(Essay) Integrating the Co-essential Darkness by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

Kali Ma
Kali Ma. Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.78.

We live in times wherein beings the world over are witnessing global transformation. Such a scale of planetary change has happened before, but humans are integral to this one – not only as witnesses and participants, but also as primary agent/cause. These times have apparently been expressed and foretold by different religious traditions: in the Celtic tradition, as the Age of Cailleach – the Old Woman whose song heralds changing tides; in Hindu tradition, as the Age of Kali – the awesome Goddess whose capacities embrace the process of destroying for the purposes of Creativity … it is her passion for Being, for birthing the New. She, like many of Her Dark Sisters around the globe, embodies the truth (an ultimate Truth) that this life is built on the passing or transformation of all that went before: that we are here by the grace of the Space, and the knowledge of the eons that is passed on.

Aditi – Hindu Goddess of the Void. Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.66

Much of popular Western culture has not understood the place of the dark Old One in the continuity of life – that She, the ‘Dark Space’ if you like, is a co-essential part of the Creative process. Mainstream religious traditions, and many New Age practices, have been pre-occupied with ‘light’ and ‘eternal life’, sometimes implying or specifying the immortality of present visible forms: leaving little room for ‘dark’ and its subsequent ‘never-ending renewal’ – and the implied event-ual nature of all form.

In the Southern Hemisphere as I write this – in late May – those of Earth-based and Goddess religious practice have just ceremonially celebrated Samhain – or ‘Halloween’ as it is known in popular culture. It is the ceremonial marking of the midpoint of the darkest quarter of Earth’s annual cycle around the Sun. Samhain literally means ‘Summer’s end’. It is the time for the marking of endings of all kinds, of all kinds of ‘Summers’ – and for celebrating the space between the old and the new. In Earth-based tradition this dark Moment is also understood as the place of beginning – it is the New Year. And in that Moment, all is possible.

It is the season of the Crone, the Old One – whose face is one of transformation, just as the Autumn leaves are. I call Her “She Who Creates the Space to Be”. Whereas Her sister aspects are “the Urge to Be” (Virgin/Young One), and “this dynamic Place of Being” (Mother/Creator) … all three metaphors of fundamental qualities of the Cosmological Unfolding: a Holy Three.[1] Samhain ceremony may be an awesome marking of the Void, a cosmic conversing within a truly sacred moment of Earth’s turas – Her sacred annual pilgrimage. Samhain marks a place of decomposition, that also seethes with fertile possibility – indeed is a pre-requisite for it. The old breath must be let go of, must be emptied, for the new one to be taken. It is out of the Space between the breaths that the Urge for the new breath arises. It is out of the Dark Fullness that new life is birthed. The Old One, the Young One, and the birthing Mother cannot be separated – they are One. And they unify darkness and light, the manifesting and the manifest – hold them in the full gestalt of the wheel of the year, just as the sphere of the Moon holds within Her embrace the shifting balance of dark and light, in an ever-renewing cycle of waxing, peaking and waning. The ceremonial celebration of the full year of Earth’s journey around Sun – which is the sacred space in which we (all beings) travel everyday – may be a celebration of this triple dynamic of creativity.[2]

And it is not a simple waxing, peaking and waning of light – the birthing of all manifest form, the dance of life and the full fruiting and consuming /consummation of that life. It is also a waxing, peaking and waning of dark – the en-trancing to Larger Self whence we come (a different kind of birthing), the transformation of death and the getting of wisdom, and imaginal insight of the night and regeneration. This is the full picture through which the three phases of Goddess as dynamics of Cosmological Unfolding, move.

