The dark side of the sacred

I came across a blog post called Holy Irreverence: A New Series Exploring the Dark Side of the Sacred by Vanessa Fischer.

It’s an interesting topic. What comes up for me around it?

Definitions of Sacred and light/dark

First, what do I think of as the Sacred? The Sacred for me is the same as life, reality, God.

And light and dark? Light and dark are not inherent in reality, they are only found in my thoughts about it. Since they are labels in my thoughts, what’s called light or dark is arbitrary and influenced by culture, tradition and personal experiences. (It’s arbitrary from a big picture, and yet often not experienced as arbitrary within a particular culture or tradition.)

Aspects of the Sacred

Then, when we talk about the “dark” side of the Sacred, what aspects of the Sacred may we refer to?

I find three: (a) The “dark” side of the Sacred (God, reality, life). (b) Approaches that address the “dark” sides of the Sacred (life, reality). (c) The “dark” sides of a Sacred process (awakening, maturing).

The dark sides of the Sacred as inquiry

A simple way of defining the dark side of the Sacred is to see it as the shadow of our typical images of the Sacred (reality, God) and a Sacred process (awakening, maturing, living from it). If I see God as good, can I also see the bad (what I label bad in my own mind) as part of the Sacred? If I see clarity as sacred and part of a sacred process, can I also include confusion? If what I see as desirable is included in my image of the Sacred, can I also include what I see as undesirable?

If I see something as sacred, can I see the rest as also sacred?

(a) The dark side of the Sacred. What’s my image of the Sacred or of God? What’s the reverse? If I make a list, can I find genuine and simple examples of how each one is equally part of the Sacred?

(b) Approaches addressing the dark side. Any approach to the Sacred worth it’s salt will have ways to address and work with the dark sides of life. Some may be of the first aid variety, making the process a bit easier in the moment. Others will go more to the core of the issue, and may even uproot any ideas of shadow or light, right or wrong, desirable and undesirable. Some of my favorites are tonglen and various forms of inquiry (the Big Mind process, sense field explorations, The Work).

(c) The dark side of the Sacred process. I am not even sure what to define as a sacred process. If it is a process of awakening and/or maturing, then it does have it’s “shadow” sides, which – when I examined it a little closer – turned out to be it’s bright sides! For me, these have included loss (of dreams especially), disillusionment, illness, and primal fears and beliefs surfacing so intensively that they cannot be ignored, pushed aside or sidestepped.


the dark side of the sacred
– def. dark & sacred
– (a) not inherent in life/reality, only from thought (from culture, tradition)
– (b) sacred = life, reality, god

– the “dark” side of….
– (a) god/reality/life
– (b) approaches to spirituality
– (c) the process, how it’s experienced


What’s called the dark side of the Sacred may be (i) what’s commonly left out of discussions or images of the Sacred (body, the feminine, shadow), or (ii) what’s commonly perceived as undesirable sides of reality, life or (if we see reality as God) God.


initial draft….

I came across a blog post called Holy Irreverence: A New Series Exploring the Dark Side of the Sacred by Vanessa Fischer.

What would be the dark side of the sacred to me?

What first comes up is that the Sacred is the same as life, God, reality. Light and dark are not inherent in life, only in thought.

At the same time, reality includes all polarities and is – in a certain sense – light and dark. It just depends on our labels, what we chose to label it.

So what would be dark? I guess it could be anything we in our culture tend to see as (a) not included in spirituality (body, the feminine, the undesirable), or (b) just undesirable in general (illness, death, loss, insanity, confusion, greed, hatred, lies etc.).

Even a quick look at that list brings to mind many examples of how these are included in spirituality, or are even central to many approaches to spirituality.

The body.

The feminine.

The undesirable. In general, anything we perceive as undesirable is an invitation to look deeper. For me, it’s an invitation for inquiry. What’s a stressful belief I have about it? What do I find when I explore that thought?

In a certain way, it seems pointless to explore the “dark” side of the “Sacred”. Light and dark are not inherent in life, only in our thoughts. And even what we may label “dark” is already included in many approaches to spirituality.


2 thoughts to “The dark side of the sacred”

  1. I also read ‘Holy Irreverence’, and was struck by Vanessa’s honesty and integrity.

    In my experience if I push away the shadow/dark and hold it at arms length, then I also do this with light/joy.

    By not fully allowing ‘shadow’ within me (what I label as ‘bad’), I may block or ‘stuff down’ feelings that I associate with this, such as anger, fear, jealousy, frustration, even desire. This requires vigilance and energy, which means I am unavailable to light/joy, and may not notice that it is equally as present and available to me as the shadow. Thus I may miss many opportunities to experience passion, love, joy, appreciation, connection, fun.

    Also, if I fear the shadow, I may not risk allowing myself to fully experience love, joy, passion etc ‘in case’ this leads to the shadow being triggered (eg. love and passion leading to desire).

    Fearing/ pushing away the shadow may also lead me to ‘close down’ if I experience it in/from others, which also closes down connection, compassion and my own growth (as I cannot learn from the experience).

    If I block my feminine energy from fear of ‘loss of control’, ‘destruction’ or ‘irrationality’ I also block my capacity for nurturing, creativity, wisdom, cleansing of that within me which does not support life/love, and strength to speak my truth.

    The concept of desire is an interesting one for me. For many years on a spiritual path I have seen desire/yearning or wanting as something ‘bad’ to be ‘trained’ out of me so I can be more ‘pure’ of heart and mind. I’m not so sure this is the case anymore. Desire/wanting is part of my human experience, and it helps me to see where my unique passion, creativity, enthusiasm and joy lies. It also helps me to share this with life/others (which, I am not separate from anyway). It’s my relationship with desire/wanting that feels significant. Can I enjoy desire/wanting, and be guided by it, without any particular outcome being necessary for my peace and happiness?

    Thank you 🙂

  2. Thank you! 🙂 That fits my experience as well.

    When I read “if I push away the shadow/dark and hold it at arms length, then I also do this with light/joy” I misread it. I though you meant that the process of pushing it away is done with light/joy. Interesting to explore…! (Can I find examples of how pushing away the dark is light/joy, or the Sacred?)

    Thank you also for what you said elsewhere: Who would I be without my story of light and dark?

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