About ten years I found Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin in my letterbox. Opening to the first chapter I felt relief flood my system as he described with exactness the impulse I was feeling to dive deeply into the mysteries of soul and wild nature. Rather than a pathology, this is a vital phase of human development - the ‘Wanderer in the Cocoon’ – the initiates of whom search to find their true purpose, their unique ecological niche.
At the time I was contemplating the crazy idea to leave my job, partner and life as I knew it to go bush for a year. The impulse was strong, but there was little in the external world to support the dream. No-one else I knew had done anything like it, and there certainly wasn’t any elders guiding me towards that destiny.
But it continued to burn away like a little guilty secret, and may have continued to do so in confusion and denial had I not reached into my letterbox one day to find Soulcraft sent by a friend, with a note saying 'not sure why, but I felt you needed to read this.'
The first chapter described in uncanny likeness both the symptoms and cure of my malady. Rather than there being something wrong with me, Bill explained, the calling I was feeling to jump ship, to embark on a solo journey of self-discovery, was in fact a sign of healthy human development, albeit later than in indigenous societies. According to Bill, the call comes at a time when “the familiar goals, attitudes and patterns of relationship no longer fit your developing sense of who you truly are. The time has arrived to step over a threshold into a whole new way of being.” In tribal times this call would usually come towards the end of adolescence, and would signal to the elders that it was time to mark the transition from adolescence to adulthood through certain initiation rites, such as vision quests, walkabouts and healing ceremonies. The sometimes fierce crucible created by these rites would force the initiate to wriggle out of their adolescent identities, and see with clarity for the first time the unique stripes and spots of their adult skin, the gifts and talents that only they were born to bring forth in the world.
In our soul-suppressing Western world the stirrings of this call to adventure go largely unrecognised and misunderstood. An uninvited guest, the coooo-eeee that arises from the depths is construed as a serious threat to what Bill calls the Standard Game of Security Building. We try to snuff it out, tell our misbehaving part to stop being so annoying and inconsiderate, and lock it away in the cupboard. We tend to stick in the earplugs of rampant consumerism, workaholism, excessive TV watching or eating disorders in order to drown out its insistent voice, and yet it persists, bubbling up like a lid lifted by boiling water in sorrows and neuroses, depression and mid-life crises. It finds distorted expression in risk-taking with alcohol and drugs and speeding; in rebellious attempts to be different – poor substitutes for real soul initiation.
Be warned, says Bill, for the call will take you on a descent to the underworld that is neither comfortable nor predictable, a journey to the 'nightworld of mysteries, the womb of true character,' where there is no guarantee how long or rough the river is and where you'll wash up at the end (or how many feathers will get ruffled along the way). Although the price to pay for descent may be large, asking us to leave behind everything familiar for a journey of unspecified duration or direction, the price of not heeding the call is greater – a life without soul purpose, a life empty of true purpose and vision. I shuddered at the recognition of this real possibility, of the threshold I was standing on, debating whether or not to step over. I turned the page to Mary Oliver's poem 'Striding Deeper into the World' and realised my choice had already been made.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
Without realising it, my plans of a year living simply in the forest matched exactly the conditions necessary for the successful completion of the stage Bill calls the 'wanderer in the cocoon'. During this phase, the aspirant knows that the seeds of her destiny will not be found in the 'familiar arenas of human culture', but in the 'more diverse, wild and mysterious world of nature'. She knows she must leave the familiar behind and enter a borderless and timeless place, wandering her inner and outer landscape using inner vision and the impulses of her heart as her compass guide to find clues to her soul purpose hidden under rocks and mossy crevices. She eschews the intellectual mind for a time, and opens instead to the wisdom of her imagination, and looks to signs, dreams and omens. She cultivates a relationship with the invisible realms as much as the invisible, knowing she needs to enter the dark depths of her inner wildness in order to uncover the pearls of her own pure essence underneath. The task is both daunting and unavoidable.
Without guides or elders it seemed I was unwittingly fumbling my way towards a self-designed initiation with uncanny likeness to the process described in this book. I nearly fell off my seat when I turned one page to read that an archetypal dream image signaling the descent into the cocoon – that of disembowelment – mirrored exactly the dream image I had the night before of Adolf Hitler being disemboweled. I dreamed of being in the top story of an apartment, where a fat and smiling power couple obsessed with clothes (symbolising my social persona) tried to keep me. I left them to their clothes and make-up and instead caught the lift to the bottom floor and entered a dark and mysterious forest via the backdoor. Could this impulse truly be universal? Something that felt so personal suddenly felt like it connected me to all who had heard and heeded the call, all who had willingly let themselves be abducted by the underworld, trusting that they would arise from it with a treasure more valuable than gold. I said yes to the call, and began making my plans.
Interested in Rewilding the Psyche? In September 2017 Claire will be hosting Animas Valley Institute Guide Brian Stafford for two events. See details here.
Re-Wilding the Psyche: September 9, 2017, Melbourne
Beyond Transcendence Eco-Awakening and the Descent to Soul: September 11, 2017, Thornbury