Light And Darkness

Robert Fludd, the English Rosicrucian, who died in 1637, wrote

a treatise on the universe, in which he taught that man was a

microcosm of the macrocosm, and that light and darkness are

the two great principles of existence, the one of animate, the

other of inanimate nature. He held that soul and life are every

day shed from the sun upon all objects open to his beams. For

such doctrines as these he was denounced as prac
ically an

atheist! Fortunately the times have changed, though we have

still much to learn in the way of rational tolerance and

sympathetic receptivity.

Who shall say how old is this idea of two distinct, and generally

opposing principles, the light and the dark? The Babylonian

cosmology carries us a long way back, but not to the beginning

of such mystical conceptions. For in that cosmology Marduk is

a well-developed god of light, with Tiamat as his antithesis, the

goddess of the dark, and the nature and course of the deadly

contest between them has taken form in a well-defined series of


One of the most obvious emotional effects of darkness is to

inspire fear, and there are few who have not in some degree and

on some occasions experienced a sense of discomfort in the

dark--a chill, or a shrinking, which in certain cases, especially

with children, may amount to terror. It is possible that we have

here, as is often contended, an organic reminiscence of the

experience of our remote ancestors. Certainly it is not difficult

for us to sympathise with the primitive dread of darkness, nor to

understand the transition to the conception of darkness as a

hostile power. But there is also an element which may be

regarded as simply personal and individual--a natural

anticipation of unknown dangers, and a sense of helplessness

should the apprehensions be realised. There is, moreover, an

element of a still more directly mystical character, that which

Everett describes as a feeling that in the darkness the familiar

world is swept away and that we are touching the limits of the

natural. Hence the chill of the unknown and supernatural.

However this may be, the fact remains that from the earliest

known times, there have been powers of darkness set over

against the powers of light; and the conflict between them has

suggested with exceptional vividness the conflict between good

and evil. The opening verses of the Bible, with their chaos and

darkness, and the sublime command--"Let there be light"--are in

line with a vast body of primitive myth and speculation which

represents the good God as the Creator of light, or as light itself

over against the dark. The mysticism of the prologue to St.

John's Gospel both represented and fostered ideas which were

current in the earliest Christian communities and have coloured

the whole of the primitive Christian literature.

So in the most ancient of the classical mythologies, Night was

one of the oldest deities, daughter of Chaos, and sister of

Erebus, the dark underworld. So in Persian dogmatic we have

the same essential concepts. From the beginning existed

uncreated light and uncreated darkness--the opposing kingdoms

of Ahura and Ahriman.

Who shall say what great cosmic facts lie behind these vague

and looming intuitions? The physical merges by insensible

degrees into the aesthetic, the moral, the spiritual. On the one

hand, the chill, the blankness, the negation, sometimes the

horror, of the darkness. And on the other hand the purity and

beauty, the colour and effulgence of the light--above all, its

joy-giving, life-giving, though noiseless, energy.

Coming down to the present, we ask if these mystic influences

of light and of darkness still retain their power. Can we doubt

it? We have Milton's Melancholy, "of Cerberus and blackest

Midnight born"--"where brooding darkness spreads his jealous

wings." All this no mere refurbishing of classical lore, but the

outcome of deep sympathy with the poets of the prime. And the

same is true of his buoyant lines that describe the breaking of

the day, when morn

"Waked by the circling hours, with rosy hand

Unbarr'd the gates of light."

In sympathy, too, with the old belief in Ahura's final victory is

Emerson's declaration that "the night is for the day, but the day

is not for the night."

Browning finely discriminates the grades of darkness in

Sordello, where he addresses Dante as

"pacer of the shore

Where glutted hell disgorgeth filthiest gloom,

Unbitten by its whirring sulphur-spume;

Or whence the grieved and obscure waters slope

Into a darkness quieted by hope;

Plucker of amaranths grown beneath God's eye

In gracious twilights where His chosen lie."

Homer and Job are at one in associating darkness with the

grave, and all that the grave implies. "Before I go whence I shall

not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of

death." Homer and Ecclesiastes are one in love of the sunlit sky:

"Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes

to behold the sun." And Shakespeare in fullest sympathy cries:

"See how the sun

Walks o'er the top of yonder eastern hill."

And sunrises and sunsets wake in Wordsworth's soul the

thought of

"The light that never was on sea or land."

And it is the world-old feeling of life and joy that breathes in

Blake's lines "To Morning":

"O holy virgin! clad in purest white,

Unlock heaven's golden gates and issue forth;

Awake the dawn that sleeps in heaven; let light

Rise from the chambers of the east, and bring

The honey'd dew that cometh on waking day.

O radiant morning, salute the sun,

Roused like a huntsman to the chase, and with

Thy buskin'd feet appear upon our hills."

But what of modern science? Does not that eliminate the mystic

element? Far from that, it increases it. The dominant theory is

that light is a sensation caused by waves in ether which travel at

a speed of 186,000 miles a second. Of this theory Whewell

wrote in 1857 that Optics had "reached her grand generalisation

in a few years by sagacious and happy speculations." But it was

not thus that a halting-place was gained. For there succeeded the

discoveries of Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, Hertz, and other great

physicists who used the old theory merely as a foundation for a

superstructure of unsuspected and wondrous proportions. The

theory of electrons came to the front, and the phenomena of

light are being linked on to those of electricity. The phenomena

of electricity, again, are being linked on to those of life. And

thus, as ever where our deepest intuitions are concerned, the

nature-mystic finds himself in harmony with and abreast of the

latest developments of modern knowledge.

At the dawn of human thought light and life were dimly but

persistently felt to be akin, if not identical. And now we know it

was a deep prompting of mother nature which caused men to

give to their divine beings the simple name--"the Bright Ones."