In 2004 Corvus Nocturnum interviewed John J. Coughlin for his book Embracing the Darkness: Understanding Dark Subcultures which was published in 2005.
John highly recommends the book. Corvis asked great questions fine-tuned to each person he interviewed and covered a broad spectrum of dark subcultures.
Below is his unedited interview with John:
Corvis: What drew you into Gothic Paganism, and what is it to those who don’t know?
John: I usually call it “Dark Paganism” only since “Gothic” tends to assume it is only an aspect of the Gothic Subculture. I usually define it as a form of paganism aligned to a left-hand path. There is often a certain attraction to themes and images of darkness (Gothic imagery so to speak), but a Dark Pagan may not “look” like a goth. The defining factors are more in perception and attitude.
Corvis: Like you, I have always loved nature, thunderstorms, and worn black. But unfortunately this often leads to negative reactions from other pagans and especially non pagans. How do you deal with the stereotypical reactions of people by the way you chose to look and worship?
John: I have found I have drifted further and further away from mainstream paganism so avoided much of the potential backlash. However I must say to (my surprise) when I started speaking at Pagan events to promote my book, I was often met with a curious fascination. I think part of that had to do with the fact that I was presenting left-hand path concepts from a Pagan perspective they could relate to and avoiding terms like “left-hand path” and “satanism” which are still heavily stereotyped in mainstream paganism. I also find most of the more ignorant type are afraid to confront me in person since I an not one to back down from a good debate and their arguments tend to lack substance, so the few negative reactions I get tend to be via email.
Corvis: A growing number of people have been turning to darker paths. Do you feel your book influenced them, or did it “speak” to us that listen?
John: I think the time was right for such a book and I just lucked out to be the first to get there. I had expected much criticism and as the book came out braced myself for the worst, but instead I received countless letters and emails from people excited beyond description, thanking me for putting to print what had been in their heads for so long. There is definitely an undercurrent in Paganism that is aligned to aspects of darkness and which has been lacking a voice. I did my best to avoid being trendy. I wanted to push the ideas and not the image since the image would become packaged and sold purely for profit with no care for its meaning. I see that happening now since gothic imagery and magic are so popular these days. I guess that was inescapable.
Corvis: You write that there are many dark paths, each one unique to the practitioner. They vary from Chaos magic to Egyptian, to Santeria and Satanism. What do you believe is the tie that binds all these people together in your online groups?
John: The form of the path merely reflects the interests and perceptions of the individual, but underlying all of them is that left-hand path current which leads individuals to seek their inner greatness, whether or not they choose to consider themselves gods outright. They all acknowledge that they are ultimately the ones who dictate their fate, and that they are not victims of circumstances or slaves to divine creeds. They all seek to light their way through life with the brilliance of their own Being.. the black flame as Satanists would say.
Corvis: You make a point of saying Goths and Satanists face their fears in a “Shadow” i.e.Jungian sense, and are for the most part, are realist and better adjusted than a lot of normal people. Do you feel it is an ironic that at times that many in outwardly extreme lifestyles are the most inwardly balanced?
John: I find it ironic that while it’s the occasional black-clad teen that gets the national headlines for a shooting in a school, it is by far the “normal” guy next door that is more prone to violent crimes from blowing the boss away to torturing his family. Society prefers to notice the ones who do not fit the “norm”. It is the individualist who threatens society’s false sense of security in conformity. They WANT to see something wrong with us and yet are blind to their own perversities. Those who seek to be themselves and strive to free themselves from unnecessary conditioning are by far much more likely to be “whole” and not torn between many perceptions inner self-identity and society’s imposed labels. As Jung said, “I would rather be whole than good.”
Corvis: Although it may surprise some, you actually stress a balance between the lighter paths and dark ones. Is this in order to create a needed counter balance?
John: Personally I find balance to be separate from those labels. Some people are more aligned with or drawn to aspects we associate with “light” and others to aspects we associate with “darkness”. Neither is better than the other per se, just as democrats are no better or worse than republicans. These labels merely are used for identification purposes. Therefor anyone can be balanced or imbalance apart from those labels. I am “balanced in darkness” because I recognize my personal disposition to darkness and do not limit myself TO that label. To escape vague terms or a moment, consider an introvert and an extrovert. I am introverted by nature. I prefer to be alone or in small groups and I do not like to be in the public spotlight. I am “balanced” because I am able to do things like give lectures, go to parties, be sociable when I need to, etc. I am still introverted, but I am not locked into that mode. When I give lectures I often come across as being extroverted, but after the lecture is over, I’m looking forward to getting away from the crowds. I would be unbalanced if I were unable to escape my introverted nature when needed. It is only then that my introversion becomes a limitation rather than merely a disposition. We see this same sense of balance and imbalance in terms of light and darkness… some have that “darker-than-thou” attitude, and do all in their power to avoid any association with what they consider “light” (just as the opposite is true). What good is that? We only limit ourselves. The balance is in knowing who one is and in being oneself, not in living a label.
Corvis: There is an old saying that “Great men, like eagles, must build their nests in solitude.” I find peace away from others who do not accept me as I am instead of conforming, but it can be lonely when we remain true to ourselves. Are Dark Pagans, Goths, and Satanists in your experience a separate world unto themselves because of such ostracism?
John: As an introvert it’s easy for me to say that solitude is needed to some extent, but I do feel it is true. By seeking a path of self-exploration and personal growth/initiation one ends up having to distance oneself from the noise and distractions of society. It can be a very lonely path at times since our Way may not be the Way of the majority. People will not always understand us. Sometimes they will fear and/or loathe us. We threaten the perception of conformity being safe and heathy… of being the way to happiness. As we learn that it is self-acceptance that is paramount, it gets easier, but since most of us still live in that same society which stresses the importance of acceptance of our peers, we will always be haunted with a sense of being out of place. I would say that sense has less of a hold on me now then it did when I was in my teens, but it never goes away. Such is the cost of freedom.
Corvis: Do you feel we ever will be fully accepted beyond our appearance and differing views?
John: By everyone? No, at all… at least not until there are some major strides in the evolution of humanity as a whole. We strive to find meaning and purpose outside of the limitations imposed on us. By nature our differences will always keep us apart from the masses. I like to think eventually our views will be more appreciated, but I also would not say that is one of my objectives. What we do we do for ourselves not the world, although perhaps in doing so we sow the seeds of self-refection and growth, and in doing so make the world a better place.