It is from this dark space that we emerge—whether from our own mothers or from the more mysterious cosmic “sea” of soul—and it is to darkness that we return when we close our eyes for the final time.
I find that within Goddess circles the idea of “the dark” remains commonly associated with that which is evil, negative, bad, or unpleasant. The Dark Mother, while acknowledged and accepted, is often at the same time equated with death, destruction, challenge, trials, and obstacles. While I recognize that the concept of a dark, demonic, and destructive mother might too have a place in goddess traditions (as with Kali or Durga), I also think this is unnecessarily limiting and that the idea of the “Dark” in general is in need of re-visioning. It is not just with regard to the role or place of death within the wheel of life or the Goddess archetype that Goddess as Dark Mother and destroyer can be honored or recognized, but the Dark as a place of healing and rest can also be explored.
In her article “Revisioning the Female Demon” (1998), Elinor Gadon explains that there is a tendency in the contemporary Goddess movement to “ignore her dark side” and she remarks that, “in the fullness of her being she is both creative and destructive…The women’s spirituality movement needs a more inclusive mirror in which to recognize and recover elemental female powers that have been split between the peaceful, good nurturer and the evil, warlike destroyer” (p. 2).
In the book Fire of the Goddess by Katalin Koda, in the chapter Reclaiming the Dark Mother the author says:
The feminine qualities of darkness, moistness, birth, and blood symbolize the dark mother and our inner Initiate. We have been taught to deny these parts of ourselves and bodies; honoring the sacred feminine invites you to reclaim these as not only part of who you are, but a powerful aspect of your life. When we face our shadow, we are initiated into our deepest powers. We may be afraid of these parts; these howling, undernourished, repressed, and rage-filled aspects of ourselves that demand to be heard, but which we cannot bear to face.
But what if the Dark side of the Goddess is not an evil, raging, and destructive side? In fact, what if the Goddess Herself is found in the dark? Judith Laura writing about dark matter in the cosmos writes, “might we call this ‘unseen force’ Goddess? Dark matter could be identified with the womb of the Mother, continually gestating particles, suns, galaxies, which flow from her in a continual stream…Dark matter might also be represented as the Crone aspect of the Goddess—dark and powerful” (Goddess Spirituality for the 21st Century, p. 181).
Part of thealogy’s task has been to re-evaluate the concept of darkness. Jacqueline daCosta notes, “This darkness…equates with the darkness of innate, instinctive knowing, where we are within the womb of the Goddess” (p. 115). DaCosta’s observation is consistent with my own experiences and observations of the world. In darkness, things germinate and grow. The dark is a calm, holding, safe, welcoming place—we come from darkness and that is where we return. The womb is a place in which I’ve nurtured and grown my children and it is dark and safe in my experience of it. In fact, isn’t darkness the womb of all creation? It is from this dark space that we emerge—whether from our own mothers or from the more mysterious cosmic “sea” of soul—and it is to darkness that we return when we close our eyes for the final time. Darkness holds our DNA. Our link to the past and the future. At the birth of the universe, some part of us was there, in that explosion from darkness.
In the book Meditation Secrets for Women, Camille Maurine writes about the idea of descent and “going down” into one’s own dark places: “There are times in a woman’s life when the call downward is a transformative journey, a summons to the depths of the soul. People tend to think of spirituality as rising upward into the sky. In the traditional (male) teachings, enlightenment is often described as a flight from the lower centers of the body, the instinctive and sexual places, to the upper centers in the head and then out. By contrast, a woman’s spiritual quest at some point leads to a soulful sinking down into herself. Everyone fears this descent, this sinking down. Yet sinking down connects us with the earth, with our personal ground, with our foundation. There is a secret in ‘endarkenment.’” [p. 210, emphasis mine]
The Dark Goddess need not automatically associate or translate into “bad” or “suffering” or “negative” or “shadow side.” I think of the darkness as a cocoon. I think of the womb. I think of germination. I think of a place to rest, to wait, to be still, and to transform. Emergence. Deepness. Rich earthiness.
