, bitter, resentful, frigid, paranoid, mistrustful, doubting and pity-begging voice that keeps us small. It stops us from making that piece of art, or truly seeing and accepting all of it and loving it for the mistakes; it stops us from taking that trip because of the worry; stops us from wearing that string bikini because what if no one will love me in it; it stops us from living our full selves because, obviously, our full selves are not good enough. The other side of our moons are not worthy of praise or being seen. The other side of our selves are not palatable and so better left buried.
Steven Jenksinson says you can not love until you can love the whole of a thing, including it’s end. You can not love until you have learned to love the things that do absolutely nothing for you. Loving the stuff that gives you pleasure is easy; loving the lovable is easy. Can you love the ugly? The broken? Can you love Death?
I have been swimming deeper and feeling the heavy blanket of depression that is the signature of The Wretch’s presence and this time, I am able to see her. For all of her. As my other half. She is The Guardian of The Dark and needs restoration to her proper station. She is the source of all life, and the place where death goes. She turns over what is left and makes it anew. And she is unable to return to this status herself because she believes herself unworthy of my whole self.
I have been seeing a lot of wretchedness in our world. It comes in the shape of police brutality, racism, classism, sexism and homophobia. It comes in the shape of destruction of nature, that thing that we are inextricably part of. It comes in the shape of rape and domestic violence and child homelessness. And this wretchedness is born of the lack of knowing who we really are in our fullness, a lack of embracing The Wretch as The Guardian of The Dark. It is born of the hole vaguely shaped like a soul within ourselves.
And so now, I am poised to begin the process of further integrating her. How gently I must handle her! The offal I have dumped on her, with only shreds of light and love, has eaten away at her. She is sick with loathing and terror. She is hungry for so much love and acceptance. To make space for her at the table is to eat graciously with the stink of rot filling my nose. To sleep with her in my bed is to cuddle next to the damned and the dead and share my warmth with her. To embrace her is to learn to love all the things about myself I’d rather murder and leave in the grave at the bottom of the ocean…
She is ready to rise, and I am ready to bring her up. I can sit with her and hear her moans and keep her company and let her know that she is seen, heard and respected. A space has been made for her at the table.