Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Dark Paganism

There are some who find comfort in the shadows,
Who strive to comprehend the mysteries,
Who find solace in the silence of a winter night,
Who sing softly to the crone.
We are the Dark Pagans, children of the Dark Mother.

So often darkness is associated with evil. Since the term evil has no place in a nature-based religion, we Pagans are forced to look beyond such stereotypes.

Evil is a human term. It begins and ends with us. A tornado is not evil, yet it is destructive. Fire can be used to benefit life or destroy it. Nature is neither good nor evil; it simply is. It follows no moral code and has no internal motive. Only humans, with our complicated set of emotions and intellect can justify such categorizations.

Death, destruction, chaos... these are essential driving forces within nature. Life feeds on life; destruction precedes creation. These are the only true laws, and they are not open to interpretation.

When Pagans anthropomorphisize nature into something good and loving, they deny its very all-encompassing nature. When the dark deities are shunned in fear of the unknown, we deny ourselves full understanding of all deities and what they have to offer, leaving us with an incomplete picture.

It is our nature to fear the unknown. We cling to archetypal forms representing the aspects of some great unknowable, all-encompassing force, which we cannot comprehend. We call them our deities. This is not wrong; it is in fact, necessary since we cannot easily grasp the "divine" or cosmic source otherwise.

Some religions choose to see this source as one omnipotent being. However, accepting the existence of an all-good and just being dictates that there must then exist a counterpart that encompasses evil.

Since nature-based religions view the concept of deity in a more polytheistic and/or pantheistic way, the separations of creative/destructive forces are not as well defined. The deities take on aspects of nature or human ideals. Instead of one omnipotent being, we have deities of love, war, beauty, the sun, the moon, the sea... Each deity inherently contains both the creative and destructive forces.

It is through the many aspects of the Goddess and God that we come to learn more about the universe and ourselves. To shun those aspects we fear inhibits our growth. It is a goal of Dark Paganism to encourage those who hide behind the positive aspects of our deities to embrace their fears and learn.

As a life-affirming spirituality, Paganism often focuses on the positive, creative and nurturing forces in nature. It is easy to loose touch with the darker aspects, particularly when we intrinsically fear them. Life begets death and death begets life. Chaos is the fuel of creation. Something must always be destroyed for something to be created.

Those who shun the darker aspects of nature and ourselves tend to fall into what I have heard called "White-Light" or "fluffy" Paganism - Pagans who think life is all happiness and joy and that once attuned to the rhythms of nature, life becomes such wonderful dreams. Many subscribers to the "New Age" movement have this shallow outlook. To them, nature is good and just and ordered.

This simply is not the case. Take these dull-eyed individuals and place them in the wilderness with nothing but their crystals and they will be some animal's dinner before the end of the week. Nature is harsh. It is unforgiving. The weak die or are killed by the strong. Life feeds on life. Even the strictest vegan is a plant killer. Humans, with their technological and medical breakthroughs have "improved the quality life" by distancing themselves from the harshness of nature; softened us from its harsh reality.

However, despite this harsh side of nature, it is not evil. It also has its share of beauty. The point is, nature encompasses both creative and destructive forces. Ignoring the negative aspects results in an incomplete and dangerous view of nature.

It is the goal of Dark Paganism to remind us that there is a darker side to all things and that this darker side is not necessarily harmful and negative. There is beauty in darkness for those who dare enter the shadows to embrace it.

Many aspects of darkness are not as harsh as death and chaos. There is reflection, reverence, change, divination, introspection, trance, autumn , winter, maturity, wisdom, the distant cry of a crow in a forest, a single candle glowing in the night, the cool embrace of the autumn wind scented with the decay of leaves. These are all aspects; these are its gifts. Perhaps it is through the beauty of a sunset and sunrise and the colors of fall and spring that we are reminded of the cycles of birth-death-rebirth and of the importance - the necessity - of each phase.

A Need for Balance

It is important to remember that focusing only on the darker side is just as dangerous as focusing on the lighter side. Balance is important, and even though some may relate to one aspect more than the other, we must always remain open to the other aspects. Life consists of the interplay of these opposites, which naturally complement each other. To discard one aspect is to sacrifice our wholeness and limit our potential.

This balance does not necessarily (and rarely does) mean equality or neutrality. We typically have an attraction to the imagery of one side over the other. Dark Pagans have a connection to the imagery and themes of darkness yet they do not exclude the light. Each path finds balance within itself.

Sometimes when one side becomes unbalanced, the other side attempts to compensate, but in doing so it often throws itself out of balance. I see this with many Dark Pagans who have grown so disenchanted with the "fluffy" variety of Lightside Paganism that they have begun to feel that Lightside Paganism itself is useless and lost.

In Defense of Lightside Paganism

Lightside Paganism in itself is a very viable and powerful spirituality. It may have a disposition towards the positive/nurturing aspects of nature, life, etc, but it is well adapted in acknowledging the darker aspects as well if allowed to.

The problem is that fewer and fewer Pagans are obtaining any sort of formal training and are instead learning from very superficial "Wicca 101" books. Unfortunately this means that many novices from Judeo-Christian backgrounds are reading these books and interpreting them within a Judeo-Christian context. Thus, instead of grasping concepts of polarity and balance, they are too busy separating light and dark as if it is the same as good and evil. Worse, many try to over-emphasize the positive in hopes of combating the stereotype of witchcraft as evil.

There is currently a great imbalance in Paganism. The overly white-light "fluffy" Pagans outweigh the truly balanced Lightside Pagans. Thus the need to stress the aspects of darkness and also why we now have a need to differentiate Lightside and Darkside Pagans.

Being a Lightside Pagan in itself is not a problem since it is simply a personal disposition, just as others have a disposition towards darker imagery. Either way, both sides recognize the existence, and the need for the other. (I.e. there is not - or at least should not be - a war between dark and light Paganism) However, as soon as one decides to deny darkness then that person sacrifices wholeness.

In the same context, just because I am a Dark Pagan does not mean I don't enjoy sitting under a tree watching the animals and birds or strolling barefoot in the grass. It simply means that my overall outlook on life, nature and even spirituality varies from that of Lightside Paganism. Neither is more right. There is no absolute path; each must find the path that best works for them.

Since this book is primarily a reaction to the growing trend towards the unhealthy and unbalanced (also known as "fluffy") form of Lightside Paganism, sometimes it may seem to be a bit harsh towards lightside Pagans, but then again, I want this to serve as a wake up call.

John J. Coughlin, author of 'Out of the Shadows: An Exploration of Dark Paganism and Magick.'

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