I’m reflecting on the difference between ‘Light’ and ‘lights’. Yesterday evening my partner Elaine and I had an Imbolc ritual. We’ve decided to move through the seasonal festivals in this way, customising a joint practice as we go.
I reflect now on our time in the festive circle as in part a feast of lights. Not ‘Light’, but lights. We can have Light at the throw of a switch, one easy taken-for-granted ‘Let there be Light’ gesture. It’s very powerful and very useful – and effortlessly normal in our culture, at least for the time being.
But it isn’t a feast of lights. A feast of lights requires multiple, small sources. It requires the co-presence of darkness and shadow. It requires variation, degrees of light and darkness. It requires change and play.
We had two basic light sources, during the ritual. The one that attracted my attention most was an array of night lights positioned around the room in various ways. We had nine on the altar (one at the centre, eight at the circumference – with one at each station of the eightfold wheel of the year). And there were others around the room, grouped in threes. Very simple. Very traditional. Very minimal. Very meaningful. Very beautiful. These lights tended to be bright and a high yellow, glinting in some moments, softer and more diffuse at others. Each had its own aura. All tended to flicker in even the smallest current of air. And each had its sphere of influence, fading porously into the surrounding dusk, with no clearly defined or specific boundary – the transitions being so gradual, so gentle. Thus light and darkness were differentiated without being polarised and they cheerfully shared their debatable lands. The play of ambiguity was part of the feast.
The second source was the fire, a wood burner, well-established by the time we began the ritual and happily placed in a north-easterly hearth. Also very traditional. Very simple. Very minimal. Very meaningful. Very beautiful. And for the most part, in this mature phase, a deep red, in a way a dull red, though the word isn’t right. A potent light, a subliminal light, almost a kinaesthetic light. Not a very light sort of light at all. Its presence radiated through the room, bringing our centre of gravity, even in terms of luminosity, closer to the earth.
And that is a feast of lights. It was almost a shock, in the tidying up aftermath of the ritual, to return to the Light.