I love the notion of endarkenment and that the downward call, the downward journey, like Inanna’s descent, is a hera’s journey of transformation, courage, and potency. In the same book, Maurine describes the soul in very different terms than in classic Christian conceptions: “The realm of the soul is not light and airy, but more like mud: messy, wet, and fertile. Soul processes go on down there with the moss and worms, down there with the decaying leaves, down there where death turns into life. Deepening into soul requires the courage to go underground, to stretch our roots into the dark, to writhe and curl and meander through rick, moist soil. In this darkness we find wisdom, not through the glaring beam of will, but by following a wild, blind yet unfailing instinct that senses the essence in things, that finds nourishment to suck back into growth. Rare is the man who can take it. That’s why male spirituality is so often about getting out of the mess, about transcending the passions and bloody processes of life. Who can blame them, really? It takes a woman’s body and strength of spirit for this journey.” (p. 211)
My experiences with pregnancy loss have played a profound role in the development of, articulation of, and engagement with my spirituality. One of my favorite songs to listen to after my miscarriage experiences had a refrain of, “it is dark, dark, dark inside.” While previously not connecting to “darkness” as a place of growth or healing, during these experiences I learned, viscerally, that it is in the darkness that new things take root and grow. I also created a series of black and white mandala drawings during the year following my miscarriages and the subsequent year of conceiving, gestating, and birthing my new daughter.
Gloria Orenstein refers to endarkenment as, “a bonding with the Earth and the invisible that will reestablish our sense of interconnectedness with all things, phenomenal and spiritual, that make up the totality of our life in our cosmos. The ecofeminist arts do not maintain that analytical, rational knowledge is superior to other forms of knowing. They honor Gaia’s Earth intelligence and the stored memories of her plants, rocks, soil, and creatures. Through nonverbal communion with the energies of sacred sites in nature, ecofeminist artists obtain important knowledge about the spirit of the land, which they can then honor through creative rituals and environmental pieces” (Reweaving the World, p. 280). This speaks to me because of my theapoetical experiences of the presence of the Goddess in my own sacred spot in the woods behind my house, where I go to the “priestess rocks” to pray, reflect, meditate, do ritual, think, and converse with the spirits of that place.
I attended a presentation about birth stories at a conference in 2011 during which the speaker, Pam England, used Inanna’s descent as a metaphor to explain some concepts. She said that the place “where you were the most wounded—the place where the meat was chewed off your bones, becomes the seat of your most powerful medicine and the place where you can reach someone where no one else can.” This is what I feel like the Dark Goddess also offers. She is present when the meat is chewed off. She is there in the healing of the wounds and knowing Her, walking with Her, facing Her, leads to powerful medicine.
For each of us as women, there is a deep place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises…Within these deep places, each one holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The woman’s place of power within each of us…it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep. –Audre Lorde
Molly is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College. This summer she was ordained as a Priestess with Global Goddess. Molly blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.me, about thealogy and the Goddess at http://goddesspriestess.com, and creates goddess art and jewelry at http://etsy.com/shop/BrigidsGrove.
I’ve had multiple lucid dreaming experiences that progressed to a point in which I became aware of, “being in the place between dreaming and awake”—i.e. I stopped dreaming and was not awake and yet, I was still conscious at some level and was “somewhere else” (not a dream place, nor a waking state). This place was completely dark. I am aware of my body on the bed and yet, my personal awareness is not dreaming, it just is, in this very, very dark “holding” place. Upon awakening from these experiences, I had to wonder if death is this place too. As I was writing about these experiences, I had another dream. Beginning by being chased by some men through the woods, I became aware that I was dreaming and began to fly—I was then aware of my body in the air and saw a vision of a transparent Goddess figure spreading her arms and becoming absorbed into the larger sky. I felt dissolved and became aware of myself in that dark space again—the place between dreams and wakefulness, where I was both cognizant of my body in bed, but my consciousness was “somewhere else” that was not dreaming, that just was. Total darkness. It is not a scary place.
