edited and reprinted from her blog “Sacred Cells” at the SageWoman channel on PaganSquare.
A light rain falls in these California redwoods. I am walking back to my nest, the VW camper van that is my home for the next week at Witchcamp. It is dark: no Moon is visible, though Her fullness above the clouds makes Her presence felt, tugging on every cell of my body’s oceans. It is not a cold night, damp but surprisingly mild. I am alone in the sweet darkness, walking to the edge of camp after the opening ritual. I am still barefoot, shoes in hand, and, instead of taking the bridge, I wade into the creek. It flows around my ankles and halfway up my calves. It is also surprisingly warm and so I stop and turn off my flashlight and let my skin do what it does best: feel. There are no more shoes for me at Witchcamp, this is too powerful a place, too powerful an experience to miss anything through the soles of my soul.
The next day someone asks, “Don’t those rocks at the stream’s edge hurt to walk on?” I reply, “I go barefoot a lot. I have Hobbit feet.” But the truth is
that if I walked on those rocks the way I do in shoes, it would hurt. The
faster pace and heavier trod would bruise me. Yet, because I am barefoot, I
walk slower, lighter, with greater intention. And, because I am barefoot, I
don’t have to avoid the mud puddles in those ﬁrst few days of camp before the sun ﬁnally dries out the ground mid-week. I can, with glee and full abandon, splash right in and feel the mud squish between my toes.
As the week progresses we dive into the myth of the Sumerian goddess
Inanna. Together we descend into the underworld realm of her sister, the
goddess Ereskigal. I walk Her descent barefoot. In the story, Ereskigal strips
her sister of something at each of the seven gates to the underworld until
Inanna ﬁnally arrives naked. As we wade deeply in the story, I too relive a
time thirteen years ago when my life was stripped away. The memory is vivid as if it were seeping up from the forest floor through the cells of my soles.
In the myth, motive is unclear, but there is a breach in the sisters’
relationship and Ereskigal casts upon Inanna the eye of death and hangs Her
exposed and lifeless. I remember my own experience of leaving a very successful work position in 2000, thinking I was going to move into a PhD program, one that didn’t materialize. Like Innana, my work, my identity, and my sense of carefully constructed ego, were stripped away. I had to ﬁnally face a pattern of depression and relationship choices that had been shadowing me since college. In the story, Inanna hangs there for three days. I hung in the depression long enough for my eyes to become accustomed to the dark - long enough to realize hanging in the dark can actually be a relief, a repose, a rest, and a place where nothing is required of us. I hung in the dark long enough to realize that the dark is no scarier than what’s up there in the light.
In the myth, Inanna has allies and help, as did I. The god Enki sends flies to the underworld to empathize with Ereskigal who is in constant labor giving birth to the dead. Ereskigal, moved by their empathy, wants to gift them. They ask for Innana’s corpse and reanimate Her with the water of life and the food of life. At the next evening’s ritual, still barefoot, I remember, like Inanna, my own reanimation back to life and the sacred circles of folk who brought me aid, support, and tenderness.
The ascent was in some ways harder than the descent for both Inanna and
myself. Slowly and painfully, I transitioned from one kind of life to another,
one kind of way of being in the world into another, and re-emerged into the
upper world of light, changed forever. Now, I love my current life, and found
myself ﬁlled with love and thanksgiving to Ereskigal for the painful and
cathartic process. Working this myth at camp, I re-emerge barefoot, with
gratitude for the life flowing up through my soles into my soul.
My story is common. Most of us ﬁnd resonance in these ancient myths because to walk the Earth is to love and struggle, to lose and ﬁnd, and to discover our own true power often after being stripped of, or letting go of, something or someone. The pantheons of deities continue to infuse our very cells with the wisdom of these stories, spiral turn after spiral turn, as we walk barefoot through time.
BBI Media News
Publishers of Crone, SageWoman, and Witches&Pagans magazines
Lizann Bassham is both an active Reclaiming Witch and an Ordained Christian Minister. She is the founder and director of Front Porch Spirit, a collective of writers, musicians, artists, and performers. She is a retreat and workshop facilitator, author,
playwright, songwriter and musician, and currently working on a poetry series and women’s journal entitled “In Praise of Aging.” She lives in West Sonoma County in Northern California.