At last I understand why we have waited! This is the ending. Now not only day shall be loved, but night too shall be beautiful and blessed and all its fear pass away’The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter V, The Steward and the King
Now is the time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when we attempt to embrace the darker days to come. On Hallowe’en, children venture into the cold in their best costumes to annoy their neighbours (or, at least in any usual year they would). On the 5th November, us crazy Brits watch fireworks burst out of the night sky to celebrate the government thwarting an assassination attempt (England is so weird).
But in everyday language, darkness is often equated with negativity. Times of struggle get referred to as a ‘dark time’. A troubling future is described as looking ‘black’. A ‘black cloud’ hovers over our head when we’re gloomy. Conversely, whiteness or lightness is equated with goodness. We all do it. Such comparisons are ubiquitous in British English language.
It extends to many spiritual traditions, too. Think of Bible verses about sins being cleansed until they are ‘white as snow’ (Isaiah 1.18). Diwali is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, represented through the lighting of candles. In the synagogue, the Ner Tamid, eternal light, symbolises the presence of the Almighty and the beauty of the Torah.
In this framework, black is associated solely with bad things – sin; evil; ugliness; depravity; lack of humanity. And it should come as a surprise to no-one that such thinking was and is extended to people, to skin colour and ethnicity, and used to justify evils such as colonialism, slavery and white saviourism.
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
(John 1.5, in old-timey words because it sounds lit)
A stark dualism of light and dark, may have found its way into Christian thought through the influence of the dualistic cult of Gnosticism on early Christian thinkers such as the writer of the book of John.
But some earlier understandings of the spiritual qualities of light and dark understand them to be interdependent. There was an understanding of the inherent balance of night and day; of the seasons. Many creation myths speak about how light and life was created out of darkness, therefore darkness is the stuff out of which creation happens. The creation myth in Genesis says that ‘God hovered over the surface of the water’ before God created light. God was within the holy darkness, permeating it, before light even existed.
The Celtic wheel of the year, which pre-dates Christianity, honours the balance of light and dark throughout the seasons of human and natural life. The festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-wen) is the end of the Celtic year, and honours the need for earth to be in darkness, for seeds to rest in the deep soil until spring, in order to allow another harvest when the time is right. All beauty is found within balance.
Don’t be afraid of the inner darkness
On this festival, and during these darker months of autumn and winter, I invite you to see the beauty, the mystery, the gentleness within the things of darkness. The way darkness holds, the way it reveals, the way it comforts when we are overstimulated.
The night is beautiful; mysterious; restful; magical.
Soil is rich; fertile; alive.
The womb-space, the place of generation, of creation, is dark.
I invite you to allow all the spiritual riches that darkness holds to minister to you.
Blessings of Samhain to you.