46 thoughts on “Endarkenment By Molly”
I’m not sure in which ‘goddess circles’ you have found these negative connotations for the Dark Mother, but for myself, and for many others, the Goddess is primarily dark: whether we worship her as Hekate, or Isis, or the Black Madonna.
Certainly, throughout the European tradition, supernatural women have been understood as light AND dark, reflecting (quite literally) the light and dark phases of the moon, a distinction which is absolutely fundamental not only to esoteric but also to more specific magical practice. So the dark of the moon, the time when she is entirely hidden from view as she conjuncts the sun, is in many ways the most sacred and most powerful time of all; even more so than when the full moon shines in all her glory.It is precisely this darkness which is the Goddess’ deepest mystery: She is most powerful when most hidden.
The Goddess is Queen of the Living and of the Dead: she gives us life, and receives us back into her arms when we die. As Mother of the Dead we recognize her in her dark aspect, but rather than this being a negative association, it is one of great power and beauty. We can perhaps understand this in a more traditional context if we look at the Catholic depiction of the Pieta: at one level it is a terrible image, as the Mother cradles the corpse of her dead son in her arms. More profoundly the icon tells us that the Mother accepts all: all suffering, all pain, even death itself, into her embrace where each is healed, made whole, again.And because she suffers at the deepest level possible, as a mother who has lost her child (so echoing down the centuries, Demeter’s loss and grief), we know that she will always understand and console us in our own grief and loss.
As Hekate, the Goddess reveals to us her wisdom and power, most particularly the wisdom and power which is found only in the sacred dark. As Isis (whose black image is very probably the origin of the Black Madonna) she is Queen of Magic, of women and again of the Living and of the Dead.
The power of the Black Goddess derives precisely from her being able to absorb suffering, violence and death into her own dark womb. For her, love and death are co-equal parts of a cycle out of which we are all born and into which we each will die as we return again to Her.
In passages just as those I first quote in the essay–the equation of the Dark Mother specifically with that which is rage-filled, destructive, and as the “shadow side” of one’s own personality. My article is an attempt to explore the restful, incubating, original-home concepts that may also be found in the Dark Mother.
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Brava! Excellent blog.
I also wrote about endarkenment in my book Pagan Every Day http://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Every-Day-Extraordinary-Ordinary/dp/157863332X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356881608&sr=1-1&keywords=Pagan+every+day Here’s the page:
February 7: Endarkenment
Yeah, some people who say we should never, ever leave the light. We should endeavor to be “light workers” who fill every shadow with light and eliminate all darkness. We should surround ourselves with white light at all times and, like Lady Bountiful, bestow our white light on darker people.
This is an exceedingly naïve attitude. If the light’s on all the time, how on earth do we get any sleep? Do we ever get to close our eyes? If all there is, is light, and there aren’t any shadows, how do we keep from going blind and bumping into things? How do we distinguish one thing from another?
Nearly every standard reference work I looked at says that darkness signifies gloom and “primigenial chaos.” Pagans understand that as much as we crave enlightenment—learning, knowledge, holiness—that much do we also require endarkenment. The New Age just doesn’t seem to have caught on to yet. We can help others see that without the darkness we cannot even recognize the light. We need literal shadows—and psychological and metaphysical ones—to tell us what’s out there.
During the month of February, we witness change. We see the movement from darkness and long nights to light and longer days. Fortuna’s wheel turns, the wheel of the year turns, and things change. It’s that simple.
Maybe it’s also that scary. When we seek endarkenment, we set out to explore dark places, and some of those dark places are in our minds. Readers, it’s useful to know that we have dark places. It’s useful to be aware of our shadows and know that we’re not always kind and good and pure. When we own our shadows, then we can be more tolerant of other people’s shadows. When we’re endarkened, we are capable of change.
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Thanks, Barbara! I get annoyed by New Age speak about all being light or surrounding everyone with light or encouragement in letting our lights drive away the darkness in the world. Darkness doesn’t have to mean negative or shadow side, it can be a place of rich incubation. And, that potential is definitely something I would not wish to drive out!
