Updated: Mar 8, 2022
by Eric Rivertree
“The Awen I sing
From the deep I bring it
A river while it flows
I know its extent
I know when it disappears
I know when it fills
I know when it overflows
I know when it shrinks
I know what base
There is beneath the sea”.
From the Book of Taliesin
Na Déithe libh mo chairde,
Ole Scottish culture dubs this time of year, from Christmas Eve (Dec 24) to 12th night eve (Jan 5) as the “Daft Days”. This time was characterized not just by revelry of every ilk, but also inward focused energies, ghost stories, cleansing and renewal practices, and female ancestor veneration. Our Ancestors understood that appropriate excess restores equilibrium. But of course, even that requires balance to be wholesome.
In a mythic sense, what is happening at this time is the dissolution of old patterns, the destruction of outworn states of being that no longer serve life, but have instead been outgrown. The old year has died and the new is yet to come - it is incubating in the dark depths of Winter, nurturing seeds from its own decay. It is time to cyclically return to the Sacred Center, the timeless and formless place of undifferentiated Being, to allow “the music of what happens” to spontaneously emerge from within; to be born again into a new world - the next phase of your life into a new level of awareness, and thus, a new reality. The way of that is through acknowledging and integrating the growing pains. They must be faced directly and authentically; distraction or avoidance only amplifies suffering. At such thresholds our myths, ancient yet timeless, are sacred sources of guidance and clarity.
Myths are not static. Myth is a verb, a process, a mystery that comes alive when it is experienced. Myths offer models of empowerment, healing, transformation, but also challenges to conditioned thoughts and beliefs. They help us break down old orders to create new and more relevant ways of being. Myths are sacred narratives of accumulated wisdom that work, and as such they contain keys for embracing and living in accord with your true nature. Transformation requires misrule, i.e. the going against the stream. This is the hero’s journey from the established known, through darkness and uncertainty, to emerge again transformed in a new state of being.
The depths of Winter at this time each year has me reflecting on this transformative and healing power of darkness. Our Celtic Ancestors understood that darkness is a state of receptivity, and included it in fundamental training for Bards and Druids - incubation in darkness is the womb of creativity. Our mythology contains many accounts of the integrating and generative potential of darkness. Turning off the conscious, measuring mind and coming to stillness in a place of undifferentiated Being in the Sacred Center, the heart of Cosmic renewal that is really everywhere, all the time. The Druid’s cave, the Poet’s chamber, the Three Cauldrons, Cerridwen’s Cauldron, the Well of Slane, the Well of Segais, the Well of Nechtain, Connla’s Well, the sheltering hidden glen can all be understood as mythic metaphors of sacred states of being or perceiving within each of us. We’re usually just too busy distracting ourselves to be aware of it.
Darkness can also be a metaphor for the part of the human spirit, the divine spark of soul that cannot be constrained or controlled by society and its arbitrary and artificial norms. Where is the celebration of the Dark, the night, the triumph of the moon, and the unseen inner worlds of emotion and intuition? At Summer Solstice, we celebrate the power of the sun, but why not the return of the moon, such as how Winter Solstice is commonly celebrated as the return of the sun? We need darkness and the restorative power of the night. Too much light can burn, blind, and destroy. Just as much as there are “things that go bump in the night”, there is evil that hides in the light, such as righteousness and absolutism.
As the tide of Winter revelry begins to come to a close, and we find ourselves at the cusp of a new year, take some time to experience and appreciate the “fruitful darkness”. Allow yourself the gift of awareness that emerges spontaneously when you turn fully towards your Sacred Center. What are you allowing to be born again in your life? To what old perceptions and narratives do you cling to about who you are? What stirs in your Well, your cauldron of rebirth?
Surely, tis an immense responsibility, that of living with the awareness of how intent shapes destiny (some call it karma). The realization of the power of your consciousness in the quality of your life can be frightening and overwhelming. That is why being whole requires truth through total integration of all states of being, both light and dark, and in-between. You are your own hero and the monster you must overcome is the illusion of separateness and your own doubt and fear.
The mystery and beauty of this way of living and relating to an authentic experience of being alive is something I find flows deeply in Celtic myths. It is up to each of us to come into our own relationship with this perennial wisdom through direct personal experience. You must come to understand them for yourself; no one else can do that for you.
What mythic motifs inspire you? What journeys bring you renewal? What is the awen that sounds in your depths? May you have the courage to sing it.
~ Reverend Erika Rivertree