“Every word, every act of our art is said and is done either for good or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!”
“To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”
Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
In the wiccan magic tradition, there is a wonderful book that is often considered to be a deeply significant ‘Grimoire’ or text book for learning magic. Now in case you don’t know, magic (and not the kind performed by stage magicians, but the kind performed by mages throughout history) is defined as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will". In other words, it is a primitive but powerful and pragmatic form of early psychology aimed at the skills of unconscious change and personal transformation. And it is largely concerned with understanding and use of the ‘true names’ or deeper nature of things, processes, identity and the world.
“Magic consists in manipulating the natural world through knowledge of true names.”
The gift of wisdom
Many years ago, I was introduced to wiccan magic and ceremoniously gifted a copy of this book I am referring to above. I found it to be a powerful book and a beautiful story. You see, it is actually written as an adult-children’s story by a very skillful and popular award winning author named Ursula Le Guin. Ursula is well-versed in psychology, both modern and ancient, as well as Taoist philosophy and Norse mythology amongst others…
Her book, which is part of a trilogy (that eventually grew to many more books in the series), was first published in 1968 and is titled, ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’. The book tells the story of a young mage named Ged, who follows a journey of self-discovery, and who learns to embrace his own power, will, and ability in the world of magic.
"Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance."
I’ve now read the story many, many times, and on each reading I gain greater and deeper insights from it. The book is largely an exploration of the process of ‘individuation’ and the power of our personal magic to cause change in our own phenomenological world through the use of our will and the marriage and embracing of our conscious and unconscious processes. Individuation of course is the process by which a person becomes identified as being distinguished from other people and things, the process by which they become their own unique self’ing. The great psychologist Carl Jung said that individuation is the process of integrating the conscious with the unconscious for the purpose of self-actualization, and is the goal of our psychological and metaphysical development. So you can begin to understand why a story that guides and informs this process, in a deeply metaphorical way, might be important and useful as a tool for personal evolution.
[BTW, I also introduced the book into the field of NLP many many years ago, where it has gained traction amongst numerous NLP Trainers and Master Trainers, morphing into entrancing learning stories about the deep power and magic of language to influence the unconscious mind and thereby life.]
Approximately thirty years ago I spent 10 days living in a tent, on an ancient isthmus that sits at the southern-most point of mainland Australia. In itself, it’s a magical environment where the mountains meet the sea. During that time, I read and re-read ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’, performing what I called a ‘psycho-magical analysis’ of it. That summary and analysis has lived on in the hard-drives of my various computers over all those years, revisited by myself regularly, but of little life enhancing benefit to others (except where I have specifically shared it with a friend or colleague). While on a trek last week, on the South Island of ‘middle-earth’, magical New Zealand, I was telling some of my fellow hikers about how life enhancing the story of ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ is and how deeply insightful it can be from both a neuro-linguistic and a psychological perspective. And I promised them that once I returned to my own piece of paradise, I would write a blog post about this and more widely share my analysis and summary with them and the world.
So sitting on a plane, on the way back home, flying at 20,000 feet, I’ve created this post, revisiting and updating the analysis to include the insights of mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques). And here it is, for all those who may enjoy or benefit in some small way from it.
WIZARD OF EARTHSEA: A PSYCHO-MAGICAL SUMMARY
By Grant Soosalu
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.
Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
Individuation: understanding and knowledge of the process of self’ing
Ged unwittingly begins upon the path of individuation by copying his ‘aunt’ in the control of animals (goats), but becomes frightened by the results of his natural talent. This leads his aunt to teach him all that she knows:
“When he found that the wild falcons stooped down to him from the wind when he summoned them by name, ..... then he hungered to know more such names ...... To earn the words of power he did all the witch asked of him and learned of her all she taught, though not all of it was pleasant to do or know.”The path of individuation is often first begun by blind emulation of another (someone who is significant in your life and whom you unconsciously model) who has skill and understanding and is already a long way up the path of individuation. With knowledge of self comes the understanding of why people (the goats in the story) act and think the way they do, and thus a person gains power to control the thoughts and actions of others. However, if this power comes from emulation rather than true understanding, then the results of personal power, of personal actions/interactions may be frightening.
