Easter is a particularly propitious time for rituals and practices of healing and transformation. It is a time of potential initiation, where we can engage in facing our deepest fears and inner darkness, and emerge renewed and transformed on the other side.
The meaning and ways to use this potential for initiation have long been buried in our culture. However, it is crucial for our growth, both as individuals and as a culture, that we start to resurrect them.
An ancient celebration of rebirth
In the fourth century, Easter was fixed as the first Sunday—following the first full-moon day—after the Vernal Equinox, celebrated on the 21st of March. Like many other Christian holidays, the celebration of Christ's resurrection follows a much more ancient ritual calendar, coinciding with the celebration of the renewal of the forces of nature.
After crucifixion, the story goes, the body of Christ was taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen sheet and placed in a tomb dug out of solid rock, and a stone was rolled against the entrance. This was on a Friday, now called "Good Friday." Three days later, on Sunday, people saw that the door of the tomb had burst open and the body was missing.
Subsequently Jesus appeared before his disciples, having “risen from the dead”. Resurrection conveys that everything does not end with the death of the physical body and that there is no such thing as death for the Soul— It always is.
This story, coming from the mystical early roots of Christianity, is one of an initiation ritual, as practised in ancient cultures
In shamanic cultures, the initiation rituals that bring the right to heal and to be called a shaman were necessarily preceded by ritual death: the symbolic death of the initiate to the old ways of life and personal identity.
The basic idea of these initiation rituals was to break down all the former notions of “self”. This could entail brutal tests of physical and psychic abilities and having every emotional “button” pushed hard. Taunting and spitting on the initiate was common.
The final initiation step was to be buried in the earth for one day and one night and to be reborn without the ego in the morning.
Using the Jaguar God's power to “move between the worlds”
I recently heard the story of a place, in today's Colombia, where a tunnel leads into an underground cave. Going down that passage, one comes face to face with a massive statue of a fearsome, bare-toothed Jaguar God in an aggressive stance.
When early Western explorers first discovered it, the story went, they thought that the Jaguar deity figure would have served to inspire a fearful submission amongst the people of that tradition, ensuring control and domination through religious means.
Indigenous teachings of that area, however, showed that the cave was in fact a temple used for rites of initiation. Indeed, the figure of the Jaguar is a prominent “totem-animal” in shamanic traditions of the Olmecs, an ancient Pre-Columbian civilization.
The jaguar, who is said to possess the transient ability of moving between worlds, is used as a spirit companion or nagual by the shamans who have successfully met it and made an ally of it, to aid them as they transform in order to move between the earth and the spirit realm.
A culture of separation and control
The mainstream culture in industrialized Western countries has largely forgotten the practices and the purpose of soul-centred initiation, and the role of that which inspires shock or fear as a catalyst for it.
Although Christianity has the potential to connect us to universal stories which can serve our soul's growth, our Judeo-Christian cultural heritage has largely interpreted religion in a manner which separates the world into dual categories: good vs bad; light vs dark; masculine vs feminine; reason vs emotion; mind vs body; heaven vs earth.
This has helped shape a patriarchal culture of domination and control, where some parts of life and of our experience are held as acceptable and others are cast out and repressed. On one side is the rational mind, the civilized, what is scientifically observable, and a masculine God in Heaven, separated from Earth.
On the other, wild nature; the impure, the body, the feminine, the darkness and the earthy, the emotional, the unknowable, the magical, the unconscious realms – all things which are deemed undesirable or “evil”, or deemed as childish and useless.
This division fuels the belief in the necessity to overpower the deep forces of life and death and to domesticate nature and the body entirely
It lead, amongst other things, to the eradication of pagan practices, of “witchcraft”-practising women and to the suppression of the key roles of the feminine in our ancestral heritage of land-based spiritual connection, healing practices and knowledge.
In this cultural framework of separation, we learn to separate ourselves from crucial parts of the Self. Intuitive knowledge is dismissed, dreams and imagination are seen a childish waste of time. Showing signs of emotional vulnerability is associated with a “feminine” weakness.
A lack of emotional and spiritual guidance
Growing up in contemporary mainstream Western culture, most of us don't receive guidance in how to effectively work through challenging feelings, difficult events and deep wounding. Instead we tend to learn that our emotional selves are inconvenient, shameful and unacceptable, and we learn to push down these aspects of ourselves in order to be accepted and cared for.
These unprocessed hurts, confusion and fears are thus repressed but stay within us and form our unconscious conditioning: the patterns and deep beliefs which influence what we believe to be “the truth” about who we are, what we can do, and how we can relate to others.
When they resurface through pain, anxiety, emotional blocks or depression in adulthood, the mind, spirit and body's distress signals are ignored and drugged into control so we can continue to function “normally”, as productive parts of society.
