The Underground River

The Underground River


Our little terranean Egos are perched high above an immense underground river. Few realize the mighty current that flows beneath us. Most of us in the West have lost our Souls because we have forgotten this river. The river of which I write feeds into the ancient ocean of unconsciousness, bearing along all possible images of creation. Images are the irreducible elements of human being. It is not subatomic particles, as scientists believe, but images that drive life in our universe.

Our very essence is governed by the subterranean river of imagination. The current of images that flow in this river directly influences our daily lives. The systolic and diastolic of Soul are managed by how we interact with it. If we pretend it is not there, it’s raging torrent will engulf us. If we interact with it on a regular basis, it will enrich our lives beyond our wildest dreams. It is truly a river of life, but it can also be a river of death.

Many are terrified of it. A few hearty individuals will be quite comfortable swimming in it. Those who are most at home possess shamanistic gifts. These persons spend their lives navigating the river. Shamans regularly swim in the river of imagination. Of the shaman, Mircea Eliade writes,

He commands the techniques of ecstasy – that is, because his soul can safely abandon his body and roam at vast distances, can penetrate the underworld and rise to the sky. Through his own ecstatic experience he knows the roads of the extraterrestrial regions. He can go below and above because he has already been there. The danger of losing his way in these forbidden regions is still great; but sanctified by his initiation and furnished with his guardian spirit, a shaman is the only human being able to challenge the danger and venture into a mystical geography” (Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy).

The subterranean river of images is an integral part of the “mystical geography.” As rivers on the surface wander through many different topographies, so this river meanders through the topographies of the Underworld before emptying into the Great Mother, the ocean of the unconscious. As it moves along, it gathers more and more images along the way. Sometimes, images are washed up along the banks. These are images which are no longer viable for human experience and must needs be discarded. Heraclitus said no one can enter into the same river twice. The flow is constantly changing. If we refuse to at least wade in its shallow places, we will be cut off from the flow of images. Our dreams are our built-in way of wading in the shallows. If we desire to venture further into the current, something like active imagination would be required.

Rivers are usually seen as boundaries. The river of imagination is no different. It is the boundary between soulfulness and soullessness. If we regularly wash ourselves in this river, our Souls will be nourished and properly cared for. If we ignore it, our Souls will wither away to the point of non-existence. Having dreams is not sufficient for the Soul’s nourishment, although it does help somewhat. If we want to partake of what the river of imagination has to offer us, we must choose to participate in its imagery.

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