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Oh, and your book about Women’s Rituals (and the later incarnation as Practicing the Presence–I have both) is one of my all-time favorites. It is actually sitting on my couch right now :)
In a fun cosmic twist, last night during our New Year’s Eve party and ritual, I was given a copy of Pagan Every Day, Barbara! Isn’t that fun? :)
Barbara- love your words. Am writing “If the light’s on all the time, how on earth do we get any sleep?” as a quote in my journal; that really spoke to me. Thank you.
Thank you, Molly. Fascinating reading for me and I shall re-read again and again. I had not known the word “endarkened” and appreciate the depth of this new understanding.
Thanks so much for your comment, Cathy! That’s great to hear!
Great post. More food for thought for me on a topic I also find meaningful.
This is such an important concept, both for each of us personally but also inthe wider culture. It is the association of the dark as a negative with women that perpetuates the terrible violence done to women everywhere. Thank you for bringing this forward.
Thanks for commenting, Susan. I’m glad it spoke to you and you’re right this association of women with darkness can then serve as a rationalization–I.e. it actually becomes a sacred duty to oppress women!
Absolutely LOVE this post, Molly! Very well said, really like how you pulled wisdom from various sources. See, I love the dark. Even as a child, I would escape into my closet when the busy, bright world became too intense. And writing (diary, journal, whatever) “into” the dark is liberating so that I can relax fully within Gaia’s womb, the core of Goddess. Have often called myself a “mushroom”. :-) Having always felt safe in the dark — adoring of caves, closets, dark rooms, night, winter, shadows, etc. — I’ve never really understood the whole transcendence thing. I mean, light is great, sure — contrasts reveal so much. And I enjoy balance, too. But I am always laughing at my husband who regularly asks: “why are you sitting (standing) in the dark, hun?” ;-)
Thanks for your lovely comment! :) Safety can exist in dark spaces!
Thanks for this article, and for the mention of my work. Actually the quote is from p. 181 of the latest printing (Open Sea 2011) of my book, _Goddess Spirituality for the 21st Century: from Kabbalah to Quantum Physics_. Easy mistake to make as _Goddess Matters_ also discusses this chapter, but not this particular quote (I don’t think…:-)
Oops, yes! I have both books and yes, it is from Goddess Spirituality in the 21st Century! Maybe Xochitl will be able to edit the post accordingly?! Thanks for commenting, Judith.
Correction made – thank you!
Hi, Molly. I just found your blog, but I think I’m going to become a regular. Great conversation. The thing I love the most about Inanna’s descent and experience in the underworld is that the reason Ereshkigal is suffering is that she is lonely. There is no one to love her or even keep her company, until the little fly beings come to witness for her as she struggles to give birth to something in the land of death. That simple compassion in the darkness, and for the darkness, is what allows Inanna to rise again to the world of the living. When I observe the natural state of the universe, I find that it is largely dark. Light seems to be a precious aberration. There are fewer stars than there is space between them, and it is in the dark spaces between that stars are actually born. There is more below the ground than there is above it, and it is from out of the ground everything rises. Here above the ground, in the land of the living, we are only in the light half the time. Even on a cellular or atomic level, there is far more dark space than there is matter. Though the light is a wondrous thing when it occurs, it is not really the natural state and, like infancy, is fleeting. The darkness is the foundation, the alpha and omega. And a little compassion, some simple witnessing to ease the loneliness of our dark we keep trying to abandon might make it less fearful. Thanks for reminding me to sleep a little more, sink into my dark dreams and wait in darkness to see what the dark Goddess and I might bring to the light when the time is ripe.
Thanks for this wonderful evocation of our actual condition of (mainly) darkness. Even if Americans find it scary — which I believe is the state of things here — we need to begin with the reality of our situation. I believe we are beginning, just beginning, to do that.
Thank you so much for your comment! In birth education we use the Inanna story to illustrate the heroic birth journey that each woman takes.
