How often do we hear someone express a fear of the light or of someone or something that is light? Personally, I have never heard of anyone being shunned for being light, never heard of a place being avoided for being light. True, photophobia does exist, but that seems to be based upon a physical intolerance or sensitivity to light, rather than a psychological fear of it or its associates.

Is the implication that the sole aim of our existence should be to reach for the light, to imagine and position ourselves as becoming only beings of light? Indeed, the pinnacle of human achievement, at least in religious and spiritual traditions, is considered to be enlightenment. But, in this archetypical pursuit of light, of becoming light, is there a place for the dark? Or is the dark nothing more than something we should avoid and fear at all costs?

In the ascending religious and spiritual traditions, those reaching up from the Earth towards their envisaged Heaven, their attitude towards the dark would, historically at least, probably be that it is something to be avoided or suppressed, because of the perception that it is a source of evil or harm. In contrast, for the descending traditions, in which connection to the planet on which we live is deepened and nurtured, the dark would, classically at least, likely be something to be embraced and integrated. This is because, in their view, the Mother Earth herself is dark. Hence, from this perspective, that which gives us physical form, and sustains it, is not something to fear or suppress, rather it is something to appreciate and celebrate.

It seems apparent, therefore, that the deeply embedded cultural and individual fears of the dark as a source of evil and harm, which manifest across the world in a myriad of different ways, are a conditioned response, rather than an actual reality. Indeed, some of the world's spiritual traditions even talk of the dark as the ultimate creative source, because, from their perspective, it is from the Void - that dark, unknowable mystery - that all life burst forth and emanates. Creativity and transformation birthed from the dark is an experience that we may have individually as well - before we have a bright idea there might come a period of time in which confusion and a lack of clarity reign supreme in our imagination.

With that in mind, it might be suggested that the time has come for the ascending and descending religious and spiritual traditions, and indeed ourselves, to evolve, so as to embrace both the light and the dark. Or, even, for entirely new religious and spiritual systems to emerge that can reconcile this deeply ingrained divide. The imperative for such a shift is not only that it could help nurture a more intimate and sustainable connection between people and planet. Concomitantly, this embrace might also be the doorway to that elusive enlightenment that we have sought for so long, albeit in different ways, as we realise that the nature of it is not what we may have previously thought it to be …

Historically, the pursuit of enlightenment has been undertaken on the premise that in order to achieve it we have to vanquish darkness, both in the exterior and the interior worlds. From this alternative perspective, though, enlightenment need not come from conquering the darkness, as though it were an enemy, but by embracing its gifts and potential. Thus the dark, in whatever forms it may take inside or out, needs not either be attacked or even feared. Rather, it is something that, if need be, can be illuminated and integrated through the power of awareness. This was a point that Carl Jung noted, in 1945:

'Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.'

In this way, enlightenment might, ultimately, be about becoming whole (from which the word 'health' is derived), achieved through the appreciation and embrace of both the light and the dark, possible in the case of the latter if we reconsider our attitude and relationship to it. In undertaking that intimate dance with the dark, who knows what greater possibilities - of creativity, of freedom from many fears, of health - may arise?

Much gratitude to Roman Krznaric,, a conversation with whom inspired this article.

Author's Bio: 

James Powell works as a Shamanic Practitioner in the UK, and at a distance with clients all over the world. More information about him and his work can be found at