Bellydancing Through the Underworld with Aepril Schaile

Dark Fusion Bellydance returned to Santa Cruz in force this weekend with workshops, performances, and (natch) shopping at Lumen Obscura II. I had signed up for Aepril Schaile’s 2-hour workshop—“Invoking the Dark Goddess through Bellydance”—in part because it was the only one I thought I could survive with minimal injury. But there was a deeper reason: I am going through another metamorphosis, this one into the crone. It’s been scary to contemplate turning 60…It means I will be officially, undeniably old. It means there are fewer years ahead of me than behind. (And please don’t say that 60 is the new 50 because that would make some of my friends 10 years old.) I’ve been looking behind to see where I’ve been and forward wondering what kind of old lady I want to be. In any case, invoking a dark goddess seemed like a good thing to do right now.

Aepril’s workshop was held in the gymnasium of Louden Nelson Community Center and it was cold. It was lovely and warm outside which is why some of us were unprepared for the deep chill. I threw my jacket back on—an old maternity jacket of my mother’s. (No, I don’t know if she wore it when she carried me.) Aepril introduced herself and explained what to expect. She works with Jungian archetypes, modern shamanic ritual theater, and dark bellydance, each quite compatible with the others. The archetypes we would work with are the dark goddesses Ereshkigal—Mesopotamian queen of the underworld, Persephone—Greek queen of the underworld, and Lilith—ancient Jewish bad-ass goddess.

There would be three-parts to the workshop: first, following the myth of Inanna’s descent, we will take a trance journey to meet Ereshkigal in the underworld; second, a ritual reenactment of Persephone’s descent and ascent through the underworld; and third, a choreography for my personal favorite kick-ass goddess, Lilith.

First: Trance Journey to Ereshkigal

The modern trance journey is a guided meditation technique, a metaphorical or shamanic journey through the inner landscape of self. It is an opportunity for the trancer to encounter and transform her demons and/or goddesses. It can be imagined or enacted in dance, as we were invited to do. All this was familiar to me from the Womyn’s Sacred Dance sessions I did weekly with Laura Wyrd back in the 90s. I even lead a few myself, but I was still surprised by how easily the work came back to me after so many years.

I was ripe for this experience and immediately my inner crone told my inner kids to get the hell out; this is my work. I began my descent. We closed our eyes and listened to the enchanting music and Aepril’s voice as she talked us through the journey: I am in the forest on a path created just for me. I’ve always been on it. Its cold in the redwood forest and colder still in the cave we enter. My mother’s jacket didn’t warm me at all but it felt like a shell carrying my body safely through the mysteries. Along the way to the underworld I encounter gates, each with a Gatekeeper who requires something from me before I am allowed to pass. I leave in their protection my many colorful veils and sartorial objects—crown, necklace, earrings, belt, etc—each holding metaphorical meaning—my mind, voice, family, successes and failures. Gate after gate; deeper and deeper; veils of indigo, green, yellow, red left in the care of the Keepers.

It was easy to give some things over to the Gatekeepers (I had one Keeper who was only 4 inches high), but others—my past, my family—were hard to let go of and make me cry. But I stand firm and continue ever more courageously as I lighten my psychic load. I arrive in the lowest region of the underground and encounter bright light, the goddess Ereshkigal. I can’t say what happened then. I dance. Then I begin the ascent back out through the cave tunnels, through the gates where I take back what I left behind…well, some of it anyway. I walked back into the mundane world stronger of heart and ready for the final stages of my metamorphosis. By the time we finish (about an hour?), I had indeed traveled quite a distance across the gymnasium—my path is always filled with turns and switchbacks.

Here’s part of the magic of a trance journey: having walked that mystical path without my psychic baggage, I realized that I can travel my waking path without it as well.

Look for my next blog about Lumen Obscura II where I explain the rest of the workshop and review the Gala.

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