Seeking Enlightenment? Let’s Try Endarkenment by Barbara Ardinger

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. (, 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 DayFinding 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.

Categories: Ancestors, Divine Feminine, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

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16 replies

  1. Reblogged this on silverapplequeen and commented:
    Some really good points here!


  2. Barbara, You raise excellent and interesting questions: “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?”

    And this: “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.”

    Seems to me that no matter what idea/subject/theme humans talk about, light and dark consistently take the hue of a shade of gray–much like the shadows you mention.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a wonderful post! You are so right that Imbolc speaks to the value of both “enlightenment” and “endarkment.” Imbolc is the holiday that really speaks to me because by now, especially in New England, we are deep into winter, so there is a celebration of both the “endarkment” but also there is the promise that MAYBE sometime soon the super-high snowbanks that make it impossible to see when you drive around a corner and the constant cold in my antique house will subside. Besides the chance to recognize of all our “shadows”, I have always loved deep winter because those snow days when you have unexpected, unscheduled hours are a chance to quiet down, take some real time to go within and nurture what’s cooking in your unconscious that will be birthed in the springtime, whether personal inner growth, creative projects, or even the more mundane tasks of life like finally choosing a color to paint the house. All of my best writing is always born in deep winter and then realized during the rest of the year. I hadn’t thought of the importance of this process on a national and global level, but you are so right. This kind of deep diving on so many levels is exactly what we, as a species need to do. Brava!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I remember deep winters from my childhood in Ferguson, Missouri. Snow and everything. Here in the L.A. Basin in Southern California, we don’t get those dark winters, though people who are aware of the seasons can indeed create a seasonal retreat in which to write or compose or paint. And take a look at our shadow selves. I keep hoping the so-called legislators in Washington, D.C., will become aware of all the shadow selves galloping around in the big marble buildings.


  4. Love this post. Wanted to note that the RC and Anglican (don’t know about the Eastern Orthodox) Church celebrates Candlemas, just as it found a way to celebrate all the other holidays in wheel of the year, because people (and plants and animals) always have.

    When I was a Quaker, and listened to many (many!) messages about the light, I felt moved on a fairly regular basis to speak about the nourishing, nurturing dark–dark of the womb, dark of the earth where seeds gestate, dark warm nights when corn ripens, the relief of shadow on a hot day. I also like the word endarkenment.

    I share your wish for ourselves and those in positions of power to make policy. So mote it be.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Barbara! You know I rarely make public comments any more, but this post requires me to do it: in all your wonderful writing, I think this is some of your best-ever work. “Endarkenment” (yes, you’re entitled to coin a word) of the kind you propose IS absolutely necessary. It is the darkness Elizabeth suggests, of the earth, the womb, and shadow; of the night sky at dark Moon, of the cave.

    Like you, I experience Imbolc/Brigid /Candlemas as the real start if the year, too. In South Carolina, the daffodil leaves are up, the birds are singing on territory, the angle of the sunlight through my front window is changing perceptibly. The light and the dark move toward another brief moment of balance. Perhaps our own enlightenment and endarkenment do the same never-resting dance.

    Thanks for the very insightful and thoughtful piece. And thanks to everyone for the perceptive and stimulating comments, too.

    As for our politicians, the jury — or is it many juries? — is/are still out. (Does a politician have Buddha-nature? Wu. 😸)

    Liked by 3 people

  6. There are some racist assumptions in the metaphor of light vs dark so I try to avoid using that kind of language but it is so ingrained in us it is hard to avoid. I do think it is worth spending time with painful subjects in order to work through them though. I think back to feminist encounter groups of the last century. By looking bravely at reality and sharing stories women came to the realization of shared experience — or “enlightenment.” I don;t think this is a one off experience but more like onion rings. The more we look and talk, the more we see.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right that we can see racist assumptions in light and dark. Just think of “darkest Africa.” If you read any of the esoteric literature from the esoteric “enlightenment” of the late 19th century, you’ll see racism and colonialism. I guess a lot of us thought we were past that……..until the Abuser-in-Chief picked up his phone and started tweeting and bleating. I love your onion rings simile! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Loved this thought-provoking post. As a follower of Jesus and the Cross’s promise of eternal flow between the death on Good Friday and the new life on Easter Sunday, I am able to trust the endarkenment in my meditation time (yes womb-return!). I have some New Age friends who seem to fear the shadow and the study of what’s in the dark corners of our minds and hearts. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh Barbara, what a wonderful thought provoking essay ( I hope) for those that are obsessed by light… I’ll take endarkenment any day… thank goodness that you see the light!


  9. Yeah for the dark.

    I agree with Onoosh and Elizabeth that it is important to find the positive aspects of the dark — not just the Jungian shadows. The dark of the womb is the place of gestation, growth, and transformation. Seeds must be kept in a cold dark place in order to germinate. We need sleep as much as we need wakefulness. The earth (dirt/soil–look at those devaluing words!) itself is yellow, red, brown, and black.

    Let us not forget the the Indo-Europeans (in Europe and in India) were the ones who valued the light over the dark: they de-valued the darker skinned people they conquered and traditions that valued the dark equally with the light. In Greece they de-valued the deities of the dark earth in favor of their shining gods of the sky.

    I have been working with valuing the dark in non-negative and non-racist ways for decades. It is hard to do because the Indo-European ideas are deeply embedded in our language, symbols, and psyches.

    Thanks for reminding us of the work we still need to do. We need to keep thinking about these issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t even thinking about Jung when I wrote this. He’s one of the ones who thought everything darkish was bad/evil/alien/unconscious. You’re right that the Indo-European values are deeply embedded in our language, symbols, and psyches. Maybe we can climb out of those metaphorical beds and welcome the sunrise of a new day. (Did I get metaphorically carried away there? Sorry.)


  10. LOL Endarkenment. Thank you for this post and for reminding us/me of the cycles and how important all aspects are. I feel new love for Imbolc.


  11. This made me smile because one of my favorite fantasy book series is by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, and it has evil beings called “The Endarkened” in it. :)
    Wonderful post, and I have been finding joy in symbols of darkness as a Womb for a number of years. I have been meditating on light and dark as parts of each other, the way death and life are parts of each other. This is one of my favorite poems:
    In Hardwood Groves
    by Robert Frost

    The same leaves over and over again!
    They fall from giving shade above
    To make one texture of faded brown
    And fit the earth like a leather glove.

    Before the leaves can mount again
    To fill the trees with another shade,
    They must go down past things coming up.
    They must go down into the dark decayed.

    They must be pierced by flowers and put
    Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
    However it is in some other world
    I know that this is Way in ours.

    Liked by 1 person

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