Into the darkness

I thought I was aware of the cycle of the seasons. I thought I knew about the changing levels of light we enjoy in the UK. I am learning that I had no idea. Until this winter, I’ve lived places where street lighting means there is no real darkness, even in the house. Most of my time, electric light has been there at the touch of a button and I’ve not thought about it that much.

Out here on the canal, there are no street lights, and we’re generating our own electricity. So, while there are lights at the touch of a button, the power to run them is not guaranteed. It creates a totally different consciousness. Living in a smaller space, I have become more conscious of ‘outside’ and for a lot more hours every day at the moment, outside is dark. It’s also cold and wet, and not very inviting.

In the autumn we were using candles in the evening. As the nights closed in, we gave up on this because it was making me horrendously depressed. There are some handicrafts I can do by candle light, and listening to the wind up radio remains possible, but on the whole without light, I am sorely limited. It’s like having access to hot water, the internet and the radio. Light, it turns out, is an intrinsic part of my feeling connected with civilisation and without it, I get miserable. It’s not about what I can do, and it’s not anything seasonal-affective (I think).

Now, this raises some interesting questions for me. As a pagan druid, my relationship with nature is hugely important to me. In the spring and autumn, letting the natural light levels shape my day felt really good. I thought embracing the darkness of winter would be equally good. A new and spiritual journey into the true nature of things. What I got, was a feeling of utter misery and disconnection. Just having light on the boat until 8 or so at night, even if I don’t use it to work, makes me feel better. It may not be a coincidence that at this time of year we get all the harsh weather, there have been storms, high winds, heavy rain, ice… none of these things are within my control, although I am insulted from them sufficiently, they still affect me. Light, I suspect, allows me to feel a bit in control, a bit like I am not entirely at nature’s mercy. This is also interesting. As a pagan druid, am I not supposed to be open to nature? As a human being, I think I’ve found where my limits are, and that’s a good sort of thing to understand.

Being a druid, for me, is not purely about nature. It is also about civilization, inspiration and all that is best about humanity. A big part of how I think about druidry involves standing with one metaphorical foot in a wild place, and the other in civilization, belonging to both and mediating between the two. Much as I can’t cope physically with the external temperatures of winter, I am also not capable of handling the naturally occurring lack of light. I learn a thing about myself. Not being interested in suffering for the sake of it, and not believing that being miserable is spiritually good, I have accepted this. I have as much light as I need, and I now also have a very keen understanding of how that works. Only by testing my boundaries can I learn stuff like this. No doubt I’ll be pushing other places in the future.

My animal body has all kinds of curious needs and responses. Part of my quest to understand the natural world calls to me to understand nature as it manifests within myself. And like every hole digger, nest maker, hibernator and migrant, I too have to adapt to the seasons. Apparently, that means not journeying deep into the darkness. It doesn’t suit me after all, not in this kind of quantity. So that’s my goth reputation shot then!

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Into the darkness

  • bish

    Sat in front of work and home computers with half a dozen candles burning I share your love of light. I am a bit SAD in fact, but manage not to kill anyone almost all the time… 🙂 Heating switched on at last I hope you’re keeping warm on your lovely but freezing cold canal.

  • helgaleena

    Yes, the actual darkness of the darkest time of year is in fact EXCEEDINGLY dark. I don’t know how the Sami stand it, but stand it they do, and even yoik.

    When I was younger I used to taunt the winter by skiing when it was below zero, and camping out in that same weather, with the help of down comforters and zippers and bales of hay. But now I know my own cowardice and pay the money for the feed of gas and electric. I even have Internet piped in instead of scavenging for WiFi. Thankful I am too for the warm other beings with whom I can huddle close.

    Nature is good, but also so much bigger than us…

  • Carol

    “A big part of how I think about druidry involves standing with one metaphorical foot in a wild place, and the other in civilization, belonging to both and mediating between the two.”

    This statement resonated strongly within me. It’s something I keep coming back to in my own druid studies – always feeling the pull of the trees, my community & my ‘working, city living’ life.

    Living in Alaska, sometimes it’s difficult for me to handle the long days of dark winter. If we have heavy snowfalls, it could be days or weeks without seeing a true sunny day. And the hours of light slowly dwindle to a handful until the sun comes back at Solstice. Even then, it takes a month before the increase in hours of sun are recognizable. I live in a city, with artificial street light, but my body hungers for some kind of sunlight. So I completely understand 🙂

    Thanks for a great post!

  • celticchick

    There is a type of depression that some people get during winter months when there is a lack of light/sunlight. I think it has something to do with vitamin D levels or something in the body that needs light.

    Maybe your body will adjust to the changes eventually.

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