July 5, 2023

 It’s not news to anyone who has been reading these entries that I carry my own racism–and plenty of other -isms–-with me on my journeys into the Imaginal. This is part of the reason I feel uncomfortable with some of the cross-cultural experiences; I’m extremely mindful of the ‘white savior’ myth. 

I get the sense, however, that race isn’t the determinant for the experiences in the Imaginal. Rather, the selector seems to be, “We need someone with your development and you’re available, so please come and lend your assistance.” Most of the time, it doesn’t matter that I’m a white, middle class, middle-aged male from the United States. There are some circumstances, though, when my race, gender and privilege from the physical world do make a difference, either positively or negatively. Sometimes, it’s important that I have that background, mostly for the benefit of the person I’m assisting. Other times, it’s a bit like sandpaper and I can tell my presence is grating to the one I’m helping…but it can’t be helped; I just happen to be available. Perhaps in these circumstances, it’s the other who needs to look at their prejudices?


Today, I saw a rocky island rising out of a sickly green mist. The mist reminded me of the River Lethe; i.e., the fog of forgetfulness. Anything that entered the mist would forget everything. This seemed to be a good defense, keeping the rocky island safe from intruders. And, as the vision resolved further, I realized that this hunch was the truth; i.e., the mist was there to conceal and protect this holy place.


This rocky ‘island’ was actually part of an escarpment. It was connected to the main body of the escarpment by a narrow, rocky ledge. The ledge and indeed the entire escarpment was covered in tropical greenery. As the vision panned out, it was breathtaking. The escarpment became an enormous, watery plateau with a myriad of brilliant blue rivers spilling over the edge. The water fell over the edge into a black abyss filled with green mist. The land of this ‘delta’ region was rich and fertile and there were innumerable animals living there. Flocks of birds flew overhead. There were herds of elephants and hippopotami and many, many other animals. People lived there, too, in simple villages.


This was an Eden or a heaven, depending on your view. It reminded me of a similar place I visited a year ago that was like an Eden for Native American tribes.  It seems that there may be innumerable Edens in the Imaginal. They seem to be more or less permanent and are generally protected areas. You can’t just wander into them; you have to be invited.


After receiving the stunning aerial view of the place, I landed in a small village and met three beings that I recognized to be gods. They were two men and a woman and it was the woman who spoke to me, although all three were generally friendly and welcoming.


What could I do but bow to them? I felt like an interloper there and told them so. They seemed to find this amusing. “You wouldn’t be here if we didn’t ask you to come,” the woman said. “You are no interloper.”


I still felt out of place because of my white skin and pointed this out. The gods found this amusing as well. “Your skin is not white,” she said. “We see it as pure black.” This was true. My skin was deep black, the black of the Absolute. More than black, actually. It was radiant blackness filled with sparkling stars. “This is why we called you,” the goddess continued. “We need people like you. If you’re willing, may we make use of you from time to time?”


I was crying by this point. It felt weird to be asked this question; just as it felt weird to be a white person being asked by African deities for assistance. (Remember what I said about the ‘white savior’ trope?) I was keenly aware of my inner white supremacist. This is the part of me that was fed by my culture to believe in the superiority of white people and the insignificance of all others. It’s certainly not a part of me that I’m proud of but it is nonetheless present in my experience. I can’t pretend it’s not here.


Getting back to the gods and their request: Of course, I was willing to help and immediately agreed. No sooner had the words left my mouth than I found myself sinking into that deep, rich, fertile, black soil. Soon, I’d been completely swallowed by the earth. I discovered that I was standing in the midst of an underground cavern; its walls were rocky and covered with a white-silver webbing. This was the webbing of an immortal spider, an enormous creature the size of a bus. You’d think it would be terrifying to encounter such a being but it was clearly benevolent and welcomed me into its lair.


She was a beautiful creature, this spider. Her huge body was covered in white fuzz and she reached out to me with her long forelegs, placing them gently on my shoulders. Moving her head toward me, I saw that her fangs dripped a golden, honey-like substance. It dripped down upon my head and shoulders and I tasted it, finding it to be sweet rather than poisonous.


“Take it,” she said and I cupped my hands, collecting that ‘honey’ until it overflowed from my palms. When I lowered my head to drink it, she corrected me, “It’s not for you, silly. It’s for her. Take it to her and let her drink.”


Chagrined, I lifted my head from my cupped hands and looked around for the person I was supposed to offer the honey to. The huge spider receded, leaving me alone in the cavern with a myriad of her offspring. They were quite cute, being the size of small dogs, and scurried about the floor at my feet.


I walked carefully through the cavern, passing through rooms full of egg cases. There seemed to be many people covered in webbing as well, stuck to the ceiling or the walls or the floor. The spider’s children led me to the body of a young woman. Like the others, her body was covered in white spider silk. As I approached, the ‘little’ spiders pulled the webbing away from her lips and I leaned over her, pouring the ‘honey’ into her mouth.


She awoke almost as soon as the liquid touched her lips and gave me a radiant smile. With the help of the spiders, I freed her from her cocoon and helped her up. Again, I felt extremely weird being the white guy who helps free the black woman from the underworld. Why me of all people?


I led her through the cave. Eventually, the cave mouth opened into a familiar (and also anachronistic) location: The Crossroads. One would expect the Crossroads to be different when you’re in Imaginal Africa but, no, it was much the same as ever. There was snow covering the skeletal trees and everything was shrouded in icy mist. The Woman in White was there waiting for us. I was surprised that she appeared more Native American than African with brown skin and a white coyote headdress. But what do I know? I never expected things to be quite so, um, multicultural here. I mean, I know the Imaginal encompasses all human cultures plus so much more. I guess I just didn’t expect to have those cultures mix quite like this.


You would think that the woman–who had been dead and was now brought back to life–would be the one having trouble adapting after being awakened by a white guy pouring spider venom down her throat while she’s wrapped in a cocoon. But, no, she was fine. I was the one having a problem. 


As soon as the woman thanked me for helping her, I had a meltdown, a crisis brought about by my feeling of being an impostor. Who was I to be doing any of this? It’s one thing to be called to help people who are more or less like me but why this woman? Why Africa? I don’t need to go into detail because I’m sure you’re aware of the sordid history of white colonialism in Africa. Africans don’t owe us white people anything; it’s the reverse, we owe them everything. This feeling of unworthiness was almost too much to bear and I couldn’t stop crying. I was a mess!


Both the Woman in White and the formerly dead woman seemed to find my breakdown amusing. The Woman in White said, “You know you weren’t chosen because of the color of your skin, right? Your skin color has nothing to do with why you’re here.”


“I know that but I still don’t get why I’m here!” I insisted, not willing to let myself off the hook so easily. “Why me? I’m still a racist, full of all sorts of bias. It’s with me all the time, it lives in my heart. I’m aware of it but am powerless to do anything about it.”


“Have you thought that maybe that’s why you’re here?” the Woman replied. “Maybe it’s because of your heart? Maybe it’s because your heart is open and you are aware of what’s inside it? If you weren’t aware of your irrational hatred and prejudice, that would be a problem. But you are aware and it helps to make you who you are. It helps you to be here. To be open. And, most importantly, to be connected to everything: The best, the worst and everything in between. It’s all open to you and you are open to it all. That’s why you have been chosen. That’s why you’re here.”


I opened my mouth to protest but the Woman in White and her charge were already on their way. They looked back and smiled, waving, before they were swallowed by the mist. I was left at the Crossroads, keenly aware of my whiteness and my prejudice…and the inexplicable fact that my body was pitch black.


***


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