There are many many more shades and colours to darkness than just black.– Martin Eric Ain (1967-2017)
I would to take the time to elaborate, as best as I can, an inquiry into the concept of Darkness as an essential postulation. What I mean by this is that I aim to present the contours of a concept of Darkness as a thing itself, in no way subordinate to Light, not even as a lynchpin of certain ideas of cosmic balance. It’s pretty common in certain circles to hear talk of facing and accepting Darkness, but not as a thing in itself, as a force to be reckoned, as anything intractable; no, only so that it may be admitted as part of something greater other than itself, or even merely as an appendage of a greater light. Darkness is something that simply and at all costs can never be afforded the same privileged position granted to Light. Always we are counselled to seek the light. But light is already everywhere, and we find it without seeking. We may step outside by day and behold the Sun and the glow of the day, surely beautiful as it is, or we may saunter into the night and see if anything an excess of light created by our own technical hand, such even that it sometimes obstructs the natural lights of the stars. What is inner, what is “deep”, what is “Other” and “alter” is Darkness, and the fear of Darkness itself speaks pronounces this to us through our instincts even where thought may fail to communicate it.
There is a long heritage in religious thought concerning schism between dualism and what might perhaps be referred to as monism, and all the while we see definite contrasts between two poles both within Christianity, whose spectre has yet shaped a large chunk of occultism, and outside of it. Obviously there is the familiar Christian dualism into which we are inundated and which we are, in many ways rightly, encouraged to overcome. But dualism yet persists, and is the actually existing content of much that we refer to as doctrines of balance. Michael W Ford, for instance, asserts his brand of Luciferianism as a non-dualistic philosophy aimed at apotheosis through cultivating “balance” in the self. But this balance is still a dualistic construction, in that it posits to essential forces, as representative of different aspects of the self, in tension with each other, just that by “non-dualistic” he merely means that one of those forces is not to be privileged over another. Of course, outside of this, there are contrasts where, even where Darkness is not dismissed as “evil”, Light is still privileged above it. This status quo, in my view, cries out for an alternative, for the proclamation of fundamental Darkness. In order to answer this inner and outer demand, it is vital to investigate the concept of Darkness as a fundamental and primary postulation, category, or substance; something that not simply compliments Light, but precedes and supercedes it. It is quite common in witchy circles as well to affirm Darkness as legitimate in itself, though still assert Darkness and Light as existing as necessarily complimentary dialectical poles, both not existing without the other. I, in my inquiry, long for so much more than this.
In full disclosure, this is coming from the perspective of a rediscovery of Satanism alongside Paganism, and part of the purpose of this inquiry involves forging a perspective that binds the synthesis between the two realms. In the not very distant future I plan to elaborate the nature of this synthesis in an article that, though it may seem manifesto-ish, wouldn’t entirely take the form of a manifesto at least by my reckoning. But for now, even in the presently-established context, I will say that much of my intentions for establishing the conceptual nature of Darkness will lean towards the more satanic aspect of that synthesis. I say this because in the process of all of this I intend to touch upon ideas that will allow me to point towards a concrete philosophical-ideological basis for Satanism as a whole that is neither the old LaVeyan/post-LaVeyan orthodoxy of metaphysical rational-objectivism as parsed via Ayn Rand nor the vague progressive humanism of either The Satanic Temple or their rivals, and that project involves the rediscovery of a radical and apophatic concept of egoism. As I wrote this article, I also waded into the discourse as regards nihilism, or anarcho-nihilism, even though I don’t necessarily consider myself one, and it is in view of this that a part of the hopes I have for this inquiry also involve but one way of assessing any philosophical proxmity to nihilism, and that the content I’m exploring may prove a good judge for that.
Dark Materialism and Averse Gnosticism
Starting this inquiry, let’s refer to Georges Bataille’s essay, Base Materialism and Gnosticism, a short discussion of the philosophical content of “Gnosticism”. The central thesis of this essay is strange, in that Bataille seemingly meant to argue that “Gnosticism” was the embodiment of an uncompromising and (from a certain perspective) crude materialism. But even here, there’s something to derive from his argument in terms of an original take on religious materialism. Bataille asserts that the leitmotif of Gnosticism is a concept of matter as an active principle that exists eternally and autonomously as darkness and as “evil”. This darkness is not simply the absence of light, but is rather the prime state of things that is revealed by this absence of light; a “monstrous archontes”. Bataille reckoned that the severed head of an ass, representative of an ass-headed god purportedly worshipped by Gnostics, alongside an overall “despotic and bestial obsession with outlawed and evil forces”, represented the “most virulent” manifestation of materialism. Strangely, Bataille argues that this is more of a psychological expression, rather than an ontological statement of matter as thing-in-itself. Bataille noted base matter as something that external and foreign to ideal human aspirations and thus rejecting any attempt by humans to reduce it to “the great ontological machines” these aspirations produce. In other words, matter, darkness, evil (by Bataille’s terms), these are things that cannot be subordinated beneath any sort of teleological mission or will as set by human thought, and perhaps because of this it bears the name of evil, at least insofar as the Good represents the moral, historical, teleological projections of human thought and its wishes for the world. Fittingly, the materialism Bataille attributes to Gnosticism serves an important philosophical function; to allow the intellect to escape from the constraints of philosophical idealism.
Of course, it is worth assessing Bataille’s overall position critically. This appears to be a broadly psychoanalytical analysis of Gnosticism as he understood it, and in this sense there is much that many Gnostics would likely object to. After all, no Gnostic sect had ever seen fit to worship matter or the archons, and basically all of them viewed the material world as something to be transcended, and spirit as the true essence of divinity in Man that needs to be excarnated from a prison called matter. Materialism, therefore, is something that would not ever be characteristic of traditional Gnosticism. Further, the only ass-headed god we can refer to is the figure depicting in an ancient Roman graffito depicting a man Alexamanos worshipping “his god”, a crucified donkey-headed man usually interpreted as a caricature of Jesus; it’s just that some scholars interpret it as depicting a Gnostic ritual directed towards either Anubis or Typhon-Set. Thus, however, the Gnosticism that Bataille would present is what Nicholas Lacetti refers to as Averse Gnosticism. It is a Gnosticism that privileges matter and the powers of the world over spirit, instead of the other way around. This Gnosticism worships a monstrous Demiurge and a pantheon of similarly monstrous deities as representations of the active and creative principle of matter and darkness, whose representation as monstrous deities befits an incongruity and adversarial nature that Bataille attributes to this principle. The adherents of this Averse Gnosticism make it a principle to never submit themselves or their intellects to any elevated idea that sets itself above them nor to the reasoning that allows for such elevation.
