It is the connection of darkness with the feminine, nature, and wilderness that gives us the key to explain why it is so denigrated for most of Christian history. In patriarchal culture, the assertive female is regarded as dark, dangerous and malevolent, and characterised as a witch. The passive female is elevated as the model for how women should be: quiet, virginal, and modest. And yet, in the Torah, there are many strong women: the Shulamite in the Song of Songs, Esther, Naomi and Ruth, and many more. But Judaism is kinder to women. Perhaps it was the Romans who bequeathed their patriarchal atttitudes to Christianity. In order for patriarchy to function, female sexuality must be suppressed and controlled, and men must be taught to fear it and abuse it; and the wilderness must be conquered and tamed.
In Taoism, the darkness is seen as yin: passive, dark, feminine, negative, downward-seeking, consuming and corresponds to the night.
Yáng is active, light, masculine, positive, upward-seeking, producing and corresponds to the daytime.
Yin and yang together produce constant movement in the universe.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (a famous Unitarian) wrote:
POLARITY, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light; in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; ... An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole.And there was me thinking that polarity was a Pagan concept! Polarity is expressed in the cycle of the seasons, the interplay of dark and light in the solstices and equinoxes, and we find this cyclicity repeated everywhere; indeed the Mayan calendar was an endless series of interlocking cycles, both great and small.
The point of all this is that darkness is a part of the ebb and flow of life on the planet; it is necessary for life, for rest, for the germination of seeds, and for the renewal of the spirit.
In De Profundis, Oscar Wilde speaks of the nurturing and non-judgmental qualities of Nature and darkness:
“Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on just and unjust alike, will have clefts in the rock where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.”Darkness is not evil. Darkness is glamourous and seductive -- if one associates darkness with evil, it will attract people to evil. Evil should be represented by beige, grey or fog, to represent the idea that ordinary, mundane, boring people can commit atrocities, it is not the special prerogative of the psychopath.
When we say that darkness is evil, we create a split in ourselves, for we consist of both light and dark aspects. Carl Gustav Jung (the psychoanalyst) said that the psyche consists of Anima, Animus, and Shadow – the Shadow being the unconscious aspect, the parts of ourselves that we fear and repress. We need to bring these into the light in order to transform them into healthy aspects of ourselves – not slaying the monsters, but harnessing their power to work for good.
When we say that darkness is evil, we project that idea onto others – the terrorist, the witch, the deviant, the stranger. Racism and sexism and homophobia have their roots in this fear of the other, the fear of our own unconscious impulses that we project onto others.
In English, Scottish and Greek folk tradition, the dark stranger was welcomed into the house at New Year in the ceremony of first-footing, when he brings a piece of coal for luck. Similarly Befana, the witch of Epiphany in Italy, brings a piece of coal to naughty children – but nowadays it is a piece of candy. Perhaps this could serve to remind us of the blessed silence and sweetness of the darkness.
Jung derived many of his ideas from alchemy, the mystical process of transformation of the soul, which was itself derived ultimately from Taoist thought. Darkness was the first stage of alchemical transformation, and was represented by the Raven. We descend into the darkness to find the lost treasure – creativity, and memory, and dreams.
Epiphany is traditionally the time at which Jesus's baptism is celebrated, and in Eastern Orthodoxy it is therefore the time of the Blessing of the Waters, one of the signs that Orthodoxy believes that God is in all, and all are in God. The feast generally represents the Divine light in the world, and is held to be the time when the three Magi arrived from the East, bearing gifts of gold (for his kingship), frankincense (for his priestliness), and myrrh (for his role as the Divine physician). But the holy birth, and the visit of the Magi, take place at night, in a stable, or possibly a cave, perhaps to dramatically highlight the guiding star and the holy babe, and the quality of mystery that hangs over the “silent night, holy night”.
Only in traditions where the Divine is not seen as present in Nature is darkness feared – for if the Divine is in everything, it must also be in the darkness, and it must also contain darkness. In Paganism, the dark mother is seen as
the bringer of peace. When the unthinkable happens, she is there with open arms, comforting and soothing the wounds. When life has gone on too long, and friends are all gone, she is there to take us home. She is not unfeeling.In Christianity, the darkness of God is seen as that which is unknowable, the depths which cannot be plumbed. As the book of Genesis so poetically puts it: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.”
But she is not a coddling mother, either. She expects us to be strong. She expects us to take ownership for our lives... she expects us to be able to stand; alone if necessary. And when the test comes, she expects us to be able to look in Her eyes.
The Song of Songs says: “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.”
According to the Poetry Chaikhana website:
Night is the time when lovers meet, when the soul meets its Divine Beloved.So it seems that, if we are to embrace the Divine Beloved, we must also embrace the night, and its gifts of sacred sexuality, silence, prayer, coolness and fragrance. And in embracing the Divine Beloved, we also embrace each other, for each of us has a spark of the Divine within us.
Darkness, like God, envelops everything in its embrace. It is in the darkness of night that all things become one, losing their individuality as they disappear into that mystery. ...
In Sufi poetry, night-time has an added dimension in that many Sufis engage in a special midnight prayer.... Because of this, the night is eagerly anticipated as the holiest of times for many devout Sufis.