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Rites of initiation have been practiced since time immemorial among many cultures, tribes and secret societies. Initiation is a process of transformation that leads to personal growth and development by challenging the mind, body and spirit of the candidate. Initiation can be both public or private. A public initiation is one in which the candidate’s membership in a community is publicly acknowledged. It is not a secret process in this case. Private initiation, on the other hand, takes place within an organization that has hidden membership or practices.
Initiations performed across cultures, tribes, and societies have commonalities in terms of their primary goal: transformation through rituals that evoke physical strength, mental acuity, and/or spiritual qualities.
The world of secret societies and initiation rituals is filled with intriguing concepts, rituals, images and ideas. One of the most common motifs in these circles is that of darkness. It appears in initiation rituals across cultures and traditions as a symbol of hidden powers, danger, mystery, or simply as an indicator that you are entering uncharted territory.
In some societies and initiation rituals, darkness can be a sign of evil or danger; in others, it can represent ignorance or lack of knowledge. In many cases, the meaning of darkness changes depending on how you interpret it. For example, in some cases darkness represents ignorance, while in others it is a symbol of evil.
THE MEANING OF “DARKNESS” IN INITIATION RITES AND SOCIETIES
Initiation is a ritual that has been practiced by many cultures for thousands of years. It is a process of transformation in which the individual moves from one stage to another. It is a process that involves moving from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, and from vice to virtue. Rites of initiation have different meanings in different cultures, and the meaning of “darkness” in these rites may vary.
In some cases, darkness symbolizes evil and danger; in others, it is simply a necessary step from which initiates must emerge as enlightened men or women.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PURIFICATION RITUALS IN MOST CULTURES
Initiation rituals begin with a purification process. In ancient Egypt, for example, new members of the priesthood were purified with water, fire, and air. During this process, they were brought to the edge of death and then “resurrected.”
Purification rituals are usually performed to remove the impurities that have accumulated in the bodies and minds of the initiates. In some cultures, initiates are required to fast and abstain from certain substances and behaviors.
In others, they must bathe in sacred waters. Purification rites are intended to cleanse the initiates of impurities of body and mind and prepare them for the sacred rites. It is also believed that initiates who are pure are closer to the gods and can receive more grace and power during their initiation.
DARKNESS AS VICE AND DANGER IN INITIATION RITES
In some initiation rituals, darkness symbolizes vice and danger. In the ancient Egyptian rites of the god Osiris, for example, initiates were brought to the brink of death and darkness. The ritual of “death” was intended to make the initiates understand the pain their people were experiencing from the death of Osiris. The initiates were also buried in a tomb where they waited for three days. During this period they were forced to confront their vices (anger, lust and greed).
The “burial” ritual was intended to show the initiates that vice destroys the “light” in man. This ritual was also meant to make the initiates value their loved ones, especially their parents.
In Babylonian and Assyrian rituals, initiates were required to pass through the “gate of hell.” They were brought to the brink of death and darkness and then saved by their gods.
In other cultures, darkness represents more than vice and danger. It also represents death and the end of the initiate’s old life. This meaning is found in the initiation rituals of many cultures and religions.
DARKNESS AS EVIL AND DANGER IN CHRISTIAN RITUALS
In Christian initiation rituals, darkness is a symbol of evil and danger. During initiation, Christian neophytes must pass through a dark tunnel and “abyss.” This ritual is meant to show initiates that their life is like a journey through the darkness and the abyss. It is also meant to make them understand that the path to salvation is fraught with dangers and difficulties. Sometimes they are forced to remain in the darkness and the “abyss” for several days.
During this period, they are given food and water that are “contaminated” with other substances. They are also offered toxic foods and drinks. This ritual is intended to make the initiates appreciate their lives and the food they eat. The ritual is also intended to make the initiates abhor their sins and understand the evil and danger of the sinning.
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. “
At first glance, this is a confusing verse. How could God create evil and darkness? In fact, the word translated as “evil” (in Hebrew, ra) does not mean “evil,” but rather “suffering” or “affliction.” God pronounced the great curse upon the earth “for man’s sake” (Genesis 3:17), so that the sorrows and pains of life might cause him to recognize his need for redemption.
“To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.”
All these physical evils will be removed forever – even the curse itself – in the new earth when the sin will be removed.
The same is true of darkness: since “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5), it was necessary for Him to create darkness in order for there to be a difference between day and night. The latter was necessary at least for the trying period of man’s time on earth, since he needed rest as well as food because of his responsibilities as the governor of God’s creation. In addition, there must be a background of celestial darkness for the sun, moon, and stars to perform their function of showing “signs and seasons, days and years”
“And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,”
So the darkness that surrounded the original earth at its creation (Genesis 1:2) was not condemnation of the earth because of Satan’s fall, as some have taught. Like everything else in the original creation, it was “very good” – created for specific and beneficial divine purposes.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day”
The evil connotations of darkness come later, when evil men and devils find they can better spread their deceptions under the cover of darkness. Even then, however, God’s light is always available to dispel the darkness when necessary and desirable.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ“
(II Corinthians 4:6)
DARKNESS IN ISLAM : THE RELATIVITY OF THE CONCEPT OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS
يُخْرِجُهُمْ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ
He brings them out of darkness and into light.
