7 min read

on darkness & light

reflections for july 2022
on darkness & light

hello, friends. it’s been a very difficult few weeks, after a difficult few months, years, decades. i’m exhausted, and i imagine you are too. i hope that this message finds you safe, healthy, ready to continue the fight. i hope that this new month brings joy, connection, renewed intention. i hope you are giving yourselves opportunities for rest.

as we shift into july, into full summer here in the northern hemisphere, i’m moving to a new apartment, in a new neighborhood. the next few weeks will be finding places for things, defining spaces, figuring out how different pieces fit together. and as stressful as moving can be, especially in a city as expensive as new york, there’s also a real joy in creating a home with someone you love, integrating lives and possessions together in a specific, intentional way.

with so much fear and rage in the air, with so much crumbling beneath our feet, there’s still power in building something new, in believing in a future woven with love and compassion.

it feels appropriate that in our slow journey through the tarot, this is the month for the hermit: that archetype of observation, awareness, endings and beginnings. an old cycle comes to a necessary conclusion, paving the way for a fresh start, endless potential, beautiful anticipation. some truths are revealed, while others are tucked away to be examined another day. some lights are brilliant, while others flicker and still.

no matter where you are in your own cycles, take a few long, slow, deep breaths. anchor your feet to the floor, and stretch your fingers up to the ceiling, releasing tension in your shoulders, your elbows, your wrists. take some gentle twists, opening up your spine, your hips, your neck. grab some water, get a snack, light a candle.

let’s get into it.

to listen to me read this essay out loud, click here.

on darkness & light

when i was a teenager, a friend told me a story.

she had been reading in her room but hadn’t noticed that the sun had gone down, had been so engrossed in her book that she didn’t realize how dark the house had gotten until she couldn’t make out the words on the page. and for a moment, she just sat there quietly, looking at the shadows, holding her breath. eventually she stood, wandering around the dark and silent house, getting lost in the strange shadows.

it creeped her out.

eventually she started turning on lights, gradually revealing parts of the room. undefined shapes became tangible objects, shadows were dispelled, and the fear that had started to fill her lungs disappeared. light brought clarity, power, strength. the mysteries were banished.

of course, she told this story during bible study, turning it into a metaphor for the darkness of her own heart, for the healing love that she’d found through her relationship with god, for the way that her faith in christ illuminated her own sin.

the whole thing is a bit on the nose, i admit.

a thousand mornings by mary oliver and the modern witch tarot’s hermit

darkness, nighttime, shadows, have long been associated with evil, corruption, sin. beyond the racist undertones in this kind of language, these phrases also remind us to fear the things that we cannot understand, the truths we cannot illuminate or define. silhouettes and hidden secrets are painted as ominous, a lack of knowledge or clarity as a clue that something is amiss. the things that we cannot see, grasp, explain or understand are assumed to be sinister until the real story is uncovered.

but it’s worth considering: is ambiguity itself really that bad? is darkness really that scary? what kind of beauty might we find in the shadows, if we’re willing to actually explore them instead of dismissing them, avoiding them? which strange jewels might we discover if we looked for them, instead of averting our gaze from all that is within our grasp?

hermit as a word, a name, a descriptor, is all about isolation. it’s tied to retreat, solitude, stepping out from the ebbs and flows of daily life and devoting ourselves to something: study, training, rest, creative output, connection with something that feels otherwise out of reach. some things can only be truly seen, truly understood, when we strip away other distractions, when we allow that work to become our entire focus.

there are other names for a hermit: seeker, elder, old one, philosopher, sage, guru.

and there are other definitions for this archetype or experience or shift: guidance, enlightenment, exile, prayer, time, detachment.

but no matter what we call this time at the end of the cycle, the experience is one of conscious recognition, of deliberate examination. we separate, analyze, consider. we question, inspect, reflect. we deliberately sit in the dark, and see which shapes our senses can make out, which truths emerge when we give them room to breathe and reveal themselves.

