Lately I’ve been thinking about the word “darkness.” When I hear someone say, “I’m having these dark thoughts” or “that was a very dark time for me,” I get that they assume I’m right there with them, making the same familiar association between darkness and evil, darkness and pain, darkness and suffering, darkness and generic badness of every variety.
But I’m not. Instead, I am thinking of summer nights sprinkled with fireflies, the glowing brown skin of a friend’s arms, the shadowy understory of a pine forest, rich damp earth in spring. I am thinking of darkness as the space of seeds, new life and possibility.
And I’m wondering how we can turn our limited and limiting cultural assumptions about darkness around.
Before people got caught up in the mind trap of dualism and began placing moral judgments on opposites, dark and light, night and day, life and death, yin and yang were partners in the dance of cosmic creation. Knock one partner down and the dance is over. No more twilight. No more mystery. No uncertainty. This is a fundamental understanding, a truth at the core of all alchemical traditions.
In European alchemy, the creative dance of the opposites is called the connunctio, the divine marriage. In Taoist alchemy, the opposites are dragon and tiger, cinnabar and sulfur, the spirits of above and below. In astrology, they are the Sun and the Moon. Expansion and contraction. Both are sacred. Both are necessary. One without the other leads to stagnation, sterility, a still and soulless world.
At this time of year, I reflect on how the hours of night and day are momentarily equal, how the opposites of dark and light come close and kiss, how the veils between the two worlds lift and we see for a moment what lies beyond the world of opposites. As we rejoice in the bounty of the harvest, we recognize the imminence of loss. As we surrender, we receive. The demons I fear bring the greatest gifts if I can only welcome them as friends. It is no accident that the scales of Libra are the astrological symbol for this time of year.
I sit for a moment at this balance point, before the northern hemisphere tips down towards the “Fall,” Halloween, the Metal Element, the time of descent, the yin, and then the deep gestation of winter. And as midnight approaches and the last valiant crickets grow raucous with the threat of the encroaching cold, I hear words from many years ago now returning with new meaning. “Hello Darkness …” my old, forgotten friend, I am indeed come to talk with you again.