Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…,
—from The Raven by Edger Allen Poe
We have a strange, and if I may say, somewhat backward, relationship with darkness. We are raised, almost from birth, to be terrified of the night and frightened by shadows which lurk beyond our sight. We populate the dark with our fears and anxieties, making of it a home for every predator, villain and devilry that our overwrought imaginations may contrive. We strive to light our homes, our yards and streets, and when we think there may not be enough light to reach every dark corner, we bolt high powered halogen security lights onto every pole and surface we can find. We flood the night with so much glare that the stars themselves are hidden from our sight.
We excuse this behavior by telling ourselves that we act out of self preservation. We imagine that our ancestors gathered close around some meager blaze as they sheltered in their caves by night. Perhaps, we tell ourselves, that those distant ancients could hear wolves sniffing about in the darkness, just outside the reach of the light, and knew that they were safe and secure within its protective glow.
In our apprehension, we have sought to extend that glow further and further, to cast light into every shadow and in so doing, to rob the night of its mystery.
Are we any safer?
And even if the answer to that question is yes, was it worth turning the night into a pallid likeness of daytime to achieve that supposed security.
I step out of my home and into the night only to find myself illuminated from almost every direction. Looking into the drab sky which hangs above me, punctuated by a scarce smattering of pinprick lights, I find that I don’t buy into the original argument.
Men…, caves…, fire…, safety. It all sounds very plausible until you remember that in those ancient sites where early peoples left cave art behind, those paintings NEVER appear near the entrances to the caves where the people sheltered and light was plentiful. Instead, those sacred images were produced in the deepest, darkest most inaccessible parts of the cave. Although we cannot know precisely what spirits may have motivated our earliest ancestors, it seems clear enough that they understood something about the darkness that we, as a culture, appear to have forgotten.
While darkness may sometimes hide danger, it is home to the most sacred of mysteries: the birth of light and life and power.
We have become so fixated upon our own journey toward some imagined darkness that we forget that we were birthed, each of us, from darkness itself. Literally speaking, the safest, most comforting and secure time of our lives was spent in the womb. The mystery of life begins in darkness, and though we may live out our lives in the light of the sun, it is to the comforting darkness of our beds that we return when the day is done.
In these days leading up to the Winter Solstice, the days grow shorter and shorter while the darkness of night extends to the fullest reach it shall know in the year ahead. Our ancestors understood that the living year is born, as are we all, from a place of darkness. They welcomed the darkness of creation, and the eventual rebirth of the sun, with feasts and gifts and sacrifice that have been passed down to us from a time beyond recorded history.
However you choose to celebrate in the coming days, I welcome you to join me in the deepest part of the longest night of the year. Step out of the “safe” light of the fire for a few moments and into the darkness beyond. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the night around you. Feel the breath of mystery upon your cheek.
And when you are ready…,
Open your eyes and peer deep into that darkness,
Not fearing, but wondering;
Not doubting, but dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before!