Quotations on Endarkenment   1 comment

Wyandotte Cave(Note, March 2017: This page has been improved, reformatted, and updated for my new site here.)

This collection of quotes focuses on themes related to the central concept of the work I do as temple keeper for the Hermitage: endarkenment.  Caves and subterranean worlds, labyrinths, the Underworld, spirits of the dead, decay and rot, dark emotions such as grief and despair, solitude and silence, the seasons of autumn and winter, and all things chthonic – these can help us develop a more deeply rooted, Earth-centered appreciation of the sacred dark within ourselves and within the natural world.  My intent with this work is not to romanticise or glorify, but simply to encourage greater acceptance of the wisdom and beauty that can be found in dark places.

Hakim Bey, a.k.a. Peter Lamborn Wilson, uses the term endarkenment to refer to a kind of re-enchantment of nature, based on Earth as a living being, that “offers jobs for trolls and sylphs, witches and warlocks.”  Endarkenment is described by Gloria Orenstein in Reweaving the World as “a bonding with the Earth and the invisible that will reestablish our sense of interconnectedness with all things, phenomenal and spiritual…The ecofeminist arts do not maintain that analytical, rational knowledge is superior to other forms of knowing. They honor Gaia’s Earth intelligence and the stored memories of her plants, rocks, soil, and creatures. Through nonverbal communion with the energies of sacred sites in nature, ecofeminist artists obtain important knowledge about the spirit of the land…”

Endarkenment can be seen as a philosophy that counters the overemphasis on light, transcendence, and driving away the darkness (especially in New Age culture).  It doesn’t necessarily equate to evil or negativity – in fact, darkness can be a place of great richness, empowerment, retreat, emotional and spiritual alchemy, and incubation.


“For a feeling of well-being, you have to shine, but your sparkle need not be superficial.  It can rise up out of a deep place in you that is dark but has its own kind of light…Imagine a black sun at your core, a dark luminosity that is less innocent and more interesting than naive sunshine.  That is one of the gifts a dark night of the soul has to offer you.”

~ Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul


“The first Hermitage must have been a cave…If there is a hermit in all of us, perhaps there is also a cave-dweller.”

~ Isabel Colegate, A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses


“The deepening of religion – making it earthy and chthonic – is one of the greatest challenges facing religion in the West today.  Without depth, religion can become too sweetly spiritual and top-heavy with its focus on higher consciousness and the idealized moral life.”

~ Thomas Moore, A Life at Work


“Deeply I go down into myself.  My god is Dark and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke


“At one time people looked deep into and beneath the earth for images of spirituality.  The crypt, the cave, the cairn, the well, and the kiva are among the few sacred earth sites that still remain as testimonies to this deep spirituality, sometimes called chthonic.  But they also represent our personal experience of the spirit, which may be in the caves and crypts of memory and in powerful bodily emotions.  The human soul has been compared to a cave – hidden, dark, mysterious. Its beauty often lies shrouded in emotional haze and mist.”

~ Thomas Moore, The Soul’s Religion


“There are some who find comfort in the shadowsDark ritual
Who strive to comprehend the mysteries,
Who find solace in the silence of a winter night,
Who sing softly to the Crone.
We are the Dark Pagans, children of the Dark Mother.”

~ John J. Coughlin, Out of the Shadows


Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.

~ May Sarton, “Invocation to Kali”


“The underworld isn’t just a place of darkness and death. It only seems like that from a distance. In reality it’s the supreme place of paradox where all the opposites meet. Right at the roots of western as well as eastern mythology there’s the idea that the sun comes out of the underworld and goes back to the underworld every night. It belongs in the underworld. That’s where it has its home; where its children come from. The source of light is at home in the darkness.”

~ Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, p. 68


“…I began to feel that I was not off the path but had stumbled onto another path, a hidden, more treacherous road that led not to enlightenment but, perhaps, to endarkenment.

