… because it isn’t scary at all, right?
As a child I slept with the bedside light on, frightened not of the dark itself but of what it concealed. At six years old I was convinced that my whole family were actually wolves who had, somehow, completely disguised themselves as humans and if the light went out at night they would be able to transform back into their real forms and rip me to shreds. I’m not sure what that says about me, other than that I have far too much imagination for my own good, but I’m willing to bet it will resonate with many of you.
Darkness bodes. Generally. Darkness is infinite and so it contains all possible things, including our worst fears. I’m not sure who said that all armies are the same size in the dark but they had a point, namely that it distorts our perceptions and magnifies what we think we are experiencing. These days I’m no longer afraid of wolves in human skins or any of the other horrors I used to imagine but the darkness still holds me in its sway, although in a very different way. One of my favourite things to do is to stand in the back garden at night, watching the bats flit through the trees while the dog completes her nightly ablutions. Anything seems possible in the dark, any thought can be clothed, any wish can come true. I am free to imagine, to pretend and to step outside my head, discover something new about myself. I find the infinite possibilities exhilarating, enjoy looking inside to see what will resonate with the blackness, but I suspect this is exactly what many people find so frightening.
It is hard to imagine how light was created, back when the universe sprung into being. The same cannot be said for the darkness. Darkness in unchanging, immutable and ever present. It was there long before we came into being and it is everywhere, in shadows and in our minds, and will be there long after we have all turned to dust. From the minute we, as a race, began to speak, darkness has been synonymous with evil. I don’t even need to move from my desk to see at least ten books where the main theme is light triumphing over dark. J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Mallory, J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett (to name but a few) have all given us work that relies on our implicit understanding that dark is bad. In the classic fairytales the wicked witch is always clothed in black, the hero or heroine usually has to enter a dark forest of tunnel in order to win through and triumph. We talk of people having “black hearts” or “dark desires” and we certainly don’t mean they have heart disease or would like a good night’s sleep.
Many people have asked “Who knows what darkness lies in the hearts of men?” To which I answer
a) you mean the minds of men but I’ll forgive you for being allegorical, and
b) no-one can know another’s mind but each one of us can explore our own – which is what is so frightening.
Deep down, we all know that we’ve thought or felt things which are wrong, which we’d never say out loud because of what voicing such thoughts or feelings would make us. Each time we look, if we are trying to be honest, we find something else, another thought that we shouldn’t think, another act we shouldn’t contemplate. And that, I believe, is what fuels our fears of the dark. When we close our eyes and look into the black space of our minds we are frightened that we cannot, truly, ever know our own souls. We cannot be sure what we would be capable of if we found ourselves in certain situations. The ‘I’ behind the eyes, the bit of us that does the questioning, the wondering and that is always watching never ceases to have the capacity to surprise and often to shock. Examining your own thoughts can be a painful and unpleasant experience, far better then, to blame the darkness than ourselves.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past three years examining the inner workings of my mind. I was a very unhappy person at the start of the process, unsure of who I was, what I wanted out of life and, if I’m going to be truthful, whether I was worth the bother. It was hard. I didn’t like what I found, who I’d allowed myself to become. It was, literally, a dark time; despite the outwardly cheery exterior I presented to the world – my shiny happy morning face as my Gran would have said. I looked into my soul and I accepted that what was there was down to me and me alone. I chose to embrace it. Terry Pratchett had it right with Granny Weatherwax in Carpe Jugulum – although it didn’t resonate with me until I’d fought my own personal vampires – you need to accept the bad things about yourself before you can stop being frightened of your shadow.
But what help is that, to defeat the fear of the dark, when you get right down to it? So I know that there is nothing I cannot imagine, that there is nothing I will not think, see or ponder in the privacy of my own brain. The logical conclusion of this is that that everyone has this capacity. All around are people who, in the privacy of their own personal patches of black, could be committing murder on a daily basis or contriving things that would make Hitler seem like Mr Fluffy. What isn’t so clear is whether they even know they are doing it or if they can keep control of them. Every day there are news stories which show that, for many, keeping control is not possible. So, when night rolls in it doesn’t take much to imagine that the darkness outside might be the catalyst, calling to the dark thoughts in our minds, unlocking those things which should never see the light of day.
And on that comforting note, I bid you good night. Sleep tight now!