Today marks the first month I work through Kimberly Sherman-Cook‘s In the Shadow of 13 Moons. The tagline reads “embracing lunar energy for self-healing and transformation,” which is a pretty decent summation of the book thus far. Sherman-Cook looks towards the energies of the waning, dark, and new moons (often overlooked or misinterpreted in some modern magical circles) over a year’s course to explore shadow magic, inner journeying, and holistic healing. This is not a book review, and so I have endeavored to curtail the logical, critical inner editor when approaching the work in this book. I was drawn towards this title because I’ve always been fascinated in “dark” witchcraft (relating to physical darkness, shadows, inner transformation, etc) and the Mysteries associated with twilight and nighttime. I’ve never truly delved into lunar magic because of the emphasis of the full moon to the exclusion of the other phases. Furthermore, the full moon has instinctively felt like the opposite time to perform magic for me; don’t ask me why, but I suspect at least part of it has to do with my nature to go against every grain I can find. 🙂 So, I was glad to find an author who tackled dark/new moon magic in depth.
Another reason I’m looking forward to progressing through this book is I feel there’s a lot I can take from it as an individual who suffers from depression. There just aren’t enough serious resources out there for Pagans struggling with depression and anxiety disorders (or body image and self-esteem issues, which make up a large chunk of my depression), and since I’m planning on writing a book on the subject, it behooves me to see what’s already out there. This is a subject for another post, but I’ve been told by more than one well-meaning Pagan that if I just “opened myself to the Goddess” or got rid of energy blocks, somehow my depression would magically dissipate. Alternatively, because some Pagan religions are so focused on the good, positive side of life, the opposite edge is often ignored or not given nearly enough credence. I look to nature for guidance, and in nature the healing spring rains and the vicious riptide both have a place in the order of things. I’ve been going through a rough patch with my depression, and now more than ever I understand how important it is to dive into these issues and be willing to explore and express even the less salient bits of myself.
For this first New Moon, Sherman-Cook explores the negative attributes and emotions associated with physical darkness, since for many people the fears and anxieties nighttime and darkness bring are indicative of deeper problems. The first time I flipped through this book, I found myself at a loss of what to do with this chapter. I wasn’t scared of the dark, I didn’t think nighttime was particularly insidious or frightening, and I had no abuses or religious scarring that might lead me to fear demons in the shadows. However, looking at this a second time I see that’s not entirely the case. I get spooked very easily, and more so at night. I’m one of those people who will read up on urban legends and ghost stories, knowing all the while I’ll be kept up all night by paranoia. Even the mention of something with sinister undertones is enough to make my hairs rise and my skin pebble. With the lights off indoors, I’m sometimes convinced there’s an axe murderer/evil poltergeist/possessed garden gnome around every corner, and this is so normal for me I don’t think twice about the irrational fears. Rituals involving lights off (most of them, since candlelight just isn’t the same when it’s battling fluorescence) have sometimes been aborted before they even began, and nearly all of them involve a few heart pounding seconds between turning off my lamp and reaching for the lighter. Furthermore, I’ve noticed a definite correlation between the amount of light I’m exposed to and my depression. I just get more anxious and upset at night, when things aren’t so clear.
One of the activities suggested in this chapter is to make a point of spending time in the darkness. For those who have the option, Sherman-Cook suggests taking walks outside after the sun has set (preferably in full darkness) in an area you feel safe and comfortable. If you can’t find a park or neighborhood, your own backyard will do just fine. And if weather doesn’t permit, you can even try sitting alone in a dark room. I’ve discovered that I’m really not that frightened of the darkness outside; it’s dark and abandoned human places that scare the bajeezus out of me. Being alone in the woods has never seemed a scary concept. Being alone in a room, house, or dorm, in the showers, in the dark in my bed, wandering the hallways – that’s where my monsters like to lurk. I imagine part of it is the fact these areas are supposed to be populated, and when they aren’t my brain suggests human presence where there just isn’t. (Get another person in the room with me and my fears drop 90%.) I also imagine this is what feeds my constant need for some sort of external electronic stimulus, because I’m often by myself and don’t have anything else to bat away the shadows on my wall.
My walk tonight started in twilight, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the day. Rather than being afraid of the darkening world, I find it imbued with a sense of magic. Southern evenings in my neck of the woods are full of fireflies, friends chattering on the front porch, church get-togethers, and children laughing in the playground. Tonight I was startled by a cat on a fence, but she let me pet her. Even feeling comfortable outside, I was still awfully jumpy. And though tonight I was calm, other nights I have been afraid of walking outside – but not because of the dark. I’ve harbored a someone irrational fear of being attacked at night (“somewhat irrational” because I’ve never had this happen to me, but it does happen far too often to not consider this before venturing outside) for quite some time. The more I think about it, the more I realize all my fears center around being out of control and at the mercy of some outside force, whether human or supernatural. Whether my logical mind believes in these things is irrelevant; my subconscious is happily waving red flags and setting off alarm bells at the slightest provocation.
Sherman-Cook suggests spending as much time with each dark moon cycle as needed, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from therapy, true and lasting change takes a long time. I doubt I’ll resolve my darkness issues in a month, but just being aware of them makes me feel better. It’s similar to the change I felt in my depressive cycles after I was diagnosed with depression last October. Even if I’m still pretty much at the mercy of these funks, knowing that I’ve articulated the problem and identified the causes is enough to help me through until the unfounded emotions subside.