in the tarot, the hermit is archetype number nine: nine being the number of wisdom, of conclusions and doubts, of service. it’s the final number in the sequence, the moment when we look back at our finished work and look forward towards a new horizon, a future beginning that we don’t have fully defined yet. it’s a time of sitting in mystery, balancing the clarity of who we have been with the possibility of who we will someday become.

but nine isn’t the end of the entire story; it’s just the end of this particular sequence, this specific cycle. this moment may represent standing at a different precipice than the fool, but it’s a precipice all the same.

to say it another way: the hermit shines their light indiscriminately, illuminating both past and future. they don’t attempt to define what that light is, for themselves or for anyone else. they simply use it as a necessary tool to peer more deeply into shadow, to make out shapes and obstacles, to understand where they are and where they can go.

this isn’t about trying to see everything everywhere all at once. it’s not trying to summon the overpowering, overwhelming lights of times square; lights so dominate and thorough that everything is highlighted, that nothing is clear.

instead this is lighting a single candle in a dark room, and honoring what our eyes fix on. it’s learning to see our world in a new way, to illuminate with intention.

in a literal sense, light allows us to see. and as a metaphor, light is gleaming, radiant, enlightened, clarifying, insightful. light lets us explore, understand. it helps us define and identify, empowers us to find courage and confidence.

in the tarot, the cards of mystery, uncertainty, contemplation, wisdom, observation, and decision are often associated with the moon, with nighttime, with darkness - and the cards of joy, abundance, illumination, connection, are tied to the dawn, to the sun, to brightness and celebration.

liminality, cravings, doubts, are so heavily associated with the dark and mystery, to all that we cannot know. yet in sitting with this discomfort, with these questions, in allowing fears or worries or aversions to take up space instead of simply denying them, we create opportunities for discovery, for lucidity.

it’s only when we recognize how dark it is that we can allow our eyes to adjust, to try and calmly identify where we are instead of letting a panicked need for light take over. it’s only when we acknowledge what we don’t know that we can begin the process of finding answers to our questions, to locating the truth within the mysteries.

the pythagorean numerological sequence goes from one to nine, start to finish, beginning to ending. one and the magician (1), the wheel (10, 1+0 = 1), the sun (19, 1+9 = 10; 1+0 = 1): cards of sparks and magic, of burning fire, of new beginnings, of brilliant light; they initiate a journey of choices and experiments and structures and changes, through expansion and clarity and power, bringing us all the way to nine and the hermit (9), the moon (18, 1+8 = 9): cards of questioning, of meaning, of shadows, of resolutions.

it’s not a coincidence that we start in the brilliance of the morning and move gradually into night; that we begin with what we know and slowly, purposefully, find the meaning in what we don’t know, in what we may never know.

the hermit, the moon, both hold space in the darkness - and it’s through this time of acknowledgement, steadying our gaze, that we find our way to a new light, a new beginning.

the hermit and nine want us to anchor in a moment, to breathe into it, to understand it. this is not a simple thing, not easy or without effort. instead this moment requires depth, attention, intention. it will take all that we are, all that we will be.

and we will emerge from this moment changed.

what does it mean to step back, to slow down, to really let ourselves see? what kind of illumination feels empowering, and when does it feel frightening or frustrating? what kinds of questions emerge when we let ourselves truly recognize the path that we have been following? what would it feel like to gaze with clear eyes at the mysterious and twisting road that stretches out ahead?

and if you’re willing to hold your light high, to illuminate the path ahead, what kinds of truths might you reveal, for yourself and for everyone around you?

you can support my work by following me on patreon, twitter, and tiktok. and make sure you’ve got notifications turned on over on instagram, where i’ll be launching a new study on the court cards in the next few weeks. lastly, i’m putting together some new client reading formats, so keep an eye on your inbox for that announcement, as well as some new class opportunities, later this month.

have an illuminating, empowering, expansive july, friends. please be safe.

images from this post feature cards from the modern witch tarot deck and a thousand mornings by mary oliver, as well as attributed quotes. all photographs by meg jones wall.