The Crystal Cave Portal
By: Ali Harrison
Solstice Greetings as we move toward midwinter and the lengthening dark. I am Ali, the priestess holding the portal of the crystal cave in the Otherworld Crone Conference next summer, and I want to introduce you to this threshold as a way in.
The en-darkening time between autumn equinox and winter solstice, naturally pulls us into descent into the underworld. A metaphor for going down into the darkness, into the mystery of what is not known. The unlit regions our unconscious, the shadow realm of our psyche where like Inanna, we encounter all those parts that we have split off, repressed, disowned exiled parts of ourselves that we have not integrated. An invitation to shadow hunting, an opportunity for soul retrieval, a journey to befriend the dark sparkling void, and listen to the still small voice of Her whispered wisdom within.
I have the good fortune to live in Derbyshire, a landscape sacred to the Goddess Brigantia, at the foot of Mam Tor and the limestone cave complexes in and around Wynnets pass in Castleton. The caves here are the contain blue john crystal, found nowhere else in the world, and descending into the ‘cave of dreams’ is an exquisite journey into a physical other world of glistening wet rock formations and glittering crystal veins. Nor am I far from Nottingham ‘the city of caves’, or Cresswell Crags, a beautiful limestone gorge riddled with caves that were inhabited 50,000 years ago before the last Ice Age where the only rock art in Britain can be found.
The Crystal Cave is a portal into silent darkness from which the deep receptive embodied feminine wisdom, comes through. It is a place of total surrender, where there is nothing to do and nowhere to go but down into the black velvet depths of Her. In my life I have had several initiations through this portal and have each time come back with precious gifts from the gentle but uncompromising hands of the Crone. You may be familiar with this dark passage of suffering and loss, of fear, aloneness, the shattering of hope and immersion into despair. It is no secret that Journeying into Her depths brings us to our knees where nothing less than an unprecedented breaking open of the heart is met by Her sweet and terrible embodied Presence.
Journeying down and in, carrying a tiny star of conscious awareness to illuminate the darkness, she will meet us, holding our distress in Her enveloping listening presence. It is only in these times of utter defeat and total surrender that Her darkness can kindle within us a compassionate inner light, reflecting in sparkling deep blue crystal, transforming the cold stone into Her night-sky body of crystalline stars.
If you are willing, I will guide you into the landscape, the psychology and mythology of caves as a sacred portal where we might encounter the ancient stone, bone, crone wisdom of your inner world, and the Otherworld.
At this time of the year, what better Goddess to invite us into the Otherworld than Sheelagh Na Gig. The bald and bony crone, with her legs spread wide calling us into the mystery of the dark cave beyond this everyday reality.
What a challenge to dare to enter through this yonic womb-tomb portal; the birth canal into this world, and the dark tunnel out of it, a journey on into the unknown beyond. What is the meaning of this contradictory and paradoxical iconic image so often erected in the masonry of church buildings or high up in castle walls?
Her body obviously that of an old women, yet her exaggerated vulva, plump and fulsome is offering some otherworldly wisdom to our ancestors. Was she a talisman for fertility, a safe passage through childbirth, or is she holding a greater mystery, an invitation into the womb tomb of the Goddess? A reminder that everything comes from the womb of the Goddess and in time each of us must return, journeying into Her sacred, transformational darkness between this world and whatever lies beyond? A portal into the Otherworld that only our Spirit can take.
Dare to look closely, both Her eyes and Her vulva are wide open. See her bony ribs she is ancient yet very alive, and shows us that we need to stay awake, keep your eyes open because the darkness beyond is not one in which we sleep, we must learn to see in the dark. What dreams and visions, what shadow parts of the psyche, will she illuminate within us, as we enter the velvet black of Her glittering halls under her penetrating gaze?
She invites into the imaginal realm, not just into a different way of seeing, but an altogether different way of Being. She calls us down and in, to experience the world, and ourselves as part of it, as ensouled, interconnected and on an evolutionary, and therefore purposeful journey toward wholeness. She holds polarity, light/ dark, life /death, youth/ eldership, imminence /transcendence, sacred and profane, not as dualistic opposites, but part of a unitary Oneness of Being, best represented in the spiral that leads between the worlds.