Ged saves the town from marauders but in doing so overspends himself and falls ill.
Along the path of individuation, there comes a time when the individual has built sufficient understanding of the surface nature of human life that he is separated from most others, he has the power to save and help others with this understanding, but only at great cost to himself, with the ultimate result being depression of his soul, unless he can find the way forward into deeper understandings and thereby a more generative healing and expressing of self in the world. This often and classically involves the use of a mentor, a healer, or a guide – someone who can provide reference structure experiences and models of wisdom for the seeker.
The great mage, Ogion the silent, finds and heals Ged and asks to name him:
“For to keep dark the mind of the mageborn, that is a dangerous thing.”After the naming:
“... the mage spoke in his quiet voice: ‘Come lad. Bid your people farewell and leave them feasting.”It is at this time that the silent mage within must be brought forth to heal the personality, to leave the people feasting (following and giving in to their hungers and evolved tendencies), and to really begin to learn.
Ogion: “Manhood is patience, Mastery is 9 times patience. To hear one must be silent.”
Ged hungers to learn, to have power.
The gut (or core identity) provides the motility at this stage of the path, but usually it is heart-felt pride and hubris which leads and drives this next stage.
Craving knowledge and power, Ged soon becomes frustrated with Ogion, who wishes to teach him patience and respect for order in nature, referred to by wizards as the Balance. Through trying to impress and prove himself to a girl (to the powerful call and expression of our sexual and animal nature), Ged, not fully understanding the use of power, summons a shadow from the darkness, that calls to him in a whisper he doesn’t understand, but fortunately is banished by Ogion who arrives just in time to avert danger.
Ogion: “Danger surrounds power as shadow does light. ... every word, every act of our art is said and is done either for good or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!”
For those who know NLP: compare this with anchoring of the 5 - tuple of experience i.e. people experience what is communicated (named), and every word has a semantic response that echoes through your life and the lives of those around you. Words, thoughts, ideas and metaphors have power.
On the advice of Ogion, Ged travels to the Island of Roke. In order to enter the ‘wizards school’ on Roke, he must say his ‘true’ name:
“Then Ged stood still a while, for a man never speaks his own name aloud, until more than his life’s safety is at stake.”A wizard’s name expresses his ‘true’ (aligned) and deeper nature. Names have power and ‘true’ namings must be used wisely and carefully and guarded since they have incredible power.
As he enters, a shadow follows him in at his heels.
It is dangerous to speak of your true name - your true or deeper nature - to any but those who truly follow the ‘school’ of magery, i.e. the same path of individuation. Talking about your personal evolution to those not on that path can be dangerous and harmful.
At the school he meets Vetch, who had a greater, unlearned skill, the art of kindness (also known as the highest expression of compassion).
Through pride and his strong will, Ged masters the arts of illusion, myth, weather, herbal (nature) and the lesser arts of changing.
Illusion: surface behaviours, appearances, self-image
Myth: personal history, programming, upbringing, the patterns of unconsciousness
Herbal: animal nature, life force
Changing: behaviour modification – the art of deep personal transformation and evolution
“By the illusion change you can make a rock seem like a diamond, but that is mere seeming. Illusion fools the beholders senses, it makes him see and hear and feel that the thing is changed. But it does not change the thing. To change this rock into a jewel you must change its true name. And to do that, my son, ..... is to change the world. It can be done, it is the art of the Master Changer, and you will learn it, when you are ready to learn it.
“But you must not change one thing until you know what good and evil will follow on the act. The world is in balance, equilibrium. A wizard’s power of changing and summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous that power, it is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”Your personal world is in balance i.e. the world of the psyche, ego, consciousness and the unconscious. As you gain new skills and powers of understanding and influence, as you light the candle of knowledge and skill via conscious application and learning, you don’t just brighten your candle, you also create a deeper shadow. Every skill you learn, creates an unconscious competency that the ‘whole’ of you, the whole of your multi-mind, including your shadow, has access to. The greater your candle, the darker your shadow!
Summoning: the planting of personal seeds – the installation of new patterns, ways of being and doing, and that through neural plasticity, ultimately alter the summoner
“Magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.”
Through pride and arrogance (in a competition against his rival Jasper), Ged releases his shadow onto the world and is almost killed by it, the old wise Archmage dies by using all his power to mend the rend in the fabric of the world through which the shadow came.
As personal power grows, so the shadow of this power is released onto the world, onto the people who make up the seekers/journeyer’s world and onto the journeyer’s own life itself. The shadow of power and understanding can scar the person on the journey of individuation.
The new Archmage: “The power you had to call it, gives it power over you: you are connected.”
The power and understanding that allows the shadow out onto the world, also gives the shadow power over the unconscious and the ego self (not just over other people, but also over parts of yourself – your multi-mind)
Even though he has released the shadow, Ged finds Vetch still trusts him (a heart-based competency).
Trust and love of another is an important and powerful force in the process of individuation. Compassion and love are the highest expressions of the heart intelligence, and as highlighted in the new field of mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques), ‘the heart leads’.
The Summoner: “The truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do .....”
In order to leave Roke - the Master Doorkeeper says: “Ged, you won entrance to Roke by saying your name. Now you may win your freedom of it by saying mine. ‘Master’, said Ged, ‘I cannot take your name from you, not being strong enough, and I cannot trick your name from you, not being wise enough. So I am content to stay here, and learn or serve, unless you will answer a question I have.’ ‘Ask it.’ ‘What is your name?’ The doorkeeper smiled and said his name.”
There are those you meet on the path, who are further along than you. They can often be the gatekeepers to your progress (as can developing parts of your own unconscious mind). Unless you can transcend this stage of your personal evolution, you may end up stuck at the stage of the learning they can offer you. However, you do not have power over them. Yet, by humbly asking them for real connection and support, for them to reveal their true name, their deeper nature, they will give to you this gift. It is the gift of new insights and deeper understandings, and the chance to go forth to higher levels of new learnings and understandings.
Ged leaves and lives life, helping others, at his own peril, fighting dragons. Yevaud the great dragon offers to tell Ged how he can master his shadow: “‘I will tell you its name.’ Geds heart leaped in him, and he clutched his staff, standing as still as the dragon stood. He fought a moment with sudden, startling hope. It was not his own life that he bargained for. One mastery, and only one, could he hold over the dragon. He set hope aside and did what he must do.”
In many cultures dragons are viewed as representing the primal forces in nature and the universe. Here, the temptation for the seeker to use the primal forces of nature to gain success in life is a major temptation. As you become individuated, your wisdom and skills can tempt you to take the easier path of using natural primal forces to gain ascendency in life. However, this is a dangerous path and one that must be set aside. True wisdom comes from embracing your own name, not gaining it falsely from the use of power.
Ged begins to travel and meets a strange grey wizard who tells him to go to the court of the Terrenon:
“A wizardly man soon learns that few indeed of his meetings are chance ones, be they for good or evil.”As you grow in your ability to align your self’ing, to align with the ‘true’ nature of the universe, you tap into synchronicities, entrainment and resonances that you are creating by your very ways of doing and being. You create self-fulfilling prophecies in the patterning of your life. And you soon learn there are no coincidences.
Heading for the court of the Terrenon, Ged is lead and then chased and attacked by his shadow, which has taken over human form as a gebbeth:
“... before Ged could speak spell or summon power, the gebbeth spoke, saying in its hoarse voice, ‘Ged!’ Then the young man could work no transformation, but was locked in his true being, and must face the gebbeth thus defenseless. ..... He ran, and the gebbeth followed a pace behind him, unable to outrun him yet never dropping behind.”Ged is saved by the Terrenon.
