I wrote this narrative essay on a recent hermitage retreat in Ireland, but it records an experience from a few years previously, in a monastery in France. It was pointed out to me that it reflects the Jungian concept of the “shadow self”.
The simple, repetitive chant draws to an end, and I make myself comfortable, kneeling on the small wooden prayer stool, legs tucked under, in readiness for a well-rehearsed period of silent meditation. I’m positioned to be comfortable enough to focus, not so relaxed as to fall asleep. I close my eyes and look forward to slipping back into the cosy ongoing conversation with my patron. Here at the monastery I think of as home, I kneel alone amidst a congregation of thousands, focused on my own intentions, while held within the shared cloud of attentiveness to the divine voice.
Revered as both saint and goddess, Brigid of Kildare is uniquely able to reconcile my professed faith with the instincts of my untamed nature. I close my eyes, steady my breathing, and begin my approach, filled with anticipation of reunion with a dear friend.
But as the longed-for moment arrives, there comes a flutter of beating wings across my shoulders, raising my hackles. Glancing back over my right shoulder in my mind’s eye, I catch a glimpse of black feathers, as the interloper rounds and lands into my focus.
Taking in the magnificent, raven-cloaked stranger, my mind wheels to comprehend what or who I am facing. I half expect to hear a cackle of “I too have a gift for the princess!” Instead, she demands of me, “Do you know who I am?”
Grasping at faint memories of myth, “I think so,” I reply, “but I’m confused.”
“Of course you are. But you should have been expecting me.”
In my mind I glance to my left and realise the one I did expect is here also, in fiery radiance, passively looking on, confusing me further. Does she not see that I am in danger? Why does she not act to protect me?
My interlocutor continues, asking, “Do you love me?”
What an odd question in the circumstance. Having clutched at straws to know her from Eve, she asks me this? I turn to Brigid, pleading now in my heart for answers, mouthing my own desperate question: “Can I trust her?”
Serene as always, the one whom I do trust replies, “It is inevitable for the two of you to meet, and it is with good reason, for you are much alike. You are drawn to the light you see in me, and that is good, but you are not wholly light in yourself. In you, light and darkness entwine, and it must be so. You share this in common with her. Do not conflate darkness with evil, for it also is a creative space of growth, and is a vital part of who you are.”
“But what about you? Do you love her?” I ask.
“I love her dearly, for she and I are sisters. We cannot exist one without the other. You must learn this also, for without embracing her, it will be impossible for you to hold yourself with the compassion with which you ought.”
With my mind somewhat placated, I set myself to answer the question posed of me.
“Mórrígan, I hardly know you, but I trust the one who has brought us together. Acknowledging my fears, in good faith I will open my heart to you. I undertake to learn of you, so that I may grow to love you.”
“You have answered truthfully and well,” she replies. “I am a loyal companion, and will accompany you in the midst of your ambiguities. Do not fear your inner darkness; when you have need of me, you will find me there. As you learn to love me, you will find the capacity to love yourself.”
I notice Brigid’s knowing smile and understand I’ve been set up to have this encounter. “You’re looking awfully pleased with yourself,” I jibe, knowing her nature full well, and familiar with her keen, cutting humour.
“Of course,” she laughs, without a hint of denial, “but I’m proud of you taking this next step in your growth. Don’t for a moment think you can keep this company without a few surprises along the way.”
My senses are pulled back to the physical as a monk’s clear tenor voice rings out an “Alleluia”, ending the silence and leading into ongoing song. I open my eyes and join in, knowing deep inside that I have returned forever changed by the strangeness of the past ten minutes.