Darkness and the Imagination: The Role of Environment in the Development of Spiritual Beliefs


Link to Full Text

Download Full Text

Publication Date


Publication Title

The Oxford Handbook of Light in Archaeology


Darkness has profound effects on human behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities. It can influence our ability to function, our moods, emotions, and cognition. Here we examine the relationship between darkness and supernatural beliefs. This work is informed by cross-cultural cave research, which suggests that cave dark zones are used as the settings for rituals from the advent of modern humans to the present. How can this phenomenon be explained? The chapter reviews research on the effects of darkness on the human mind and presents results of our own experimentation. We argue that shared human reactions to darkness, including embodied responses, stimulate the imagination in similar ways, leading to what we refer to as transcendental or imaginary thinking that lies at the heart of supernatural beliefs. Our work suggests that the natural environment is not a passive player but a causative agent in this process.

Document Type


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)