The shadow once released cannot be ignored or run away from. With time it takes on human (ego/personality) form and follows on your actions - a pace behind. You attract those around you that are reflections of you own shadow, and these create gut-based fear that can destroy you.
Ged wakes to find himself in luxury with a beautiful woman for company. In the court of the Terrenon he is tempted and cajoled to commune with ‘that terrible rock’:
“‘But I will not speak with that spirit’ Ged replied, and looking full at her spoke ‘My lady, that spirit is sealed in a stone, and the stone is locked by binding spell and blinding spell and charm of lock and ward and triple fortress walls in a barren land, not because it is precious, but because it can work great evil. .... the Old powers of earth are not for men to use. They were never given into our hands, and in our hands they work only ruin. Ill means, ill end.’"Escaping from the shadow can lead to life styles of luxury, sensuality, the games of sex and love (drugs, etc.) - the old dark earth power of ‘glamour’. These must be faced and overcome with honesty and the power of aligned will.
Ged flees and returns to Ogion as a hawk. Ogion helps him to return to his true form:
“...... as a wizard he had learned the price ..., which is the peril of losing one’s self, playing away the truth. The longer a man stays in a form not his own, the greater this peril.”With knowledge and power comes the ability to assume different images, to play away the truth, to escape from difficult circumstances. This is a dangerous stage which can lead to the journeyer being locked in an ‘image’ (a way of being and doing) that is not the ‘true’ aligned and congruent self’ing.
Ogions advice to Ged:
“You must turn around. If you go ahead, if you keep running, wherever you run you will meet danger and evil for it drives you, it chooses the way you go. You must choose. You must seek what seeks you. You must hunt the hunter.”Ged begins chasing his shadow:
“Following his falcon flight across the days and winds .... , the shadow might wander or might come straight, there was no telling. But unless it had withdrawn again wholly into the dream realm, it should not miss Ged coming openly, over open sea, to meet it.The shadow must be met on the sea of life, not some special place or time of life, not unusual circumstance, but in the normal ebb and flow of life. The sea represents the fluid and deep nature of the unconscious mind.
On the sea he wished to meet it, if meet it he must. He was not sure why this was, yet he had a terror of meeting the thing again on dry land. Out of the sea there rise storms and monsters, but no evil powers: evil is of the earth.”
Ged calls to his shadow:
“‘I am here, I Ged the sparrowhawk and I summon my shadow!’ Far off, in the rain he saw the shadow coming. It had a shape now, even in the daylight. In its pursuit of Ged and its struggle with him ... it had drawn power from him sucking it into himself: ... his summoning of it, aloud in the light of day had given to it or forced upon it some form or semblance.”Ged tries to catch it and it turns and flees. Ged follows.
“He hunted, he followed and fear ran before him.” But the shadow tricks him into crashing into a reef where he almost drowns.
On the reef he meets two old people who give him food and water and the old lady gives him a gift which is half of the ring of eternal harmony, but which Ged does not yet know of.
Ged continues after the shadow and comes to land:
“At the sight of it, fear had come into him again, the sinking dread that urged him to turn away, to run away. And he followed that fear as a hunter follows the signs ..... It was fear that lay ahead of him, that lurked hiding from him or waiting for him among the slopes and forests of the island, and straight for it he steered.”To find the shadow, the dark side of your own nature, you must use your gut-based fear as a compass. What creates fear and tension in your life, must be met and undertaken, and transcended. You must learn to embrace courage in the face of fear. To lead your gut by an integrated alignment of head, heart and gut intelligences.
Once again Ged is drawn into a trap set by the shadow, but at the last second turns to find the shadow behind him and he lunges to seize the shadow, but again after a struggle it flees.
