Here is another piece from my years in the woods. I wrote the dark heart of this one last midwinter, sitting beside my fire in the soft glow of its flames, deep night all around like a lover’s embrace. The photo above is of the inside of the Spirit House at Tir Ysbrydol in Wales, a ceremonial space consecrated to the Goddess in all her forms, especially the Dark Goddess. I offer deep gratitude to Emma Orbach, guardian of Tir Ysbrydol, for her visionary work with the Holy Darkness, the Divine Feminine, and the Sacred Earth.
In Praise of the Void
At the time of the Winter Solstice here in the Northern hemisphere, my heart and my voice reach out to celebrate the beauty of darkness.
Yes, it’s true, I’m not going to hide it: I’m a member of the dark side, a champion of the dark forces, a lover of night.
Having lived without electricity for four winters in my little mud hut in the wilds of West Wales, sometimes not even using candles for much of the winter, I have made friends with the dark and, yes, come to love it.
I especially love those moonless winter nights when it’s frosty-cold and the stars are bright and the darkness between them is black-velvet void. I wonder, is that evil of me?
I also love sleep and rest, and the stillness and silence of the mid-night hours. Hmmm, does that make me bad?
And the moist, dark earth where seeds germinate and old forms are decomposed before being recycled into the ground of new growth… is it wicked of me to love this too?
No, no, no! Darkness is divine. The Earth is sacred. In the silence of the night the song of the angels can be heard.
So, relaxing into these longest nights of the year, replete as they are with lovely starry-darkness, I’m delighted to live deep in the woods where the dark is still strong and clean and holy.
I’m grateful to be far away from the synthetic brilliance of the modern world, where God’s opening act in the drama of Genesis—“Let there be light!”—seems to have spread beyond its natural bounds and is now manifesting not only as the splendour of the sun and the cool luminescence of moon and stars but as perpetual electrical glare.
So many bulbs blazing, so many screens glowing, electric candles everywhere!
The long nights of winter are almost a thing of the past, dazzled out of existence at the flick of ten billion switches. There are many people in our world, I suspect, who simply never encounter darkness any more, even for a moment.
Except, that is, as a metaphor for what we don’t like.
The light-bias of Western Culture can be seen not only in its incandescent homes, streets, cities, but also in the mirror of language.
Positive metaphors and usages for ‘light’ and related words abound. We speak of ‘Enlightenment’ as the highest spiritual goal. We talk of ‘seeing the light’ to describe a moment of understanding, comprehension, insight. To be ‘bright’ is to be intelligent. To ‘light up a room’ is to spread happiness. Our ‘leading lights’ are our most talented people.
Words relating to darkness, however tend to be suggestive of either evil or ignorance. “It was a dark day” speaks of tragic events. To be “in the dark’ about something is to occupy a state of ignorance. ‘Shady characters’ are to be avoided, ‘dim-witted’ people are inferior, ‘dark deeds’ are to be censured. ‘Dark forces’, ‘The dark side’, ‘the battle of light against darkness’… we all know instantly what these metaphors mean: dark equals bad.
We use and recognise these metaphors and associations freely without thinking about the deeply troubling fact that by doing so we are perpetuating a gross distortion.
Is it not strange that darkness is so maligned? Is it not very strange that we should deprecate one full half of our wholeness?
Both day and night, light and darkness, are equally necessary for the growth and wellbeing of living beings.
Waking consciousness is unsustainable without sleep.
Life is not possible without death, nor creation without destruction.
We, and the cosmos as a whole, are made of and for both darkness and light, stillness and dancing.
Thinking about all this as I sit beside my gently flickering fire (the only light I tend to have after sunset) I close my eyes. I notice the black space behind them, upon which the creative visions and imaginings of my active consciousness are played out.
As I become more aware of this mind-space, as I focus upon it and not the thoughts and scenes that play upon it, slowly my mental activity subsides. My mind quietens and the dark space expands, deepens, becomes alive with pulsing energy and rich with a flavour of bliss.
More even than the darkness between the winter stars, I love this inner darkness.
The mystics tell us that this space, when devoid of all thought-waves down to even the most subtle ripples, is actually infinite consciousness, the ocean of immortal bliss known as God.
So much for the equation of darkness with evil!
Of course, when my mind is not quiet but agitated with horrible images, clamorous thoughts, disturbing feelings, then the darkness behind my closed eyes is a very different, difficult space to be in.
Similarly, when my heart is full of fears then the moonless nights in the woods are full of terrors.
Sadly, it seems to me that most of the lights and luminous gadgets are there to dazzle out and distract us from these disturbing contents of our own psyches.
Unfortunately, not only does this electrical field of distraction do nothing to address the underlying issues, which only multiply, but it is having huge negative impact on the ecology of our planet.
Most tragically, however, the techno-matrix and the cultural mindset that gave birth to it is cutting us off from the blessed darkness both inside and out, just as it’s cutting us of from the nourishing earth beneath our feet.
The fundamental conflict expressed in the imbalance between darkness and light cuts through our world like a knife, cleaving not only light from darkness, but heaven from earth, spirit from matter, man from woman and self from other.
So, as our world prepares to almost completely overlook deep dark of the Winter Solstice before plunging into the blazing celebration of Sun-return on the 25th, I ask you to spare a thought for the darkness.
It too holds many gifts for us.
We can use this powerful dark time of the year to tentatively feel into some of the awkward psychic content stashed in the inner shadows. Consciously choosing to access and release the pain and fear we carry in the dark places within allows these places to become a source of strength and nourishment rather than a store of suppressed negativity.
Perhaps, on the longest night, you might join me in turning off the lights for a while during the long evening and let in a little of the enveloping night. We can allow ourselves to be still in the darkness, relaxing for a moment into the womblike space of the void which forms the backdrop of our inner world and in which our whole universe is suspended:
Closer than breath, closer than thought, luminously dark and alive with infinite possibility, true matrix of creation, mother of all things.