It is fitting that Lacetti connects this idea to the histoy of pre-Satanist ideas about God and the Devil, running from William Blake’s basically corporeal Christ and his apparent kinship with Blake’s Satan to the old French practitioners of black magick and Eliphas Levi’s denunciation of Eugene Vintras as a Satanist. Indeed, Bataille’s more or less psychoanalytical description of Gnosticism corresponds very strongly to Satanism as we often imagine it, to the extent that I would argue that, were it not for the precise absence of Satan, you would identify it as a form of Satanism. I can only imagine what Stanislaw Przybyszewski or Anton LaVey would have thought of Bataille’s idea. Lacetti’s analysis draws comparison to Eliphas Levi’s construction of “Satanism”, and while I think Levi was slandering Eugene Vintras it’s not something to be dismissed conceptually insofar as it clearly informs a great deal of what would come to be modern Satanism.
As Lacetti recounts, Eliphas Levi denounced Eugene Vintras, described his miracles as “satanic”, and accused him of brandishing “the devil’s signature”. This signature composes of three symbols and their explanation is revealing in that it yields both a legacy of Satanic symbology and a set of postulates readily embraceable I’m detournement. The first symbol, we are told, is the inverted pentagram, the “sign of the goat of black magick”, of “antagonism and blind fatality”, of the “goat of lewdness assaulting heaven with its horns” – ah, how many war metal albums have milked that last image in particular. This inverted pentagram is none other than the same pentagram used today by modern Satanists to signify adherence to Satanism, and which the Church of Satan prefers to claim is their symbol alone, and the goat of black magick, antagonism and lewdness whose horns rage towards heaven is pretty definitely Satan. The second symbol is a caduceus, but one without its central line, and in which the two serpents diverge instead of converge and the sign of V, or the “typhonian fork”, stands above them. This symbol, Levi tells us, represents the idea that antagonism or conflict is eternal and that God is “the strife of blind causes which perpetually create by destroying”; as it happens, as Kadmus Herschel has explained, there is a constancy of rebellion locked into the polytheistic cosmos, or at least particularly the Greek cosmos. The third and final symbol is the reversal of YHVH, the name of God, which would thus presumably read HVHY, which Levi denounced as the “most frightful of blasphemies” and which apparently represents the idea that God and spirit do not exist, that matter is the grand totality, spirit its dream, that form stands above idea, woman stands above man, pleasure above thought, vice above virtue, multitude above chiefs, children above their fathers, and “madness” above “reason”. In essence, the sign of HVHY represents the inversion or subversion of all traditional idealism and all traditional societal forms, with a view to their destruction. Taken seriously, this means that hierarchy and coercion are overturned on behalf of freedom, traditional morality is overturned on behalf of individual wants and desires, and the traditional norms of philosophy are overturned on behalf of egoism. Definitely a Satanic premise, and, I would suggest in contrast to the reactionary “apoliticism” of LaVeyan Satanism and to the progressive humanism of rival atheistic Satanist movements, that it is fundamentally an anarchistic outlook.
Of course, it’s worth remembering at this point that Eliphas Levi was essentially a Christian mystic, a common tendency for the utopian socialist movement of which he was a part, and in fact he seems to have identified his own belief system as “Catholicism”. Eugene Vintras, the man who Levi denounced as a Satanist, was also a Catholic mystic, just that he was much more heretical in his beliefs than almost anyone of his time. Vintras believed that the archangel Michael told him of the arrival of the “Third Kingdom”, which was meant to already be present for Vintras and his followers, which meant they were already spiritually perfect. This perfection was the real symbolism of Vintras’ use of the inverted cross, which was meant to signify the end of the “age of suffering” and the beginning of the “age of love”. It’s no doubt because of this, along with Catholic Mass being deemed obsolete and women being officiated as priests, that Levi concluded that Vintras’ heresy must have amounted to full-blown Satanism. But although Vintras was certainly not a Satanist, Levi’s construction of what Satanism presents a conception of Darkness as both an active force and negative condition comprising a multitude of states; strife, rebellion, multiplicity, longing, adversity, alterity, inalienability, and creative destruction, all in one state.
There is in fact one man who, it may be argued, espoused a form of inverted Gnosticism that worshipped a Demiurge and centered around a kind of ontic darkness at the root of the cosmos. That man was a Danish occultist named Carl William Hansen, a.k.a. Ben Kadosh. He was the first man in the world to actually identify himself as a Luciferian, the earliest reference to that effect going all the way back to 1906. That said, the actual belief system given the name Luciferianism can be described as essentially a unique blend of Gnostic Freemasonry, mixed in with Satanic imagery and possibly even an early Satanist edge, worshipping Lucifer as the Demiurge, identified with Hiram Abiff and the Greek god Pan. In his pamphlet, The Dawn of a New Morning: The Return of the World’s Master Builder (or, as I call it, Lucifer-Hiram), Hansen outlines his belief system centering around the Demiurge Lucifer and Pan. He espouses that there exists both an “active material darkness” and an “immaterial darkness” above it. The latter is called “the infinite bottomless” and a cosmic Abyss in which light is born, while the former is described as a “material wall”. The “material” and “immaterial” darknesses correspond to matter and force respectively, which conflict in order that life is created and destroyed and to produce the “Natural Fire”, the cosmic light represented as Pan. Hansen also emphatically rejects the idea of Light having been created before Darkness, describing such an idea as “absurd and a delusion”, and proposed instead that Darkness is the source and the abyss of matter, a position he claimed to have derived from ancient esoteric texts. Demiurgon (the Demiurge), or “Ildabaoth” (clearly Ialdabaoth), is an aspect of that Darkness which forms the basis of reality, and is given several names – Kronon (Kronos), Sheitan, Jupiter, Pan, Ophiocus, The Dragon, Satan. Lucifer, though the “Genius of Light”, is a manifestation of the Darkness, described as the energy of Darkness, the true light which breaks forth from Darkness, who derives his very being necessarily from Darkness. Darkness represents, “the end of illusion”, the unvarnished reality, such that the light of Lucifer is thus the power of Darkness to destroy illusion. For this, Lucifer is the enemy of the church and thus the rebel and “criminal” in Christian culture. The fear and terror associated with what he calls “shadow life”, emerges from ignorance and unfamiliarity, and that by getting used to it the “sinister atmosphere and emptiness” disappears.