“All terror was gone, all joy was gone. It was a chase no longer, he was neither hunted, nor hunter, now. ..... neither could escape, when they had come to the time and place for their last meeting, they would meet.
Ged follows on, until at Ismay he meets up with Vetch, his trusted friend. Vetch convinces Ged that he should continue on with him in his final search for the shadow. Speaking of the shadow Ged says:
“When I ceased to flee from it and turned against it, that turning of my will upon it gave it shape and form even though the same act prevented it from taking my strength from me. All my acts have their echo in it; it is my creature.”Speaking to Vetch’s sister, Ged says:
“All power is one in source and end, ... years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name and yours, and the true name of the sun or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the Great Word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.”
Together with Vetch, Ged sets off for his final meeting with his shadow:
“They went now on a way in which all events were perilous and no acts were meaningless. On the course on which they had embarked the saying of the least spell might change chance and move the balance of power and of doom: for they went now towards the very centre of that balance, towards the place where light and darkness meet. Those who travel thus, say no word carelessly. ..... Vetch asked no question about their course, knowing that Ged did not choose it but went as he must go.”
Then at the dark of the moon that follows first after sunreturn (the contrary pole of the days of the moon. The dark axis of the year.) Ged meets his shadow. He does this in the open sea, where the sea becomes land:
“.. the sea had turned to sand, shadowy, unstirred. Nothing moved in the dark sky or on the dry, unreal ground that went on and on into the gathering darkness all around the boat, as far as the eye could see.”The dark of the moon - at the height of the unconscious power. The shadow must be met at the unconscious level. The conscious must meet the unconscious that generates it. You must acknowledge and honour your self’ing, that both exists and does not exist, since it is no ‘thing’, but a process that is called into being and is your ‘human becoming’.
As the shadow comes towards him it assumes numerous forms:
1. an old man grey and grim - his father the smith;
2. a young man - Jasper his early rival;
3. Pechvarry - the man whose child he could not save - Pechvarry’s face was all bloated and pallid like the face of a drowned man;
4. the gebbeth;
5. a black animal like shadow crawling on its short taloned legs.
All of these are aspects of your self’ing, aspects of that which made you, your personal history, your growth, your relationships, those processes that have defined you on your journey to individuation.
As they meet, both Ged and his shadow say each others names:
“Ged reached out his hands, and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one.”Vetch watching all this perceives wrongly and is caught up by the illusion. He springs out onto the sand to help his friend, but as he runs the sand sinks under his feet, turning into sea again, and he is almost drowned. But struggling back into the boat, he rows to where Ged is laying and hauls him back into the boat.
“‘Estarriol’ he said ‘look, it is done. It is over.’ He laughed. ‘The wound is healed’ he said, ‘I am whole, I am free.’ Ged had neither lost nor won, but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole, a man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life’s sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark.”
The final summary
The process of individuation is the process of understanding, embracing and honouring both life and death, of life’ing and death’ing. It is the process of yin and yang, of light and darkness. It involves the grasping and letting go of self, and the journey from human being to human becoming and onwards through the cycle of life’ing through to deathing. Individuation is the creating of a life of meaning, that transcends our limited life-times, and our fear of our mortality, the unknown and the process of knowing and un-knowing. Ultimately, the Wizard of Earthsea is a guide to the journey of your own soul, the process of living as a fractal of godding in the universe, and creating your own unfolding of your unique highest expressing of wisdom in your life’ing.
And I hope that you have enjoyed in some small way my simple analysis and summary of Ursula Le Guin’s transformational and incredible story. The way to use this summary best, is to grab a copy of Ursula’s wonderful book and read it first for the pure enjoyment of its story. Then read it again, in the light of the summary above. Then reflect deeply on your own journey to individuation and where on the mage’s path you are right now, and what you need to do so that you may embrace your own shadow.
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.
Life enhancing thoughts and wishes