In the version of the calendar I follow, February 1 is the true beginning of spring. That’s because early February is when we can see the light coming back. We know spring is really coming. February opens with a holiday/holy day variously known as Imbolc, Brigid, and Groundhog Day. Imbolc is the name of a traditional Celtic festival. The word is related to milk, possibly ewes’ milk, as lambing starts around this time. Brigid, whose name means “bright one,” is a triple goddess and ruler of (1) the sun and fire (and smithcraft), (2) poetry and inspiration, and (3) healing and medicine. It’s said that the straw left over from making Brigid’s crosses and other charms has healing powers. The newer Brigid is the Catholic saint who refused to marry and became a nun. And, of course, Groundhog Day is a secular holiday that uses helpless animals to make silly predictions. (But the movie is good.)
February (from the Latin word februa, which mean purification) gives us opportunities to become both enlightened and endarkened (yes, another word I invented).
ENLIGHTENMENT: “You light up my life.” A charismatic person “lights up the room.” When we become aware of something, the “lights go on” or we suddenly “see the light.” In cartoons, a light bulb turns on over the head of the guy who has the idea. Conversely, we call someone who isn’t enlightened “a dim bulb,” or maybe we say, “The lights are on but nobody’s home.”
Light—especially the famous “white light”—is a major metaphysical symbol. Light has traditionally been equated with spirit. It’s the manifestation of intellect, virtue, morality, healing (both physical and spiritual), and other values we derive from the writings of the so-called holy men. In our patriarchal world, alas, few women have historically been said to be blessed with that kind of enlightenment. Yeah, women had inferior brains and had to turn to the old men for wisdom. (Has anyone heard of Hypatia or Hildegard?) Because light comes from the east, when the Theosophical Society was founded and the European Occult Revival occurred in the late 19th century, it was Eastern Wisdom that flowed across the planet like the healing light of sunrise to illuminate us benighted Westerners. (I know people who fervently believe that the only true wisdom comes from the Ancient Masters of the East—old guys who are apparently still hiding in Shangri-La or Shambhala.)
My point is not to argue the relative merits of Eastern and Western wisdom. What I’m wondering is what does it mean to be enlightened? What happens to us when we’re illuminated? Physiologists know that parts of the brain do sort of light up when we’re thinking. Is this literal or metaphorical light? Or does enlightenment specialize and give us a laser-like focus? When we become enlightened, is it a one-time occurrence or does it last for the rest of our lives? Do ordinary people like you and me get enlightened, or is this state reserved for great, wise, and holy people? Were they common folks like us before they got enlightened and that’s why they became great, wise, and holy? And, finally, can we fall out of our state of enlightenment and go back to where we were before? How do we tell the difference?
ENDARKENMENT: And some people 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. (Physically or metaphysically darker? Is there diversity in esoteric metaphysics?)
I think the assertion that we should never leave the light marks 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? As far as I know, the brightest white light comes from atomic bombs. Does anyone seriously want that kind of white light?
Nearly every standard reference work I’ve looked at says that darkness signifies gloom and “primigenial chaos.” But it makes more sense to me to see that as much as we crave enlightenment—learning, knowledge, holiness—that much do we also require endarkenment. I’m not sure the New Age has caught on yet to what I see as a valid truth: we can help others see that without the darkness we cannot 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. 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. I think it’s useful to know that we have those dark places. It’s useful to be aware of our shadows and know that we’re not always kind and good and pure. It’s when we own our shadows that we can be more tolerant of other people’s shadows. When we’re endarkened, we’re capable of seeing more clearly, capable of changing. Am I hoping and praying for this kind of endarkened tolerance to enlighten our members of congress and senators? Maybe even the president? You betcha!
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.