We’ve just passed the vernal (spring) equinox, one of the two days of the year in which day and night are supposed to be equal in length. (Here in SoCal, there’s about a five-minute difference.) As we all know, the dark and the light are often used metaphorically. Here are two pages from Pagan Every Day in which I wrote about “endarkenment” (yes, I’ve always enjoyed inventing words) and enlightenment. Too much of either is, I think, kinda dangerous.
Yeah, some people who 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. We should surround ourselves with white light at all times and, like Lady Bountiful, bestow our white light on darker people.
This is an exceedingly naïve attitude. If the light’s on all the time, how on earth do we get any sleep? Do we ever get to close our eyes? If all there is, is light, and there aren’t any shadows, how do we keep from going blind and bumping into things? How do we distinguish one thing from another?
Nearly every standard reference work I looked at says that darkness signifies gloom and “primigenial chaos.” Pagans understand that as much as we crave enlightenment—learning, knowledge, holiness—that much do we also require endarkenment. The New Age just doesn’t seem to have caught on to yet. We can help others see that without the darkness we cannot even recognize the light. We need literal shadows—and psychological and metaphysical ones—to tell us what’s out there.
During the months of February [and March], we witness change. We see the movement from darkness and long nights to light and longer days. Fortuna’s wheel turns, the wheel of the year turns, and things change. It’s that simple.
Maybe it’s also that scary. When we seek endarkenment, we set out to explore dark places, and some of those dark places are in our minds. Readers, it’s useful to know that we have dark places. It’s useful to be aware of our shadows and know that we’re not always kind and good and pure. When we own our shadows, then we can be more tolerant of other people’s shadows. When we’re endarkened, we are capable of change.
“You light up my life.” A charismatic person “lights up the room.” When we become aware of something, the “lights go on” or we suddenly “see the light.” In cartoons, a light bulb turns on over the head of the guy who has an idea. Conversely, we call someone who isn’t enlightened “a dim bulb,” or maybe “the lights are on but nobody’s home.”
Light—especially the famous “white light”—is a major metaphysical symbol. Light has traditionally been equated with spirit. It’s the manifestation of intellect, virtue, morality. Because light comes from the east, when the Theosophical Society was founded and the European Occult Revival occurred in the late 19th century, it was Eastern Wisdom that flowed across the planet like healing light to illuminate us benighted Westerners. (I know people who fervently believe that the only true wisdom comes from the Ancient Masters of the East—those guys are apparently still hiding in Shangri-La or Shambhala.)
My point is not to argue the relative merits of Eastern and Western wisdom. What I’m wondering is what does it mean to be enlightened? What happens to us when we’re illuminated? Physiologists know that parts of the brain do sort of light up when we’re thinking. Is this literal or metaphorical light?
Or does enlightenment specialize and give us a laser-like focus? When we become enlightened, is it a one-time occurrence or does it last for the rest of our lives? Do ordinary people like you and me get enlightened, or is this state reserved for great, wise, and holy people? Were they common before they got enlightened and that’s why they became great, wise, and holy? And, finally, can we fall out of our state of enlightenment and go back to where we were before? How do we tell the difference?