“Darkness, Darkness, be my pillow, Take my head and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow, In the silence of your deep
Darkness, darkness, hide my yearning, For the things I cannot see
Keep my mind from constant turning, To the things I cannot be
Darkness, darkness, be my blanket, cover me with the endless night”
“Darkness Darkness”, The Youngbloods, 1969
One of the very first times I ever spoke up about my work with Deities of an Infernal nature, I was met with fairly heavy disdain and informed that working with “Those Kinds of Gods” was a dangerous enterprise. “Why?”, I was asked, would I ever open my life up to such currents of death and pain and madness? At the time of that first asking all those years ago, I didn’t have a very concrete answer. I only knew that I had always felt a deep pull towards the various Underworlds, so much so that I often found myself seeking entrance during my sleep into what I knew were forbidden places.
As the years wore on, I gained a deeper insight of what it was that was pulling me underneath the feet of the living, and into a world filled with What Is No Longer. I started cultivating profound relationships with both the Gods that called those realms home, and with the ghosts, imprints and non-human spirits that inhabited that plane as well. And as I walked within those shadows, I also began to cultivate an understanding of who I honestly was.
That sounds MUCH less painful than it actually was. For every secret I unlocked, I had to barter away a bit of my already tarnished innocence. For every forbidden place I snuck into, I knew that I was being watched for deeper transgressions by Deities who could, at the snap of a finger, destroy me utterly and completely.
And… you would not be out of line in asking yourself right now, “no really, why would you DO THAT?”
Unlike those first days, I now find that have a proper answer.
Beyond what this path of mine has done for (and to) me personally, over the last few years I have seen many people take up what I term “The Infernal Thread” of different paths. The many-chambered Underworld is being courted by many more people these days. People who feel the same tug to explore the Darkness are crafting practices that are renewing ties to not only our own Dead, but to the Deities who reside within those realms and reaches. We are renewing bonds that were cut away hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years ago. In some cases we are establishing bonds that were never there before. For some it is a balance to their Dayside practice, and for others (like myself) it is an act of reclaiming the Lands of Erebus from the monotheistic idea that the lower realms are worthy of nothing but scorn, and are by their nature places of evil.
That last idea is one that is strangely prevalent in Modern Neo-Paganism. That “The Darkness” should be avoided at all costs (both the metaphorical darkness and the literal), and those that reside within it shunned as evil-doers. Pagans of many stripes are still afraid of the Devil it seems, by one name or descriptive idea or another, and that fear is just extended to the entire Underworld once they make the move to Pagan Ideals. As a Polytheist, I find that kind of unthinking fear strangely unproductive. (Then again, I have never met an idea I would not poke with a stick.)
For the record, I am not implying that the various underworlds are safe places by any means. Nope. They hide dangers unlike any you will ever face anywhere else, but you can face them. The qualities one masters within the shadows have immediate impact. The fears faced, the monsters mastered, and the false dualities imposed by society at large can melt away. Wholeness is found, power is discovered, and one can begin to see that the world has far more possibilities than what is illuminated by the Light alone.
And before this idea is simply dismissed, it should be pointed out that many times, a very large part of “The Heroes Journey” in many cultures was the act of descending into the Underworld, and coming back up changed. The word for it in the Hellenistic world, this trip into darkness, is Catabasis, a “descent or downward movement”. Often this descent was into the realm of the underworld, where only Heroes managed to go and come back from. This was more than a simple spiritual day-trip, it was a deep, life altering transformation. And in those stories, standing at the Gates of Many Hells, was often a Seer or Oracle helpfully placed to help the Hero on his way. And these Mystics were not acting as gatekeepers, but as map-makers of the realms beyond our own.
In today’s world we have very few maps left to us, and in an unhelpful twist, the landscape has changed as well. And while being the Map-maker is not nearly as glamorous as being the Hero, it has a place of importance that has been quite overlooked.
I will wrap this up by being very honest about what I see my place as in The Big Scheme of Things. I do not see myself as an important leader, a humble guru of any kind, or the creator of The Next Big Thing. Im a mischievous explorer who by virtue of actions long passed has access to places I should not. That access (and my mischievous nature) has led to me being recruited as one of many New Map Makers that this new era in Paganism and Polytheism is giving birth to. My area of mapping just happens to be the Lands of Erebus.
The Gaulish language had a word for the Underworld, as well as a word for “infernal”. There appear to have been spirits down there in Gaulish tradition, some spirits of the dead, some unpleasant spirits, and some very benevolent and needed deities. While the unpleasant spirits might have been better avoided, it was, and is, absolutely necessary to engage with the benevolent infernal deities in order to maintain balance.
Thank you for this post. BTW – I just love Robert Plant’s version of Darkness, Darkness. Mmmmmm.
I too have been called to those places. I like the phrase “What is No Longer”. I am a servant of the Dark Mother and She has instructed me that much of my work is to serve the Dead and the Dying.
I must admit that I have not done much work with the Pagan community in recent years – the community I was involved with (alas it was time to go our separate ways) however was not afraid of delving into things dark and deep. Also I have found someone in the shamanism community as well. Her name is Betsy Bergstrom. She teaches “middle world” work, which entails working with human and non-human spirits that are suffering and/or causing suffering including depossession work. What I like about Betsy is she is no nonsense and handles this material compassionately and without the drama (and deals with the possessing being, not just flinging it out indiscriminately). Too often, because of our over-culture’s idea of what death/darkness entails, Pagans and others who start on this type of path get caught up in the “oogy boogy”. Yes, things are real, things can be bad, but there’s also a level of maturity and calmness that I think should be brought forward. As you allude to Amorella, you must know who you truly are and be in your Power when working with these Beings.
Also, my theory involving some Pagans avoiding “darkness” is that they do so out of the desire to prove to the over-culture that we are not Satanists, we are not the “bad guys”, that we are “valid”. Or, it could be a hold over from their Christian/whatever upbringing – they are still holding on to those dichotomies and are trying to convince *themselves* that they are not the bad guys and that they are valid.
Thanks again, Amorella for thought-provoking writing!