The mouth of the cave whispers with the voices of our long past, of our ancestors, of the mystery of hidden knowledge, of secrets not yet revealed. Can you feel the allure of its hidden depths calling you inside, into the unexplored caverns of your inner world? Can you feel the quiet safety of the holding darkness, the secure womb of the earth where you can whisper your deepest questions into the listening silence of our ancient grandmothers?
- What can we learn as we enter the void beyond?
- What we find beyond this threshold depends on how we approach it.
- What emotion arises as you contemplate this invitation?
With trepidation perhaps, or curiosity, with gratitude for the sparkling darkness, a place of rest, of dreams and visions, of communication with the ancestors. As priestess holding this portal I invite you to come with me on this vision quest into the Earth cave labyrinth of the Otherworld.
Let us start with stone, the most ancient of beings on our Mother Earth. You might have one in your collection, picked up instinctively on a beach somewhere. You felt its call as you bent to reach for it, admired its beauty, shape, colour, the way it fitted into your hand and put you in mind of its deep and ancient origins.
Stone, the crone bones of our Mother, reminding us of time scales beyond our imagining. Holding your stone as a physical anchor, open yourself to the possibility of listening to this old companion, to the possibility of learning from its long time existence, feeling her weight in your hand, her texture, and using your imagination and each of your senses, find a way to come into relationship with this stone, let her tell you her story and her place in the web of life on this planet. Take your time let your stone become a comforting familiar, a stable and reassuring friend to take with you on this journey, to remind you of your life in this world as you prepare to enter her world of ancient rock and darkness.
Holding her close whisper your intention for taking this other world journey into the mystery, breathe in her stability and ancient presence and drop into the imaginal realm as you ask her to guide you into a cleft in the rock, an Earth yoni inviting you into its dark passage way between this and the other world.
The entrance is narrow leading ever more into the darkness, as you descend. Your physical eyes are no use here, so you stop to reorientate yourself, in your hand the life force in the crystal matrix of your stone has its own inner star light that grows brighter as the darkness thickens, and with gratitude for this tiny light and curiosity you make your way down and in.
The passage is long and wet, its quietness enfolds you, now there is only the sound of your own tread and the mesmerising slow drip of water. Under your hand you feel tiny fossils, countless sea creatures that swam here before the ice age. Time becomes meaningless in this cave which whispers to you of rain that fell thousands of years ago onto the surface of the mountain above you, percolating down through to wet your hand here now. With each step you descend thousands of years into the deeper primordial darkness, where now you stand alive and breathing.
Slow down, take time for these timeless realities to penetrate your consciousness. You are not the first visitor to pass through this portal and won’t be the last.
From this moment of your brief life on the earth time stretches far back into the past and as far forward into the future. You can trust your Ancient Earth Mother to be here, as she was for the cave bear and our first ancestors that she sheltered. They have left their marks, Ibis and reindeer, bison and handprints, beautiful images never illuminated by sunlight, etched by firelight in this potent darkness. An Otherworld of shamanic dreaming, perhaps of initiation, the mystery of their meaning reaching through to touch our hearts and evoke wonder.
The quite darkness is beginning to work its magic on you as it pulls you back before the time when humans walked the earth, before sea creatures, before vegetation of any sort when the Earth was young, when rocks and minerals were the only living ancestors. In the timeless stillness, you imagine you hear the slow-time deep throated song of the underworld, ancient groan of tectonic plates pushing together birthing, soft far off rumble of volcanoes oozing magma from the liquid heart of the Earth, mineral forming over aeons, worked into veins of sparkling crystal in Her slow skilled hands. Down here the world is sung into being, as the Ancient Mother of all spins out spirals of life from the womb of the world. You have crossed the threshold into this dark crystal Otherworld where your upper world senses, are no use to you. Where your possessions, reputation, achievements, hopes and fears are an irrelevance. You have shed them as you have descended, and now stand empty, expectant in the darkness. You have entered the dreaming void, the great beyond beneath, and you are not afraid.
