Darkness in spirituality

I find myself increasingly uneasy about the way the language of darkness is used in spirituality. We equate lightness and whiteness with good, darkness and blackness with evil. There are clear racist issues in this. It’s also a line of thought I think owes much to the Middle Eastern sky Gods who are all very much about the penetrating light of the divine.

Paganism is full of Earth Gods, underworld Gods, night Gods and other deities of darkness. Inside wombs and cauldrons there is darkness, not light. There is absolutely no reason to associate light with goodness and darkness with evil – both are necessary and both are harmful in excess. You can die of too much light, dried out, burned, or cancerous. There is comfort, sleep and healing to be found in the natural darkness of night. There is mystery and beauty in the dark places – and the way our ancient ancestors went there to do beautiful cave paintings is well worth contemplating.

There may be some value in talking about human actions and choices in terms of good and evil. Often, talking about light and darkness in this way just allows us to externalise our own choices and reduce our feelings of responsibility. A person can be in darkness or in light and their actions are of their own making. What we do in the privacy of darkness – sex particularly – isn’t necessary shameful, just something we don’t want to share with everyone. If doing it in broad daylight seems like the more honest and virtuous position – I rather feel the politics of the last few years should have scuppered that illusion.

Light and dark are both good in their own ways, and both potentially problematic. Walking a dark path, working at night, celebrating underworld Gods – there’s nothing inherently evil here. This may in fact be taken as a path of great healing and compassion. As for light working – I am reminded of a conversation earlier in the year with a woman who has made a living as a light working, talking about ‘the compassion trap’ and how it was ok not to care about the death of a baby… Perhaps it was no coincidence that the baby in question wasn’t light or white. People who spend too much time staring into the light are not necessarily good or kind. I’ve encountered more backstabbing from ‘peace and love and light’ folk than ever I have anywhere else.

What would it mean to identify as a follower of the darkness? What would it mean to refuse to use the language of darkness to describe negativity? What would it mean in terms of how we might be unconsciously thinking about race? Can we let go of the idea that a good witch is a white witch and a bad witch is black? Can we make more room? Can we not have this lingering sense that white is superior and black is not a good way of being?

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

25 responses to “Darkness in spirituality

  • Katherine

    as someone with no fixed belief system I have always seen them as just two complementary aspects of myself. They cannot exist without each other and my understanding of how they interact in me grows all the time. Neither is more valuable than the other. Just different. But I think on a global scale the language and attitudes get very problematic indeed .

  • smithandskarry1

    Love all that you’ve said here so very, very much – all nature, including ourselves, is a dance of darkness and light but that is hardly ever recognised. I’ve also noticed that a Western ’embrace’ (read high-jacking if you like) of some traditions has lead to an eclipsing and twisting of large chunks of those traditions to reflect the modern trend for light=good based spiritual pathways. I’m with you that this needs to be challenged and questioned. Awesome post, hitting the nail on the head as usual!

  • Labrys

    As a humanist with inconvenient mystical moments, I tend to the shadows myself. I dislike sharpened polarities and focus on extremes – what happened to a middle way, blends of gray?

  • Siobhan Johnson

    In the darkness, there is only you and the people you can touch, and their raw honesty, because it’s easy to speak the truth when no-one’s listening. In the light, there are all 7 billion people and all their opinions and neuroses and that bright blinding spotlight. There are prizes and pitfalls associated with each of them. Everyone needs both, but I suspect that exact balance will differ from person to person.

  • The Prodigal Daughter- who cares!!

    This has provoked some deep inspiring thinking in me… brain ticking… can we also accept that sometimes its impossible to save the world… we cant control what other people think or feel but how we react towards there actions..you have just inspired some positive thinking in me, now am thinking black is the colour people wear not just in mourning (recognising what they have lost) but also to look slimmer so they can feel good about themselves. mind still working for other examples..

  • lornasmithers

    I guess I see myself as a ‘follower of darkness’ of sorts. I describe my path (to myself mainly as no-one knows what I’m on about) as Annuvian – of Annwn, ‘the Deep’, ‘the Otherworld/Underworld’. I’ve come across the concept of ‘dark truth’ in Emma Restall-Orr and also the concept of ‘dark mysticism’ somewhere and both of these resonate with me. I think darkness has value in itself and also as a companion to and something that accentuates the light.

    • allielee125

      I love this! The darkness, the stuff we don’t naturally understand is where a lot of the fun is and where amazing growth can be found!

  • yahsvessel

    What’s kind of spirituality you worship? It sounds like Black Magic or Witchcraft this post is?

  • Alyona Uramuru

    To follow Darkness is to strip oneself of hindrance and embrace one’s true potential. Empires rise from the Void at the will of the practitioner. Darkness is the womb of creation. It is the soothing mother who takes us into her bosom strong. It is through Darkness that we come to know ourselves. I’ve been in Light, too. I have learnt from both sides and the areas in between. I can vouch that the forces are not stark as they are believed to be. Both are benevolent. Both are malignant. Both are infinite. Whoever equates Darkness to evil and Light to goodness either has no experience with the currents, or simply did not have his head in the right place to wield the power.

  • rhymingreason5

    I’ve often thought about this myself. There are two issues you’re discussing here (if I’m correct, and please tell me if I’m wrong). There’s the issue of how every person has within them darkness and lightness (like yin and yang) – they are both necessary energies, complementary, and must be paid equal heed. There really is no such thing as lightness without darkness to contrast it, so they are both vital to maintaining the balance of life. The second issue is one of language. Why do we use words like “dark” and “black” to connote evil? I agree that this is problematic and think we would do well to change the language we use to talk about these issues, since language really does effect perception. I’ve recently started alluding more to positive and negative energies, when talking about myself. I think that takes away the racial suggestions, as well as this idea that negative energy is “evil”. Thank you for your thought-provoking post!

  • Tecihila

    Both darkness, and lightness carry various connotations or meanings simply based on experience and intended use. The racism that exists simply with the use of the words does not derive from the words but the from the heart of the person using them. Unfortunately more often than not, words simply tend to create obstacles for each of us due to the distortions our linguistic communication creates. Lightness/Darkness are simply two sides of the same coin, one which cannot exist without the other.
    According to the Law of One, they not only both exist in the world as yin/yang but also within each of us. The challenge is to accept your true self and balance each within yourself from a place of love.

  • eddieb

    Thanks for your post, it was very thought provoking.

    The metaphors of lightness and darkness can be dated at least as far back as Zoroastrianism, which was an influencer of all monotheistic traditions, and arguably much of eastern philosophy.

    There’s no colour associated with light. White light includes all the colours of the spectrum, and darkness is merely the absence of light. The metaphor spans most if not all cultures, it has nothing to do with colour and certainly nothing to do with race.

    However, the idea that the colour of white is good and black bad, may be a product of prejudice, or it could be a product of the thinking above. I really don’t now enough about etymology to say conclusively either way.

    Thanks for sharing your post

  • Ladysag77

    You made good points here. I too agree it is dangerous to put any labels or colors of good/bad because BOTH are necessary. Everything in moderation, a balance is what’s optimal. I enjoyed your perspective here. I too write a blog based in spirituality and mental health here on WordPress at http://www.emotionalmusings.com
    I would be honored if you read my work. Thank you🙏

  • Brian ThunderdUp Anderson

    I totally agree with everything you said. The mixture of both energies presents us with an awareness unseen by the common eye. Our hearts open up to things we thought would never be possible. Thanks for the insight.

  • allielee125

    This is very thoughtful and an issue that I am intrigued by. The racist connotations are horrendous and insidious and way too prevalent in this.
    I prefer the jungian thought that darkness is the hidden aspect the part we can’t see or really control, this in turn leads to A LOT of fear, but it’s as natural as any other thing. I love that paganism has more of a balance in this regard. Embracing all of the duality that this life has to offer ❤

  • kevinkaz4

    This is such a refreshing post! It is funny how we attach to the things we associate with being good, for example, light. We all know there is duality in this though. There could never be light without darkness, there can never be life without death. It all comes back to duality. Everything just is, and will always be amazing. We are all love no mater what. Thank you for this fresh take on spirituality. This post is amazing ❤️😀

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