Written by Raven Digitalis
Dark culture has been weaving its way into Paganism at a rate increasing since its inception in the late ‘70s. Though many people would like to think that all Witches and “true magicians” are dark, dark, dark creatures, that idea is anything but true. At the same time, I suppose it entirely depends on a person’s definition of darkness. In the case of “dark Witches” and “dark magicians,” (terms I use to describe magical folk who are attracted to darker energies and aesthetics), the definition is aligned with positive, progressive spirituality rather than so-called “black magic” or an equal hindrance.
In reality, a minority percentage of Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans are heavily involved with or interested in dark culture, including the Gothic-industrial subculture, the vampire lifestyle, and the fetish scene. However, looking around at any good-sized Pagan gathering makes obvious the fact that the “darkly inclined” are the some of the most predominant alternative people drawn to magical spirituality.
La Magie de Culture Gothique
Gothic culture in particular is constructed around an ideology of embracing the beauty in darkness. Sadness is a common theme, but isn’t generally felt to an unhealthy degree. Dark art differs from other art forms in the sense that it expresses the shadowy and mysterious. Through the wearing of dark clothing, mournful makeup, listening to or creating dark music, writing eerie poetry, and creating dark art, subtle forces are aligned with to some degree. Dark art is an outlet of personal transformation; something that can occur on both a conscious and subconscious level. Expressive arts of any kind serve as magical acts to stimulate personal growth, and many artists act as channelers of divine energies, tapping into vibrations stored somewhere in the collective unconscious. The necessity for coming to terms with humanity’s dark nature is immense.
There are a number of reasons for the overlap between dark culture and magical spirituality. For one, Earth-based practitioners are some of the last people to cast a harmful judgment against this subculture. Pagans’ acceptance of alternative lifestyles is a blessing to those who are so often otherwise condemned for striding their own expressive/philosophical path. Renaissance styles, artistic flare, an appreciation for unique music, as well as liberal political views are all embraced by a good number of non-Gothic Pagans, allowing for an acceptance of alternative lifestyles not found in other religious systems.
Many individuals who are drawn to dark culture—whether the extent be great or small—gain a sense of assurance when darkness is unashamedly honored in celebrations such as Samhain (in the Celtic system) and new/dark moon Esbats. It’s a sad-but-true fact that many people—even followers of the Pagan path—avoid the reality of “the dark side,” hence the rise of the dread modern “fluffy bunny New Age Wiccan” stereotype! Yes, our path seeks progression from the depths of unhappiness and unawareness, but that doesn’t mean that darkness is its cause. The association between darkness and “evil” stems from an obsolete, fear-based ideology. This view is held onto to varying degrees in modern Western society. The majority is unavoidably diurnal, sleeping the solemn night away without venturing exploration of any sort. When a person’s visual darkness is judgmentally associated with sinister motivation, discrimination rises for those who quite literally wear it on their sleeve. Luckily, this unfortunate malignment is subsiding more everyday.
For centuries, there was little if no separation between magic and religion. This view is still widely held by indigenous or tribal cultures across the globe. The division between these two elements occurred much later in time and was greatly due to Judeo-Christianity’s influence on the ancient world. Because of modern magic’s perseverance of ancient Western spiritual concepts, modern magical spiritualists of all sorts integrate the two, letting them dance in unison to a song of active global and personal change. As aforementioned, Pagan spiritual systems honor the actuality of darkness—and all it encompasses—to provide a holistic and balanced structure of worship. Witches, celebrating the lunar tides just as much as the solar (ideally), understand the unique magical force that nighttime holds. This same force is channeled in dark culture.
Without darkness, celebrations of light would be meaningless. Likewise, celebrations of darkness are meaningless without their corresponding “equal opposites.” The force of darkness encompasses aspects of the natural world like destruction, death, and decay. Without question, these darker aspects of Mama Nature’s cycle are in place to provide fluidity; a constant change, renewal, and rebirth of all things. Just the same, the darker portions of our psyche, such as sorrow, anger, and apathy, exist for the same reasons… the microcosm embodying the macrocosm: As Above, So Below. If these forces are sought to be understood, honored, and worked with, a special type of spiritual understanding quite naturally follows.
Dark Witches basically work magic like every other Witch (and generally have similar ethical views), but tend to keep focused on darker currents, certainly not dismissing things like blood magic, body modification, fasting, and emotional introspection. When dark forces are recognized for what they are, as well as the role they play in our day-to-day lives, these energies can be objectively honed and worked with accordingly, for positive means. Emotion and intention are the fuel of magical work, and the dark Witch or shadow magician seeks to bring these aspects to a balanced state. Magic focused on emotional transformation is a strong point of interest for darkly inclined Pagans. Without inner transformation, how can external manifestation occur? Our inner world creates our outer world and personal darkness cannot be pushed aside. We must examine our inner darkness, and that of the world, to truly become whole.
I believe that, for the dark Witch or magician, there exists a natural attunement of sorts to death energy. For Goth-types who prefer to express themselves visually as such, this is easily noticeable. In terms of dark art and philosophy, there seems to often be an underlying or overt focus on death. Death is the Great Unknown, and as such, its visceral reality is a point of focus in serious spirituality of any type.
