All of our lives we are taught to fear the dark. From
childhood we are taught to stay out of dark places. We stereotype dark
skinned people as "bad". The bad guys wear black hats. Dark
bars and night hangouts are considered "seamy." The arch-fiend
of Christianity is the "Prince of Darkness," the opposite
of all that is light and good. We are taught this is what we should
strive for -- always toward the light, away from the darkness, which
But is it? If it is, why is darkness present in the world?
Could it be that the dark side represents something we need?
If you subscribe to the theory that nature provides what
we need for wholeness, would that not include the dark side? Observance
of the polarity in nature reveals that fact. Each day has a night. The
moon has a light and a dark side. The seasons change each year from
long, light-filled summer days, to long, dark winter nights. Night is
the time to refuel our energies. Winter is the time when the Earth retreats
into herself to recoup her energies. Animals take advantage of this
time to do the same, retreating into dark caves and underground burrows
In each of these instances, the dark side is present with
a place and time for rest and renewal. Does it not follow then that
we, with our animal natures, also need the darkness -- even the dark
side of ourselves we sometimes call our "shadow" selves? Why,
then, do we deny it -- shut it out of our lives?
The topic of our shadow selves seems to be getting more
media attention. The hit movie "The Shadow," was based on
the old radio show of the same name, which opened and closed with the
line "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow
knows." In a grisly opening murder scene, the movie vividly illustrated
why the Shadow knew this -- because he had experienced his dark side.
He had seen and done every conceivable bad thing in his world, including
murder, promiscuous sex, drugs. The Shadow's experiences also opened
up his telepathic ability; he was able to know and see inside the heart
of the criminal, to be able to head off the evil before it harmed anyone
else. Knowing and experiencing his dark side created in him an understanding
others did not have.
Books and articles on the "Dark Goddess" aspect
of our lives have also begun to appear more frequently. "Dancing
in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness
by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson, tells how "...the dark, earthy
and immensely powerful dark goddess has "...been a key force in
Two other books: "The Dark Goddess: Dancing With
the Shadow," by Marcia Starck and Gynne Stern, and "Mysteries
of the Dark Moon" by Demetra George, also talk about the shadow
side of human nature. Personifications of this darkness include myths
of Lilith, Hecate, Kali, Innana, Sekhmet, Pele, and Medusa.
These goddesses represent aspects of human nature we are
often taught to repress. As a consequence, psychotherapy has become
a booming business over the years. Psychological studies have shown
that repressed emotions and feelings tend to surface, sooner or later.
And often, like pressure building under a volcano, they explode -- sometimes
violently. This is because we have been taught in our traditional Judeo-Christian
society to deny the dark side. We are to be all sweetness and light.
We are not to show anger, not demonstrate our sexuality, not show a
broad range of emotions, be calm, centered, always a good parent, and
is, above all, we must look good according to society's standards.
How can working with the "dark side" help here?
Again I submit that if you believe darkness is a given part of our nature,
then denying what is meant to be a part of our lives can leave us unbalanced,
less than whole. Everyone knows someone who has gone to extremes in
their lifestyle or belief system; the pendulum swing from angel to devil
-- from atheist to zealot. When all around us is evidence of polarity
in the wholeness of nature, denying our other half can be neurotic folly.
When we look deep into our souls, examine our innermost
spirit, most of us will readily admit that we are not all goodness and
light. We all hide things we would rather not recognize, much less let
others see. Those are the things society has told us are bad. They are
bad because our society has no way of integrating them into normal life.
Therefore, we relegate them to the dark. Anything dark is also associated
with death, which is the ultimate "bad" thing. However, in
many societies death is not considered bad. It's considered a gateway
to life, a part of a cycle, a circle that never stops. Taoism with its
Yin and Yang symbol, representing light within dark, is an example.
Tarot, with it,s "Death card, which stands for "Transformation,
The dark goddesses are products of ancient societies that
recognized death and darkness as a part of the whole. "The Dark
Goddess: Dancing with the Shadow," begins with Lilith, a goddess
first mentioned in 2400 B.C. who was Eve's predecessor. Lilith was Adam's
wife before Eve. She was strong, sensual, sexual, independent, with
a mind of her own.
The myth tells that Adam wanted her to lie beneath him
in order to create offspring. Lilith would hear none of it. Both she
and Adam were created from the same dust, and she saw no reason they
should not be equal. She became angry and flew away to the Red Sea where
she engaged in "unbridled promiscuity," bearing over a hundred
demon children a day. The Kabbalah describes her as a seductress. In
the Sumerian culture, she was Inanna's handmaiden, bringing men from
the streets to the temple prostitutes.
