Getting to know the Dark and the Light on the Road to Maturity
With the recent rebirth of Saturn (systems and structures) and Jupiter (Truth, insight and beliefs) relative to Pluto (evolution) in the sign of Capricorn, it seems fitting to discuss the notion of maturation and what it means to ‘grow up’ and become ‘fully human’.
Please see earlier posts for more context on the current astrological themes:
The Covid 19 Pandemic as a catalyst, literally synchronised with the Pluto/Saturn conjunction in early January this year, and has made blatantly obvious the core reality of how fragile our systems have become at a global scale. A good example of this is how restrictions in travel have impacted on food production, such that an estimated 2 billion people will be affected with food shortages due to crop failures, as fertilisers and pesticides didn’t make it to the places they needed to go, and some farmers literally had to kill millions of livestock due to a breakdown in the supply chain.
Meanwhile this period of time has never been busier for predatory economic individuals and groups to make use of the chaos to maximise on profits, and so too for those that seek to increase their power in the world. At the same time, for those with more time on their hands than usual, due to lockdown restrictions, there’s also been an opportunity to reflect and think on the world, on our modern way of life, to worry about what will happen next, and perhaps most significantly to try and figure out what we as individuals can do and should do next.
With this in mind, with respect to following the global archetypal energy flows, which are currently highlighting both Saturn and Capricorn, I have been pondering what maturation means at an individual level, and in this post I wanted to offer some food for thought on a key feature of the maturation process that is mythically represented as the battle between the Light and the Dark, as reflected in the Stars Wars movies, Harry Potter books and the Lord of the Rings, which I think is pertinent to this current time, because in the face of change and uncertainty, each one of us is now inwardly confronted with our own battle between the Light and the Dark; ignorance and awareness, fear and love, power and powerlessness, chaos and order etc.
At this time more than ever, personal shadow work is probably the best contribution anyone can make toward a better world. The polarisation we currently see in the world, which is fuelling extremists on many sides, is arguably the result of a culture that has avoided shadow integration. Jung wrote: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” For this reason many people today are susceptible to shadow-projection, referring to the practice of condemning others for all the troubles in the world, while taking the convenient position of untouchable righteousness.
True maturation is inextricably linked with individuation; to mature is to grow into one’s full potential as a human being, and in order to do this we will inevitably need to bring lost or hidden information into the light of awareness long enough for transformation to occur.
The nature of darkness is to embody the unknown; we literally cannot see in the dark and experience a diminishment in awareness, which in turn evokes fear because in the absence of certainty, all manner of possibilities arise in the mind, many of which are undesirable. Although we may think of the dark as the opposite to the light, it is more accurately an absence of light, in which we often feel out of our depth and out of control.
In an archetypal sense, the light is almost always associated with goodness and benevolence. This makes sense, because we are biologically adapted to the light; we are adapted to see in daylight, and so from an animal/survival perspective, the darkness represents a time when we feel more vulnerable to predators.
In a modern sense, we can associate the light with information and the dark with information not yet known, and the light and the dark are inextricably linked: Jung wrote, "To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light."
I identify two different processes associated with the relationship between the dark and the light with regard to inner-work.
Taking the Light into the Darkness
To take the light into the darkness is the call to adventure that requires us to be heroic; we need to be willing to venture into the dark unknown parts of who we are.
In tarot this is represented by the archetype of the Hermit, who undertakes to unveil the inner chambers of the psyche for the purposes of self-awareness. He is always depicted carrying a radiant lamp because he must bring the light into the darkness.
In Greek myth, this process is reflected in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, where the hero must navigate the darkness of an underground labyrinth in order to kill the monstrous Minotaur.
In the Lord of the Rings, this theme occurs when the fellowship of the ring enter the mines of Moria. The wizard Gandalf lights his staff (much like the Hermit in tarot) and guides the group through the dark labyrinthine tunnels of the mountain, where they face overwhelming hoards of dark orcs, and later Gandalf battles with the Balrog, a demon of shadow and fire. Through this kind of inner-work, we bring the light of awareness into the personal unconscious in order to reclaim lost, forgotten or wounded aspects of self. Sometimes this can be experienced as a challenge to face deep fears and misconceptions about ourselves, while at others it can mean the discovery of hidden treasures in the form of resources, skills and inclinations we didn’t know we had.
Bringing the Darkness into the Light
This describes the integration process, whereby recovered information in the form of memory, insight, emotional material and other psychic energy must be integrated into a new level of coherence.
In tarot this is represented by the archetype commonly referred to as Temperance, which represents spiritual alchemy. This can equate to the concept of ‘conscious suffering’ through which ‘shadow material’ excavated from the personal unconscious is slowly purified and integrated to form a new level of ‘order’ within the psyche. When we uncover truths about ourselves, or we penetrate long held illusions about who we think we are, or about what we think life is or should be, we enter into a temporary period of internal flux and destabilisation; somehow the new information has to percolate into the system and structures may breakdown and reform as a result.
In Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince this alchemical process of ‘conscious suffering’ is symbolised by the journey to the crystal cave to get a Horcrux (an amulet containing part of the evil Lord Voldemort’s soul), which is located on an island surrounded by a subterranean lake. Dumbledore (akin to the sage or wizard archetype within all of us) must drink a dark potion that causes him to endure tremendous suffering, and only after he has consumed every last drop can the prize be attained. Even so after the potion, Dumbledore is afflicted with a terrible thirst, made all the worse because even though there is water all around, disturbing the lake will awaken the dead in the form of the Inferi. The scene in the movie poignantly captures the essence of this inner-work, where access to personal power involves processing repressed pain in order to overcome deathly inner forces that obstruct our capacity to function well in the world.
A related myth that has some relevance is the story of Pandora’s box. Prometheus (associated with Aquarius, whose name means fore-thinker) stole fire from the Gods to be given to humankind, and in retaliation Zeus (Jupiter) presented Pandora to Prometheus’s brother Epimetheus (after-thinker). Pandora opened a jar (box) out of which all manner of hardships such as illness and death escaped into the world, and in her haste to close the jar, she inadvertently left the quality of hope behind. Here we see the theme of awakening and empowerment through the symbol of fire, with its obvious associations with light, and the inextricable connection between the attainment of inner light and transformation, and the unlocking of the darker repressed experiences inherent to life. Self-knowledge has a price, and if we lack sufficient wisdom or guidance, we can recoil at the necessity for ‘conscious suffering’ and literally lose all hope and try and shutdown and resist.
Similar motifs appear in the film Edward Scissorhands, symbolic of a failed attempt to integrate shadow aspects; although Edward (representing a lost aspect of self) attempts to integrate into the world, in the end he goes back into hiding never to be seen again.
In Spiritual Alchemy, the integration of darkness begins with Nigredo or blackening, associated with the process of putrefaction and decay. It describes conscious suffering as a necessary purification process through which we are able to let go of false notions of who we are and ought to be, in order to make way for the possibility of a greater personal truth, without which I believe we cannot acquire wisdom.