Dim slanted rays of light shine through the bare branches and fitful clouds. I can barely feel the feather light touch of the sun that used to blaze across my cheeks not that many months ago. I sometimes open my eyes as wide as I can in the strange hope that more light might strike my retina. Geographically, I live in a bowl; a large bowl that surrounds my city. That bowl often gets filled with cloud cover. Lansing is one of the cloudiest places in the USA. Of all the cities where sunlight is measured, only Seattle, Syracuse, and Portland get less.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
Sometimes in the depths of winter I feel the pressure of the flat grey landscape of the sky. No blue to break the monotony, only subtle shifting of dull tectonic plates of the masses above us. The light in the house is dull and diffused. We break the monotony with winter celebrations. Christmas lights echo the prominent stars, and pagans of many stripes have sacred fires they keep and vigils through the longest night complete with tasty calorie dense traditional snacks like cookies and winter sausages.
This is all a great idea from a perspective of how to survive the physiological and psychological hardships of cold and darkness. Shopping therapy is a real thing. But for a moment, let us take a moment to dwell in the darkness.
There’s always lots of talk through the winter months of focusing on the light. We have traditions of the yule log that have lasted for centuries, the hope of the coming light is often a theme of Yule and Imbolc rituals. Often, if we speak of the darkness it’s only to think of it in terms of the background for the light. In and of itself it mostly represents scary, bad things. We do have some interesting traditions that focus on those scary bad things, the return of Krampus as a mythological figure in modern winter celebrations is an example. The idea of the Krampus or the Perchta is expressed traditionally in many places in continental Europe. They are monstrous figures who walk the land looking for those who have broken social contracts, or at least irritated their parents past all bearing.
Threats of mayhem and promises of sweets aside, I think it’s truly important to explore a dialog with the darkness itself. Before you go flinging yourself into the light in all the ways possible, try giving yourself some times to dwell in the darkness. Avoid turning on lights in house and see what it is like to navigate it in the midwinter gloom. Do a candle meditation in the darkness one night and then blow the candle out. See what happens.
There are a number of deities that you could explore the welcoming darkness with.
There’s Nott, the Norse goddess of the personified night, who we know was called “joy-of-sleep” by the elves and “dream-goddess” by the dwarves. She is the daughter of a giant named Narfi and is described as being dark skinned. A real live non-white positive example of Norse deity! She marries three times and gives birth to a son named Audr or “prosperity”. People argue that Audr is a female name, and say that this was a character made up by Snorri Sturluson but I wonder if in fact she didn’t give birth to Audr, but instead to Austr which means eastward. That would mean she had given birth to the dawn, which makes a lot more sense considering that her third child was Dagr or day. In the neighboring country of Latvia, there is the god of the dawn Auseklis and the Lithuanians have the goddess of the dawn, Ausrine. All these names come from a root word that means “east” or “dawn”
Here’s an excerpt from the Orphic Hymn to the Greek NyxNight [Nyx], parent goddess, source of sweet repose, from whom at first both Gods and men arose, Hear, blessed Venus [Kypris], deck’d with starry light, in sleep’s deep silence dwelling Ebon night! Dreams and soft case attend thy dusky train, pleas’d with the length’ned gloom and feaftful strain. Dissolving anxious care, the friend of Mirth, with darkling coursers riding round the earth.
We have very little evidence for worship of either goddess but we shouldn’t let that stop us. Take a moment to honor the darkness this year. Give an offering and call to Nott or Nyx. Check out Ratri the Vedic goddess of the night. Take a moment and look at the stars or best of all, just honor your own reaction to the darkness at this time of year. It’s so easy to attempt to escape it. Lean into her for a moment. Let the darkness comfort and keep you, dear reader.