The Season of Endarkenment

The Forest Path in Autumn

We’ve entered the season of darkness, especially now that our clocks have magically turned back. The nights will come almost as a surprise this week, the frosts become bolder and thicker.

Even though our calendars say that Winter begins with the Solstice, really, this is the beginning of the season. Winter Solstice has long been known as Midwinter, and with good reason, it marks the middle of the season, the deepest point of darkness. Now is as good a time as any to hang out your twinkling lights, and refresh your tea cabinet with warming chais and turmeric for golden milk.

When I was in my twenties I read a lot about enlightenment. It seemed the pinnacle of human achievement, if also an ambiguous, undefinable state. You would know when it happened, right?

Recently enlightenment came up again (in a presentation of Hilma af Klint’s work, cited below), and in that same context––as something to achieve, a goal to work towards. And a small voice inside me said nope.

It’s the small voice that says, pick up the pen, let me tell you some more. So that’s what I did.

We are entering the season of endarkenment, I wrote. Our unfortunate and perhaps overwhelming bias towards light means that we misunderstand, profoundly, the nature of darkness.

Of course, when the formative mythology of our culture (Christianity, obviously) aligned light and dark with good and evil (thus stratifying people into two groups––sinners or saved––and the world as material or spiritual), then the culture is rife with these associations, and they make deep roots into our psyches, so deep that it can be a surprising challenge to sift them out. Darkness is associated with ignorance, evil, death, and wrongdoing.

But there is no evil in the night, or really anywhere (except in the human realm, where power or deprivation can make monsters). Night is a time of magic and sleep and stars. By starlight we find the truest guides for navigation. In sleep our bodies are restored, our minds processed and replenished. And we dream.

What then, is the dark, but the womb of the world? As holy as enlightenment, there is endarkenment, a state of being where we are deeply nourished, cradled, and supported. Where we receive ideas, visions, and dreams. It is the realm of Mysteries, the Unknowable.

The two–light and dark–together create wholeness.

Of course this is not news to anyone, though I find myself bumping up against dark=evil in my own psyche as I explore this topic in my journal. If you really want to bump up against some embedded culture in your psyche, consider death as the Holiest Dark.

Autumn has been glorious here, and I have spent many hours in the forest, soaking in the last of leaf-color. But the past few mornings the frosts have hit hard. The beautyberry outside my door, resplendent with her clusters of purple berries, dropped all her leaves at once, leaving them scattered around her like a yellow dress, crumpled on the floor. The oaks are the last ones left. Most are dressed in scarlet, but there is one mother oak along my walk that, as of yesterday, was still green.

But within two weeks the forest will have emptied herself. And I cannot lie. I love Winter. I think because some part of me is deeply tuned to the dark.

What dwells within the underneath of the forest, the field, the river, which can only be revealed in this season of endarkenment? What story can we make new space for in our own dark? What nourishment might flow to us in the long night of Winter? How can we prepare ourselves to receive this support and nourishment?

These are some of the questions I’m carrying with me, as we begin our deep dive into the Dark. The whole of the Northern Hemisphere swings towards the Cosmos, away from the Sun. Starlight as old as the Universe cascades us with its story and its patterns.

Open your eyes, it says. Let your iris grow wide, like a large round mouth. Drink in the dark, the invisible story, the mystery of your being . Let the dark guide you to that place of fertile silence.

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