Darkness as presented by Carl William Hansen is thus to be understood as an active force, an intractable reality, the source of life and the light to which it is superior. It is the supreme principle of Hansen’s cosmos, though perhaps not in the sense of a supreme being. Darkness creates, Darkness destroys, Darkness manifests as light which destroys illusion, Darkness is either two-fold or one, Darkness refuses anything that seeks to subordinate it away from its rightful place. This conception of Darkness is very familiar indeed to the way Bataille talks about matter in Gnosticism, and in a certain way to Eliphas Levi’s construction of Satanism.
Divine Darkness and Negative Theology
Now let us explore another way of looking at Darkness, one which defines it in terms of the apophatic nature of the divine. While looking into Rokkatru, which is essentially a Left Hand Path brand of Heathenry or Germanic Paganism focused primarily on worshipping traditionally maligned gods such as Loki, Hel, and the Jotun (not to be confused with Thursatru, which is essentially just Anti-Cosmic Satanism themed around Norse mythology and only worships the “thursian” gods), I read the Shadowlight website and came to understand Rokkatru in terms of worshipping “the nature of nature”, which, in this case, is Darkness. Darkness is held to be the underpinning element of reality, a fundamental basis that cannot simply be ignored or moreover acknowledged only to be forgotten. The curious part is that Shadowlight refers to how even some Christians seemingly acknowledge that “the core of the divine is darkness”, citing Christian mystical theologians such as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Meister Eckhart. Let’s explore such authors for a moment, and what they mean by “darkness”.
A quotation attributed to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite says that the mystery of divine truth resides in “the translucent darkness of that silence which revealeth in secret”. This is probably one of many ways that Pseudo-Dionysius had been translated over the years. A probably more accurate translation may be “The simple, absolute and immutable mysteries of divine Truth are hidden in the super-luminous darkness of that silence which revealeth in secret.”. But what did Pseudo-Dionysius mean by darkness? In Mystical Theology, he says that divine silence, darkness, and unknowing emerge when one has negated all names, speech, and affirmations meant to describe the nature of God. Darkness, in his parlance, is set beyond light and above intellect, and, far from denoting evil or the profane or even necessarily a lack of light, denotes a transcend unknowing, which is to say a knowledge of God that is not and cannot be attained through discursive reason. Damascius once claimed that the ancient Egyptians had basically the same idea, supposedly they said nothing but instead celebrated it as a Darkness, beyond all perception. Meister Eckhart described God as “utterly dark”, “the darkness behind the darkness”, and “the superessential darkness”. Again, here darkness does not mean evil or anything diabolical, but instead refers to the unknowability of the hidden divinity (God, of course), the eternally nameless mystery within mystery, the nothingness that empties the self and the senses in order to facilitate transcendent knowledge of God. In short, God is dark because he is fundamentally unknowable and inaccessible. For another Christian mystic, Angela of Foligno, darkness was a way of referring not only to moral and physical decay but to a “divine darkness”, which instead refers to power of the divine, or God, to both surpass human understanding and to annihilate the human in an ecstatic divine abyss of oblivion into joy.
All of this is part of a whole tradition of theology known as apoptotic theology, also known as negative theology or “via negativa”. Apophatic theology, in the context of Christianity, refers to the idea that God is to be understood by way of negation, which is to say that God is to be understood properly what God is not, premising itself on the idea that God is so beyond being as to be absolutely transcendent and unknowable, and thus unable to be described discursively. This is in contrast to cataphatic theology, which holds that God can be understood through affirmative descriptions of the perfections of God and his creation. Apophatic theology can seem obscure, strange, and sometimes even downright morbid for some, and sometimes there are those who accuse apophatic theology of practically being a form of agnosticism or outright atheism, but apophatic theology is one of the main traditions of Christian theology, whose influence can be found in many parts of the broader Christian tradition, arguably even down to the early fathers of the church. Darkness, in this setting, is less of an active force in the way that we would derive from Bataille, Levi, and Hansen, and more like a passive quality to be attributed to God so as to describe just how far removed from human comprehension he is. In Satanist and/or Luciferian you sometimes see terms like “luminous darkness”, or terms I prefer such as “bright darkness”, usually serving to denote the union between the previously separated forces of light and darkness brought together in union, in this sense echoing the concept of the sacred marriage (as in hieros gamos) as interpreted in psychoanalysis, or the chemical wedding found in alchemy and likely inspired by the The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. In Christian negative theology, however, terms like “luminous darkness” or “divine darkness” mean something different. Here, “divine darkness” refers to the quality of utter transcendence attributed to God, which is meant to be understood as “dark” because it negates the discursive word and the formal image in its fullness of divinity. Darkness as the space in which God is to be discovered is connected by Gregory of Nyssa to the Book of Exodus, specifically Exodus 20:21 in which Moses is said to have approached the darkness above Mount Sinai where God was, as well as David’s statement that God made darkness his hiding place in Psalm 18:11, and to the Gospel of John, specifically John 1:18 in which John testified that no one has ever seen God. In this sense, “divine darkness” means in the Christian context the idea that God is hidden from. Gregory Palamas expressed a similar concept in the term “dazzling darkness”, referring to an “unknowing” that is beyond knowledge and beyond radiance, and from which Palamas said the saints received divine things.
There is, though, a flip-side to this. It is very much arguable that the purpose of negative theology in the broader context of Christianity is precisely to preserve the apparent incomprehensibility of God, in this sense to reinforce the separation between God and the human which then reinforces the hierarchy of the church so as to stand between God and human knowledge. Further, it could be said God’s “darkness” is just as surely none other than light, just that the light beyond light is so bright that it is beyond sight, utterly incomprehensible I’m the sense that blinds human eyes with its brightness. God himself is still conceived in terms of light, suggested by the reference to “the true light” in the Gospel of John meant to refer to God’s incarnation as Christ. That said, Christianity has no monopoly on apophatic theology, and even among Christians it is acknowledged that Christians did not invent apophatic theology. Like much of Christianity as a whole, this idea has its roots in pre-Christian philosophy. The link between Christian apophatic theology and pre-Christian apophatic theology is usually credited to Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who was a major influence on the early Christian movement. Philo argued that, while the existence of God could be demonstrated, the exact nature of God can’t be demonstrated, because God’s essence is beyond all human cognition. Because of this, Philo argued that God could only be described in terms of what he is not, and that God is free from distinctive qualities and is not of the form of Man. Apophatic theology can also be found in the tradition of Neo-Platonism, in which philosophers such as Plotinus and Proclus advocated for the philosophical perception and revelation of The One through negation. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus is also said to have represented an apophatic approach to philosophy in that he refers to a deity that is “unapparent”, “unseen”, and “unknown to men”, and declared that the unseen and unknown are better admired than the known.