“The Greeks had a name for this downward path: katabasis, or descent. Our ancient forebears understood that we needed not only to fly above with the birds, lightly and full of grace, but also to crawl beneath with the snakes, slowly, silently, on our bellies. We do not choose this lower path; it chooses us…And if we can allow the ego to take a backseat and go along for the ride, then the real journey can begin: Depression can become descent; the refusal to go down can become the choice to go down. And the appointment with the shadow can be kept.”

~ Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, Romancing the Shadow: Illuminating the Dark Side of the Soul, pp. 291-292


“I think it’s important for us to pay attention to our emotions, in general. Too many people have never learned to do this, because they’ve never been encouraged to do it. We have the notion that our emotions are not worthy of serious attention.

“Naturally we have less difficulty with the so-called positive emotions. People don’t mind feeling joy and happiness. The dark emotions are much harder. Fear, grief, and despair are uncomfortable and are seen as signs of personal failure. In our culture, we call them “negative” and think of them as “bad.” I prefer to call these emotions “dark,” because I like the image of a rich, fertile, dark soil from which something unexpected can bloom. Also we keep them “in the dark” and tend not to speak about them. We privatize them and don’t see the ways in which they are connected to the world. But the dark emotions are inevitable. They are part of the universal human experience and are certainly worthy of our attention. They bring us important information about ourselves and the world and can be vehicles of profound transformation.”

~ Miriam Greenspan, “Through A Glass Darkly: Miriam Greenspan On Moving From Grief To Gratitude”


“Erich Neumann called ritual ‘the archetype of the way’. The earliest ‘way’ into the centre that is recorded in human experience, he believed, is to be found in the Upper Paleolithic caves of Europe. Fundamental to the cave shrines of Laussel, Pech Merle, and Lascaux was the dark, dangerous journey into the deep interior of the caves, where the shrines were created and the wall paintings executed. From these early experiences, Neumann proposed, came concepts of ritual that are still with us today. Underlying all temple ritual is the idea of the mysteries that are preserved there, and of the difficult, labyrinthine journey of initiation that one must take to reach the centre.”

~ John M. Lundquist, The Temple: Meeting Place of Heaven and Earth, p. 22


“The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”

~ George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons


“The classic labyrinth…To enter it is to experience a ritual death, to escape from it is to be resurrected. […]

“Ancient labyrinths are almost always associated with caves, often appearing at the cave’s mouth. Caves were the first Paleolithic temples…in Greece and Rome, the mysteries were often revealed in cavelike grottoes or structures built to resemble artificial caves.

“The labyrinth also represents descent into the unconscious structure of the mind, in search of wisdom and enlightenment.”

~ Layne Redmond, When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm, p. 120


“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.”

~ Erica Jong


“The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit.”

~ Marya Mannes


Labyrinth“My first encounter with a labyrinth came in 1997 when, on a sunny afternoon, I wandered into San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral and saw one on its floor. Immediately I fell in love with its eerie beauty and elegant geometry, which of course is how labyrinths usually get us in – they are attractive to the eye, works of art. Apparently simple, they hold within their coils complex secrets of design as well as of meaning. We should never be fooled by their simplicity, however, for they are undoubtedly chthonic, devices for going deep, for plumbing the mysteries of the soul. This is in keeping with their ancient associations with the underworld, the awesome place of death and rebirth. For me, there is an important message in this underworld aspect of the labyrinth. A walk in its winding path can indeed be a journey inwards, an excursion into deeper layers of consciousness…it is a journey that can produce sudden insights and challenges. These can lead to profound transformations, though not without struggle. Maybe in the stories about the labyrinth we can find guidance as to how to better deal with such struggles and how not to get lost in either our private or public underworlds. Could this be the path’s most useful contribution to our times?”

