For a moment, the darkness

Some things are better in the dark. Fireworks, for one. And the cinema or theatre. There’s something about the lights going down that creates a sense of atmosphere and anticipation, and helps you to focus on the bright spot of light that is the stage or screen.

Darkness increases the sensations associated with experiences, too. Dinners are more romantic, horror films are more scary, strange noises are louder. And of course, if you’re anxious about anything, the fears and tension get worse as soon as you turn out the lights at night.

This weekend will bring lots of Halloween-themed activities, from spooky ghost walks and scary stage shows to ghoulish masked parties. There will be less-terrifying activities for families, too, but if recent years have been anything to go by, London’s events and attractions will milk this festival of darkness for all it’s worth.

Underneath the fun, however, Halloween has a serious side. It has grown and developed from an ancient pagan festival which believed that the night of 31 October was the night the souls of the dead and evil spirits were given one last chance to run wild before returning to their graves. In ancient times — and in fact right up until the last century or so — most people believed that such things were real and had real power in the world. They were scary and malignant and could cause all kinds of mischief and harm.

Yet their power was limited. Just as a scary film loses its terror when the lights go on, and the fears of the night fade away as the sun rises, so the evil spirits had no power against the force of Light.

Halloween was followed by All Saints Day — a celebration of light, a time to worship God and remember the saints and martyrs who have gone before us and overcome the darkness to worship him. The evil spirits had been chased away by the rising sun, and had no power any more.

Darkness can be fun, and can enhance our experience of certain things, but it can also be a cloak to conceal crimes and other activities that we would rather people didn’t see or know about. In fact, darkness is itself often associated with evil. The Woman in Black or Darth Vader wouldn’t be half as terrifying if they let a little pastel into their wardrobes. Even the Force is described as possessing two aspects, one of which is ‘the dark side’.

And though these are all fairly light-hearted, we cannot deny that there are dark, evil or wicked elements in the world at the moment — the last few months have provided evidence enough for that. White supremacists seeking to rid the world of anyone from the ‘wrong’ race, terrorists attacking innocent people on the streets, and world powers hovering on the brink of nuclear war… all these are symptoms of the darkness that bubbles just beneath the surface of our polite, civilised veneers.

But the sun always rises. The darkness is chased away, and the truth is revealed.

As Glen Scrivener puts it in this brilliant performance poem:

When the brightness ignites, can the darkness push back?
These forces of darkness, if such can be called
Are banished by brightness, by blazing enthralled.

The triumph is not with the forces of night,
It dawned with the one who said, ‘I am the light’.

You can watch the full video here:

Jennie Pollock

Jennie Pollock
Jennie is a freelance writer and editor who loves digging deep into culture through reading, museums, theatre, and exploring the streets of London.

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