In ancient Greek polytheism more generally, it was believed that the precise forms of the gods consisted of immortal bodies that weren’t constrained by the normal limits of space, matter, and time, but could not be comprehended by humans except through interpretation, thus the forms of the gods were mediated through mythological narratives and visual representations, which of course changed with culture over time. The implication of such a perspective is that the divine cannot really be understood through the limits of perception and that it may be at least technically “unknowable”, thus we may see an example of apophatic theology as applied to polytheism. According to Verity Jane Platt, such apopthatic theology is probably expressed in Hesiod’s narration of an encounter with the Muses, a group of goddesses who remembered all things and granted divine inspiration to poets. In this encounter, the Muses travel by night, are “shrouded in thick invisbility”, and seemingly capriciously decide when to speak true things and when to speak false things that resemble true things. All representation of the divine must begin and end with the Muses, and the Muses may transmit divine knowledge directly to mortals, but the mortals can never be sure that the Muses are being 100% clear or truthful. Platt suggests that this reveals a gap between divine truth and the human ability to know and express it, which would appear consistent with apophatic theology. In this sense, the Pagan expression of apophatic theology is that the negative and apophatic understanding of “darkness” is not some byword for transcendent quality of the light of one God but instead a description of the condition of Divinity (or The Divine) itself, which cannot be exclusive to a single deity.
The Hidden Name of The Tao That Cannot Be Named
Turning our attention eastward, when it comes to apophatic philosophy and Darkness, many aspects of apophatic theology feel familiar to the philosophy of Taoism, whose core premise is that the universe is governed by a mysterious principle known as the Tao, which cannot be described, cannot be named, and can for the most part only be described in terms of what it is not. As it says quite simply in the Tao Te Ching, the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao. Much of Christian apophatic theology would make essentially the same claim about God: if God can be described, then he is not the true God. Indeed, the Tao, as the source of being, cannot itself be being, which is an argument shared by Western apophatic theology, both Christian and non-Christian. Much more curiously so, the same passage of the Tao Te Ching that I just referenced also says “The source is called darkness. Darkness born from darkness. The beginning of all understanding.”. What does darkness mean in this context, since it almost certainly has nothing to do with hot Christian culture popularly understands darkness? Some versions of the Tao Te Ching translate “darkness” as mystery. In Chinese, this quality is referred to as “xuan”, denoting the sheer intangibility, impenetrability, and mystery of the Tao. The Tao itself can seem like a passive presence of reality, but the nothingness of the Tao is not “empty” or “nothing” in the sense that we discursively understand those terms. Rather, the Tao also operates the universe in its rhythms and functioning, is itself a process initiating the ceaseless movement and transformation of things, thus it might be thought of as an active impersonal force.
Although traditionally the Tao cannot be named, there is perhaps an attribute capable of describing the Tao: Negativity. Of course, by negativity I don’t mean things like toxicity, despondency, morosity, pessimism and the like (although perhaps I could some day talk about pessimism from the lens of French Surrealism). Instead I’m referring to a concept explicated by Wang Bi, a Chinese Taoist philosopher who sought to produce a radical interpretation of Taoist philosophy that might also be commensurate with Confucianism. Wang Bi argued that the word Dao (Tao) is an appellation of Negativity, that is to say it refers to the concept of Negativity, on the grounds that it is vacant, without substance, and no image can be made of it, and there is nothing that it cannot penetrate or that cannot be based on it. But Negativity also has another meaning in Wang Bi’s philosophy. Negativity is also the ground by which all things are set into motion via dialectical opposition. It is the simultaneous contradiction and interdependence of opposing things that forms the basis of the cosmos. This idea of Negativity is also an important part of how Wang Bi conceptualizes Darkness, or what he calls The Dark (or Xuan). The Dark is a constituent of what Wang Bi refers to as Suoyi, or the “that-by-which”, the ground of being and thus a description of Negativity. The Dark itself is the aspect of both Tao and Negativity that denotes the impossibility of humans to speak of or discern it, but it also refers to the substance from which the subtle and the many emanate, thus it is the font from which the entities emerge. Darkness, then, is both the apophatic quality and creative force of Negativity, a power that grounds the whole of reality.
It is pertinent to note that there were also other Chinese philosophers, and not necessarily just Taoist philosophers at that, who have developed their own conceptions of The Dark. Yang Xiong believed that Darkness, or Xuan, was the source of all creation and the process of their sustenance and origination, and used the term to denote the body of Heaven and the darkness, ambiguity, silence, and indefiniteness from which all creation springs forward. He said that those who understood darkness upheld “the ridgepole of the Tao”, travelled to the court of the spiritual, and took care of the house of virtue. This Darkness is thus a creative force that, when realized in the individual, would allow them to truly cultivate and uphold virtue. Zhang Heng conceived Xuan as the root of Ziran, in other words “nature” or “self-so” in the sense of spontaneity, and the absolute beginning of all things, preceded by nothing. Ge Hong thought that the term Xuan denoted both the origin of nature and all things and a metaphysical oneness that pervades the whole universe. Well into modernity, there is a similar concept to the Chinese notion of Xuan that can be found in Japanese Buddhism, or at least in the modern Zen Buddhism of the Kyoto School. Its leading exponent, Nishida Kitaro, espoused a concept of Absolute Nothingness that he argued was the central locus of place for all things and defined as a creative element of the dialectical negation that is the epistemic source of everything.
The Innate Enlightenment of Demons in Esoteric Buddhism
If we stay on the subject of Buddhism for a while, we can discuss another concept of foundational Darkness that hues closer to the theme of Bataillean materialism, and for this purpose we turn to the subject of esoteric Buddhism in “medieval” Japan. One of the major ideas associated with Tendai Buddhism is Hongaku, meaning “original enlightenment”. Originally developed in China as part of a collection of Mahayana doctrines before spreading to Japan, Hongaku is the doctrine which holds that all sentient beings, or even all things in general, already possess the potential for enlightenment or already possess some degree of enlightenment, thus theoretically establishing the potential for enlightenment in otherwise unenlightened and ignorant beings. In Tendai Buddhism, this meant not only that all things, even animals and inanimate objects, were considered to be Buddha in some way, but also that all thoughts and actions, even deluded ones, are considered to be expressions of original enlightenment, without transformation or cultivation. During Japan’s “medieval” period, when Japanese Buddhists were assimilating the various kami of the Shinto faith into the schemata of Mahayana Buddhism, many gods were interpreted within the Tendai tradition as manifestations of original enlightenment, while in other sects they become aspects of the ultimate enlightenment of Dainichi Nyorai. As Bernard Faure has analyzed in Protectors and Predators: Gods of Medieval Japan Volume 2, this has sometimes even meant seemingly demonic deities or entities, including gods who were originally considered to be demons, were themselves manifestations of original enlightenment, and much more. In his discussion of the “earthly powers”, referring to a triad of Buddhist deities consisting of Bishamonten (Vaisravana), Daikokuten (Mahakala), and Enmaten (Yama), all chthonian deities that may share a demonic heritage and retinue, Faure argues that these deities functionally represented a way for esoteric Buddhism to think the “unthinkable reality” of a “heart of darkness”, the “sinister, bloody world” revealed by the deities, that is also rendered the ultimate truth from the framework of Hongaku thought.
