In March, five weeks after my Mum died, I heard Professor Sue Black on Radio 4 talking about her book “All That Remains”. She spoke about death in a forthright way I have developed a thirst for. Currently Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee, Sue Black’s work takes her to far flung places where she confronts hellish scenes that can’t adequately be described. She finds out why and how people have died. She knows unusual and eerily beautiful things about the power and vulnerability of our human bodies, and the subject of death.
I was in the car driving. With my focus on the road, I listened associatively as Sue Black named a bone in our heads called the Otic Capsule. My intuition, rather than logic, led as she explained it’s the only bone in our bodies that’s with us from womb to tomb. It endures, even after cremation, hence its value to a forensic anthropologist. As a creative writer, my imagination accelerated as I drove, steady on my way.
The Otic Capsule is an area of bone surrounding the hearing and balance parts of our inner ear. Because of something called osteoprotegerin, the bone turnover that happens in the rest of our bodies doesn’t occur in the Otic capsule. Formed somewhere in the 16th to 18th gestational weeks, it’s fully ossified at birth and finished by the time we’re two years old. Sue wryly said on the radio that “Understanding the Otic Capsule puts an entirely new spin on the fact that your mother gets ‘inside your head’”.
Well, that got my attention.
More recently I read a breathtakingly lovely piece by David Abram in Emergence Magazine ; “Creaturely Migrations on a Breathing Planet”. As a member of the human species, my observation is that finding our way is challenging much of the time. Other species seem not to have lost their way. They may have lost their habitats, the conditions they need to thrive in, and much more. But they remain faithfully committed to finding their way in service of their own becoming and unique place in our ecosystem. Plants root, pushing up through concrete, salmon swim between fresh and salt water sensing their way in complex migratory cycles, and birds fly thousands of miles to overwinter in warmer climates and return.
What have we lost or forgotten? Where is our place? What is it that requires human enslavement to clocks, maps, and other technology to ensure we’re at a certain place at a certain time, often undermining presence in the here and now? And how might these questions relate to Sue Black’s Otic Capsule and human loss of connection to systemic impulses that non-human life remains tethered to?
I am certain we humans have somatic skills well beyond our mainstream lived experiences of them. What if much of what we’ve assumed about how migratory creatures make use of internal maps, inner compasses, innate calendars and clocks simply isn’t the way we think it is? What if, as David Abram suggests, we are all parts of the biosphere which is “our actual Body, the broad metabolism in which our smaller, more transient bodies are entangled?”
If that is so, my body and I are part of a flow beyond my wildest imaginings. And if I long to find my way back into the deep system on which my sense of belonging, direction and purpose depend, what untapped resources might help guide me through the tangle of what we humans have done?
The morning after hearing Sue Black on the radio, I asked myself: “Who exactly is the “Mother” in my head?” and I let curiosity be my guide. I searched for a photo of that bone in my head; it looks just like a labyrinth.
Mother has become a loaded, tangle of biological, psychological and spiritual dynamics. Mother is both an archetype and a lived experience for all of us. What if, through the Otic Capsule, there’s an enduring connection back through our own biological mothers to the Great Mother herself, Gaia.
Imagine the Otic Capsule as an embodied labyrinth of mythic proportions. Could it be a touchstone with Mother, ever present, calling us humans to our place in our own migratory cycles of letting go, letting die, renewal and rebirth. What if the Otic Capsule somehow nurtures an enduring human capacity to engage systemically with flow in our larger body, and engage with our own creaturely migrations of separation, surrender, death, renewal and rebirth?
Author Stephen Buhner suggests that what is now called the Quantum multiverse was known in ancient times as the mythic world. He suggests Gaia generates ever-changing form out of an underlying field of potential – out of the “mythic” world. Buhner suggests that just before anything emerges into this world, it exists in the imaginal world as archetype. An archetype, according to Buhner, prefigures or foreshadows the forms that come into our world. According to Buhner, “……Every form we see in this world is a modified expression of the archetype that underlies it.”
Could the Otic Capsule be an expression of the mythic archetype of The Labyrinth? I work with myths, archetypes, stories and creativity. For me, the power of myths is partly in their faithfulness to emotional truth rather than facts. It seems to me that a really useful thing to do for ourselves at this time is to make distinctions between the facts of what is going on all around us, and the truth of our own experience.
Myths come to us through cultures that have changed them, but in the bones of any story that has endured, there is always a resonant core of truth even if the story isn’t factually accurate. I’ve written a revision of the myth of Ariadne and her Thread. This is in part because the myth that has come down to us doesn’t tell the whole story of how, during the time that the Minotaur occupied the Labyrinth, there was no sacred darkness in which endings could take place, or new life begin. Reclaiming the sacredness of The Labyrinth involves reintegrating death as life’s beloved.
The mythic role of The Lady of The Labyrinth was to guide humans and help us through the dark, through the frightening and difficult times of both birth and death – a migration of sorts. I wonder if we have ever needed Her more. And how extraordinary the outrageous possibility that we each have direct access to Her through a bone she’s placed for us in our very own heads.