Lilith represents several things women have long repressed
-- freedom, independence, and sexuality -- the "Wild Woman."
Society has told us that these traits are to be quashed if we're to
be considered "good." Men, on the other hand, have been given
a level of freedom, independence where their sexuality was not considered
bad if expressed, even wildly ("Boys will be boys, you know").
Women seeking to become more independent and not be afraid
of their freedom or their sexuality would do well to meditate on Lilith,
who represents the dark "other side of femininity - that of strong
open emotions and desires, and the fearlessness of displaying them.
Woodman and Dickson,s take on this is "The feminine leads us to
the sharp edge of experience. There we have to feel our feelings in
our bodies; there our secrets become visible in the darkened, unvisited
corners of our psyches. Only then, when we start to heal the split -
to bring dark into the light and light into the dark, can we begin the
journey towards transformation to wholeness.
Transformation can be a frightening experience, especially
when it comes to motherhood. We are taught that when we become a mother,
we are supposed to be the rock solid foundation of our children's lives.
The Good Mother is an angel incarnate: supportive, kind, cheerful, good
cook, neat dresser, humble, sweet, and nurturing at all times.
Was your mother always like that? If you are a mother
now, are you always like that? It's a rare woman who is. Because of
this unreal and distorted mother image, many women (and men) are today
choosing not to be parents because they feel they cannot live up to
this icon of rectitude. Women (and men) who hold these idealistic beliefs
about motherhood are often shaken to the core the first time when they
feel emotions other than perfect love for their children. These intense
feelings -- grief, anger, fear, despair -- engendered by the everyday
tasks of mothering, are rarely talked about; but they are feelings that
can shake women (and men) to the roots of their being and cause them
to doubt their parental abilities.
We have nothing in our society that recognizes or validates
such feelings. In contrast, Hindu societies venerate Kali, triple Mother-Goddess
of creation, preservation and destruction. Kali appeared on the scene
about 400 A.D. Kali is the "hungry sow who devours her young,"
the image of the "terrible mother," who gives life as well
as takes it away. She is connected with the cycles of the moon, and
womens' menstrual cycles, nature at her most fundamental cyclic best,
which regularly demonstrates creation and destruction, light and dark.
Kali's destructive side speaks to mothers clearly, not
only about the roller coaster emotions and frustrations involved with
child rearing, but in knowing that a mother has the power to mold a
child in their early years in order to make the child fit into society.
This may mean that some part of the child will be "killed"
in the process.
Starck and Stern compare this to gardening by stating
"The good gardener weeds out extra seedlings; so must a good mother
weed out unwanted traits in her children. Often this 'weeding' kills
some part of the child's creativity or spontaneity. The mother who is
afraid for her child's safety will curtail her or his adventurous spirit;
the mother who is worried about her own image and that of her family
will try to mold her child into a person whose behavior is accepted
by the community in which they live."
If this could be done painlessly, life would be easy,
and none of us would harbor any bad memories of our mothers. Instead,
many of us remember swearing "I'll never do this to my kids,"
after a fight with mom, yet find ourselves doing just that thing as
adults. Sadly, many of us also vividly remember mothers who were vicious,
cruel, perhaps alcoholic, who left deep and lasting mental, emotional
and maybe even physical scars.
It is just this type of mother image that Kali represents.
Starck and Stern say "Kali-Ma, the Dark Mother, holds the two edge
sword; she has the power to slay the demons as well as the ability to
be compassionate. At a certain point it becomes necessary to take Kali's
sword and cut through the illusions that protect us from seeing and
acting on the truth."
Kali and Lilith are only two of the goddesses that represent
the dark side of nature. Pele, Hawaiian volcano goddess, teaches us
to recognize and deal with anger.
Innana and her journey through the underworld can teach us that depression
and hard times can be cyclic (especially for women), and that there
is enlightenment and wholeness to be gained by coming through the darkness.
Medusa teaches us to accept our flaws, and to ignore society's
obsession for physical perfection.Meditation with Sekhmet can help us
recognize the validity of our feelings. Hecate can help us make choices
and accept change.
One of the best examples of exploring the dark side comes
from a classic fantasy movie "The Wizard of Oz." Dorothy is
the product of an upright Christian family -- people who never speak
harshly or think dark thoughts about anyone. Dorothy is bored with her
life, she wants more. She's told she must not demonstrate her anger
and hate for Miss Gulch, who confiscates her beloved dog, Toto.