I offer that the Triple Spiral motif uncovered only late last century at Bru-na-Boinne (Newgrange) in Ireland, may be a representation of this integral threefold cosmic dynamic. Martin Brennan, long-time researcher of Bru-na-Boinne in its context of many other megalithic mounds, has perceived that the Triple Spiral is ‘perhaps the most powerful representation’ of the sacred heritage of ritual celebration of eternal Creation represented in the Wheel of the Year, the phases of the Moon and the lives of all beings.[3]

Triple Spiral from Bru-na-Boinne in Ireland
The Triple Spiral of Bru-na-Boinne in Ireland

Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas notes that the repetition of the threes in engravings and structure at Newgrange Ireland is striking and that such triplicity seems to represent the Goddess as ‘the triple source of life energy necessary for the renewal of life’.[4] British geographer and archaeologist Michael Dames has identified the Triple Spiral as representing the triple Goddess as She was known in that place, and they/She were integral with the Land.[5] Just so, are the three faces of Goddess as I understand them: that is, they are integral with the Cosmos, our extended land, as we understand our habitat in these times. They are Cosmological Dynamics, integral with the Unfolding Cosmos, with Cosmogenesis.

The Land itself – Herself – as these and many other forebears knew it, was a dynamic source of life, as we may understand our whole Cosmos and Earth to be. And She was frequently triple-faced: for these in particular there was the aspect of the whole land – Eiru (Mother); the aspect of the individual parts, the divisions – Fodla (Virgin/Young One); and the aspect of the hidden sentience within – Banba (Crone/Old One). We, in our times and various Places, may find or have other creative names for these aspects. I have also associated these three aspects with the three Refuges of Buddhism:- Sangha with the Mother, Buddha with Virgin, and Dharma with Crone.

In the representation as Triple Spiral, She is not anthropomorphised – She is expressed and apparently understood as a cosmic dynamic – one that is suggested to be Creative in an essential way, by its positioning in the Bru-na-Boinne monument.

Womb of Space
Womb of Space – fertile darkness

Two of the aspects of this organic ubiquitous Triplicity have had little problem with general acceptance: even within cultural contexts that have not been female-friendly, Virgin and Mother could be storied and made to serve a patriarchal narrative.[6] Whereas the Dark One, the Old One, was not so easily manipulated: She was not so immediately or obviously as useful as the other two. Archaeomythologist Miriam Robbins Dexter has reflected that the old woman only had knowledge, which was perceived as threatening, and commonly demonised.[7] This co-essential Darkness was frequently cast out altogether: and the denial of this aspect of Creativity continues to reverberate throughout cultural and spiritual thought, expression and action in multivalent ways. This denial manifests sometimes especially in ‘enlightened’ circles where the Dark Journey is denied its sacred place as a passage of initiation, and the quality of blackness is denied its integrity, its association with goodness and fertility … the goodness and fertility of Earth, bodymind, and Cosmos.

© Glenys Livingstone 2016


[1] See Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology.

[2] as it is described in PaGaian Cosmology by Glenys Livingstone.

[3] http://gofree.indigo.ie/~thall/newgrange.html).

[4] Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, p.97.

[5] Michael Dames, Ireland: a Sacred Journey, p.192.

[6] For in-depth scholarship on this see Miriam Robbins Dexter, “Woman’s three phases and the distribution of energy”, Ch. 13 in Whence the Goddesses.

[7] Miriam Robbins Dexter, Whence the Goddesses, pp.177-183.


Brennan, Martin. The Stones of Time: Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland. Rochester Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1994.

Dames, Michael. Ireland: a Sacred Journey. ELEMENT BOOKS, 2000.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.

Iglehart Austen, Hallie. The Heart of the Goddess. Berkeley: Wingbow, 1990.

Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Robbins Dexter, Miriam. Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book. NY: Teacher’s College Press, 1990.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone.

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K. Orosz (Somniatorus)

Great post! I am deeply interested in the metanarrative of the number 3 in world myth. What about the first ‘true’ odd number sequence lends itself to the triplicity of the goddesses, the number of major particles in an atom, the trinity, etc., etc.?

Glenys, it is so refreshing to read that light and dark are always intertwined – we cannot experience one without the other. Like you I am wary of folks who cannot embrace the dark as a way of being or as a necessary transformation. I particularly like the way you speak of maiden mother and crone. I agree that both virgin and mother are often co opted by patriarchy but not the old crone who speaks her truth as she experiences it! Old women are weavers of story and carriers of truth. We need to teach the young how very… Read more »