Thursday, 18 March 2010

Embracing darkness

There's only one thing that annoys me about Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist theology. In fact, it really really bugs me. It is the use of light as a symbol for good, and darkness as a symbol for evil. Clearly Unitarians and UUs have inherited this from the Christian tradition, and failed to examine what's wrong with it.

In my hymn Freedom, Love, Reason, I wrote:
When reason sings in harmony
With intuition's tune
And light the darkness shall embrace
In deep soul alchemy
Then shall the Earth with freedom ring
The third line means, "when light shall embrace the darkness" but I had to invert it to fit the metre. It certainly does not mean that light will light the darkness.  It means that the conscious mind will embrace and accept the Shadow, bringing unconscious and repressed aspects of the self to the surface and working with them.  We descend into the darkness to find the lost treasure – creativity, and memory, and dreams.

In an address about Samhain and All Hallows, I wrote:
Pagans do not see darkness and death as evil, but as part of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. If there was no death, there would be no growth, no change, and no birth. If there was no darkness, the seeds could not gestate in the warm darkness of the earth; if there was no night, there would be no sleep, and no stars and moonlight. If there was no winter cold, there would be none of the beauty of autumn, the seeds would not germinate, and germs would not be killed by the frost. Darkness is the Yin spoken of by the Taoists – one half of the divine dance of the cosmos.
In another address on Darkness and Epiphany, I wrote:
Fear of the dark is civilisation's fear of the forest and the wilderness. The denigration of the dark is one of the foundation stones of Western civilisation and even the Enlightenment – so it is difficult to unravel it, to find out where it came from.

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.

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.
There are many positive things about darkness, and they are celebrated in many different spiritual traditions. Darkness is the time when contemplation and meditation are most effective; it is a time of intuition, inspiration and communing with the inner reality. The darkness of God is a metaphor frequently used by mystics to describe the unknowable and ineffable aspects of the Divine. So please, stop denigrating darkness!


Jarred said...

Well said! I'd also note that darkness is also associated with the land of the shades, the ancestral spirits who provide us with the wisdom of experience and the foundations of our very existence.

Darkness houses not only the creativity, memory, and dreams you speak of, but the very formless potential that become energized and crystallize into tangible form when touched by the Divine light. Without that formless potential, the Divine light would have nothing to energize into form.

Strange Attractor said...

Intellectually I totally agree with you, but practically in my life darkness is associated with depression and light with relief and joy.

goodwolve said...

I don't think the chalice was chosen with the full understanding of the relationship socially or culturally with light and dark. I would think that the understanding has deepened over the years to be more inclusive of things of all colors. I remember a sociology class where the idea the dark equals bad was also a reflection of our racism... we are edging away from that I hope.

Yewtree said...

Hi, I don't have a problem with the chalice logo at all - I think it's beautiful. It's just some of the hymns which talk about light pushing back darkness, etc. And people sometimes use that symbolism in sermons and addresses.

Maybe it was unfair of me to include UUs in this, as I am mainly talking about my experience of British Unitarianism, but I have seen a bit of this in UU writings as well.

The Pollinatrix said...

Yes. Darkness is the source of light.