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A Luminous Darkness by Melanie Starr Costello, Ph.D.

Sunday, December 17, 2017 10:24 AM | Jung Society of Washington

“As the reader may be aware, one of the most important sources for symbolical ideas in the past is alchemy. From this I take, first and foremost, the idea of the scintillae—sparks [luminosities hidden in the original substance]…It is clear that certain of the alchemists had already divined the psychic nature of these luminosities. They were seeds of light broadcast in the chaos, which [the alchemist] Khunrath calls ‘mundi futuri seminarium’(the seed plot of a world to come).”

- C.G. Jung, CW Vol. 8, para. 388

Traditionally, as the longest night of the year approaches, our thoughts turn toward the symbolic interplay of dark and light. This year, the darkening mirrors back to us the moral travails of our time as our collective feeling falls under the shadows of fear and greed. And once again, as we have done since we were children, we look toward the winter solstice as a call to hope, a sign that the cyclical triumph of the light is embedded in the nature of things.

Meaningful anticipation of the winter solstice--or the time of Advent, the time of holy waiting in the Christian calendar—encourages the spirit and nurtures the soul. Nonetheless, I find myself wishing that the dark days linger for a while and that the light return slowly, gently.

There is more in these dark days than waiting. The night has its own integrity. Without the dark, the stars and planets would be invisible to us, silent presences, influencing us in hidden but powerful ways. The stellar sky mirrors back to us the luminous darkness that steers the course of individuation. Just as ancient mariners depended upon the night sky to traverse great distances, so too do we depend upon subtle sparks of light hidden in the unconscious psyche to guide our life’s passage. These points of light—image, idea, sensation, intuition—meet us as we release ourselves to the darkness of sleep, to the pain of grief or to the will’s defeat in the face of realities and happenings outside our control.

We belong to a world—and a self—that is ever in a state of becoming. The night sky is the soul’s mirror, a reminder that light is embedded even in the deepest darkening, a “seed plot of a world to come.”

Melanie Starr Costello, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist, historian, and senior Jungian analyst in private practice in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute-Zurich and earned her doctorate in the History and Literature of Religions from Northwestern University. She formerly served as Assistant Professor of History at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, was a Trustee for the Consortium for Psychoanalytic Research in Washington, D.C. and is currently Director of Education for the Jungian Analysts of Washington, a member of the Board of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York and a training analyst for the C.G. Jung Institute-Zurich.  Dr. Costello has taught and published on the topics of psychology and religion, medieval spirituality, aging and clinical practice. Her study of the link between illness and insight, entitled Imagination, Illness and Injury: Jungian Psychology and the Somatic Dimensions of Perception, is published by Routledge Press.


  • Sunday, December 17, 2017 1:16 PM | Oxana Holtmann
    Dear Starr, thank you for such a beautiful post. In my mind i keep coming back to this sentence "I find myself wishing that the dark days linger for a while and that the light return slowly, gently." and it helps me to be more accepting of the long evenings.
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    • Monday, December 25, 2017 11:12 AM | Anonymous
      I see this discussion as another way of presenting the necessary opposites as a basic principle of Theofatalism, which I have written extensively about. My books are in the library. God never made any one-sided coins, and all benefits come with burdens and vice versa. Sweet and sour, pain and pleasure, light and dark. creation and destruction...all attributes of the trinity...Generation, Operation, Destruction...GOD. The prime force in the universe. Ergo Theofatalism. Google Theofatalism for details and my name for reference. Thanks...
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