Integrating the Co-essential Darkness
of the Cosmological Unfolding
by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.
This article was first published in 2007 at what was called Integrative Spirituality site, now known as Universe Spirit
We live in times of the witnessing of global transformation. Such a scale of planetary changes has happened before, but humans are integral to this one – participating in and witnessing it. These times have been expressed and foretold by different religious traditions – in the Celtic tradition as the Age of Cailleach – the Old Woman whose song heralds changing tides, in Hindu tradition as the Age of Kali – an awesome Goddess not shy about the process of destroying for the purposes of Creativity: it is her passion for Being, for birthing the New. She, like many of Her Dark Sisters around the globe embodies the truth that this Life is built on the death or transformation of all that went before: that we are here by the grace of the Space, and the knowledge of the eons.
Much of popular Western culture has not understood the place of the dark Old One in the continuity of Life – that She, the ‘Dark Space’ if you like, is a co-essential part of the Creative process. Mainstream religious traditions, and many New Age practices, have been pre-occupied with ‘light’ and ‘eternal life’, sometimes implying or specifying the immortality of present visible forms: leaving little room for ‘dark’ and its subsequent ‘never-ending renewal’ – the implied event-ual nature of all form.
In the Southern Hemisphere as I write this – in May – those of Earth-based and Goddess religious practice have just ritually celebrated Samhain – or ‘Halloween’ as it is known in popular culture. It is the ceremonial marking of the darkest quarter midpoint of Earth’s annual cycle around the Sun. Samhain literally means ‘Summer’s end’. It is the time for the marking of endings of all kinds, of all kinds of ‘Summers’ – and celebrating the space between the old and the new. In Earth-based tradition this dark Moment is also understood as the place of beginning – it is the New Year. And in that Moment, all is possible.
It is the season of the Crone, the Old One – whose face is one of transformation, just as the Autumn leaves are. I call Her: She Who Creates the Space to Be. Whereas Her sister aspects are the Urge to Be (Virgin/Young One), and the Place of Being (Mother/Creator) … all Three metaphors of fundamental qualities of the Cosmological Unfolding. Samhain ritual may be an awesome marking of the Void, a cosmic conversing within a truly sacred moment of Earth’s turas – Her sacred annual pilgrimage. Samhain marks a place of decomposition, that also seethes with fertile possibility – indeed is a pre-requisite for it. The old breath must be let go of, must be emptied, for the new one to be taken. It is out of the Space between the breaths that the Urge for the new breath arises. It is out of the Dark Fullness that new life is birthed. The Old One, the Young One, and the birthing Mother cannot be separated – they are One[i]. And they unify darkness and light, the manifesting and the manifest – hold them in the full gestalt of the wheel of the year, just as the sphere of the Moon holds within Her embrace the shifting balance of dark and light, in an ever-renewing cycle of waxing, peaking and waning. The ritual celebration of the full year of Earth’s journey around the Sun – the sacred space in which we all travel everyday – may be a celebration of this triple dynamic of creativity.
And it is not a simple waxing, peaking and waning of light – the birthing of all manifest form, the dance of life and the full fruiting and consuming /consummation of that life. It is also a waxing, peaking and waning of dark – the en-trancing to Larger Self whence we come (a different kind of birthing), the transformation of death and the getting of Wisdom and imaginal insight of the night and regeneration. This is the full picture through which the three phases of Goddess as dynamics of Cosmological Unfolding, move.
I offer that the Triple Spiral motif uncovered only late last century at Newgrange in Ireland, may be a representation of this integral threefold cosmic dynamic. Martin Brennan, long-time researcher of Newgrange in its context of many other megalithic mounds, has perceived that the Triple Spiral is ‘perhaps the most powerful representation’ of the sacred heritage of ritual celebration of eternal Creation represented in the Wheel of the Year, the phases of the Moon and the lives of all beings.[ii] And archaeologist Michael Dames has identified the Triple Spiral as representing the triple Goddess as She was known in that place, and they/She were integral with the Land[iii]. Just so, are the three faces of Goddess as I understand them: that is, they are integral with the Cosmos, our extended land, as we understand our habitat in these times. They are Cosmological Dynamics, integral with the Unfolding Cosmos, with Cosmogenesis.
The Land itself – Herself – as these and many other forbears knew it, was a dynamic source of life, as we may understand our whole Cosmos and Earth to be. And She was frequently triple-faced: for these in particular there was the aspect of the whole land – Eiru (Mother), the aspect of the individual parts, the divisions –Fodla (Virgin), and the aspect of the hidden sentience within – Banba (Crone/Old One). We, in our times and various Places may find or have other creative names for these aspects. I have also associated these three aspects with the three Refuges of Buddhism:- Sangha with the Mother, Buddha with Virgin, and Dharma with Crone.
In the representation as Triple Spiral, She is not anthropomorphised – She is expressed and apparently understood as a cosmic dynamic – one that is suggested to be Creative in an essential way, by its positioning in the Newgrange monument.
Two aspects of this organic ubiquitous Triplicity that runs through the Universe have had no problem with general acceptance, even when expressed as female metaphor of Virgin and Mother within cultural contexts that have not been female-friendly. These two could be storied and made to serve a patriarchal narrative. Whereas the Dark One, the Old One, was not so easily manipulated: She was not so immediately or obviously as useful as the other two. Archaeomythologist Miriam Robbins Dexter has reflected that the old woman only had knowledge, which could be threatening[iv]. This co-essential Darkness was usually cast out altogether: and the denial of this aspect of Creativity continues to reverberate throughout cultural and spiritual thought, expression and action in multivalent ways. This denial manifests sometimes especially in ‘enlightened’ circles where the Dark Journey is denied its sacred place as a passage of initiation, and the quality of blackness is denied its integrity – its association with goodness and fertility … of Earth, bodymind, and Cosmos.
(c) Glenys Livingstone 2007
Brennan, Martin. The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambersof Ancient Ireland. Rochester Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1994.
Dames, Michael. Ireland: a Sacred Journey. ELEMENT BOOKS, 2000.
Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.
Robbins Dexter, Miriam. Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book. NY: Teacher’s College Press, 1990.
[i] These three, as I understand them, are resonant with the ‘tripartite of Divine co-absolutes within the Oneness’ mentioned in the Teaching Goals of Integrative or (R)evolutionary Spirituality. The three faces of Goddess are also linked to Ken Wilber’s ‘I’, ‘We’ and ‘It’ in PaGaian Cosmology , p.15.
[iii] Michael Dames, Ireland: a Sacred Journey, p.192.
[iv] Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book, p.177.