A friend who read my first entry was struck by the sentence: “actually birth can be quite hellish.” Back to back references to Hell seemed pretty intense. When I wrote that, I was thinking about the four stages of the birth process as identified by Stan Grof.

Here’s s an excerpt from a recent talk Grof gave, concerning 2012 and the archetype of the apocalypse.

Psychospiritual death and rebirth is one of the most prominent themes in therapeutic work using holotropic states. When the age regression in the process of deep experiential self- exploration moves beyond the level of memories from childhood and infancy and reaches the level of the unconscious that contains the memory of birth, we start encountering emotions and physical sensations of extreme intensity, often surpassing anything we previously considered humanly possible. At this point, the experiences become a strange mixture of the themes of birth and death. They involve a sense of a severe, life-threatening confinement and a desperate and determined struggle to free ourselves and survive. (Grof)

In many of these Psychospiritual death/rebirth experiences, the Hell archetype emerges. Basically, “Hell” corresponds to the 2nd phase of birth when contractions start, but the cervix hasn’t opened yet. Here there is immense, crushing pressure, heat, and a sense of confinement with no way out. When people experience this in psychedelic, near death experiences , or other intense non-ordinairy states, it feels eternal. It feels like a kind of endless torment.

The good news is that this stage actually does end. The bad news is the third stage is typically, extremely difficult. In the third stage, the cervix opens and you begin the epic struggle to move through the birth canal. In non-ordinairy states people experience this as a struggle to survive and escape incredibly intense turmoil. It is a life and death struggle to get free. Grof describes it:

As I mentioned earlier, this (stage) is related to the stage of birth when the cervix is open and the fetus experiences the tedious propulsion through the birth canal. This stage is associated with the emergence of the shadow side of human personality – murderous violence and excessive or deviant sexual drives, scatological elements, and even satanic imagery. It is easy to see manifestations of these aspects of the death rebirth process in today’s troubled world.

We certainly see the enormous unleashing of the aggressive impulse in the many wars and revolutionary upheavals in the world, in the rising criminality, terrorism, and racial riots. Equally dramatic and striking is the lifting of sexual repression and freeing of the sexual impulse in both healthy and problematic ways. Sexual experiences and behaviors are taking unprecedented forms, as manifested in the sexual freedom of adolescents, premarital sex, gay liberation, general promiscuity, common and open marriages, high divorce rate, overtly sexual books, plays and movies, sadomasochistic experimentation, and many others.

The demonic element is also becoming increasingly manifest in the modern world. Renaissance of satanic cults and witchcraft, popularity of books and horror movies with occult themes, and crimes with satanic motivations attest to that fact. Terrorism of the fundamentalist fanatics and groups is also reaching satanic proportions. The scatological dimension is evident in the progressive industrial pollution, accumulation of waste products on a global scale, and rapidly deteriorating hygienic conditions in large cities. A more abstract form of the same trend is the escalating corruption and degradation of political, military, economic, and religious institutions, including the American presidency.

If the world is in the throes of the third stage of birth, this points to the imminent arrival of the 4th stage which is coming out into the big wide open. Here you are finally free. Typically this is experienced as the most profound release, relief, joy, and ecstasy. And of course: a sense of a fresh, new beginning.