The term zulumat (darkness) in this verse is used in the plural. This indicates that there are different kinds of darkness. On the other hand, noor (light) is not plural, otherwise it would be anwar. The reason for this is that light is only one. There is only one true and real light. However, there are several kinds of darkness. To make use of the light of the sun, there is only one way: to remove every obstacle in the path of the sunlight, but there are many ways to make a place dark. One can close one’s eyes, put a blindfold over one’s eyes, put up curtains, or perform other actions that result in not seeing the light. However, according to the Qur’an, there is only one way to reach the light. Sirat al-mustakim (the right way) is one.
Ayat al-Qursi describes the journey of believers as moving from darkness to light and that of unbelievers as moving from light to darkness. Does this mean that unbelievers start from a better position?
If we compare a light place with a lighter place, we can say that the latter is lighter, or we can say that the former is darker. When we are in a room lit by a lamp that is bright enough for reading, we consider it a bright place, but if we compare that room with the outside environment of sunlight, we will find the room dark. Therefore, if we move from this room to the outside, we have moved from darkness to light. Sometimes, when we go to a place with less light, it seems so dark that we cannot see for a short period of time, but when our eyes get used to it, we begin to see everywhere.
According to the Qur’an, every human being receives some light at birth. This is the original light that God gives to everyone, the light of God’s creation (fitrah). This light, which is the light of reason and consciousness, is and will remain in each of us. Without it, no one can ever step forward. Believers strengthen this light and head for brighter places; they move away from darkness and walk towards the absolute light that is God.
Those who do not believe, however, go in the opposite direction; they lose the original light given to them and find themselves in absolute darkness.
THE THEME OF LIGHT IN JEWISH TRADITION
Light is the genesis – the creation of the world. The key phrase of creation is “Let there be light,” its separation from darkness. Light serves as a symbol of the good and the beautiful, of all that is positive.
The distinction between light and darkness takes on a general and metaphysical meaning, and the advantage of light over darkness is so obvious and self-evident that it serves as a sharp metaphor:
“I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
just as light is better than darkness.”
Light as a positive symbol is so prevalent in the Hebrew language that redemption, truth, justice, peace, and even life itself “shine forth” and their revelation is expressed in terms of the revelation of light.
The overall meaning of light as an expression of the good and the beautiful is divided into shades and undertones of meaning. The total “light” from the beginning of creation, the light that contains all reality, is divided into individual lights, each with its own identity both in terms of its role and the emotions it expresses and evokes.
So, on the one hand, we have the light of the Holy Place, which should not even be seen, and on the other hand is the light of the Shabbat candles, which should be used. The Chanukah candles are “holy” – we are not allowed to use them, only to look at them. The same applies to the messages these lights carry: glory, joy of victory, remembrance of eternity, or an outburst of joy.
This multiplicity of meanings exists not only from the point of view of the observer. The meaning of all light is embodied in tangible form in the material instrument of light. The difference between the single wicks of the Sabbath candles and the entangled torch of the Havdalah candle is the difference between the light of tranquility, repose, and domesticity and the stronger light of the torch – a light that, on the one hand, accompanies its departing queen and, on the other, illuminates the darkness that becomes more distinct in her absence. The Hanukkah candles stand in a line to mark and count the days, and the shamash (helper or servant) candle stands apart to indicate that, unlike the other candles, it is for practical use.
In the words of the Chassidic teacher, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, “The Hebrew word for light (ohr) has the same numerical value in the Gematria as the word for secret (raz).
DARKNESS AS PREPARATION FOR LIGHT IN FREEMASONRY
In initiation rituals in Freemasonry, darkness symbolizes ignorance to knowledge. Initiates are required to remain in the darkness for a time. During this period, in some of the rituals, they receive various lessons about life, the world and their duties to others. When they emerge from the darkness, they are also offered the “light of knowledge”. This light is meant to make the initiates appreciate their ignorance and the importance of knowledge in their lives.
The chamber of reflection or the dark room is an important symbol. It represents a state in which the seeker must participate in his transformation as an initiate. Seen in this way, the dark room indicates both a beginning and an end. The end of the seeker’s life as a profane and the beginning of a new life as an initiate in search of more light.
According to Andrew Hammer in his book Observing the Craft, the seeker is placed in darkness and isolation because the two things together reduce the proper perception of time and make a relatively short period of time seem much longer. Thus, when the seeker arrives at the door of the lodge, he, thinks he has long been in darkness.