Hi Molly —
Like June, I find it hard to believe that your Goddess circles associate the dark with “evil, negative, bad.” “Unpleasant,” I understand. For me the dark is more unformed, and, therefore, unknown, and as a result, I have a much more tenuous relationship with it. But like you, I realize that it’s necessary to my life and to my spiritual growth (even though sometimes I go down into it kicking and screaming).
I spent many, many hours researching Kali a few years ago, and I think you misunderstand Her. She is not “dark, demonic, and destructive,” or at least She is not only that. She is also the Goddess who gives birth to the entire universe — birth, life, death, AND rebirth. She represents the entire round of life in a way that explodes our nice, little categories and truly takes us to an ecstatic sense of life’s realities. After writing the article I researched on Her, I was ecstatic for weeks, something I never knew was possible from any intellectual pursuit (obviously it was more than that). I’d love to send you the article if you’re interested.
When I say “Goddess circles,” I was really referring very generally to many, many other writings both online and in print, such as in the article and the book I then reference. I’m surprised that you and June haven’t experienced this association of the Dark Mother with that which is negative or evil–I encounter it even in scholarly articles that attempt to revision “the dark” as well. I probably should have used Sekhmet as my parenthetical reference instead, what with all the blood drinking ;)
And, then, I probably should have been more specific, but I only had so much room–there is also the New Age-oriented Goddess-speak which tends to only promote “the light” and equate “the dark” with that which is bad/negative (I encounter this extremely frequently online, mainly on Facebook pages).
I’d love to read your article about Kali!
Wonderful work, Molly! — and it’s eliciting such thoughtful, rich comments. Last year I posted a new Myth*ing Links page on Winter Solstice (I’m a Capricorn so have always felt a deep connection to the darkness of this solstice). The link is:
May I post your link (along with some quotes) on my page? I think many would enjoy reading it.
Thanks, Kathleen! I’m very excited to see all the comments and discussion. That’s rewarding :) I’d be fine with you sharing a link/quotes. Thanks! :)
For me, serious esotericism is very different from any kind of ‘New Age’ stuff: and deep magic different from popular Wicca. An understanding of the Goddess in both her dark and light aspects (for which the dark and full moon are both sign and symbol) is embedded in any esoteric practice which takes itself a little deeper than what the Pagan community call ‘fluffy bunny’ witchcraft – ie the kind of thing you will find in the New Age corner of your local bookstore.
I press the point because the Pagan view sometimes seems a little under-represented on these pages, and as a Pagan practitioner I feel I must bear witness to my faith in the same way that a Christian might. Part of that is to try to clarify certain issues in so far as I am able. The problem is that Paganism is so varied, so individualized, and still so much on its own learning curve (think Christian again, but now Alexandria 1800 years ago) that it is almost impossible to give an account of contemporary pagan belief which is both comprehensive and accurate.
Nevertheless, I think it is true that among serious and thinking Pagans, the concept of the Dark as a place of power and beauty is extremely important; and among those of us who acknowledge Goddess as our highest deity, Darkness is not only powerful and beautiful, but indivisibly connected with light, and both Light and Dark are embedded in the Feminine Divine.
The most eloquent exponent of this doctrine in modern times was, of course Jung, with his teaching that Christianity had distorted the psyche because of the way it identified darkness with evil and demanded that we deny what is dark within us. This is not the place to try and discuss Jung’s difficult and complex teaching on the subject, and I am most certainly not a Jung scholar, but I think it would be fair to say that his teaching in the matter has had a seminal influence (whether recognized or not) throughout the entire pagan community.
At its most basic, the Dark is the place you go for wisdom : whether in dreams, or trance, or meditation, or simply standing out under the night sky, Dark is where we connect the root of our being to the reach of the cosmos.
Love your closing explanation, June. Beautiful and so true.
What a wonderful text! I really enjoyed it.