And then she speaks, you hear with your inner ear, the first sounds of life, and you remember the fluid darkness at your beginning, your original innocence forming the embryo of your existence. Held and nurtured by the warm maternal heartbeat pulse of blood in the umbilical cord, the ever-present heartbeat of the earth. We have all floated in that warm holding of potential, all been nourished and held in the comfort of its watery safety, and all been birthed into an external world of light and sound with its sensual pleasures and pain, its hopes, joys and broken promises.
- Can you touch back into that original innocence?
- That hopeful potential that is your life in the light?
- And wonder at the mystery of your incarnation, the intention you came in with and have maybe forgotten?
Let yourself be rocked in the liquid darkness, the sweet holding safety of Her dark womb.
The still silent darkness here presses against your blindness and the edges of your skin, the sensory deprivation softens perception, loosing your sense of skin boundary, of inside, and outside, what is and what is not you. Only the breath anchors you in your body, you merge with the thick velvet darkness dissolving the edges of your being. The sensation of expanding and floating pleasantly disorientates and expands you. Stay here in this dreaming disembodied void space to encounter the mystery of the Otherworld Crone and the dream beings that make themselves known to you .. what visions do they draw for you in the dark surface of your open mind. How do they touch your open heart?
As your courage grows so does the starlight from the stone in your hand. Around you light catches the surface of the rock, and you become aware of the great expanse of cavern that is gradually emerging around you from the darkness. The walls are sparkling with a million facets of crystal quartz, amplifying, and expanding your tiny light. The accumulated charge is palpable, electrifying, you feel it lightly prickling the surface of your skin, opening your pores, curling into your lungs through your breath, unfurling an energy coiled in your spine, snaking up through your sex, your heart and mind expanding you out into the sparkling cavern, rooting you down into Her ground of Being. Curling into yourself like a seed, waiting for Her awakening.
The Crystal Cave contains the oldest and most mythopoetic recorded story of the Goddess. Inanna the queen of the upper world descends into the underworld cave to find wholeness. There in her shadow sister Ereshkigal’s Otherworld kingdom of the dark emotions, Inanna experiences first hand grief, despair, loneliness, rage and death. It is a journey we each take at some point in our lives, some, many times. Unlike the patriarchal ‘Heros Journey’, this ancient story is not one of the hero rising to a challenge to fight and lay claim to a power or a boon. This is a soul story of curiosity, of a willingness to suffer, to surrender, a story of defeat even. It is a story for our time, and of a Goddess who chooses to descend, to be made naked, to unify herself with total vulnerability, with all that feels broken, despairing, lost. Hanging in the darkness she comes to experience the wisdom of the heart broken open, and in doing so finds what is whole and unbroken.
In those times when life pulls us into the underworld, we can run, repress, or resist, at each of the gates that ask us to let go and feel the loss. Or listening deeply to our heartache, we can choose to proceed as she does, into a deeper relationship with the darkness, with our soul.
Brought to our knees we accept the intimate, dark embrace of Cave Crone. In the stillness we hear the steady drip dripping of her empathic tears, dropping tenderness into our wounding. As she wraps her thick cloak of compassion around the grief of our suffering, we are opened to deeper depths reflected in her dark crystal mirror. Dissolving into Her presence we receive her jewel qualities of deep listening, acceptance, and compassion, and the wisdom of wholeness that comes from tending the breaking heart. Only in this total and annihilating extremity, can the split be healed. Only then, when the light of consciousness illuminates the sparkling darkness, can Inanna/Ereskagil unite and emerge whole and unbroken from the crystal cave.
I leave you with this poem by Rashani Rea, which in my mind is the promise of the crystal cave portal. If we dare to enter its sparkling darkness and there find the holding wisdom of the dark Crone Goddess. Then the light returns, and blinking in the relief, we can give thanks for the journey …
There is a brokenness
Out of which come the unbroken
Out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow, beyond all grief
Which leads to joy and a fragility
Out of who’s depth emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
Too vast for words
Through which we pass with each loss
Out of who’s darkness we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry
Deeper than all sound, who’s serrated edges cut the heart as
we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing