I dedicate the following feelings, thoughts and opinions on the meaning of Shadow and Imbolc to Cailleach and Cernunnos
There is an old wisdom teaching that goes like this “When an unclean spirit goes out from a person, it wanders through waterless country looking for a place to rest. Not finding one it says ‘ I will go back to the home I came from.’ But on arrival finding it swept and tidied, it then goes off and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and set up house there, so the person ends up by being worse than before.” *
A person can take this teaching literally but then it does not make much sense to me. But if the teaching is understood as an allegorical commentary on the soul’s logic and order, its psychology, then it makes sense to me.
Consider the psychological process of repression. On the positive side the function of repression allows suppression of memories of behaviors or experiences and associated emotions of trauma that are unassimilated and threaten to over whelm soul. This repression allows the necessary time for the soul to heal and then with emotional strength, courage and wisdom face and integrate the unassimilated material of the trauma.
However the same function of repression can be used by the ego to deal with “bad or evil” behavior whose cause is rooted in insecurity, fear, ignorance, pain or the non-acceptance of some aspect of one’s Self. Where there is repression by the ego of one’s “bad, sinful or evil” behavior, this unclean spirit is projected out like a shadow. This unconscious projection entangles in its darkness all those who cross its path. It makes interpersonal relationships difficult and prone to misunderstandings, which lead can to unnecessary hurt.
The Ego can tidy up its house, one’s individual soul, like some do by sweeping dirt under the carpet or into the corners, piling up clothes in closets or hiding trash in the basement. The house is tidy but not clean. However the unclean spirit returns because there is no “water” out there that will satisfy it thirst. This means others cannot do the integrative work, the healing work that the Ego must do for one’s own soul. So the unclean spirit returns to where the water is…its soul and house. But an unclean spirit as a split off part of one’s self can cause a plague of emotional problems and symptoms. This plague is symbolized by the seven-fold return of unclean spirits, which are the consequence of not integrating a split off part of one’s Self.
The Ego’s task is to use the water of understanding achieved through counseling and contemplative reflection to find the source of the unclean spirit's pollution and then change the conditions that cause the pollution. In this way the Ego, through the water of understanding, can clean, bless and baptize the spirit and so bring it to its rightful place at the table of soul’s house. This is an allegory of the psychological process that leads an unacknowledged, rejected or otherwise spilt off part of one’ Self to be integrated. Integration increases one’s psychological wholeness or Self-actualization and spiritually “cleans” the house that is the soul.
To do this “house cleaning" the Ego must have heart or courage to stand as a faithful steward to its soul and assert its essential goodness. With this courage we can learn from and forgive our mistakes that are “bad or evil” behaviors so that splinters do not become as a log in our eye. Through the love of self-acceptance we learn from and forgive of our mistakes as we travel the road of psychological and spiritual wholeness. This road leads to Self-actualization or realization of the image of Divinity that is the blueprint of our soul.
Imbolc is an old Irish name for a seasonal feast of pre-Christian origin celebrated around the midwinter, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. “The natural phenomenon at the root of Imbolc is thought to be the visibly perceptive lengthening of daylight, therefore the anticipation of spring; the alternate name for the day, Oimelc, is thought to denote the time of ewes coming into milk, also a sign of spring. From the earliest times Imbolc was associated with Brigit, the fire Goddess…There are also echoes of Imbolc as an anticipation of spring in the American secular celebration Groundhog Day”**.
If Spring Equinox and its companion celebration of Eostre are about the restoration of the life cycle and its fertility or virility, then Imbolc is a celebration about contemplation, preparation and anticipation of this restoration.
Imbolc can be seen as a Sabbath given over to in part to the contemplation of the “Shadow” and recognition of the winter’s growing light as an increase in consciousness. Together the Divine and Human, Heaven and Earth, strive to clean the house of the soul and use the dirt as compost for the seeds of spring. This is part of the annual and ongoing integrative process of nature’s wholeness and redemption where nothing is to be wasted.
With the growing light of winter the fiery forge of our hearts leap to life. The Celtic Sun Goddess Brigit sang poems and enchantments into her work of making, repairing or preparing the implements of planting, cultivating and harvest. So too we ready our plans for spring and repair or prepare the implements of planting, cultivation and harvest. We ready our mind and body with rest, exercise, good drink and food. Our list of tasks now complete wait for spring.
The quickening of Nature’s heart is seen in the rising sap, swelling of buds, breasts filling with milk and the increased activity of animals in meadow and wood. With passion rising as spring approaches we bless with chant and poem our preparations. With song in our hearts and dance in our limbs we affirm with water our sacred goodness and invoke the coming of spring with its hopes fulfilled.
We remember too at this time of Imbolc the love of Divinity is great indeed. For Divine love brings about the transformation of the Hag of Winter (the Irish Cailleach) into the bleeding maiden and Old Man Winter (Cernunnos) into a virile stag of the woods so that once again the sacred marriage may be celebrated upon Beltaine. This love embraces us as we travel on the Divine wheel of birth, death and rebirth from mortality into immortality along the road that all Gods and Goddesses before us have journeyed.
And Never Thirst
* “The lost Gospel Q, The Original Sayings of Jesus” – Consulting Editor Marcus Borg and Introduction by Thomas Moore pp.73 by Seasone press 1996.
** Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, by James MacKillop pp. 239 Oxford University press 1998.