Death is the dark side of a full cycle, and this energy can be utilized for spiritual means alongside the aforementioned dark lunar and solar tides—for death is the ultimate dark tide of life. Necromancy is a mystical, mysterious, and magical art that inherently appeals to many dark Witches and magicians. This has nothing to do with human or animal sacrifice (hey, many of us are vegetarian or sustainable eaters!), but with the harnessing of death energy. Goths and other dark culturists are not morbidly fascinated by death, but instead choose to recognize its power. Death represents the Supreme Unknowable and is therefore aligned to dark, Abyss-like vibrations. Though some forms of High Necromancy actually require working with the discarded shell (a corpse) of a person or animal who died of natural causes, more common Necromantic practices are concerned with the magician aligning to chthonic energies in a much less potentially dangerous manner through deep meditation similar to shamanic journeying. Necromancy and other dark art forms are appealing to Witches of a darker nature because they confront raw, undeniable energies of existence.
As darker lifestyles and magical spiritual paths grow individually, they will also continue to grow together. For those of us with a foot in each of these spheres, or even those of us who simply dabble in either, we must actively claim our role as alchemists of the dark. Consciousness is rapidly evolving on earth, and it’s up to those unafraid to face darkness, both of the mind and of the world, to help change the plane in which we find ourselves for the better.
The Elements Enshrouded
I would like to present an idea for connecting with darkness. A simple exercise such as this can be beneficial for any spiritual darkling. If you work with “darker” energies regularly, this can help keep you connected. Otherwise, it can serve as a pleasant introduction to the beauty and profundity of nocturnal energy. Keep in mind, however, that simply connecting to the energy of nighttime is only one form of that which can be called “shadow magic.” Because there are so many ways that darkness can be perceived, it naturally follows that there are many ways to spiritually integrate with such energy. Nocturnal energy is lulling and soporific, making an exercise like this perfect to perform under shroud of night:
Before this exercise, do some research into the metaphysical properties of the mineral kingdom; ideal reference guides for doing so include Love is in the Earth by Melody, and Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic by Scott Cunningham. Discover which stones are aligned to which element, and let your intuition guide you to make a selection of four stones: one as an offering to each element. You may have these stones on hand, or may have to purchase them from a supplier. Make sure to select good-sized stones rather than pebbles. Also, it’s best to ensure that the stones were not harvested in an unethical way, such as strip mining.
Find a black candle. Make sure that it’s a true black candle, that is, that it’s not a white candle dipped in a black shell. The darker the color the better, as the color energy is released into the atmosphere as the candle burns. It’s also a good idea to inscribe various symbols on the wax, and to anoint it with an essential oil of your choice.
Bringing the stones and candle with you, and during the dead of night, visit a serene, natural, and unpolluted area, even if you have to travel to get there. Ensure that the area is relatively private and secluded, and that it has a stream, lake, beach, or other body of water.
Put yourself in a sacred and slowed frame of mind by walking very, very slowly in your chosen location. If there are any cars, lights, or people around, try not to pay too much attention; allow yourself to enter your own little world. Allow this walking meditation to bring your focus to the nature that surrounds you. Observe what you can see of the natural world in the darkness. Look at the details of the natural world, admiring the intricacy and immaculacy of nature herself.
Still walking slowly, with much peace and calm, discover an area that calls to you. Sit down and bring your attention to the earth beneath your body. Run your hands through the grass, the dirt, the sand, or whatever is beneath you. Softly and slowly feel the grass, the plants, the trees, or whatever surrounds you. Fully bring your attention to the element Earth, recognizing its presence all around you. When you feel truly connected to the element, speak directly to it in a whisper. Tell Earth, as an element, that you appreciate, admire, and revere it for all that it is. Here, bury the stone you selected as an offering to Earth.
Continue in a similar manner with the other elements. Take plenty of time to stay “in the zone” and fully experience yourself in the darkness with the elements. Next, stand up to experience the element Air. Gaze above you, to the heavens. Observe the beauty of the starry (or overcast!) sky. Contemplate infinity. The cosmos stretches forever, and astronomers say that space itself is expanding. Reflect on the grandness of this. Inhale deeply and slowly multiple times, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Smell the air, twirl around a bit, and get to know this most sustaining element. When you feel a connection, grab the stone you selected for Air, and throw it as far as you can. As long as it lands somewhere in nature (i.e. not plummeted through someone’s window), the offering has been made. Whisper to Air your reasons for loving it as an element.
Next is Fire. Find a spot to sit down and light the wick of the candle you brought. Let it burn for a few minutes as you meditate and connect to the energies radiating from the sacred flame. Hold your hand above the fire, wave the candle around your aura, hold it high; whatever you would like to do in order to connect to the flame itself as a representative of Fire. When ready, whisper to the flame your admiration to the element and, for a few seconds, char the Fire offering stone with the candle flame. Blow out the candle, sending admiration through the wick’s smoke, and put both the candle and stone back in your pocket or bag. Burn this candle down when you get home (keep an eye on it) with the stone at its base, doing with the remnants what you please.
Finally, approach the nearby body of water. Connect to it as much as possible; if it’s seasonal, take a night swim! Or, simply soak your hands or feet in the water. Play with the water and let it play with you. Feel its serene fluidity, recognizing it as another mystery of existence, and one that both sustains and feeds life. Spend plenty of time connecting to Water and reflect on what it represents, both physically and metaphysically. When ready, whisper your fond words to the element and throw your offering stone so that it will sink deep within the watery womb of the earth.
*** About the author ***
Raven Digitalis (Missoula, MT) is the author of Goth Craft, Planetary Spells & Rituals and Shadow Magick Compendium, all on Llewellyn Worldwide. He is a Neopagan Priest and cofounder of an “Eastern Hellenistic” nonprofit community Temple called Opus Aima Obscuræ (OAO). Also trained in Eastern philosophies and Georgian Witchcraft, Raven has been an earth-based practitioner since 1999, a Priest since 2003, a Freemason since 2012, and an empath all of his life. He holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Montana and is also a professional Tarot reader, DJ, small-scale farmer and animal rights advocate.