This, of course, bears quite a lot of exposition. I suppose we should start with the category of “demon”. I would prefer to devote a separate article to the subject, and some day I intend to, but it’s necessary to explore the nature of the demonic in the context of Japanese Buddhism. Not a lot seems to be said about exactly what a demon is in the context of Buddhism, as opposed to the context of Christianity. The Nichiren Library seems to define “ki”, a Japanese word we often translate as “demon”, as essentially a kind of hostile or negative spirit, described as possessing humans in order to curse, revile, or shame others, or as being external forces that hinder or destroy human happiness. In Rage and Ravage, Faure says that, in the various Asian cultures encountered by Buddhism, demons were feared for their power to cause calamity and misfortune but were not necessarily regarded as “evil”. I’m Buddhism, demons could be converted into protector spirits or guardian deities, but were often regarded as perverse. Just as Judaism and Christianity transformed the gods of polytheism into evil demons, thus forming the basis of Western demonology as we know it, so too did Buddhists condemn many deities worshipped in local cults as demons or evil deities (in Japan, such beings are called “Jashin”). Faure ultimately summarizes the demon in the Buddhist context as “a type of reality that subverts and overflows the structure”, embodying a negativity that is “the very source” of movement and of life and which subverts the “en-stasis” often attached to Buddhist practice.
With that established, it may help us to consider the nature of the “earthly powers” being referred to. Bishamonten, even though he is traditionally venerated as a subduer of demons in his capacity as a god of war, himself originated as a demon and even retained the title of Demon King for himself. Daikokuten, or Mahakala, whom Faure refers to as “Fear itself”, was described in Japanese Buddhist texts as a demon who steals the vital essence of humans and roams the forest all night with a horde of demons who feast on flesh and blood. In Tendai Buddhism, Daikokuten was interpreted as a symbol of fundamental ignorance, hence “great darkness”, hence from his name the “Great Dark One”, but even in this way he, through the Hongaku teaching, came to be an embodiment of the ultimate reality. Enmaten, or Yama, a king of hell and deity of death, was menacing to the unrighteous and benign to the innocent, was seen as the ultimate ruler of the underworld, and was feared for his power to bring sudden death and “cut the roof of life”, the latter of which simply means to cut off ignorance. Daikokuten/Mahakala in particular brings into focus the idea that even the dark, the fearsome, the demonic as a representation of ultimate reality and enlightenment via the Hongaku doctrine. These beings were not alone. Snake symbolism was established both as a symbol of delusion and fundamental ignorance and as a symbol of the gods themselves, and in medieval Japan snakes were even seen as the “true forms” of the gods; as the Keiran Shuyoshu stressed, every deity always manifested as a snake body. As a snake deity, Ugajin thus sometimes embodied fundamental ignorance and the Three Poisons, yet Ugajin also destroys ignorance as a predator of toads, which themselves are also symbols of ignorance. The snake symbolism and its link to ignorance and the Three Poisons is reflected in Aizen Myo-O when he appears as a snake, as well as the god Susano-o and the demon Vinyaka (a.k.a. Shoten). The Keiran Shuyoshu also states that the snake of the Three Poisons dwells within the humand body; “Inside our lungs, there is a fundamentally existing snake body”. All of this, from the standpoint of Hongaku thought, also represented fundamental enlightenment, and the ultimate identity between ignorance and awakening; thus, the snake of the three poisons inside the human body is also the gleam of enlightenment. The wild dance of the demon god Matarajin has him produce the co-identity of defilement and awakening through the rhythm of his drum, as the performance of his acolytes expresses the endless cycle of samsara. Even Mara, the adversary of the Buddha himself, was once interpreted as a morally ambiguous source of reality in some esoteric Japanese Buddhist circles, along the lines of Hongaku thought, before being relegated to his more traditional role as an external enemy.
In this sense, we can parse a way of understanding Darkness as a ground of being for reality and an active force that represents enlightenment just as much as ignorance. The representation of this co-identity by demonic deities accords well with the logic of Bataille’s construction of Averse Gnosticism and the significance it affords to the monstrous deities or “archontes” whose worship Bataille attributes to this constructed “Gnosticism”, thereby presenting a ground of being and of awakening which is thus a transformative matrix of creative destruction and the enlightenment of defilement. There’s also a sense in which we can see applications of this ontological proposition to the politics of egoist-communism. The fifth thesis of The Right To Be Greedy declares that “it is upon this corruptibility of man that we found our hopes for revolution”. In the same sense, the logic of hongaku thought proposes that it is upon fundamental ignorance, perhaps even desire itself, that one may establish the basis of enlightenment.
Staying on Buddhism for a moment, it’s worth touching on the wrathful deities within esoteric Buddhism more generally, as beings like Mahakala appear throughout the world of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. With few exceptions they tend to look like how we might imagine demons. They have vicious faces bearing huge bloodshot eyes and open fangs, long flowing hair sometimes bound by snakes, fiery halos around their heads or aureoles covering their whole body, wearing only crowns and garlands of human skulls and pelts of animal and sometimes even human skin, brandishing skull cups and various weapons in their many arms, trampling over some diminutive adversary, and sometimes having sex with a female deity while doing all of that. Some of these deities, such as Yama, Yamantaka, Simhamukha, and Ganapati (a.k.a. Maha Rakta), have the heads of various animals. Because of their appearance, they are often interpreted as evil demons by people visiting Tibet, leading Christians to declare Tibetan Buddhism to be a form of “demon worship”; indeed, some believe that Richard Nixon denied sending foreign aid to Tibet in part because he found the image of Yamantaka to be obscene and demonic during a visit to Tibet. But even though they may look demonic, for Tantric Buddhists their actual purposes include banishing “demons”, a bit like violent divine exorcists, but more importantly their purpose is to forcefully remove all obstacles to achieving Buddhist enlightenment faced by the practitioner.