~ Virgina Westbury, Labyrinths: Ancient Paths of Wisdom and Peace, p. 10


“In traditions that predate the arrival of Christianity, this forgotten and devalued realm was known as the Underworld, abode of the ancestors and the spirits of the dead, and its mythological roots appear to travel back deeply into the mists of time. In a remarkable book, ‘The Strong Eye of Shamanism’, Robert Ryan convincingly argues for the existence of initiatory rituals of descent involving early peoples’ caves such as those in Lascaux, Les Trois Freres and Pech-Merle in France and the startlingly beautiful paintings that still survive there. Ryan suggests that the caves were in essence the first temples, which were simultaneously incubation chambers, places where initiates could experience visions in trance and undergo initiatory death and rebirth in the sacred body of the earth goddess. Alain Danielou, in a comment that links the imagery of descent into Hell with what we are referring to here, writes: “The myth of the descent into Hell also evokes a return to the womb of Mother Earth”. Here womb and tomb are conceived of as being the same place. Sometimes the artist/shamans would literally have to put life and limb on the line, as there are paintings that could only have been completed at great personal risk. At the very least, the journey into the heart of the cave was arduous, involving squeezing through a narrow passage or opening. The caves are places that evoke altered states of consciousness in those who entered (an experience of what we would call ego death in psychological language) and thus moved the initiates closer to the sacred. We can imagine that they would have emerged cleansed, rejuvenated and reborn.”

~ James Bennett, “The Earth’s Dark Underbelly: The Archetypal Underworld and the Psychogeography of Descent


“To many people the spiritual quest is associated with heavenly spheres and a striving up towards the light. This reflects the great influence from religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In these religions the divine world exists somewhere in a distant heaven and God is a masculine sky god of light. In the older Pagan traditions the divine could also be found on earth and inside it, in the underworld…The wise also entered the dark in their spiritual quest…The underworld was as important to visit as the heavenly spheres. This is reflected in the old Norse tradition. In the Nordic tradition the darkness is a prerequisite of illumination. When Odin hangs in the world tree he gazes into the depth to find the runes. The secrets of existence are hidden in the underworld.”

~ Thomas Karlsson, Uthark: Nightside of the Runes, p. 2


“Steeped in the medical model of psychiatry, we have lost the sense of grief, fear, and despair as universal experiences and as responses not just to personal but also to social and global conditions. A culture that insists on labeling suffering as pathology, that is ashamed of suffering as a sign of failure or inadequacy, a culture bent on the quick fix for emotional pain, inevitably ends up denying both the social and spiritual dimensions of our sorrows.

“If healing is to mean more than a welcome relief from individual pain, or a fear-driven avoidance of collective pain, it must be connected to a process of inquiring deeply into the suffering that is part of everyone’s life and spiritual journey, and that is an overwhelming fact of life on the planet today. If you’re someone who cries when you read the newspapers or watch the news on TV, if you have become numb out of overwhelming grief and fear for our world, if you’re someone who sees the connection between your own emotional state and living in an age of global threat, if you love the world and want to see it heal itself…take heart! The emotions that appear to afflict us can be the vehicles of our liberation from suffering. Experiencing our grief, fear, and despair in a new light, we renew our capacities for gratitude, joy, and faith. We grow in courage and compassion. We approach the world with less fear and more wonder. We have more energy for changing the things that matter.

“These gifts can only be found when we are unafraid to dance the dance of dark emotions in our lives.

“Let’s dance.”

~ Miriam Greenspan, Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, pp. 7-8


“Although Nidhogg’s constant chewing on the roots of the World Tree will eventually shake it to its core at Ragnarok, and although it is a force of absolute chaos, the dragon still performs a pivotal role in Northern, and Rökkr magick. The dragon is an embodiment and expression of the geomantic energies that run throughout the earth, and in particular along ley-lines, and at the sacred megalithic sites that populate western and northern Europe. These earth energies are often regarded as dragon energies, because like the dragon, their power is forceful, almost unknowable, and resides deep within the earth and in stones.”

