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Category Archives: Winter Solstice

Dark and Light

Dark and Light

Let us not be too quick to rush toward the light. A blanket of darkness wraps us in its stillness, and we turn in on ourselves. Dark nurtures the deep sunseeds, fosters the gestation of dreams. In old northern European traditions, Dark is valued as necessary in its cyclical and spiraling dance with the Light. We need Light’s kinship with Darkness.

Our ancestors from the northern reaches of the world experienced extended daylight in summer, and very long nights in winter. The primary division in Celtic sacred time is between the Dark and Light halves of the year. The Light half of the year is an outward time, when things happen rapidly, and in plain sight. In the dark half, the experience of change is minimized, the will is muted, and what is called for is contemplation, seeds hidden in the darkness, in the womb of our being, out of which new events and ways of life will grow, as the balance shifts. While these Dark and Light halves signify the seasons of the year, it goes deeper than that, because each event or process in our lives throughout the year has Dark and Light modes operative within them. Both Dark and Light principles of are of equal importance, but they are never static. That’s what introduces the triad, the love of threeness, in Celtic understanding: the fundamental sacred element, the spark from the Otherworld, that keeps everything changing, shifting, flowing and growing.

Let us not be too quick to rush toward the light. All true growth takes place in darkness, below the level of consciousness. Creativity is born in the unconscious,  the womb as its symbol, the cauldron image which is so dear to the Celtic tradition. In the dark bubbling of the cauldron, transformation slowly takes place. In the dark we rest, attentive to the influence of the unconscious, the sacred,  and an openness to the sunseeds hidden in the dark, the growth that is slow and unhurried.

While dark is necessary and complementary with light, we cannot discount the psychological effects upon us as humans. We cannot help but be joyful at the return of the light, the turning point. The Child of Light is born, the Mabon ap Madron in Welsh mythology, the son of the great mother. In these ancient tales, the spirit of Christmas predates Christianity. We are made confident that the seed of light, grown in the womb of dark, will grow and bloom in its proper season.

We gather in the room in darkness, with only the small hearth fire for light. As each of us speaks about what has been gestating for her, she lights a candle. We go round and round the circle, until at last, after many stories have been told, the room is ablaze with candlelight and we are aglow as we let our lights shine.

At another celebration, we turn out all the lights in the large building. Then we sing and drum and call the sun back to us, and surprise! The lights come on! The children love it. Then we form a great human chain to dance in a spiral throughout the building, singing The Lord of the Dance.

In closing I offer a prayer written in the Celtic tradition by J. Phillip Newell , where a sense of the sacredness of nature is blended with a religious concern for the world:

O Sun behind all suns

O Soul within all souls

Grant me the grace of the dawn’s glory

Grant me the strength of the sun’s rays

That I may be well in my own soul

And part of the world’s healing this day . . .


(This post is offered in gratitude to the many teachers of Celtic Spirituality, including M. Freeman, W. Melnyk, and the late A. Kondratiev, whose spirit lives on.)