Their demonic appearance can be interpreted in a number of ways, none of them really “evil” by our common “Western” standard for the term. Its primary symbolism denotes the idea of “poison as its own antidote”, which refers to an internal processes of Buddhist yoga (no, not those “downward-facing dog” exercises; I mean the actual meditative practice of yoga) aimed at attaining enlightenment. This meant the means by which passions and ignorance are, rather than banished into the ether, transformed into compassion and wisdom. The idea of “poison as its own antidote” rings in accord with the way that Japanese hongaku thought positioned the seemingly demonic deities as we have already explored, and in fact the basic element of “original enlightenment” thought has deep roots in Tantric Buddhism. The Hevajra Tantra states that all beings are Buddhas, their buddha-nature merely obscured by defilement. In this sense, the idea is that all beings are enlightened Buddhas but don’t yet realize it, and the wrathful aspects of the self become transformative and ennobling in their capacity to realize enlightenment. But the appearance of the wrathful deities is also often interpreted as an expression of violence as a fundamental reality of both the cosmos and the human mind. In this, perhaps we might parse the idea of a violent ground of being that extends even into the nature of the interdependence of things. The Indian phrase “jivo jivasya jivanam” (“one living thing is the food of another”), denoting what we understand as the axiom that life derives from life, serves as a deeper articulation of the shadow of this interdependence; if all things arise from other things, if all things exist because of another, this means that life exists because of life in that it derives from other life, and the survival of many life forms, including humans, sustain their existence and generate their flesh from the flesh of other animals and the bodies of plants. To an extent, this means that suffering manifests via the whole network of interdependence, not just caused by desire.
The violent ground of being communicated by the wrathful deities also necessarily points us to the reality of death as a part of this picture, for it underpins a great deal of the legacy of religious understanding, mythology, and symbology. Even in Christianity, death lies at the root of the Christian concept of salvation even as Christianity strives vainly to conquer death, for the very foundation of Christian salvation itself is death, specifically the death of Jesus Christ, which initiates his descent into Hell, his condemnation of Satan, and his earthly resurrection followed by his ascent from earth to heaven. The old theme of death and rebirth found in the pagan worldview echoes even there, but is repurposed so as to suggest the hope that God will defeat the death he himself set into his own creation. In any case, death finds itself integral to the monstrous dialectic that forms one idea of Darkness that is core to our understanding of Darkness as a whole.
The Power of The Creative Nothing
In returning to Darkness as negativity, I next have my sights on none other than Max Stirner, the grand egoist who, in many aspects, doubles as the grand nihilist. Stirner’s egoism is not like the bourgeois egoism espoused by Ayn Rand and her followers, which centers itself on the sovereignty of a propertied rational subject or self-image. Instead Stirner’s self, his “ego”, is a very apophatic presence. Stirner says things like “I have built my affairs on nothing”, “all things are nothing to me”, and “I am all and nothing”. The self that Stirner espouses is a self that is composed of Nothing. The basis of this Nothing is not the colloquial sense in which we mean “empty”, as in lacking content, but in the sense of what Stirner refers to as the “creative nothing”, by which he means “the nothing out of which I myself create everything as creator”, the nothing from which the unique one is born and into which the unique one returns. Stirner himself doesn’t really elaborate on the nature of the Creative Nothing, but there is an apparent meaning and concept behind the phrase, and Jacob Blumenfeld’s All Things Are Nothing To Me may offer a helpful exegesis. The Creative Nothing is the source of the individual’s ownness, which is Stirner’s way of referred to individuality, or perhaps what we might call selfhood; or, as Stirner puts it, “Ownness is my whole being and existence, it is I myself”, which the individual remains at all times. That condition of ownness is also a reference to the extent to which an individual may create, maintain, or destroy themselves even in spite of constraints, and is thus meant to mean a consistent form of life as a much as a description of the individual. It is also an apophatic quality, defined by what remains of yourself when you all external reification has been torn away. The self, the I, the “ego”, the unique one, it is not reducible to one fixed thing, and cannot come from anything, except from Nothing. The nature of the Creative Nothing could be likened to time, in that time is the “non-thing” that destroys and then creates all things as its own, consumes everything and then produces it as its own, and thus is exactly the power of the Creative Nothing; thus, the Creative Nothing is the force of creative destruction imminent and characteristic of life, of the Darkness of Bataillean matter and Levi’s constructed Satanism, that expresses itself in individuality as espoused by Stirner. The apophatic nature of the individual self is defined by is radical difference, by the fundamental inability to identify each individuality fully and essentially with another, by the fact that the self can be named precisely for the fact that it exists is set apart from others in this difference – to put it another way, to define the individuality of nothing means to establish what it is not; that’s the negative quality of radical difference and individuality. That is why der Einzige, the unique one, is techincally the proper term for that concept of Stirner’s which we otheriwse refer to as “ego”.
The Darkness of the Creative Nothing is a force that manifests as apophatic individuality in its creative-destructive potentiality and its negative power of differentiation. It has no teleological character, and its existence is principally of itself and for itself. It takes in all beings in a way that is in no way identical to each other, and in all it is equal only in that for all it is surely Einzige. The Creative Nothing, as a condition or characteristic of the Einzige echoes the dark power inherent in the universe that expresses itself as the power of negation that produces Ownness, and manifests in multitudinous corporeality, and its active and conscious realization in living beings produces a state of active and conscious, indeed awakened (as opposed to slumbering) or even enlightened (as opposed to unknowing) egoism whose state of being may indeed be what some of us refer to as The Black Flame.
The comparison to time offered Jacob Blumenfeld invites me to consider the lion-headed divinity of the Mithraic mysteries. The exact name and even role of this leontocephaline figure is unknown to us. Certain inscriptions lead scholars to suggest that this figure was called Arimanius, otherwise known as Ahriman or Angra Mainyu, the ruler of the evil spirits and adversary of the god Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism. Other scholars suggest that this being was called Kronos or Aion, both Greek gods of time. A few others suggest that it is Phanes, the primeval creator god of the Orphic mysteries, or Zurvan, the supreme god of an obscure sect of Zoroastrianism. But for our purposes, it’s the symbolism of the leontocephaline god that matters more than what we call him. Scholars seem to agree that this deity was a god of time and change. Franz Cumont, attempting to reconstruct the Mithraic cosmogony, positioned the leontocephaline god as Unlimited Time, which was born from Chaos and created a “holy family” of gods consisting of Caelus, Kronos, and Pluto. It’s possible, though definitely not certain, that the lion’s head may link to the destructive connotations associated with Time in ancient Rome, linked to how Romans understood the god Saturn or Kronos. Ovid referred to Time as “the devourer”, the destroyer that nibbles all things away and consumes them into death, and in this Time was the agent of both destruction and metamorphosis. Saturn himself, the god of time, was considered a devouring god who was “sated” by the years and chained up by Jupiter in the hopes of constraining his power.