~ Abby Helasdottir, a.k.a. Gydja


“It is a challenge to live in exile from the home of my ancestors and the dwelling place of my gods. The gods of this land where I live now still weep and rage over the slow and heart-sick loss of their own children, the indigenous nations of Iroquois and Navajo and Chinook and so many others whose ghosts wander in an exile of their own across the broken earth. When I speak to the gods of this land where I live now, sometimes there is a deep shame and grief in that prayer, full of penitence and regret for what my ancestors have done. When I pray to the ancient gods of my ancestors, who suffered wandering and exile of their own, sometimes there is only silence in return.

“As someone born and raised in the United States, I have no real cultural heritage except the heritage of a multicultural, multiracial, multifaith modern America. It is a culture that has borrowed ruthlessly and often crassly from the peoples it has colonized and occupied. It is a culture molded out of appropriation and misappropriation, disrespect and consumerism, and far too much war and militarism for an anarcho-mystic poet like me. […]

“If we are here, in part, to learn the burdens and flaws of ancestry that we carry in our blood and to restore ourselves and our descendants to a place of freedom, balance and harmonious relationship with the world — then maybe this exile…is really a kind of sacred work.”

~ Allison Leigh Lilly, Exile Beyond the Ninth Wave


“The voice that listens to its own heartbeat often sounds deceptively simple. But it takes courage to speak this way, to simply say, “This is what comes out of me, this is what wants to speak.” Sometimes what wants to speak seems dark and terrifying, seems stupid, makes no sense. Then one needs to have the courage to let it sit there on the page for a while, to not destroy it, to look at it much later and to listen for one’s voice in it. And often we realize in this way that the most beautiful part of us often comes with a dark mask.”

~ Burghild Nina Holzer, A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process, p. 119


Great Forest by Artur Grottger, 1864

“Great Forest” by Artur Grottger, 1864

“The painted limestone caverns created in Ice Age Europe are often referred to as “cathedrals,” an apt analogy. It conjures up a sacred space wreathed in incense and candlelight…echoes from stone walls…a chamber of holiness designed to open a conduit between the human and the divine.

“Put yourself there, on the lip of a sacred cave when humankind was new to the world. Imagine a stone mouth and the mist that unfurls…Imagine walking into the yawning darkness…Here is a dangerous, sacred enclosure that winds into the very womb of the dark earth. […] This is a living world molded from stone and water, one working eternally against the other to create slow, constant change. There is dynamic power charging quietly beneath the stones. The paradoxical enchantment of a world both solid and fluid conspires to turn thoughts from their pathways of terra firma to wander in a terra incognita of possibilities. It is impossible to stay in here for long and not feel yourself moving among spirits.”

~ Jodi Lorimer, “Chthonian Cathedrals,” from Dancing at the Edge of Death: The Origins of the Labyrinth in the Paleolithic, pp. 60-62


“…in the modern Western world solitude is undervalued, and the need for it forgotten. To wish to be alone is thought odd, a sign of failure or neurosis; but it is in solitude that the self meets itself, or if you like, its God, and from there it goes out to join the communal dance. […]

Even if we recognize our need for solitude…will there still be solitary places?”

~ Isabel Colegate, A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses, p. xv


“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

~ Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum


“I have a dream of returning the sacred to the Earth, of reviving a religion of immanent gods and land spirits…I have found that there is an extremely important method of grounding myself in my body and the Earth that is often ignored by modern Heathens – dance. […]

“Dance is not as frivolous an activity as it is often depicted – it is a profound doorway into the deeper recesses of our selves, into the living spirit of our faith.”

~ Salena Glassburn, “The Gods in Our Bodies: Dance as a Voice of the Heathen Spirit,” in Hex Magazine, Issue 8, Spring/Summer 2011


“Historians of religion use an unusual word to describe gods and spirits of the earth – chthonic. […] A person might be called chthonic when she is earthy in language and style, when she allows her anger to operate effectively in her life and lets her hidden self be manifested. […]

“There is a form of creativity that reaches for the stars and is sunny and bright, but there is another kind, just as fruitful, that is dark and deep, more hidden than visible, motivated sometimes by anger and envy. This deep source of the creative spirit is difficult to express in our world because we have difficulty appreciating the positive qualities of the dark emotions. But they give a person depth, strength of character, and an earthy honesty and counter any tendency toward the sentimental and the naïve.”

