Wisdom on Sacred Endarkenment

“To many people the spiritual quest is associated with heavenly spheres and a striving up towards the light. This reflects the great influence from religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In these religions the divine world exists somewhere in a distant heaven and God is a masculine sky god of light. In the older Pagan traditions the divine could also be found on earth and inside it, in the underworld…The wise also entered the dark in their spiritual quest…The underworld was as important to visit as the heavenly spheres. This is reflected in the old Norse tradition. In the Nordic tradition the darkness is a prerequisite of illumination. When Odin hangs in the world tree he gazes into the depth to find the runes. The secrets of existence are hidden in the underworld.”

~ Thomas Karlsson, Uthark: Nightside of the Runes


“The deepening of religion – making it earthy and chthonic – is one of the greatest challenges facing religion in the West today.  Without depth, religion can become too sweetly spiritual and top-heavy with its focus on higher consciousness and the idealized moral life.”

~ Thomas Moore, A Life at Work


“At one time people looked deep into and beneath the earth for images of spirituality.  The crypt, the cave, the cairn, the well, and the kiva are among the few sacred earth sites that still remain as testimonies to this deep spirituality, sometimes called chthonic.  But they also represent our personal experience of the spirit, which may be in the caves and crypts of memory and in powerful bodily emotions.  The human soul has been compared to a cave – hidden, dark, mysterious. Its beauty often lies shrouded in emotional haze and mist.”

~ Thomas Moore, The Soul’s Religion


“…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.  […]  If the light’s on all the time, how do we get any sleep?  Do we ever get to close our eyes?  […]

Pagans understand that as much as we crave enlightenment…just that much do we also require endarkenment.  The New Age just doesn’t seem to have caught on yet.  We pagans 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.”

~ Barbara Ardinger, Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives


There are some who find comfort in the shadows,
Who strive to comprehend the mysteries,
Who find solace in the silence of a winter night,
Who sing softly to the Crone.
We are the Dark Pagans, children of the Dark Mother.”

~ John J. Coughlin, Out of the Shadows


Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.

~ May Sarton, “Invocation to Kali”


“The underworld isn’t just a place of darkness and death. It only seems like that from a distance. In reality it’s the supreme place of paradox where all the opposites meet. Right at the roots of western as well as eastern mythology there’s the idea that the sun comes out of the underworld and goes back to the underworld every night. It belongs in the underworld. That’s where it has its home; where its children come from. The source of light is at home in the darkness.”

~ Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom

(More quotes from this wonderful book, and an interview with Kingsley, are here!)


“…I began to feel that I was not off the path but had stumbled onto another path, a hidden, more treacherous road that led not to enlightenment but, perhaps, to endarkenment.

“The Greeks had a name for this downward path: katabasis, or descent. Our ancient forebears understood that we needed not only to fly above with the birds, lightly and full of grace, but also to crawl beneath with the snakes, slowly, silently, on our bellies. We do not choose this lower path; it chooses us…And if we can allow the ego to take a backseat and go along for the ride, then the real journey can begin: Depression can become descent; the refusal to go down can become the choice to go down. And the appointment with the shadow can be kept.”

~ Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, Romancing the Shadow: Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul


“I think it’s important for us to pay attention to our emotions, in general. Too many people have never learned to do this, because they’ve never been encouraged to do it. We have the notion that our emotions are not worthy of serious attention.

“Naturally we have less difficulty with the so-called positive emotions. People don’t mind feeling joy and happiness. The dark emotions are much harder. Fear, grief, and despair are uncomfortable and are seen as signs of personal failure. In our culture, we call them “negative” and think of them as “bad.” I prefer to call these emotions “dark,” because I like the image of a rich, fertile, dark soil from which something unexpected can bloom. Also we keep them “in the dark” and tend not to speak about them. We privatize them and don’t see the ways in which they are connected to the world. But the dark emotions are inevitable. They are part of the universal human experience and are certainly worthy of our attention. They bring us important information about ourselves and the world and can be vehicles of profound transformation.”

~ Miriam Greenspan, “Through A Glass Darkly: Miriam Greenspan On Moving From Grief To Gratitude”


“Incubation, the dark, the cave, the deep mind, are where we find and bring back power to transform both our world and our selves.”

~Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech, Raw Power: Witchcraft, Babalon and Female Sexuality


“The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”

~ George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons


“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.”

~ Erica Jong


“In traditions that predate the arrival of Christianity, this forgotten and devalued realm was known as the Underworld, abode of the ancestors and the spirits of the dead, and its mythological roots appear to travel back deeply into the mists of time. In a remarkable book, ‘The Strong Eye of Shamanism’, Robert Ryan convincingly argues for the existence of initiatory rituals of descent involving early peoples’ caves such as those in Lascaux, Les Trois Freres and Pech-Merle in France and the startlingly beautiful paintings that still survive there. Ryan suggests that the caves were in essence the first temples, which were simultaneously incubation chambers, places where initiates could experience visions in trance and undergo initiatory death and rebirth in the sacred body of the earth goddess. Alain Danielou, in a comment that links the imagery of descent into Hell with what we are referring to here, writes: “The myth of the descent into Hell also evokes a return to the womb of Mother Earth”. Here womb and tomb are conceived of as being the same place. Sometimes the artist/shamans would literally have to put life and limb on the line, as there are paintings that could only have been completed at great personal risk. At the very least, the journey into the heart of the cave was arduous, involving squeezing through a narrow passage or opening. The caves are places that evoke altered states of consciousness in those who entered (an experience of what we would call ego death in psychological language) and thus moved the initiates closer to the sacred. We can imagine that they would have emerged cleansed, rejuvenated and reborn.”