But I dont think that the Cosmic Womb is out of matter. I do think it is an ”empty space”. I think the divine feminim is formless, unmanifested and is beyond the beyond. Cosmic Sea of soul is a beautiful expression. I do think the Cosmic Womb is the ultimate Nothingness. Nothingness has got the same association as the darkness. People are afraid of the Nothingness. But I do think the Nothingness is everything. She gives birth to all. If we want to feel abundance I think we have to seek the Nothingness.
PS. ” At the birth of the universe, some part of us was there, in that explosion from darkness.” I’ve heard from that philosophy. Was it Jung?
Thanks for commenting! I’m not very familiar with Jung, beyond the very basics (my background is in psychology) and I’ve never really connected with his writings. I wrote the quote you asked as a concluding sentence in an assignment I wrote in response to a gorgeous essay about the universe by Brian Swimme (I wrote some more about his essay in my earlier Theapoetics post for the FAR blog).
Thank you for these words……. The ancient Elusian mysteries have always fascinated me especially as they demonstrate the complexity and the existence of both dark and light in our personal lives and our spiritual lives too. The dark night falls but is not full of evil and rage no more than the daylight…… So the darkness you talk of I honour with a deep passion and knowing but I am also aware that the feminine can also be naturally wild and raging . A part of femininity that is not easily accepted on both personal and collective levels. Emma Restall Orr’S book …Kissing the Hag…. Is a powerful exploration of this subject.
Reblogged this on Journeying to the Goddess and commented:
“For each of us as women, there is a deep place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises…Within these deep places, each one holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The woman’s place of power within each of us…it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep.” –Audre Lorde
Such a wonderful post. Especially timely for me, as I’m currently moving through some enormous life changes and am learning to embrace my inner warrior and become more whole.
This is the most insightful and stimulating discussion that I have read on this matter. I dare not speak about Goddess circles as a whole or in particular, but I do know that there are still many women that associate dark with evil, as many men do. It is part of the mainstream religious mindset, and that spell needs to be broken for the well being humankind. This discussion (original post and comments) demonstrates that nobody can speak on this matter as authoritatively as the earthly representatives of the Divine Feminine, and it seems likely that this conversation is bound to strike a chord deep within other women, regardless of how it is received by men.
I do wish to draw your attention to old Welsh lore, as told in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi entitled Math the Son of Mathonwy:
Math was lord over Gwynedd, and a powerful magician; he had the power to make physical transformations. His nephew and member of his court, Gwydion, could mesmerize and create illusions, but he could not actually physically transform things. Another significant difference between Math and his nephew was a “geas” or destiny: Math could not exist unless his feet rested in the lap of a virgin, except when prevented by the tumult of war.
Gwydion attempted to remedy his brother’s fevered lust with a bit of court intrigue that lost Math his foot maiden. Gwydion suggested his sister, Arianrhod, as a replacement. There are those who say that Arianrhod’s definition of “virgin” was different than that of the evolving patriarchal society, and that she was having intimate relations with numerous suitors. That does not fit well within the context of the story. The untapped power of a womb most fertile exposed to the wand (phallic symbol) of a greater magician in the presence of a lesser magician would explain the revelation of a fully developed infant and a partially developed infant better. However, the creative power of the womb seems more significant here.
It may be that Arianrhod is considered a dark goddess because of how she responded to the torment of her brother, Gwydion. She placed three destinies upon the lesser son. Gwydion’s efforts to trick her into giving the lesser son a name, and to arm him, actually provides evidence of Arianrhod’s authority. However, the third destiny (geas) is most significant here, as Gwydion’s attempt here almost costs Llew his life. In the end we see the familiar “marriage” of the sovereign to the land, or the earth. We can draw a parallel here between Math having his feet in the lap of a virgin, and Llew having his feet on the womb of the Earth, as it is from the “womb” that both seem to draw their power.
My attraction to Arianrhod is a mystery, but I have never been satisfied with the interpretations of this lore I have found on the internet. Reading this discussion today suggests to me that my interpretation may be more viable. I hope this at least provides food for thought, if not encouragement. Regardless, I thank all of you for a most refreshing and interesting read.
Have just found this article through your blog, and really love it. Thank you for linking to it! :)