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Getting Acquainted With the Dark

(art by Sarah Mcmenomy*)

 

It is October and Samhain is drawing near. Who among us who observes the Wheel of the Year doesn’t get excited about this most sacred of witchy days?  At Mabon we entered the dark half of the year, a time for reflection and looking within.  Not only is the world around us darkening, it is time for us to face our own inner darkness.

 

Darkness.  It’s a word we throw around a lot, but what does it mean for us as we move deeper into fall and toward winter?  We hear that “dark” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad,” but then, why is darkness sometimes associated with negativity?  Anger, death, sadness: these are just a few examples of things that cause us pain.  But are they truly “negative”?  If we use the principle “As above, so below” and look to nature, we see that some things grow and flourish and other things die.  Forest fires spring up spontaneously, killing some plants, but activating others that can only reproduce under conditions of extreme heat and allowing them to carry on.  Is any of this positive?  Negative?  Right?  Wrong?  It’s different when it’s us, we think.  We feel pain, sorrow, purposelessness.  And I’m not dismissing pain.  I’m just suggesting that perhaps these things aren’t negative in and of themselves.  Anger can motivate us to work to improve something that provokes us.  It’s natural and okay to experience sadness, to cry, to feel afraid.  Maybe these “dark” things hurt us when we have an excess of them in our lives. Too much sadness, and one can easily feel overwhelmed.  Constant fear without reasonable cause, and one can miss out on much of life.  You can even have too much of a good thing, as we so frequently say. Laughter, for example, is great, but would you really want to keep up a good belly laugh for thirty minutes straight?

 

Samhain and the dark of the year are times when we focus on both that which is hidden and the necessary role destruction plays in our lives.  We encounter the realm of the dead and perform  divination, self-reflection, and purging.  It is difficult to see what hides in the dark, just as we cannot see what lies beyond this life.  We reflect because we may not have considered all that is important, leaving it hidden beneath the busyness and activity of our daily lives.  When we take part in the tradition of considering what we need to “let go of” at Samhain, we recognize that destruction and loss play an important and necessary role in our lives.  We are surrounded by this destruction every day. All life feeds on other life.  We eat animals or plants, and the plants feed on organic material in the soil. When we die, we will be swallowed into that soil and become the material that feeds other life. Is this scary?  Naturally.  But Samhain is a time for facing our fears of the dark.

 

When we honor our beloved dead, commune with them, think about our beliefs about where they are now and where we’ll be when it’s our time to pass over, we integrate this vital and opposite aspect of  life into our consciousness.  Instead of fearing death, as much of our society does, we engage with it. Witches are often referred to as walkers between the worlds of the living and the dead and Samhain is the perfect time to find out just how comfortable you are doing that walking.  Is facing death frightening?  Invigorating?  Calming?  When death is encountered regularly while we’re alive, every year at Samhain and perhaps much more often than that, we become, while not entirely fearless, more comfortable with its inevitable presence.

 

We accept that this physical aspect of life we experience is not all there is, and so the world on the other side of the thinning veil is real to us.  Holding rituals to honor your loved ones who have passed and inviting them to a “dumb supper” are both excellent ways to get an introduction to the other side. Creating an altar of photos, favorite things, and other mementos is a great way to make them feel at home.  But as you look to the world of the dead, don’t forget to also look within.  You might like to do divination for the coming year or to find a focus for the long winter ahead.  Journaling, meditation, and bouncing ideas off of other people to reflect on later are other great ways of doing this.

 

This time of year is about all things scary, and we have fun with that just like everyone else.  But let us remember, as the dark begins closing around us, that we only fear it because it is hidden.  It has its place, like everything else, and we must simply strive to understand it and to keep it in balance.  I hope you have a blessed Samhain, and may your encounters with the darkness change you.

 

*art by Sarah McMenomy

I attempt to capture mystical and visionary experiences from the auric to the occult in my digital art. I use scrying, meditation, dream work, and photography as the basis for my intensely detailed line drawings. If you’d like to see more, please visit my site sarahmcmenomy.myportfolio.com.