Threshold to the Otherworld

Threshold to the Otherworld by Stephanie Thomas Berry a pastel with the silhouette of a great horned owl, a waning moon, and a blooming bloodroot in the foreground

We think of language as a hallmark of our species. Something we have, that other animals do not. A repertoire of vocabulary and a nuance of expression that enables us to communicate our thoughts and feelings so precisely that we can be confident in our capacity to at least be generally understood.

But I’ve come to believe that our reliance on words has narrowed our experience of what communication can actually be. And paradoxically––as a writer––I find the written word is perhaps the narrowest band of communication, lacking the subtlety of voice, the experience of feeling the words.

Language is heard, but it can also be felt. When walking through the forest, or wading in the river, I sometimes feel the language of all manner of things. A boulder, a hemlock tree, the little painted trilliums. It’s a communication that, at its most profound, is almost electric in the way that it pierces the body. This does not happen every day, not by a long shot, but when it does happens, words utterly fail.

The first time I felt this sort of communication was when I was nine or so. It was a winter night, and cold, though not cold enough to freeze the hose on the side of the house, which I needed for my chore––cleaning the cat’s litter box. Perhaps in a haze of procrastination, I found myself gazing at the stars. I marveled at the age of the light that I was seeing. And then I was suddenly aware that this light had consciousness, and that, as I was aware of it, it was also aware of me.

It’s the kind of experience that knocks over your sense of self. Blows out the default circuits.

Surely my thinking mind prepared me for this experience. Would it have happened if I hadn’t been contemplating the different ages of starlight? But my contemplation of this information was not logical, it was rooted in awe.

I wonder if this is perhaps the ground upon which we must stand to open ourselves to language beyond what we have constrained ourselves to believe is possible. Awe. A contemplation of the mystery.

It’s not something our culture really nurtures. I mean, we aren’t building cathedrals to the Divine anymore. But we are building telescopes on holy mountains––the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, or the Mount Graham International Observatory on Big Seated Mountain. We think we can see something in the vast corners of the Cosmos when we can’t even see the holiness of the living Earth.

I think that this telescope-building very precisely illustrates one of our deepest problems. We are looking to science for answers that science quite simply can’t provide. What I mean is, we can’t solve our very big problem of climate change, because it’s not a problem, it’s a wound.

We cannot heal the wounded Earth until we address our spiritual wound of disconnection from the Divine Feminine, the Holy Earth.

I’m not writing this like I know everything, I’m writing this because I had a vision of this owl, this bloodroot. I felt, from the moment this image entered my imagination, that there was something there. A message, of the electric sort. And I did not understand it.

And then, one day, absorbed in the details of those red, red roots, reaching deep into the Earth, it bloomed in my thoughts.

There is the wound, pressed upon our psyches. It can be very hard to see because it’s like the sea we swim in. We want to intellectualize it. Understand it, without feeling it. To live in the human world is to wound the Earth and thus wound ourselves.

And all these things that I practice–-the dreamwork, the writing, the image-making––they all arise from my own healing of this wound. And sometimes it feels like an energy that moves through me, and that can move through us all. The flush you feel, in a moment of awe, or deep connection, like a glimmer of firelight in your bones.

And on the other side of this wound, there is the dark Otherworld of the Earth, and it is within Her Realm that everything we need arises. The Otherworld is maybe what Jung called the collective unconscious, or what is known as the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World, or maybe it’s the Celtic Otherworld. I’ve read all manner of descriptions and definitions and have decided that while it’s nice to read about what great thinkers have written, once again, words fail. It’s an intellectualization of something utterly mysterious, intimate, and alive.

In all of my experiences that touch this mystery, and in the vast library of mystical accounts across the world, the underlying thread is an overwhelming experience of love. That is, again and again, what the trees and the boulders and the rivers and the stars have to say, in their own immediate languages.

Love, and awe. There is the threshold to the Otherworld, the World Soul, the livingness of the Holy Earth, that realm where our wounded spirits are tended to, so gently, so softly. Love and Awe.

I would love to hear your stories of communication with the non-human realm. 

What I find so interesting is that these experiences are often fleeting, but deeply felt. Who spoke to you? What did they have to say? How did it impact your life or perspective? 

I feel like the more that we affirm these sorts of experiences, the more we can share the power and grace of these moments. 

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