The power of the Creative Nothing is a destruction in its own right. It destroys and creates from negation, from destruction, from its own no-thing-ness. In the Orphic cosmogony, it is Time, or Kronos, along with Necessity (Ananke), that gives rise to the creation of the cosmos, the heavens and the earth, and the divine Phanes. The Einzige devours and makes its own, even doing so for the holy and the sacred. The power of Ownness, or rather the power behind it, operates as the force of a truly negative creation that is the true generative power. And Ownness has no teleological drive, in fact the Ownness of living beings often finds itself repressed by the phantoms of teleology. Its only “purpose” is itself, thus its only “goal” is its own endless perpetuation.
The Unconscious and the Power of Nigredo
Another concept of Darkness we can explore comes to us from ideas of the collective unconsciousness, or simply the unconscious, as expounded by Carl Jung. A famous quote of Jung’s is that “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”. But what does this mean? The “darkness” in this case is probably a reference to the unconscious or to the shadow, the confrontation, acceptance, and integration of which is central to the Jungian process of individuation. For Jung, the unconscious represented the totality of all psychic phenomenon that lack consciousness. This totality tends to consist of conscious thoughts or emotions that have been repressed, novel thoughts that are not conscious but will become conscious later, and psychoid functions of which we lack and cannot possess direct knowledge. It possesses a creative potential in that has the power to present hidden contents to consciousness, but typically requires the mediation of the ego. In Jung’s archetypalist analysis, the unconscious is typically related to darkness and the forces thereof, and the triumph of light and heroism over darkness and monsters is often related as the “long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious”. The shadow is the term given to hidden or unconscious aspects of the self, typically repressed desires or “uncivilized” impulses but sometimes also includes even “morally positive” traits that have been rendered unconscious – qualities that might vitalize human existence but which convention deems forbidden. Individuation is the process of self-differentiation cultivated through psychological wholeness, the unity of the conscious ego and the unconscious, which allows the individual to bring the world into itself.
It is important to understand that, although Jung emphasized the unity of the two opposites and ostensibly denies that the unconscious is superior to the conscious, his thought suggests that the unconscious predominated and enveloped human life to a profound extent. In his foreword for Lucifer and Prometheus by R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, he states that “in the last analysis, psychic life is for the greater part of an unconscious life that surrounds consciousness on all sides”. This is him saying that the unconscious comprises the dominant portion of the human psychological experience, a fact that Jung believed “is sufficiently obvious when one considers how much unconscious preparation is needed, for instance, to register a sense-impression”. It is this “dark soil of Hades” as Jung put it that is thus the ground principle of psychic life, within which psychic life sinks and from which it arises. It’s a worldview that is also part of a much broader conversation over the merits of rationalism as a way to understand and encapsulate the nature of the human condition; a debate that permeates many fields outside of psychology. German art was sometimes divided between figures like Aby Warburg, whose fixation on what he called “the dialectic of the monster” led him to appreciate a sort of sub-rational unconscious as part of his tragic form of rationalism as a way to understand the image, and Erwin Panofsky, who regarded all fixation on the unconscious as a mistake. That whole split between the unconscious and rationalism has very deep roots in the original split in ancient Greece between the then-new cult of the polis, centering around “rational” ideas of how to relate to worship and political life, and an earlier pre-Hellenistic religious outlook centered around ecstatic ritual and individual expression. The latter of which is decidedly connected to the worship of chthonic gods and spirits, and the chthonic aspect in the later Greek religion that we recognize is defined by Luther H. Martin in Hellenistic Religions as “a response to the spontaneity of the sacred, a voluntary association of individuals that embodied an implicit challenge to the official sociopolitical order”.
Staying with Jung and the connotations of the underworld, we could talk about Jung’s concept of Nigredo and its broader relevance. Jung defined Nigredo as a process of mental disorientation that attends the process of assimilating unconscious contents into the self, particularly the contents of the shadow. In Mysterium Coniunctionis, he talked about how self-knowledge meant a deep inner journey that led to a kind of “mental darkness” referred to as “melancholia”, which was understood as an affliction and/or confusion of the soul akin to the “dark nights of the soul” described by mystics. Jung believed that this was appropriately symbolised by the black raven, which he also thought was an allegory of the Devil for medieval adepts. Though, of course, the alchemists had a different symbol in mind. Jung’s description of the Nigredo more or less lined up with the way the alchemists themselves described it. To them, it was the process of putrefaction that cooked alchemical ingredients into a black substance that allowed for the initiation of a gradual transformation into the philosopher’s stone, which could also be extrapolated as an allegory for the spiritual “death” that preceded the renewal and purification that lead to the realisation of the Great Work. The symbol for this in alchemy was referred to as Sol Niger, literally meaning “Black Sun”. In antiquity, black suns were generally symbols of the power of the underworld in all manner of ways, and served as a cipher for various gods associated with the underworld in some way. So it’s not too surprising to see in alchemy a dark solar image, “the shadow of the sun”, used to signify a greater process of spiritual death-and-rebirth. That Jung links this to an allegory of the Devil is, while almost certainly a historical stretch, not incongruous with the legacy of medieval diabolical iconography, which derived not only from the Greek god Pan but also from a litany of chthonic gods such as Hades and Charun. In some parts of Europe, pre-Christian chthonic gods became local names for the Devil or even the basic concept of demons, such as the Slavic god Veles or the Hungarian god Ordog.
A pre-Christian pagan practice that may line up with the logic of Nigredo can be found in ancient Greek Sicily, in the time of what was known as Magna Graecia (“Great Greece”). In Sicily, Western Greeks practiced a ritualistic descent to the underworld, referred to as a Katabasis, involving the worship of chthonic deities such as Dionysus, Demeter, and/or Kore (or Persephone). These rituals entailed re-enactments of mythological narratives as well as an initiation that put the initiate in a sort of otherworldly experience characterized by the temporary dismantling of everyday self-hood, or “ritual death”, followed by ritual rebirth. Contact with the chthonic gods was in this way part of a process by which the self would “die” and “be reborn”, entailing a dissolution leading up to the moment of rebirth in divine knowledge.
