Ritualizing the Dark

Photography credit to Christopher Chammartin

Photography credit to Christopher Chammartin

It’s quiet a noteworthy week.  Within this seven-day period we acknowledge the last day of Hanukah, the celebration of the Winter Solstice, the merriment of Christmas and honoring of Kwanzaa, and even Festivus for those that fall elsewhere (perhaps on a pop-culture end) on the holiday spectrum. 

Much can be said about all of these celebrations, individually.  This week, however, invites the opportunity to acknowledge the common theme within them. We know this time of year is largely about the story of light and darkness, with a particular focus on the light.  Hanukah offers its story of the incredible miracle of light, for the light that miraculously lasted eight days when there was only enough oil for one, thus for eight days we light a Menorah adding a candle each night; Winter Solstice celebrates the return of the sun beginning its journey north to offer us longer day light hours; Christmas not only has us bringing out all the candles and twinkling lights, but at the root has us celebrating Jesus’ birth, the light, the savior of the people; Kwanzaa carries the light of seven beautiful core values/principles of a culture, symbolized by the lighting of the seven candle Kinara.  As for Festivus, the idea itself offers light, in a time when everyone around you may be celebrating something, it is the light of giving those outside these other traditions something to celebrate too.

It is clear that the light is being celebrated during this time of year, across the world and in many cultures. 

However, from my seat, I cannot help but wonder why the focus in not on the darkness as well.   It is around this time that we need the light, indeed.  But can we truly honor the light without acknowledging and honoring the dark? 

The Solstice marks the shortest day of the year, but also the longest night.  And we still have some time till the light and dark find their way to balance each other out at the equinox.  Thus, it feels pertinent to not only focus on the light at this time but also to mark the importance of the dark. The dark lives deeply in these holidays, and long after the holidays pass. It lives deeply in us.  We will long live in and with this darkness. (Festivus may be the only holiday the overtly explores this darkness with its traditions of Feats and Grievances—we all have them, and hardly name them during this time of year.)

Who wants to celebrate the dark though?  I get it.  It's uncomfortable, it challenges the way we see the world, and it forces us to rely on parts of ourselves we don't usually rely on.  The Dark is not easy.

I have found myself in a particular state of darkness this season, and I am practicing all I know about how to create ceremony in dark times.  It seems to me that the darkness is truly what makes the ceremony.  It is the space where ritual calls me forward to really show up as I am.  It invites a daily, maybe even hourly, severance, threshold crossing and incorporation.  And certainly a daily intention setting and time for deep reflection.  And what I find most opening and compassionate in this time is when my community does not try to save me or show me the light that is available to me.  But, rather invites me to dive deeper, giving me full permission of be in the dark, to explore this darkness till I find my own way to the light, my way, to my light.  In these dark spaces with myself, if I keep wishing for the equinox, I fail to except the darkness and the important role it plays in human nature.  I find that the great realization is to surrender to all things having right pacing and that the darkness throughly informing the soul and the light whenever it may come.

I invite you to sit with the darkness during this time of year, as it arrises. “As within, so without.”  And be sure to find your way to step into ceremony with the darkness, call it out, name it, sit the long night hours alongside it.  Check out Oaks Counsel, with programs that guide you through this process.  And, be sure to truly explore the darkness in our upcoming Step into the Darkness: Night Walk.


Most of all, Happy Holidays! (In all you celebrate!)