How to meet our fears and reclaim our soulful Selves
There are many ways to re-learn effective, soul-centred ways to engage with our unconscious fears and to use them for their purpose of growth and initiation. Storytelling, art, collective rituals or journeying can all be used with that intention in mind.
One of the most powerful ways I have found to journey within in a transformational way, is through Deep Imagery and Trance Work. As a practitioner in these modalities, I see variations of the experience of coming face to face with scary Jaguar Gods, with almost everyone I work with.
One of my clients, M., suffered from multiple phobias. After adequate preparation, in one of our sessions, she came face to face with a wolf. She saw herself at 3 or 4 years old in that scene, in an empty room. She felt scared, lost and lonely.
I guided her to take care of the little girl as the present-day adult, and then, gradually, to connect with the wolf and enquire as to how it was feeling. She had the realisation that the wolf was feeling just as lost in that empty room, far away from the forest, and just as lonely as she was, separated from the pack it belonged to.
It appeared scary because it was terrified itself, and sad
As she took the wolf back out to the forest for a long wild ride, and eventually came to find its true community, the wolf became her friend and ally.
She realised this was a part of her Wild Self that she had buried and had not been able to express freely, to honour and to feed, since her early childhood, because her family environment didn't allow it. As she “became wolf” again, stepping out of the vulnerable, victim state she had felt locked in, her fears started to release some of the stronghold they had on her.
In the subsequent few sessions, as we worked on various aspects leading to this repression of the Self, she was able to release her phobias completely, after spending eight years struggling with them. She also regained trust in her creative abilities, and the energy to change what was not truly right for her in her life.
In inner imagery work, we use imagination to bring symbolic representation of emotional energy in the shapes of animals, characters, or parts of the landscape. The unconscious often spontaneously offers images of scary or monstrous animals, ugly old women (witches), and other miserable creatures, deformed, dead trees or big dark stones which are crushing everything.
All these “shadow” aspects start to shape-shift and reveal treasures and lost “powers” when we work with them.
Unconditional love and allowing
Healing and integration in the inner realm happens when we become able to genuinely commit to being present to our “shadow parts” – that which appears scary because it has been hurt, never acknowledged, and rejected instead.
When we take time to listen, allowing what is to be as it is with patience and compassion, our fears start to shape-shift. As we accept to surrender to the unknown and as our perspective on the alienated parts of the Self changes, we experience a rebirth into a new, initiated consciousness.
We come into contact with a strength within us that has its roots much deeper than what our isolated, fearful ego can conceive – and that makes us grow by welcoming and integrating life's dark aspects as part of a balanced whole, rather than trying to exert control over them.
It gives us the ability to perceive and embrace non-duality through apparent contradictions: the power that resides at the heart of our deepest fear; the sacredness and majesty that unfold from the most vulnerable, “weak” aspect of ourselves. The bright flame at the core of our darkest place.
Why we resist confronting what is scary within us
When we have never experienced this kind of transformation within, we can come up against a deep resistance to going there. We fear our lack of control over what would happen if we opened up to those wild, unruly aspects of ourselves. We fear that they would overpower us and destroy us, along with the semblance of connection to others that we are maintaining through our civilized masks.
A part of us wants to avoid the encounter at all costs, as the ego believes that we are risking death or annihilation. And indeed, in a way, it is this death to old identities, to old shapes of being, that needs to happen for the initiatory process to be completed.
It is precisely through facing it and moving through it that we can truly grow. In order to do that, we need to reclaim skills that have been discarded as useless: intuitively recognising and listening to the messages of our emotions and physical sensations, using stories and the symbolic language of the imaginary, and trusting in our inner knowing, in our creative power and in our compassion.
Moving towards a consciousness which integrates rather than separates
As we embark on our initiatory journey, we move towards finding our soulful path in life and rightful place in our human and non-human communities. And it is my belief that through doing this work, we also contribute to the collective shift in mindset that we so deeply need for the healing of our society: to come back to the awareness of our interconnectedness with each other and with the planet that we depend upon for our existence.
Jessica Wallace is a healer and transformational guide. She works with people struggling with stuck emotional patterns and trauma-related symptoms. She helps her clients heal past wounds and traumas, release stuck emotions and limiting beliefs, and rebuild healthy foundations of inner love and safety.
Jessica is trained as a Clinical Hypnotherapist with an interactive, dialogue-based approach to trance work. She weaves this with Deep Imagery Journeying, Somatic focusing and EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) in the therapeutic work she developed, Inner Alchemy.
Inner Alchemy sessions with Jessica Wallace are available in person in Bristol and online.