The word “Dark” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to certain deities. “Dark” is problematic for a several reasons, not the least of which is that it doesn’t actually say anything in particular. Dark is about as interesting and accurate a description of a deity as saying “interesting”.
Words and language are important parts of witchcraft. There’s that common meme of “words have power” and it’s one of the few areas I’ve found that most magical practitioners actually have something close to consensus on. So if words are Power and powerful, ought we not try to be a bit for specific with terms like “dark”?
Do We Mean Chthonic?
Persephone as Queen of The Underworld. Ereskigal, Lady of the Great Place or Land of the Dead. Maybe even Ceridwen, whose cauldron both inspires Awen and bridges the gulf of death, life and regeneration. Is this what we mean when say “dark”. The word Chthonic points us to those places in or under the earth. It comes to us from the Greek “chthōn, which translates to “earth” as in soil, dirt, undergrowth.
Chthonic is a fantastic word to describe a whole set of goddesses, gods and places that speak to us of decay and death and putrefaction and all those horrifying processes that happen to bodies once they’ve stop being animated. There’s a certain disgusting beauty about the chthonic. It speaks to our own mortality and, depending on your beliefs, the kinds of places we might venture to after our demise.
Do We Mean Death?
Perhaps when we hear “dark” we’re thinking of the Morrigan or Valkyries or other goddesses that deal with the realities and consequences of killing and dying. When we say “dark” are we actually just using an colourful euphemism for death?
Is this what we mean by “dark”? Dying violently, killing, losing one’s life in battle or some other horrible way? The prospect of death, and worse yet, the process of dying scares the shit out of me and the darkness of endless oblivion terrifies me, even if I won’t be actually aware of it.Do We Mean Dark?
Kali comes to mind here. Ferocious teeth, skulls hanging, constantly hungry and thirsty for destruction. Versions of her name are often translated as “The Black One” ( Kālikā) or “The Black Night” ( Kālarātri). Yewa, who lives in cemeteries and is characterized as ruling over the resting place of the dead, is a goddess from the Yoruban tradition. These deities are black or brown skinned.
Is that what we mean when we say “dark” and is “dark” the best way, the only way, or just the common way to refer to these powerful beings?
Dark Is Bad And Scary And To Be Avoided
For me, when I first heard about the “dark goddesses” I equated them with hidden knowledge and power and mystery. They were the deities that held the most intrigue for me. I mean, who doesn’t wan’t to walk to the crossroads with Hekate and learn the lessons that she has to teach, am I right? Stories of transformation and initiation and death are scary and, for some time, I avoided them out of respect, and an understanding that I wasn’t quite ready or skilled enough to work with that kind of magic. Let me be honest here, there was more than a healthy dose of fear present too.
Fear and a fear of darkness have implications that cross right over from the mythic to the real world, sometimes with very unintended consequences. I am not a person of color and I want to be clear here that I’m not speaking for P.O.C, but I’ve sat quietly in many circles and panels and private chats and public conversations to have heard countless tales that the experience of constantly hearing and having it reinforced that “dark equals bad, white/light equals good” is not only tired and played out, but actually aggressive and downright life-threatening.
When we refer to deities or certain occult practices and beliefs as “dark”, we’re more often than not reinforcing stereotypes that are truly dangerous and, not what we really mean.
There’s something on the order of 200,000 words in the English language. There are myriad ways to convey what these powerful, death-wielding, underworld dwelling, hidden, scary, fearsome, and destructive beings mean to us, without using the word dark.