In order for Dorothy to come to the conclusion she reaches
at the end of the movie, she must journey through the dark. This is
represented several times in the movie; the tornado, the dark haunted
forest, the dark castle atop the dark mountain, facing and overcoming
her many fears to obtain the witch's broom. Both light and dark mythical
goddess figures are evident in the movie from the beginning -- the Good
Witch of the North (which represents the good earth), and the Wicked
Witch of the West (representing the setting sun -- death). In the end,
Dorothy realizes that her power lies within her, she never needed to
leave home to find it at all. Through her journey through the dark,
she became whole.
But none of these goddesses can help at all if we don't
accept the fact that the dark side, our "shadow selves" is
a necessary part of a whole and complete life. To do this, we must face
the darkest innermost hidden parts of ourselves. It's not easy. Everything
we've been taught rebels against it.
The first time you try it, your heart may pound. You may
be experience fear or revulsion. You may fail. However, you will have
made an in-road for later exploration, should you become stronger, to
make another attempt.
How do you start?
Don't tackle everything at once. Choose one thing at a time. Make a
list. What, to you, represents your dark side? What do you not want
the world to know about yourself? Your list might include:
I sometimes scream at my kids and want to hit or
I want more sex than my husband can give me. That's
not normal, is it?
I hate my mother. She always tries to dominate me.
I want to explore occult/New Age religions, but
I'm afraid to.
I hate my body. I'm afraid of becoming fat/old.
I don't like my church/religion, but I'm afraid
to leave it.
Then what? First of all, make this statement. Say "Yes!
This darkness is a part of me. These are my feelings. This is who I
am -- a woman who is not perfect. I am light. I am dark. Within myself,
I am whole. I am the Goddess' perfect child."
There are other things you can do. If you can, find some
like-minded people -- a support group. Finding others who have the same
fears as you can give you the courage to challenge those fears, and
the support you need while working through them. This is not as hard
or impossible as it may sound. It's a general rule of nature that once
you begin putting energy in a certain direction, what you need will
manifest in time.
Give yourself time every day to think about the specific
problem/challenge. Set aside a certain time to write down your feelings
about what you've chosen to focus on. What does "darkness"
mean to you? Free associate -- don't hold anything back -- absolutely
nothing. Don't let your "internal editor" stop you for anything.
Put it away for a while. Go back later and analyze it. Internalize it.
Then, write about how you feel about what you've read. Is it as bad
as you thought?
Construct a special space or altar that contains things
that represent your dark side. If you cannot find a statue of the dark
goddess you have chosen, perhaps a black or red candle, a dark stone,
animal bones, a container of dust and dirt, a snake icon, a picture
of a spider, a globe to represent the moon, use your imagination. Meditate
on each object separately. What do they represent to you? Are they inherently
bad? Why are they considered so?
On my personal altar, I have a black goddess on the left
in a very sensual and sexual pose; a white pregnant goddess on the right
in a kneeling and subservient position; and a small statue of the proud
Venus of Wilendorf in the middle. This arrangement, to me, best represents
the integration of my light and dark sides.
Finally, if you are free to do so, and you have the courage
and temerity to flaunt the rules, you may consider making an actual
foray into your dark side. If you can do so safely, in a detached manner,
and consider it "research" into a problem you're trying to
solve, you may find it more beneficial to undergo the actual experience
of the thing you fear, rather than merely intellectual cogitation. Throw
caution to the wind and start a study of magic or the Tarot. Take a
class on sexuality to help understand this most basic human, natural
drive. Question your religious doctrine -- you may find it is no longer
helping you grow, or you may find a deeper study makes you grow strong.I
don't recommend this for everyone, only those mature and objective enough
to know how far to go into the experiment without harm to body or psyche
of anyone concerned.
My own experience with the dark goddesses has taken me
down a path of several goddess myths and stories. I have struggled with
and overcome an inferiority complex over body image (Medusa). Most recently,
I have been working with Lilith, trying to incorporate her (heretofore
forbidden) drive for freedom of expression and assertion of sexuality
into my thinking and lifestyle. I look forward to working with Hecate,
the Crone of Wisdom, when the time comes. I'm enjoying every minute
of it; the feeling is like an opening flower. Each instance brings new
light into my life, as well as a greater feeling of wholeness.
Polarity is undeniably a part of this world. The dark
side is all around us, everywhere we look, in everything we experience.
As the Christian Bible says "To everything there is a season and
a time to every purpose under heaven." It follows by simple observation
that all seasons are not right for all things; some are to be put aside,
hidden, taken from the light into the dark for a time. Yet they remain
a part of everything, a part of the whole, resting until the time in
the great cycle to appear again.