Sacred Endarkenment

Sacred endarkenment is the central concept that ties together the work I do at the Hermitage. There are many answers to the question “What is sacred endarkenment?” Here are a few answers I often give to that question.

Sacred endarkenment is deep listening. One aspect of deep listening is “listening deeply for signs of what wants to happen of its own accord, and yielding to that, instead of attempting to control or force things through the conscious mind in any way.”

Sacred endarkenment is restfulness and hibernation – being cocooned and hidden away in protected spaces of refuge, and allowing ourselves to be held in restorative darkness.

Sacred endarkenment is embracing chthonic forces of the deep Earth and the underworlds. Decay and rot produce rich, fertile soil, and provide nourishment for deeply rooted trees. Handling my compost responsibly, for example, is an offering to Nidhogg, one of the Powers of the deep Earth.

Sacred endarkenment is trusting downward-moving emotions. There are sources of wisdom and integrity to be found in unwelcome or painful emotional processes such as grief, melancholy, despair, and anger. When we open ourselves to paths of sacred endarkenment, we learn how to hold space for that wisdom to emerge responsibly, even in the midst of a culture that provides little guidance in handling such emotions.

Sacred endarkenment is receiving the pain that is there – the pain carried by the plants, the trees, our hearts, our bodies – because healing cannot proceed without a full reckoning with the existing pain we carry.

Sacred endarkenment is understanding that sometimes, death can be a gift.

Sacred endarkenment is stillness, solitude, and the regenerative richness that can be found in silence.

Sacred endarkenment is trusting our inner guidance.

Sacred endarkenment is refusing to center “whiteness” as an identity. Sacred endarkenment finds ways to reclaim ancestral traditions, honor and respect our elders, decolonize our spiritual practices, support indigenous peoples’ sovereignty, and oppose white supremacy.

Sacred endarkenment is resistance. It’s a quiet yet powerful form of resistance to the countless cultural forces that dull our awareness of our embodied wisdom and inner guidance. Intuitive wisdom can be dulled or kept at a distance with alcohol, work, sex, shopping, relationship melodrama, spiritual escapism…just about anything, in other words.

As Robert Ludlum has said: “Rest is a weapon.” Deliberately carving out time for leisure and true self-care without succumbing to guilt and shame about “laziness” can be a way of resisting capitalist mandates equating our value with our productivity, and allowing room for much-needed receptive forms of wisdom to emerge. Social justice work is sustained through caring labor, rest, nourishment, relationship-building, and other un-glamorous support work just as much as it is by activists who resist in more visible and headline-grabbing ways on the front lines of a struggle.

There is deep healing medicine and beauty in the darkness that can only emerge under conditions of receptivity, surrender, unhurried time, and sustained attention. This is what I am working toward at the Hermitage: monastic ways of life that are grounded in the wisdom of sacred endarkenment. For more on the topic, start here:

Q: How did you hear about this term, and what made you decide to adopt it?

It was an instinctive response – as soon as I heard the term endarkenment, I knew instantly that I’d found the name for the work I had been doing for many years. A little later, I realized I needed to call it sacred endarkenment to clarify my intent and differentiate my work from New Age spirituality.

Spiritual bypassing is distressingly common in Paganism; there is often an overemphasis on concepts such as “love and light,” positivity, transcendence, and enlightenment. Robert Augustus Masters describes spiritual bypassing as

“the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.”

As someone who was raised in a New Age family, I’ve experienced first-hand the pain, denial, and relationship alienation that can result from a heavy emphasis on positive thinking and “creating your own reality.” Spiritual dogma can be just as oppressive when it’s presented as enlightenment as it can be when it shows up in less culturally sanctioned ways – perhaps even more so, since it can be more difficult to identify.

When I discovered the term endarkenment, in an essay by Michael Ventura, I gravitated toward it immediately as a necessary counterbalancing force to this kind of New Age gaslighting. He used the word in an unflattering way, but I claimed it as mine nonetheless, and I later found out other feminist writers had done the same. Finally I had found a name for something I had sensed intuitively for years – something that had nothing to do with evil or negativity. Endarkenment became the central concept tying together all the work I do at the Hermitage.

In 2013 I decided to use the title Endarkenment for one of my in-progress book manuscripts. Stirrings of a future book manuscript called Sacred Endarkenment have been gradually making themselves known to me over the past few years as well, so I am making plans to write a book about it. It is my hope that these writings will help further awareness of darkness as a regenerative force of power and beauty, and descent as a source of wisdom.

As Charles Eisenstein puts it:

“Why is rising above a good thing?  Why do we want to “raise our vibration”?  Is a piccolo better than a bassoon?

“The mythology of ascension taps into the same ambition as our other attempts to master, control, and transcend nature, whether they be through technological or psychological means.

“Perhaps what we need is not the transcendence of materiality, but to embrace it more fully.”

For other perspectives on the concept of endarkenment, I recommend:

Molly Remer – Endarkenment
Lauren Raine – Endarkenment: The Dark Goddess in Art and Myth

Sarah Sadie’s Creative Endarkenment series on Dowsing For Divinity:

Pausing to Get Acquainted With Darkness
The Need to Ground and Shield
Downward to Darkness
Embracing Silence
The Need to Slow