MythBlast | The Coming of the Light

The title of this MythBlast is borrowed from the title of this Mark Strand poem:
______
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of the light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.
In my personal associations, celebrations that occur on or around the Winter Solstice, like Christmas and Hanukkah, are entirely about hope. Even though it comes on the shortest day of the year and is ever only a moment, at the moment of Winter Solstice, light and dark are perfectly balanced and ancient humans recognize important information about the progress of the seasons which allows them to make preparations for what lies ahead (the first months of winter were difficult, often famine and starvation were common at this time of year), and celebrating the triumph of light over the increasing darkness. Celebrating the birth, or rebirth in some cases, of solar deities at this time of year was, and is, a common theme across many cultures. Neolithic and Bronze Age solstice structures seem to abound in the Northern Hemisphere, and sites such as Stonehenge in the U.K., Newgrange in Ireland, the Goseck Circle in Germany, even the more recent Chaco Canyon and Cahokia in the U.S. are among the most well-known.

Strand’s poem captures an aspect of the hope found in the symbolism, in the imagining of solstice, when he writes, “Even this late it happens,” suggesting that love and light, relief and comfort, may still be found long after one’s rational thought process has precluded their existence. We use the phrase “being in the dark” to describe all manner of discomfort, confusion, and ignorance; being in the dark is also often synonymous with being exposed to one’s fears. In the refrain of an Iron Maiden song, for instance, this sentiment is reflected in the lyric, “Fear of the dark, fear of the dark, I have a constant fear that something’s always near. Fear of the dark, fear of the dark, I have a phobia that someone’s always there.” In the darkness, one’s perceptual faculties seem altered and familiar shapes may acquire eerie or grotesque, threatening forms, and the play of shadows makes us imagine predatory somethings are moving nearby. Orienting oneself becomes increasingly difficult the darker it gets, and a solitary, noiseless, blackness unnerves and provides the perfect environment for one’s personal demons to run amok.

As the Psalmist wrote: “…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” The return of the light reassures, sunlight allows us to see more clearly, with more detail, with more color—light is primally soothing; if you don’t believe me, turn off your toddler’s night light. Something in us is reborn with the return of the light; we are reacquainted with possibility, with resilience, with vision, when the light returns. For these reasons and more, an organization called Suicide or Survive uses the winter solstice and its message of hope to “give thanks for the year that’s been, to remember loved ones, and to shine a light for hope by lighting a candle for the year ahead.” Contrary to Strand’s beautiful poem, candles don’t light themselves, someone must light them. But from the perspective of the dark-enshrouded beneficiary of the light, it does seem as though the candle lights itself. We need each other to make the darkness comforting, and when we can do that for one another, joy does come in the morning.Thanks for reading, and remember to leave the light on…
You can read some of Campbell’s thoughts about the images of a birth in a cave at the time of the winter solstice and the god Mithra as well as Judeo-Christian imagery in Thou Art That, available both in print and as an eBook. Click here to find out more.

Best regards,

Bradley Olson, Ph.D.

About Brad 
Bradley Olson, Ph.D., is a former police officer who returned to school to earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and literature, two Master’s degrees in psychology, and a Ph.D. in Cultural Mythology. Dr. Olson is currently a psychotherapist in private practice at Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona; his work with clients is heavily influenced by his interest in Jungian Analytical Psychology and Mythological Studies. Brad is also the author of the acclaimed Falstaff Was My Tutor blog, which has earned him a nomination for the 2012 PUSHCART PRIZE in nonfiction.