Since Halloween, for the zealous, and since the day after Thanksgiving for just about everyone else, we’ve been turning on the lights. We’ve been beating back darkness, depression, fear, and gloom with commercial clamor and the added stress of determined holiday cheer.
What if we didn’t? Yes, I know the traditions of this season have ancient roots and almost all cultures sufficiently north of the equator have held feasts and revels and called for the sun’s return as or more vociferously than we do. I don’t want to write a blog about old customs: good, modern customs: crass or compromised. No. I want to talk about the dark, our fear of it. I want to talk about the dark. Our hidden longing for it.
For ten years, I was a Quaker and continue to have great respect for The Religious Society of Friends. During that time I did sometimes feel oppressed by Friends frequent references to the Light, their metaphor of choice, the ocean of Light that covered the ocean of Darkness–darkness being the force that light invariably vanquished. Quakers are by no means the only people who make this ubiquitous equation. Who hasn’t talked about “dark emotions” or used the expression “going over to the dark side.” But consider:
The womb is dark; the earth where the seed gestates is dark; the ocean where all life began is dark; the night which gives us the map of the stars is dark; corn ripens in the dark. Nor is light always benign; there is the naked light bulb of interrogation, the too much light that withers crops, the light of a bomb exploding. When we equate darkness with evil and light with good, are we not, however unintentionally, implying that light-skinned people are superior to dark-skinned people? Could we find another metaphor? Or use this one differently?
I am now an interfaith minister and a pagan with Christian roots. The Church’s liturgical year and the pagan year, indeed the liturgial year in most religions are not so different. All of them had their origins in observing and aligning with the journeys of the sun and the moon, the changing seasons. For the past seven years I have also been studying tai chi, whose symbol is the dark and the light in dynamic balance, each one holding the seed of the other.
In the Northern hemisphere it’s the nadir of the dark time. Why not surrender to the dark? I like holiday lights as well as anyone, because they are tiny in night’s vastness, light seeds. All I am saying is: sometimes just let the dark be dark, let the night be silent. Turn out all the lights and sit in the dark. Inside darkness. Take a bath in the dark. Turn out the outside lights and look at the stars. Parties can be fun. But stay in sometimes. In the dark. Inside the restorative, generative dark.