In every story, there is a challenge to be overcome – that’s part of life. But how often is it the overcoming of personal darkness? Not glamorous, but deep, painful and with no guarantee of a light at the end.
Life is not an either/or of light and dark. I’m sometimes confused by pagans whose purpose in their work seems to be to ‘bring light to the world’. The principle is noble, but the reality would be fearsome if followed through to its natural conclusion. Nature’s balance is not a straightforward binary, nor does it follow humanity’s ethical priorities.
We need the darkness as much as the light. One cannot exist without the other, but more often it is true to say that both exist in close relationship. Too much of either and we are simply left blind.
The balance is a fine one, and few of us are unaware of it. Cerridwen’s cauldron inspired… and also poisoned. Merlin held the life of the land, before going mad in the forest.
These are not stages we should close our eyes too. We cannot hide from the dark (what’s inside our own eyelids, after all?), but it is part of the journey to see the difficulties that may be encountered as we brace ourselves to walk into those dark and unknown woods.
I’ve been reading ‘Touched with Fire’ by Kay Redfield Jamison, which discusses the possible link between creativity and manic-depression. I picked it up as a result of last week’s ‘Dr Who’ episode, which focused on both the joys and depths experienced by Vincent Van Gogh.
Part of the journey of the druid is to step into the dark woods, both externally and within ourselves. The Bard is the ultimate creative, channelling inspiration to make something powerful from his passion. The Ovate takes this further, journeying intentionally into the darkness to find healing and knowledge until his eyes turn black with what he sees.
And it hurts. I’m currently receiving treatment for depression, due to the events of the past year, but while not manic, have experienced the deepest lows as many of us have. I regularly have to take myself away in order to pull myself back out again, so that I can function in the everyday world.
I’ve seen countless articles on how more people are going through such times, with general reflection on how it is the fault of the world and the society that we live in. Perhaps. But saying this is part of the human condition is untrue – non-human animals clearly feel both sadness and joy. Emotions exist for a reason, whether they be pleasant or not. It is up to us how we explore them and use them to move forward.
Spiritually, I try to use the knowledge and experience of my own darkness to help as best I can. Sometimes, even the knowledge that others have been through what you are yourself suffering is enough; sometimes you need someone to be there with a cup of tea, holding a candle to aim towards, or a rope to get you out of the hole. Sometimes you need a partner to sit down there with you, just being there. Your own space is important, but it can be your own worst enemy – and you’re not always the best judge when vision’s clouded by the darkness.
It’s never easy to understand, but it’s part of life. When the connection to life is lost, then that candle is in danger of flickering out – the depressive suffers the ultimate ‘side-effect’ of their illness, as did Van Gogh and so many others. It is up to us to remember that the connection is always there.
Step outside. Reach for a trusted hand. Make and enjoy a cup of tea. But see the value in that connection and channel it as best you can. As I am here, right now.
We walk onwards.