Trickster, woman, and the long dark

This is the season of the long dark; darkness rules it. I welcome it, not just because I happen to love it, but because it is a real and necessary part of the year and there is no sense in fighting it. The texture of our days alters with the season. There is a flavour of hibernation, a deeper, more velvety sleep. A slowing down, a taking stock. A stasis, a moratorium on new projects, a long brewing in the dark cauldron of transformation, out of which who knows what will emerge in spring?

And yet darkness has a bad name, and so often loses out in the popularity stakes to light. Or worse, to ‘love and light’, as if love can only come from light and never from darkness, which of course is nonsense. By pairing love so tightly with light, we come to associate hate and evil and all manner of ‘bad things’ with the dark, and so light becomes good and darkness becomes bad.

How we love the simplicity of dualism. How we love to take refuge in the easy comfort of balancing ‘opposites’ – light versus dark, love versus hate, good versus evil, male versus female. How we love, too, to talk about darkness as if it is only a lack of light, or even a dysfunction of light (is woman a lack of man? A dysfunction of man?) as if the world must always be defined by and judged against light, perhaps because we have decided that it is a finer thing, or at least much less frightening. Which is just as flawed as the idea that everything must be defined by love, that love is the building block of reality, and that hatred or evil is nothing more than simply a lack of it and that ‘love’ can overcome all. Love of what can overcome all? Love has an object. Love is a person, a child, an animal, a place. Love, of the kind that shakes the world to its roots and genuinely threatens to change it, is not an abstraction, or a state of being. It is a verb. It is visceral. It is something we do, and if we can do it often and aim it at many objects, then that is a fine thing. Love is here, right now, in the real physical groundedness of our everyday lives, and that is its challenge, for life is challenging. It is easy to love an abstraction, or to imagine yourself ‘in a state of love’; it is very much harder, often, to love the actuality of a world which seems to want to break you, or a real live human being, warts and flaws and all. That is the challenge of love. Sometimes you have to work at it. It’s hard. It doesn’t always come naturally: not to adults and certainly not to children; it is a choice we make, a lesson we learn. It is no more the foundation of the universe than hate is. We just like it better. Nature is both nourishing and merciless. To deny one because we don’t like it very much, or find it uncomfortable, is to deny life. Which is not to advocate either hate or mercilessness; I’m all for love and nourishment. It’s about accepting that both aspects are part of life, both are real, and who knows (I don’t; do you?) maybe both are even necessary. Maybe we can only truly appreciate love in the knowledge that hate exists  …

… but I’m digressing. Darkness is not just a lack of light. It isn’t even the opposite of light. It is a wonderful, tangible thing with characteristics all of its own, and to define it in relation to light ignores its beauties and conceals its mysteries. Darkness is the place where life comes from. Darkness is the great melting pot, the great cauldron of creativity, the womb, the cocoon, the cave. Darkness is a great, wondrous thing of beauty. This is the season of the dark; as well as hoping for the return of the light, as well as lighting our candles, we should blow them out, and celebrate the beauty of the dark.

Darkness is the Trickster season, and I have been thinking a lot about Trickster energy, too. Like the dark, Trickster energy is uncomfortable. It’s unpredictable, it’s disruptive, it’s subversive as hell. It’s supposed to be. Trickster breaks through the carefully erected wall, untangles the beautifully constructed web which the Old Woman of the World has woven – all so that life can go on, because life goes on only by changing, transforming, growing. By facing up to the challenge, by questioning everything you think you are, everything you think you believe. Trickster asks the only question that matters. Trickster refuses stasis. Trickster, as Lewis Hyde tells us in his very fine book, makes this world. And you know what? Trickster is the essence of love, and comes out of the dark. Trickster loves the world so much that she can’t bear to see it end, so she disrupts a little here, and breaks a little there, and unravels the most beautiful weaving in the world for the sheer joy of starting a new pattern. I love Trickster. What I like less is the fact that so few well-known mythical Tricksters are women. Because to me, the essence of female energy is Tricksterish. Crone energy is in good part Trickster, and many mythical hags (especially the ugly, foul-smelling variety who demand to be kissed by handsome young heroes) are Tricksterish in intent. The fairy queen, the woman of the Otherworld, is Tricksterish too, spiriting a human away, cutting the chains which bind them to their daily lives, asking the questions … The female Trickster is a spirit of the dark, a shape-shifting denizen of the Otherworld … or sometimes, quite simply, a woman who asks the impossible question, disrupts the easy and comfortable system, cuts through all the crap, challenges the rules which bind and confine us. She’s not always easy, but she makes this world. May we all, sometimes, in these times of great need, be that woman. May we all welcome Trickster into our lives, and maybe even love her in spite of everything, just as we might learn to welcome and love the dark.


8 thoughts on “Trickster, woman, and the long dark

  1. What you say here is very true, yet it is easily forgotten and, at the same time, a struggle to ignore. Though many try very hard to do both. Your words here are ones to sit with and meditate upon.


  2. I made friends with the long dark some years ago, though in all honesty I never really thought of it as a foe. Your words resonate with me strongly and give me even more food for thought. Thank you. I want to respond more fully but the trickster, SHE’s taking me round in circles. Just when I think I’m following the spiral of a thread of clear feminine logic, I meet myself, in the sleepy tangle of my thoughts, wandering the other way. Maybe she’s got something else in mind for me. Just to say foxes are with me too right now – images and reality!


    1. Thanks, Cherry. I always think of foxes as female too, and especially of those beautiful Japanese stories of the shape-shifting fox wife, so similar in many ways to our selkie stories.


  3. Wonderful post. I am in love with the beautiful wild dark and never understand why people say it is a lack of light – it is full of light, stars, shine, just as the light is full of shadows. I also love the Trickster, but for me it has always been He. That’s okay though, I see exactly what you are saying about the womanly energy of the Trickster spirit. And of course it doesn’t have to be one thing or another.


    1. Yes, I have always thought of Tricksters as male too, but I think that’s the usual conditioning from our stories, which are often dominated by the masculine principle. I think that my appreciation of the Tricksterishness (there has to be a more elegant word! Tricksticity?) of female energy has come from growing older, specifically from passing 50, and from a deeper reflection on the ways in which we might now use energy which once was reserved for motherhood, or whatever it was that we did with our youth and middle age. I think Trickster is something we must grow into, and besides, of course not everyone will display that energy. A world full of Tricksy women would be a disturbing thing, for sure!


  4. Last autumn I had so little shine in myself that I was truly frightened of being dragged irreparably out of balance by the darker months. This year I have established some hope and am merely very wary and watchful, both of that which might coming tricking-tripping out of the dark and of myself, trying to hang on to a photon or two. Next year I would like to be sufficiently healed and whole that I can really welcome the darkness.But in any light, the child in me is always secretly delighted by Trickster, even as the adult groans and casts about for the appropriate paperwork to fix the damage :o).


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