~ James Bennett, “The Earth’s Dark Underbelly: The Archetypal Underworld and the Psychogeography of Descent


“Steeped in the medical model of psychiatry, we have lost the sense of grief, fear, and despair as universal experiences and as responses not just to personal but also to social and global conditions. A culture that insists on labeling suffering as pathology, that is ashamed of suffering as a sign of failure or inadequacy, a culture bent on the quick fix for emotional pain, inevitably ends up denying both the social and spiritual dimensions of our sorrows.

“If healing is to mean more than a welcome relief from individual pain, or a fear-driven avoidance of collective pain, it must be connected to a process of inquiring deeply into the suffering that is part of everyone’s life and spiritual journey, and that is an overwhelming fact of life on the planet today. If you’re someone who cries when you read the newspapers or watch the news on TV, if you have become numb out of overwhelming grief and fear for our world, if you’re someone who sees the connection between your own emotional state and living in an age of global threat, if you love the world and want to see it heal itself…take heart! The emotions that appear to afflict us can be the vehicles of our liberation from suffering. Experiencing our grief, fear, and despair in a new light, we renew our capacities for gratitude, joy, and faith. We grow in courage and compassion. We approach the world with less fear and more wonder. We have more energy for changing the things that matter.

“These gifts can only be found when we are unafraid to dance the dance of dark emotions in our lives.

“Let’s dance.”

~ Miriam Greenspan, Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair


“The voice that listens to its own heartbeat often sounds deceptively simple. But it takes courage to speak this way, to simply say, “This is what comes out of me, this is what wants to speak.” Sometimes what wants to speak seems dark and terrifying, seems stupid, makes no sense. Then one needs to have the courage to let it sit there on the page for a while, to not destroy it, to look at it much later and to listen for one’s voice in it. And often we realize in this way that the most beautiful part of us often comes with a dark mask.”

~ Burghild Nina Holzer, A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process, p. 119


“Historians of religion use an unusual word to describe gods and spirits of the earth – chthonic. […] A person might be called chthonic when she is earthy in language and style, when she allows her anger to operate effectively in her life and lets her hidden self be manifested. […]

“There is a form of creativity that reaches for the stars and is sunny and bright, but there is another kind, just as fruitful, that is dark and deep, more hidden than visible, motivated sometimes by anger and envy. This deep source of the creative spirit is difficult to express in our world because we have difficulty appreciating the positive qualities of the dark emotions. But they give a person depth, strength of character, and an earthy honesty and counter any tendency toward the sentimental and the naïve.”

~ Thomas Moore


“Those who identify as Rökkatru do not see “dark” as bad, nor “underworld gods” as evil. We feel that this is a Christian concept that has infiltrated some modern interpretations of Norse cosmology, first through the Christians that wrote down (and tainted) the only sources we have of these myths, and second through the Christian upbringings of many converts to Northern religion. Other Neo-Pagan sects have already been down this road and come out the other side; they have learned that underworld Gods are to be honored and revered for many things. Death is not evil; it is part of life. So is rot and decay, and loss, and the passing of all things. So is chaos, so is randomness, so are the destructive parts of Nature that we humans find inconvenient. All these things are sacred and so are the Rökkr.”

~ Raven Kaldera, What Is Rokkatru?


“We spend our lives hurrying away from the real, as though it were deadly to us. ‘It must be somewhere up there on the horizon,’ we think. And all the time it is in the soil, right beneath our feet.”

~ William Bryant Logan, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth


“I have always looked upon decay as being just as wonderful and rich an expression of life as growth.”

~ Henry Miller


“Why is rising above a good thing? …Why is lowly or base not a compliment? Why do we want to “raise our vibration”? Is a piccolo better than a bassoon?

“Perhaps what we need is not the transcendence of materiality, but to embrace it more fully. Having made a ruin of Earth, are we then to leave it behind for some spiritual realm of the fifth dimension? That is an example of the very attitude that has enabled us to ruin it to begin with: matter doesn’t matter, it is not sacred. We have certainly treated the planet that way. Today we feel pulled to reconnect with nature, with community, with our emotions, with our physicality.”

~ Charles Eisenstein, “The Way Up is Down


“It is not evil to work with the underworld, the ancestors, the night, the moon, death, and bones. It is dark, but there is goodness in it. We fear the unknown and the unseen. Modern witches call the above and the gods, but they often ignore the underworld and the spirits of the dead in their circle castings and magics. The chthonic deities and ancestors are great allies with their vast store of ancient wisdom and knowledge of the other worlds… but if neglected and ignored they become as the uninvited fairy from Sleeping Beauty and we all know how well that worked out. Ignore the darkness within yourself and expect the same results.”

~ Sarah Anne Lawless, “How to See in the Dark: A Practitioners’ Dialogue on Working with Darkness in Magic


“The willingness and courage to be aware of and experience the dark side of life, and the consequent despair we feel when we do so, is what distinguishes authentic faith from wishful thinking and denial.  Despair is faith’s darker handmaiden.  There is no faith without doubt and despair, just as there is no good without evil, no day without night.”

~  Miriam Greenspan, Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair


“We tend to think of the dark as a dangerous place, but for a wide variety of nocturnal creatures, daylight is dangerous and the dark is where they’re safe. You can’t see as well in the dark, but that also means it’s harder for you to be seen. Our mainstream culture mocks “hiding in the dark” but if you’re up against predators who are bigger, stronger, and more numerous than you, hiding in the dark is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Embrace the safety of the dark.”

~ John Beckett, “Be The Dark


“For a feeling of well-being, you have to shine, but your sparkle need not be superficial.  It can rise up out of a deep place in you that is dark but has its own kind of light…Imagine a black sun at your core, a dark luminosity that is less innocent and more interesting than naive sunshine.  That is one of the gifts a dark night of the soul has to offer you.”

~ Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul