The Alchemy of Darkness

“Night and dark are good for us. As the nights lengthen, it’s time to reopen the dreaming space.”(Jeanette Winterson)

This post is inspired by a beautiful article by Jeanette Winterson in Sunday’s Observer. In the article she reminds us just how important it is for our sanity and well-being to embrace the cycle of the seasons, and especially the autumn and winter cycles, as nights draw in and the air becomes colder and damper. She creates a lovely image of her “24-7 friends, high on electric light” coming to visit her at her home deep in the woodlands and her feeding them root vegetables like turnip, beetroot and suede, “grown in rich-black earth…food with darkness sealed in it”!  The alchemical image of the black sun reminds us of Autumn, of the Scorpio cycle – the Sun radiating inwards, into the earth, where the seed of life has now been sown under the ground. 

We have becoming so accustomed, in our culture, to conquering the darkness with electric light, and overcoming the cold with our fossil-fuel heating systems that we too easily neglect the value of the darker season. The ready availablity of perpetual light spawns the illusion of perpetual growth in our culture, makes us believe that we can conquer nature, live beyond our natural means, disregard the fact that we are part of the earth and subject to its rhythms and cycle. Inevitably our language, our metpahors reflect this – metaphors like light, growth, gain, new, development, evolution, progress, expansion, positive are welcomed and thought to be “good”. By contrast, words like dark, decay, old, contraction, loss, shadow, negative – these ideas are considered to be best avoided, overcome, put out of mind and thought to be “bad”.

This is an extreme perversity of the modern condition, endemic in our political system, our economic system and our personal ambitions. It is hopelessly out-of-balance and entirely unsustainable to wish for perpetual light, perpetual growth, to be perpetually “positive” in our outlook. That is why I love this season and want to embrace it. In spite of the fact that I’m sitting here at a computer with the light on, as darkness closes in outside, struggling with that paradox, yet I want to surrender to the deeper truth that only the darkness knows.

Jeanette Winterson makes the salient point in her article that “when the lights are on” conversations tend to be focussed on outer things, projects and plans, ambitions and strategies for changing things, making them “better”. When the lights are out, and we sit by candlelight or around a fire, our thoughts slow down, turn inward and we become more reflective, more sensitive, more intimate with one another.

Last night, my wife and I turned all the lights off in our house and lit some candles. We live in the countryside and it was pitch dark outside, save for the moonlight. We realised that we hadn’t sat together like that for a long time – within a few minutes we were reminiscing, journeying into the deeper areas of our relationship, and listening to each other at a level that we rarely do these days, so busy we are with our projects and plans. It was a rich and very rewarding experience.

I am of the belief that we should pursue what is pleasurable to us in life. I am a great believer in pleasure and there is plenty of it to be had in the alchemical wheel of the year. But pleasure comes in many forms and flavours, and each season brings a different flavour. Following the wheel and embracing each stage of the journey, as it takes its turn enriches our lives – keeps us awake to who we are. Eating, sleeping, loving, dreaming, in a way that honours the season we are in offers us so much more possibility to feel connected, in tune, in balance. This is at the very heart of The Alchemical Journey, and the stories and symbols of the Zodiac signs offer wonderful reminders of how to make those connections.

Link to Jeanette Winterson’s article: “Why I Adore the Night”

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