The metaphor of light and darkness is also used to represent the duality of good and evil. In this context, light represents truth, knowledge and understanding, and darkness represents ignorance, deception and error. Through the process of initiation and acquiring knowledge, one can overcome the darkness of ignorance and error and attain the light of truth and understanding.
DARKNESS AS THE IGNORANCE OF KNOWLEDGE IN THE SOCIETIES OF DARKNESS
In some cultures initiates are required to remain in a dark place until they become enlightened. In others they are required to blindfold themselves, to cover their eyes with black or red mud. During this period they are forbidden to eat and drink. They are also required to meditate and reflect on the things they have done in their “ignorance.”
This ritual is intended to make the initiates appreciate the value of knowledge and the importance of reflection on their lives. In some cultures, initiates face the brink of death and darkness. Elders bring them back to life and offer them knowledge. This type of ritual is intended to make the initiates appreciate the value of life and the importance of respecting it.
DARKNESS IN ZOROASTRIANISM AND ITS INITIATION RITUALS
In Zoroastrian initiation rituals, darkness is a symbol of “not knowing God.” Neophytes are required to remain in an underground cave or a place that is covered. During this period they are offered the “light of God” in the form of a sacred fire. This fire is meant to make the initiates appreciate their ignorance regarding God and their need of Him. The neophytes are also given the sacred “water of life” to drink. This water is meant to make the initiates love God and devote themselves to Him.
After coming out of darkness, the neophytes are enlightened and know God. They are also given the “food of wisdom” to eat. This food is meant to make them wise and knowledgeable.
Zoroastrianism is based on the belief that the world is a battleground between good and evil forces, which has serious consequences for humanity depending on whose side it sides with. Zoroastrian texts differ in their interpretations of this epic battle. According to one version, Ahura Mazda is constantly opposed by an evil being called Angra Mainyu. The battle between the two will continue until the end of creation, when God will eventually triumph and confine evil to one particular area, hell. According to another version, at the beginning of creation, Ahura Mazda created twin spirits, the good Spenta Mayuni and the other called Angra Mayuni or Ahirman.
He gave them the freedom to choose between life, light and good on the one hand and death, darkness and evil on the other. Spenta Mayuni chose life, truth, light, order and good, and Angra Mayuni chose death, darkness, chaos and evil. Spenta Mayuni heads the world of Truth and Justice, while the latter heads the realm of falsehood or falsity (Druj). The material world in between is the playground where opposing forces meet and determine the fate of human beings. At present, Angra Mainyu is trapped in metals and material things and will continue to trouble people until God brings him to justice on the Day of Judgment.
In some later texts the opposite twins are described as children of Zurvan or Time.
DARKNESS IN THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN RITE MER-MER-HAMEN
The ancient Egyptian rite of Mer-Mer-Hamen is one of the most famous initiation rituals in history. The initiation takes place in the dark and is guided by figures known as “Guardians of the Hidden Treasure”.
During the ritual, the initiate is transported to the underworld, which is filled with dangers and monsters. The initiate must also go through a number of difficult ordeals, including having his heart ripped out and being forced to drink poison.
The initiate emerges from initiation seemingly unscathed, with his heart intact and poison in his veins. This is a very common symbol in initiation rituals – the initiate emerges from the period of darkness with new knowledge and a piece of wisdom.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN SOCIETIES TALK ABOUT DARKNESS?
The most common interpretation of darkness in initiation rituals is as a symbol of ignorance or mystery. In the context of initiation, a person who enters a secret society or initiation rite is seen as one to whom light is brought: knowledge and new perspectives.
When someone enters an initiation rite, they are often plunged into total darkness. This darkness represents a lack of knowledge about the ritual and the society as a whole. In this case, the initiate is simply expected to trust and follow the ritual as best he or she can.
In some cases, darkness can also represent another concept – lack of choice. Many secret societies and initiation rituals require their members to abide by a certain set of rules, rituals, and ideologies. In this way, the initiate may feel as if he or she has no choice but to accept initiation into the society. Darkness then symbolizes this inability to make a decision.
Initiation rituals around the world are filled with fascinating elements and different images. One of them is that of darkness. When societies speak of darkness, they often mean a lack of knowledge, a lack of choice, or a symbol of evil. During initiation rituals, darkness is used to represent the initiate’s lack of knowledge about the world, society, and initiation in general. It can also represent the initiate’s inability to make a choice or endure a situation. Whether you have participated in an initiation rite or not, the meaning of darkness remains an intriguing concept worth exploring.
● Henry M. Morris, Ph. D.: The Creator Of Darkness
● Mohammad Ali Shomali: A Journey from Darkness towards Light
● Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır: “Hak Dini Kur’an Dili” (The Religion of Truth, The Language of the Qur’an)
● Rabbi Adin Steindsltz: The motif of light in Jewish tradition
Asen Zlatarov lodge