“Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again” – Paul Simon
Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend. The afternoon’s light will decrease and continue to lose its intensity with the sun’s angle inexorably moving southward.
Our nature associates light with life, for good reason: Tough to grow, cut, and harvest hay if the sun doesn’t shine brightly and warmly. In contrast, shortened days, compounded by overcast, gray skies, convey dissipation. Energy ebbs with the waning light causing one to look forward to nestling with a good book near a fire with a cup of hot chocolate or bowl of steaming soup.
I call it the gloaming time. Gloam is an archaic word meaning twilight but resembling, and perhaps conveying, gloom. The dying of an already short day.
Rather than embracing the growing darkness, we push back on it. One wonders if it’s due to our nature or to our 24/7 culture that refuses to give anything a rest?
Our paleo relatives realized they could push back on darkness with fire. Torches and candles made fire transportable. In time, oil and gas lamps added to humans’ bag of tricks, and now, as Simon and Garfunkel sing in “Sounds of Silence,” neon lights split the night.
This is Samhain, for me the first days of winter. The Solstice will be the midpoint. Darkness rules now in the northern hemisphere. Persephone is ensconced in Hades’ realm; Mother Demeter is mourning or flying to the Land Down Under for some much need rejuvenation.
Darkness and night. They’re not one and the same. Spelunkers get that. Utter darkness in a cave, even midday. Night conveys a different sense than darkness. It runs the gamut from the “dark, sacred night” of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to the horror depicted by Elie Weisel in Night, the story of his and his father’s ordeals at hands of Nazis in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
The opening line in “Sounds of Silence,” personifies darkness. Rather than a condition absent of light, it’s someone to chat and spend time with.
The Zoroastrians were the first to tie light and dark to good and evil. Albert Camus explains in “Myth of Sisyphus” that it was due to their—and our continual—fear of nature. The three dominant monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—have had a field day with that notion since.
Darkness’s unfortunate reputation arises, thus, from homo sapiens’ instinctive fear of the unknown, particularly that which cannot be seen. Preying animals, both two- and four-legged, often do their mischief under the cloak of darkness. But not all. There are those such as the bear that call it good for the season and hole up.
Psychologically, darkness is associated with one’s shadow, a psychic region most prefer to avoid.
Carl Jung asks, “What is light without shadow? What is high without low? You deprive the deity of its omnipotence and its universality by depriving it of the dark quality of the world.”
When considered in that context, perhaps one’s resistance to darkness is more than a fear of preying animals, werewolves, ghosts, and goblins. It’s a resistance to exploring his own shadow, much like Odysseus when he entered the Land of the Dead, the one and only time the epic hero trembled with fear.
According to Jung, one’s shadow is an integral aspect of her being. Denying it induces neurosis.
Becoming fully aware of one’s shadow would be a superhuman task. Nevertheless, Jung says, “We have to discover our shadow. Otherwise we are driven into a world war in order to see what beasts we are.”
With that insight, what better time than winter to go spelunking in one’s shadow cave?