One story we Pagans like to tell about ourselves is that we have a balanced world view, honouring the dark as well as the light, acknowledging that both are part of life. But is this actually true?
If you stop and think about it, as we move around the Wheel of the Year we seem to focus much more on celebrating the light than the dark. At Yule we celebrate the rebirth of the sun, and the fact that from now on the light will return. At Imbolc we celebrate with candles the lengthening days. At the Spring Equinox when the days and nights are once again of equal length we celebrate spring and renewal. At Beltane we celebrate the beginning of summer, and at the Summer Solstice we celebrate the sun at the height of its powers. At Lughnasadh we celebrate the grain harvest ripened by the sun at the same time that we mourn its waning power. At Autumn Equinox we note the balance between dark and light whilst celebrating the summer’s harvest. Only at Samhain do we truly honour the dark, working with our ancestors and practicing divination.
So if the Wheel of the Year is divided by the Equinoxes into a dark half (when the nights are longer) and a light half (when the days are longer), why do we spend almost all our festivals honouring the power of the light and only one honouring the dark?
Well it could be because the light seems a more attractive prospect. Most of us prefer warmth to cold, sunshine to gloom, summer to winter etc. But I think we are missing an important point. In focussing so heavily on the light we are not taking a balanced view. We are neglecting a large and important part of the daily and annual cycle of life, even the cycle of life and death itself. Just stop and think for a moment what life would be like if it were all light and growth and go, go, go. We need the dark of night for sleep, rest and renewal, we need shade from the heat of the sun, we need death and endings to make room for birth and newness. We need the interplay of both light and shadow to make sense of the world, to appreciate depth and perspective.
I am not saying that at Yule we should not celebrate the apparent rebirth of the sun. But perhaps we should acknowledge the importance and power of the dark at the same time. At the Autumn Equinox, as well as celebrating the summer’s harvest, perhaps we could also celebrate the onset of autumn and all the good things that will bring – sitting round a cosy fire, sipping hot chocolate, kicking through piles of leaves, roasting chestnuts, snuggling up in your favourite fuzzy sweater…
Seeds, if exposed only to the sun will shrivel and dry out, never germinating. But those that fall to the ground and work into the damp darkness of the soil will eventually burst into life, sending up green shoots and drawing their sustenance not only from the sunlight on their leaves, but also from the dark richness of the earth.
To be truly balanced and nourished I believe we too need to reach for the skies whilst staying firmly rooted in the ground (grounded). One part of this is acknowledging and celebrating the dark half of the year properly.
Here are some suggestions for working creatively and fruitfully with the dark during this time of year.
- Celebrate the dark half of the year as a time for rest and renewal.
- Find a method of honest self-examination that works well for you, truly examine and work towards understanding your shadow self (find a good counsellor or therapist if necessary).
- Focus on self-care in your rituals. What would truly nourish and renew your mind, body and spirit? Do healing rituals. Give each other massages in sacred space. Share nourishing home-cooked food infused with healing spells.
- Focus on your dreams and what they are trying to tell you. Keep a dream journal, start a dream group, interpret each-others dreams in coven space.
- Use a favourite method of divination to delve deeply into your unconscious.
- Go on a retreat.
- Try fasting for 24 hours. It doesn’t have to be a food fast – you could try a media fast (turn off the TV, radio and computer, avoid newspapers, books etc) or an electricity fast (turn off everything non-essential).
These are just a few suggestions to get you thinking creatively. I’m sure you can think of many more! The dark is not better than the light, the light is not better than the dark. They are equal and complementary. We need both. Let’s celebrate that.