Night Sky Saturdays II: in praise of darkness

Last year as we prepared for the lantern walk, a friend came across this essay about light and darkness by local writer Leslie Morgenson. It speaks to the heart of some of the reasons we do this walk. Last Saturday we posted the first in a three-part series. Here’s the second.

The act of brightening our dark streets with glaring light to the point where the night sky is no longer available for our viewing appears to be a decision lacking in clarity. A report from the RASC in 2008, entitled ‘Guidelines for Outdoor Lighting in Dark Sky Preserves’ reports that excessive outdoor lighting has a profound impact on the health and behavior of humans. Our circadian rhythms are negatively affected by constant light. Our sleep patterns, mood, physical strength and blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate are all synchronized by the day-night cycle. The release of melatonin which regulates other hormones and repairs the damage we do to our bodies daily, is dependent on night. When we don’t experience a dark night our bodies suffer and we have trouble fending off disease.

The most common reason attributed to night time lighting is to reduce crime. However the RASC reports that studies have disproven this assertion, stating there is no clear evidence that outdoor lighting reduces crime. In fact most property crimes occur in the day and violent crime typically occurs between people who know each other.

Brightening our night skies has made us into people who are unfamiliar with the dark night and hence we fear the dark. And the more we fear the dark, the more lights we think we need, when all we really need is to become enlightened about the cultural wasteland we have created of our night. Darkness is natural and necessary yet it has become an unknown and unfamiliar place for us. “The more light we’re accustomed to, the more we feel the need for security,” says Jane Brox. “For many of us now, abundant artificial light, not darkness, feels natural after the sun goes down.” And yet even as we ponder the need for turning back to the dark night of yore, it is a quest held only by western nations, since many in the world still live without adequate electricity, and in fact are not at all tied to the electric grid.

There is little doubt that as our fear of the dark unfamiliar night grows, so too grows the fear of our own personal darkness. Dark Nights of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes lovingly about Hekate, the night goddess who is at home in “dark alleys, corners and alcoves”. In your darkness, he says, “You may discover a part of you that is essential to your being.” For we all possess that darkness, it’s always present. Acknowledging that part of ourselves may be our greatest insight. Our inner darkness may hold gems that we repress or consciously suppress out of fear cutting ourselves off from this important piece of self. Hekate sanctions this mysterious dark inner world in each of us and in doing so, liberates us.

With thanks to Leslie for being willing to share it. The entire essay, originally printed in the Good Work News from The Working Centre, is available here.

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