In Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic fantasy novel, A Wizard of Earthsea, one person has power over another by knowing his “true name.” So it is that the people of Earthsea all go by nicknames, only revealing their true names to those they trust with their lives and hearts.
The story is told of a brash young wizard named Ged (his true name), who, in a vain show of his immature power, accidentally unleashes a dark spirit-monster from the depths of the other world. Ged is severely wounded by the creature which then flees into the night.
Upon recovering, Ged finds himself in mortal fear of this creature and, when he again encounters it, runs away and continues to run as the creature follows wherever Ged goes.
Returning to his first great teacher, Ged is told that he must learn the true name of the thing that hunts him in order to defeat it.
“The evil thing, the shadow that hunts me, has no name,” Ged whispers with resignation.
“All things have a name,” his teacher responds with certainty.
Finally, Ged realizes that he must confront the dark creature in order to stop running and return to living a whole life – or die.
Now the hunter becomes the hunted as Ged chases the dark mass, finally catching it in the middle of the sea. Ged approaches the thing and, as it morphs into hideous, ever-changing dark shapes with sharp claws and dagger teeth, Ged reaches for it.
The black spirit hisses and moans but Ged, finally facing the truth, calmly calls it by its true name:
The mass quivers and allows Ged to embrace it, pulling it into his body, the shadow and Ged now as one again.
What can we learn from the story of Ged?
1. We tend to run away from the dark things we conjure up that have wounded us terribly.
How many times have you done this? Created – inadvertently, perhaps – a situation in your life out of immaturity or not knowing yourself well enough that ends up hurting you dreadfully?
Perhaps it is a relationship that becomes toxic, the scars of which you carry and which cause you to run from all intimacy.
Perhaps it is poor choices you made when younger that you continue to flee from rather than stop and see the lessons you learned from them.
2. You must face your shadow and name it or you will always run from its power and terror.
Ged finally recognized that the monster from which he was fleeing was the darker part of himself, his shadow.
Are you still running from your shadow? Perhaps you were hurt by someone else long ago and yet your shadow side continues to hang onto the hurt. You have been running away from this for a long time, afraid of what would happen if the shadow caught up to you.
Do you you need to forgive yourself?
Stop. Look at what you are running from. Call it by your own name and realize it is a part of you.
3. You must not only face your shadow, you must embrace it.
You may spend a lot of time running away from your shadow, denying that you have one, or trying to get rid of it.
As Ged so wisely realized, the shadow is an integral part of you and needs to be welcomed and embraced. Accepting yourself is not only about celebrating your good qualities, but embracing the darker side of you: the flaws, quirks, bad habits, less-than-noble thoughts, and negative emotions that are as much a part of you as your sunny side.
It’s okay to continue to grow personally and bring light to your darker characteristics. But realize that, because you are a member of the human race, part of you will always be shadow.
Embrace your shadow.
4. You are not whole without your shadow.
All the energy and effort you put into denying your shadow only delays your experience as a whole, complete person.
Live a free, meaningful life as shown in this passage from the end of A Wizard of Earthsea. (Ged was accompanied on his journey to find his shadow by his trustworthy friend, Estarriol.)
“Estarriol,” he said, “look, it is done. It is over.” He laughed. “The wound is healed,” he said, “I am whole, I am free.” Then he bent over and hid his face in his arms, weeping like a boy.
Estarriol began to see the truth, that 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.
Here’s your one thing: To be whole, embrace that integral, dark part of you – your shadow.
The story of Ged is so rich with symbolism. What lessons do you see in his story?