I have been on a bit of a voyage of discovery for the past few years which has brought me to a point of conclusion, kind of.
I have, on my meandering pagan path, wondered into and journeyed through many an old tale. These explorations have always given me the option of following a fascinating criss cross of pathways that lead on far into the realms of pan cultural myth and legend, and so it feels, deeper into the psyche of our distant ancestors.
As ever with this kind of exploration the mind can work overtime on personal ideas of what “truths” may lie buried beneath a crossroads where folklore, story and myth from different cultures connect with others of the same ilk. And this is my passion or curse, to be ever looking for the root of the “thing”, something that is undeniably connective on a fundamentally human level.
For me these explorations are akin to archeological digs, stripping down through years of overlay to find the story’s origins. As you are working through the various versions you can see the change of cultural attitudes over time, also of place as the tale travels, first by word of mouth and then eventually becoming part of our written histories. Now here I must confess to a level of distress at the dichotomy within the binding of a story in the written word and the freedom and colour of the oral tradition.
On the one hand I am thankful to those who loved or felt it valuable enough to commit the story to parchment, paper or velum so that I may in modern times enjoy a tantalising glimpse of those gone before, feel their pains and joys so like my own. But on the other hand it fixes the narrative, somehow holding it prisoner within paper walls, subject to scrutiny and questioning. Leading to a judgement of correct content or even dismissal of validity if deemed a corrupt version.
A collection of words on a page are an allegory of human emotion and experience that for me come to vivid life when they are spoken aloud. When a talented story teller takes the words and gives them life and character, there is no magic greater for me, which is why I listen to a lot of audio books. Anyhow I have digressed into an area which I didn’t mean to go, back to my point!
If you have read any of my previous posts then you may have seen that I began a journey a year or so back on the Arthurian tales. In a ritual space I asked for a guide through this journey and was given the Lady of the Lake. She stood in the deep shadows, shrouded in deep blue and holding a silver hand mirror. She seemed insubstantial, enigmatic and her purpose with me I found hard to define. But I was grateful for her wish to guide me and spent much of this past year wondering what she meant me to see. In truth most of the time I felt I was letting her down as I felt utterly at a loss as to where I should be looking.
It has taken me some time to understand this journey and the conclusion it has presented to me may be one that many people have come to before, but to my mind, in order to fully comprehend an idea you must have a personal experience of working through it yourself.
I have found that there are many Ladies of the Lake within our myths and legends. Ladies that come from the Otherworld to offer us gifts of love, healing, insight, creativity and a glimpse into things initially beyond normal human achievement. They come and stay for a while and then being flawed and clumsy we break a promise or are negligent in some way and they leave us, bereft and heartsick, though often their children stay and are given powers that help to grow the human understanding.
There are legends of Goddesses/witches/priestesses/fairy women who live on sacred isles, with the gifts of prophecy, healing, craftsmanship and shapeshifting that go back at the very least as far as AD 43. There is often the number nine attached to these groups of women and always they are there helping, guiding and interpreting for us across the years and from beyond the mists. They are independent, strong, cultured and brook no discourtesy to their person. The evidence of them survives in the names of countless stone circles, place names and threaded through our most treasured tales, despite years of many trying to erase or disfigure or besmirch their character, they have persisted.
They are Ceridwen, Brighid, Vivien, Morgan le Faye, the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach and so many more, who lived by the deep lakes, crannogs and islands of Ireland, Britain and Brittany’s ancient past. They have in one way or another continued to hold us with their magic and their mystery, guiding and assisting us all with our intuitions, dreams, creativity and connection to the magic that is all around us in the natural world and beyond.
There is always a moment in life when you find yourself lost, when answers to questions seem so far away as to be unattainable. But should you find yourself standing beside a body of water such as a pool, a lake, a well, or even the great ocean, whether it is still or the waves are restlessly crashing at you feet on the shore, you will find a stillness within. It becomes a mirror for the soul.
Che Guevara says in his Motorcycle diaries “For me, the sea has always been a confidant, a friend absorbing all it is told and never revealing those secrets: always giving the best advise – its meaningful noise can be interpreted any way you choose.” (Thank you my lovely daughter Rosie for providing me with this quote)
So that is my conclusion, the many and varied Ladies of the Lake are the embodiment of a stilling of the troubled waters, a moment of mirroring for the soul on the lake of life’s sometimes troubled experience. In the past there were dedicants of a feminine mystery, who resided in these isolated and watery places, all we are left with now are their myths and legends and that may be enough as they still touch our hearts and minds so deeply.
My journey with the Ladies is by no means concluded, far from it, even though I have found an answer to why the Lady did me this honour I still have more exploration to do. It just may be a little more focused a journey now.