~ Thomas Moore


“One of the central intentions of the council rituals…is to help people to ‘hear within themselves the sounds of the earth crying.’

“Dark green religion—religion that considers nature to be sacred, imbued with intrinsic value, and worthy of reverent care—has been spreading rapidly around the world.”

~ Bron Taylor, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future


“Those who identify as Rökkatru do not see “dark” as bad, nor “underworld gods” as evil. We feel that this is a Christian concept that has infiltrated some modern interpretations of Norse cosmology, first through the Christians that wrote down (and tainted) the only sources we have of these myths, and second through the Christian upbringings of many converts to Northern religion. Other Neo-Pagan sects have already been down this road and come out the other side; they have learned that underworld Gods are to be honored and revered for many things. Death is not evil; it is part of life. So is rot and decay, and loss, and the passing of all things. So is chaos, so is randomness, so are the destructive parts of Nature that we humans find inconvenient. All these things are sacred and so are the Rökkr.”

~ Raven Kaldera, What Is Rokkatru?


“The cave was…the first temple, where sacred space was created to allow contact with the divine. It was in its innermost recesses, in the belly of Mother Earth, that the Otherworld was closest – and where the darkness of the cave created a silence and solitude everyday reality did not offer.”

~ Philip Coppens, “Cave Paintings: Entrancing the Otherworld


“We spend our lives hurrying away from the real, as though it were deadly to us. ‘It must be somewhere up there on the horizon,’ we think. And all the time it is in the soil, right beneath our feet.”

~ William Bryant Logan, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth


“I have always looked upon decay as being just as wonderful and rich an expression of life as growth.”

~ Henry Miller


“Why is rising above a good thing? …Why is lowly or base not a compliment? Why do we want to “raise our vibration”? Is a piccolo better than a bassoon?

“Perhaps what we need is not the transcendence of materiality, but to embrace it more fully. Having made a ruin of Earth, are we then to leave it behind for some spiritual realm of the fifth dimension? That is an example of the very attitude that has enabled us to ruin it to begin with: matter doesn’t matter, it is not sacred. We have certainly treated the planet that way. Today we feel pulled to reconnect with nature, with community, with our emotions, with our physicality.”

~ Charles Eisenstein, “The Way Up is Down


“It is not evil to work with the underworld, the ancestors, the night, the moon, death, and bones. It is dark, but there is goodness in it. We fear the unknown and the unseen. Modern witches call the above and the gods, but they often ignore the underworld and the spirits of the dead in their circle castings and magics. The chthonic deities and ancestors are great allies with their vast store of ancient wisdom and knowledge of the other worlds… but if neglected and ignored they become as the uninvited fairy from Sleeping Beauty and we all know how well that worked out. Ignore the darkness within yourself and expect the same results.”

~ Sarah Anne Lawless, “How to See in the Dark: A Practitioners’ Dialogue on Working with Darkness in Magic


“The willingness and courage to be aware of and experience the dark side of life, and the consequent despair we feel when we do so, is what distinguishes authentic faith from wishful thinking and denial.  Despair is faith’s darker handmaiden.  There is no faith without doubt and despair, just as there is no good without evil, no day without night.”

~  Miriam Greenspan, Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair


“Before the hut, before the tent, before any contrivance of humans to provide shelter against the weather, there was the cave.  The cave is simply there, waiting to be used.  It is not a human fabrication, nor it it the result of human effort.  It was there before humanity, and sheltered the animal ancestors of our species…The cave, as shelter, is imprinted in the genetic fabric of our being.  The cave remains the archetypal image of shelter.”

~ Herbert Bangs, The Return of Sacred Architecture: The Golden Ratio and the End of Modernism


“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

~ Pema Chödrön




Posted 2013/05/14 by The Black Stone Hermitage

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