I have heard any number of really well-meaning, good-hearted spiritual folk praying these past weeks for some version of “let the light prevail, let the darkness be banished.” By “light” they usually mean all that is wholesome and good and by “darkness” they usually mean violence, evil, and human abjection of one kind or another.
But the light is the problem not the solution.
The fluorescent lights of laboratories. The light bulb hanging from a chain in the torture chamber never turned off until the prisoner goes mad. The enlightenment itself that banished all primitive hocus pocus that might suggest that animals had feelings, mountains were sentient, and even icebergs were beings. The enlightenment fueled by extractive colonialism and endless genocides and ecocides. The light of cold-blooded rationality. The lights that emblazon our 24-7 pornographic self-consciousness. The great radioactive glow of nuclear bombs.
We have been conditioned to fear the darkness and condemn it but seeds must settle into the soil before they unfurl. Black holes give birth to stars. We grow within the warm pulsing darkness of our mother’s wombs, and we are placed within the dark body of the earth when we die. Our lives are everywhere surrounded by darkness…the unknowable lives and times that came before us, the dark matter of the heavens, and always our own inevitable deaths.
What we need now, more than ever, is the healing balm of darkness, the quiet and stillness of the hours before dawn, and the magic available in the dirt, the underworld, and the shadows. This is magic we may not be able to explain or prove or analyze. But we can recover its power within us to bring forth the miracles the world needs right now.
What follows is a chapter from my forthcoming book, Take Back the Magic: Getting to Know the Dead.
The Dark Room
The dead lead us into the dark—away from certainties and answers, towards mysteries and questions. We will feel less control and more wonder, less mastery and more magic.
From the depths of the oceans to the enormity of the universe, from the hidden secrets of deep time to the lurking shadows of our own deaths, we are surrounded in every direction by a vast darkness. We have turned on the lights as much as we can, setting our world ablaze with electricity, information, analysis, clarification. We send out probes into space and shatter atoms to see how they are made. But our most adventurous scientists only discover what the mystics always knew—the cosmos is stranger than we can possibly imagine. Light bends, time folds, one world gives birth to another, an electron can be in two places at once, black holes swallow stars. We have no idea where we really are—or who.
Darkness has become synonymous in our culture with ignorance and evil. And yet we torture our enemies by imprisoning them in rooms where the lights are always on. Haven’t we done the same to ourselves? We have driven ourselves mad as well with too many facts and so much illusion of control. We are neurotic, anxious, blinded by the light. Wisdom, knew the old teachers, was a woman with the dark face of the night.
Before the age of enlightenment and the era of colonial conquest, the Virgin Mary was often depicted as black. Her dark face reminds us of our ancestral mothers whose skin was dark—and of the vast ancestral generations that are behind and beneath us. Like the Egyptian goddess Isis, who was recognized in the fertile dirt of the Nile delta, these black virgins remind each of us that we were formed in the darkness of the womb and will return to the darkness of the tomb. They are mothers of the living and mothers of the dead. They are queens of the underworld who can summon the ancient forces of the land itself to bring forth miracles into the world.
Seeds germinate in the dark and so does magic. So do we.
But unlike modern children left in their bedrooms by themselves to become frightened of what they cannot see in the closet or under the bed, we are not alone in the dark. The darkness itself is the body of our great mother. The darkness is the infinite dead whose lives have led to ours—the vanished stars, the old trees, the forgotten friends.
The dead have seen it all. They have seen civilizations rise and fall. They remember plagues and genocides, collapses and extinctions. They remember, too, ways of being that we have forgotten, secrets we need going forward, and what it means to see beyond the limits of a single human life. Like Inanna and Odysseus and the great heroes of myth and legend, we must journey to the underworld to receive the gifts of the dead before we can become who we really are. In the darkness are nothing but mothers and lovers waiting to take us by the hand and guide us to the unimaginable and the impossible.
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About the Author
Perdita Finn is the co-author with her husband Clark Strand of The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary and with him, the founder of the international fellowship of the same name devoted to the earth and the Lady “by any name you want to call her.” She teaches popular workshops on collaborating with the ancestors and her book Take Back the Magic: Getting To Know the Dead is forthcoming from Running Press in 2023. Find out more at wayoftherose.org