Dark Paganism

By John J. Coughlin

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. 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 anthropomorphize 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.

It is our nature to fear the unknown. We cling to archetypal forms representing the aspects of some great unknowable, encompassing force, which we cannot comprehend. We call them our deities. This is not wrong; It is in fact, necessary since we cannot 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 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 the goal of Dark Pagans 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. 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 “Lightside 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.

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

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.