Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Dark of the Dark

Full Birth Moon

Full Birth Moon 2008: Outer Darkness and Inner Hope

Full Birth Moon 2009: New Year! and A Story for the Birth Moon

This post is also about Winter Solstice which I wrote about in the posts Good Morning Sun! and Solstice Creche in in 2008 and Christmas in 2009.

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December 21, 2010 was a dark night. Did you make it outside to view the full moon or the full lunar eclipse? Did you celebrate the longest night of the year, the winter solstice? We are lucky people to get to see all three of these heavenly events occur on the same night. The last time it happened was about 400 years ago.

Photo by Jezlyn26

I can't hardly imagine what it must have been like on that cold night in 1638. There were no electric lights anywhere. It was dark that winter, and most likely very cold. In northern Europe most people lived in homes that were very like the barns their cattle and sheep spent the winter in - low mud and straw buildings, perhaps with some timber supports, a thatch roof and a large stone fireplace or chimney in the middle of the building. People spent the long winter nights huddled around this one source of light and warmth, telling stories, spinning flax or wool, maybe whittling or working leather in the flickering fire light. One night, when it had been dark and cold for months, right before the great feast of Christmas, someone walking back from the barn or privy noticed that the full moon had a smudge on it. It looked like something was taking a bite out of the moon! As more people gathered to watch this horrifying, unnatural sight they were even more shocked when the disk of the moon, now fully darkened, turned a rusty blood red. It must have been a terrifying sight.

These people, with no scientific understanding of what was going on, used their own world view based on the stories of their Christian religion and the memories and remnants of their indigenous beliefs, to make sense of their world. Throughout most of history and across most
cultures a lunar eclipse was a very bad omen. It foretold death, famine, drought, flood or some other tragedy. Anything that upset the natural cycle of events can be very scary and the blessed light of the full moon transforming into a blood red disk seems pretty terrifying even to me, and I have a scientific understanding of the phenomena!We are a diurnal species and our culture is a light focused one. We revere the building, doing forces of the sun and take comfort in the brightness and light the full moon, a reflection of that sun. We, children of our biology and our culture, are very yang - dry, hot, light, piercing - and tend to not know what to do with things that are yin - wet, cool, dark, receiving. Sometimes we ignore these yin forces while often we actively suppress them with fear or hatred.

Many of our traditions and holidays for this darkest time of the year center around lighting up the dark. In Jewish tradition candles are lit on a
menorah. In Pagan and Christian Europe lights are lit in the form of Christmas trees, candles in windows, yule logs and fairy lights. In modern times those lights have transformed into amazing spectacles of electric lights. We are performing an act of sympathetic magic - Oh, Powers of Light, if we light up the dark winter night will you bring the sun back and light up the world again? Please?! We modern people with a scientific mindset might laugh at this explanation of what we are doing, but for those people of the 17th century it was a clear requirement.

I am not against the probing, yang-ful pursuit of science or electric light s
pectaculars. Science allows us to know things about the physical world in a way that allows an emotional detachment and the lights cheer us in the dark nights. Yes, this scientific detachment can lead to a lack of wonder and awe but it also leads to a lack of fear about natural phenomenon. With our perspective from this side of fear we can build a better, more holistic view, of the world. Our atavistic, reptillian brain is terrified of the dark and we work hard to banish it. But that is not the only way.

In the book Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom Dr. Christina Northrup posits that our excessively yang, patriarchial society causes us to look at illness as a battle and every disease or symptom as an enemy. We "fight" cancer and "blast" tumors but in some ways the only victim of the war is our own selves. Dr. Northrup asks what if we looked at illness as a messenger? What might we need to learn that this disease or sympt
om is here to show us? The darknesses of night and winter have messages to bring us as well as the darknesses of illness and disease. In the story I posted last month, Night and Day, is a beautiful expression of this idea. In the story Day says to night "But I mistook your friendly shadow for that of death.... You, in whose silence and rest the very fountains of life are renewed"
What is the darkness of this time of year trying to tell you? How do you balance chasing the darkness away with cheer and lights with allowing yourself to sink fully into the darkness of the season? What do you need to lay down and let rest? What do you need renewed? How did you celebrate the darkest night of the year?

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