I had been struggling with the meditation for weeks. It was a visualisation based on the myth of Ceridwen and her children, Creirwy and Afagddu. In the tale, Creirwy is the beautiful child (and no doubt good and kind and virtuous – the sort of child who plays the violin, gets consistently good exam results and is always extremely polite to her parents’ friends). And then there’s Afagddu. I’m told his name means ‘utter darkness’, which rather says it all. He’s horribly ugly (and in my imagination he’s not very good at maths and always gets picked last for PE). In despair at the ugliness of her son, Ceridwen sets off on a quest to find a source of Awen – inspiration – so that Afagddu can be wise and highly-favoured, to make up for his ugliness. The story gets quite a lot more complicated from there on, but this meditation was focusing solely on the first detail of the story. It was to be an encounter with Afagddu, at least partly as a metaphor for our own inner darkness.
Now, I’ve spent a fair bit of time exploring my inner darkness. I’ve tried all the buzzwords, from counselling and NLP and CBT to ‘positive thinking’. I’ve done lots of the new age stuff, from alternative therapies and cringeworthy self-help books to those terrible affirmations that tend to leave me in fits of giggles. I’ve had more labels than I really wanted. And if you go far back enough, I’ve had some surreal experiences – from being in and out of hospital, to some interesting and not-nearly-recreational-enough drugs. Some of it helped. Some of it was an atrocious waste of money. And while it involved more distraction from the demons than facing them, there was hard work in there too.
Which is where my story meets Ceridwen’s. I’ve been meditating for a long time, but this approach to visualisation was a bit different. And I’d been having a lot of trouble connecting with Ceridwen’s story at all. But like the good, obedient druid-in-training I am, I was diligently trying. So on an appropriately dark and stormy evening in January, I sat down to read the instructions and attempt to work through the meditation.
I start at my sacred grove. There are others there, as there sometimes are. A woman sits by the fire, holding a baby. Over the fire hangs a cauldron. A smith dressed in brown works with iron in the corner.
I leave the grove with the intention of seeking the castle. At first I am drawn back to my grove – I need more meditation before I can find it. When I feel more ready, I look for two mountains with a castle between them. The doors of the castle are heavy, iron. I drag them open.
Inside the stone building, a hallway, then a room. Two children – Afagddu on the left, Creirwy on the right. I sit and watch Afagddu for a while, but I feel very little. I’m worried that I’m ‘getting it wrong’.
And then I look at Creirwy.
I’m flooded with emotion for her. It is she that I identify with. She is a paradox – the focus of all of Ceridwen’s expectations, as the beautiful child – and yet totally overlooked, as her mother devotes a quest, and a year and a day, first to her brother, and then to a stranger who will become the renowned Child of the Goddess. Creirwy, though, will never be renowned. Like so many women in so many tales of our society, she is a ‘prop’ for the story. I feel how overlooked she is, how many expectations her mother places on her, and how she is expected to be everything that her mother wants, without ever complaining or asking for more. But she deserves more. She works hard to be good and talented and beautiful, and she knows that her mother will never look upon her as she does upon Afagddu. What is a beautiful daughter compared with a son? And still she tries so hard to live up to expectations.
For me, these twins do not represent ‘darkness’ and ‘light’. That kind of duality is unhelpful. They are different sides of life – different aspects of myself that I treat in very different ways.
I spend a lot of time working on my ‘dark side’. I steadfastly ignore the part of myself that I expect to be perfect. The academic who should write the very best thesis. The student who should be learning more, and faster, than I would expect of any of my own students. The wife who should be the perfect wife. The dedicant of gods who should be the perfect dedicant. The activist who should achieve more than any activist ever has before. Is it any wonder that I regularly burn out? Is there a part of myself that I should be kinder, gentler and more attentive to, whether or not she achieves greatness?
And from there, the story can no longer be told in words.
The Shadow and the Flame
Sometimes you play in dark corners, on the edge of sight,
The glimpse of a shadow,
the trace of a forgotten dream.
Sometimes you pursue me from the grey
and outrun me in fire and lightning.
Battle-scarred and branded, I am still here,
counting the bones in your attic,
slaying your monster,
rolling your boulder uphill.
Once I tried
to entomb you in numbers
to cage you in words
to drown you in oblivion
to silence your accusations with noise.
But you are
the Flame and the Shadow
the ugliness and the radiance
the searing white light forged in the bleakest primeval chaos
children of the demons of the storm and the fires of the hearth.
Let the Wind Gods shriek and the Lord of Lightning strike
let the Storm Hags cry into the arid night
let the Master of the sea call it back to Himself
and the Wild One raise the waters and drown the land.
You are my light and my darkness and my strength,
little Flame and its Shadow,
and you will endure.