Encountering the Dark Goddess: A Journey Into Shadow Realms, by Frances Billinghurst
Moon Books, 1789045994, 248 pages, March 2021
One of the most fascinating elements of human psychology is the penchant we have for self-reflection. In some form or another, we often delve deep within ourselves to try and find answers that we know lie deep within us. In her book Encountering the Dark Goddess: A Journey Into Shadow Realms, Frances Billinghurst has carved a path for us to tread in our personal search for the answers we need in order to evolve and become better versions of ourselves.
An experienced writer on this topic, Billinghurst is an initiated witch, ritualist and healer, and runs workshops on metaphysics, mythology, and the occult. Billinghurst thoughtfully divides the book into three parts which make perfect sense if you are new to the idea of Shadow Work and the Dark Goddess Herself. Bundling information together in this way is extremely helpful if you are familiar with the work and want to jump past the background information.
Personally, no matter the topic, I almost always read the intro sections provided because I feel they form the basis or foundation of what the writer is actually trying to get across. Knowing where Billinghurst sits in terms of who she feels the Dark Goddess is and how she perceives Her is valuable information to me and helps me to expand my own knowledge. No matter your knowledge level, I highly recommend reading the introduction section to ensure you gain the same insight.
Billinghurst provides substantial background on the origin of the Dark Goddess and challenges our collective fear of the darkness by stating that:
“Darkness holds the peace which is reflected by the mother’s womb from which we all are born, and the earth’s tomb into which we eventually return. From darkness we are born and, in effect, into darkness we will all return.”1
By making such comparisons, she is effectively building the case for why we should embrace the darkness and perceive it as a helper rather than something to be feared. She also makes a valid point about balance that I happen to agree with: the need to have both light and dark in one’s life is essential for forward movement and growth, whereas too much of either is potentially limiting.
The section titled “Meeting the Dark Goddess” caught my eye straightaway, with Billinghurst delving into thirteen different representations of the Dark Goddess. She weaves together aspects of the Dark Goddess from across a variety of practices and belief systems, something that is often attempted but poorly executed.
Here, Billinghurst respectfully offers her views on 13 different representations of the Dark Goddess and offers ways in which to work with them. There is a sense of reverence that is felt through her writing about the various aspects and she alludes to deeper works that might be of interest to those wishing to go even further down the rabbit hole of history, myth, and folklore in connection with the Dark Goddess.
The final section is about working with the Dark Goddess and there is no shortage of caution expressed by Billinghurst. She doesn’t shrink back from exploring the enormity of working within the Shadows of ourselves nor does she try and pretty up the process to make it more palatable. Shadow Work is intense, uncomfortable, and life-changing and just because you’ve dipped your toe into this work one or twice does not mean you are free from the gaze of the Dark Goddess. If anything, doing this work puts you on the radar, so to speak. Billinghurst feels the same, saying
“Just because you have worked with the Dark Goddess once or in one format, or even under the guidance of one particular teacher does not mean you have completely embraced all of your shadow qualities and therefore no longer need to undergo such work.”2
What really impressed me with this book is the appreciation for, and acknowledgement of, the fact that just because you are immersed in an excavation of the soul through shadow work, it doesn’t mean you neglect the lighter aspects of the Goddess. These labels we give to the goddess helps us to navigate through the various lessons that are provided through the interaction we have with her, but we need to understand that when you work with an iteration of the Goddess, you end up getting all of Her and not just the parts you think you need. Billinghurst expands on this this by saying, “Working with the Dark Goddess does not necessarily mean you are not working with a lighter aspect of the goddess, the divine feminine, either.”3
This means to me that while we have lots of fancy descriptors for whichever iteration of the Dark Goddess we happen to be working with that correspond to the qualities we feel we need to access at this time, we also have access to the rest of Her too. Doing Shadow Work with a Dark Goddess is not like feasting at a buffet: you have to acknowledge and accept that you will see all sides of the Goddess and adjust accordingly. Personally, working with a Dark Goddess always brings me closer to the part of me that needs softening. Working with a Goddess such a Morrigan brings about a lot of fire and intensity, but after that dies down there is a sense of peace and stability that follows that my soul craves while I am doing this work.
Whether you are familiar with Shadow Work or just contemplating starting, Encountering the Dark Goddess is an excellent guide on how to dovetail an iteration of the Dark Goddess into that work. Full of useful information on a selection of Dark Goddesses, as well as personal stories and poems, this book is going to remain on my shelf to be pulled down often for both reference and for the deeper work that the second half of the year brings.
Sarrah October Young is a writer and practising witch who wished she could do stand-up comedy. When she isn’t writing or witching, she can be found posting about her cats on IG @therealoctober.