To summarize, Darkness in the Jungian view is like a fundamental Other connected to life, part of consciouness, springing it into being, but lurking in the background of a consciousness that does not yet understand it. It’s something that those seeking individuation have to reckon with in order to achieve said individuation, if indeed that is still their goal. The raw stuff of psychic life, this is what comprises Jungian Darkness, and the focus on which is at the root of what modern spiritualities frequently refer to (whether substantially or otherwise) as “shadow work”.
Satan, The Great Anarchist and Nihilist, and The Satanic Negativity of Anarchist Nihilism
At the very end of this inquiry let us return to our most familiar emblem of the power of Darkness; Satan himself. In the past, discussion of Satan here focused on the literal separation between Satan and Lucifer, so as to establish the difference of meaning between them. But whatever salience that discourse still has, if we assume that this conversation is still to be had then an angle to be introduced is the idea that Satan means more than an executor of God’s will. Defining Satan solely in terms of Biblical myth, especially when the same is never actually done for God, misses out on a much greater significance afforded to Satan as an entity, and in this respect it is important to consider the concept of Satan as the embodiment of negation. Eliphas Levi proposed that Satan is the negation of God, whose true name “according to the Kabbalists” is the name of Jehovah reversed. Levi described Satan as a personification of atheism and idolatry, two things that would indeed negate the Christian faith (a very esoteric form of which, we should remember, Levi ultimately upheld as his own), but for Levi the occult initiate did not see Satan as a personality but instead a force created with “a good object” but which can be applied to evil, and which is an instrument of liberty. Satan, in this conception, is a force or presence that negates God and the faith built around God, and, in this exact sense, the instrument of liberty. This is on the basis of the liberating power of negation. By negating the Supreme Being, by negating all forms of moral artifice and idealism, by destroying all the efforts of one egoist to become the only egoist, Satan liberates the individual and represents the power of Darkness as the active force of liberation for corporeal-spiritual ownness against all reifications. Insofar as Satan’s most archetypical act is his ceasless war with God, beginning from his rebellion and separation from God, and, in some tales, his refusal to bow before Adam, Satan asserts his own egoism and ownness above the sovereignty of God and/or Adam, which is to say their respective egoisms, thus, Satan stands as the primordial egoist, the true example for all egoists, and his force of negation and darkness the power that runs through us. It is this that betrays the true significance of The Devil and of satanic rebellion, not mere reason.
Rebellion itself can be understood philosophically as an act of negation. Fundamentally, rebellion is an act of refusal, which makes it an act of denial. Per Camus, the rebel claims for everyone whatever he claims for himself, and denies for everyone whatever he refuses for himself. Admittedly, in this, it can be said that Camus presents a profound expression of the anarchist conception of freedom as a universal condition as expounded by Mikhail Bakunin. But while Camus was insistent in his opposition to nihilism in its apparent negation of everything that was not itself, in the end rebellion is a negation in itself. While Camus derides nihilism for its negation of all that is not itself, the same description holds true for his rebellion, for rebellion denies that which it does not embrace, thus it denies that which is not itself, and therefore, rebellion, in its erection of boundaries even against “total freedom” by the simple act of refusal, serves, in its own way, as a form of negation, just that Camus dare not locate negation as the divine source of both freedom and rebellion, perhaps out of fear that this would make himself a nihilist and a revolutionary at once. Stirner’s rebellion takes on a different form: the war of all against all. This phrase is familiar to many through the received political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, for whom it referred to a hypothetical (and practicality fantastical) state in which all human relationships disintegrated into a state of ceaseless and mayhemic violence in which people do nothing but abuse, betray, exploit, and kill each other in the absence of government, the state, or authority. Stirner, however, gives it a different meaning. In The Unique And Its Property, Stirner says that the war of all against all begins with the act of seizing and taking what you need. His egoism rejects the premise of private property, whether as something to be accumulated by capitalists or distributed/leased by the state as is the case for at least some forms of socialism, and instead, if anything, holds property to be universal and a matter of the individual or Einzige’s own assumption; put simply, “I alone decide what I will have”. Thus the war of all against all is declared when the poor, instead of waiting for the deliverance of property, rise up, rebel, in order to win the right to own themselves. Stirner says that, however much is bestowed on the poor, they will want more because they want nothing less than this.
Here we may parse Want as a universal condition of ownness, and I would argue the true of foundation of class struggle, which is why social-democracy or progressivism for its “war on want” is to be opposed as the deception and self-denial that it is. Want runs at the root of power and its destruction, because of the root condition of Ownness. I do not desire your order, I want myself, or I want something else. Therefore, I rebel. I do not want your desires, I assert my will against against them, therefore I deny your desires for myself, and in Camusian terms I deny this for everyone, because of Want. Want, then, is imbued with the power of negation among its traits. Seen in terms of the polytheist or Pagan outlook, or at least especially the pre-Christian Greek worldview, the gods are actually in a state of perpetual discord (a state of affairs which, of course, Socrates and others like him tried to oppose with their visions of a perfectly just and united cosmos), and the successive overthrow of previous rulers of the gods establishes rebellion as the core of a cosmos filled with a multiplicity of divine personality and body. Even the gods refuse, deny, go against the will of others, thus negate through the definite boundaries they set in their refusal, and the divine heritage of rebellion echoes into humanity and its inner spark of rebellion. From this perspective it could be argued that the gods cannot expect much else from humans, even if traditional religion even in a polytheistic context has not always fully grasped this aspect of Man’s relationship to the divine.
The dialectical power of negation in relation to anarchism is worth mentioning here. In Occult Features of Anarchism, Erica Lagalisse describes the way that Mikhail Bakunin differed from Karl Marx in their perspectives on Hegelian dialectical logic as applied to the state. Here, we behold Bakunin’s presentation the dialectic as clash between the “Positive” and “Negative” poles of the dialectic that proceeds with their mutual destruction which then culminates in their mutual transcendence, leaving nothing preserved, in contrast to the dialectic presented by Marx (and Hegel), in which contradiction is resolved through not simply the destruction but the transcendence and preservation of the “Positive”, or thesis, via the “Negative”, or antithesis. In application to the state, the dialectic of Bakunin entails that the social revolutionaries are the “Negative” of the dialectic, who then violently overcome the social reactionaries, the state, and the old order of which they are a part, all of which make up the “Positive” of the dialectic, the latter of which is completely destroyed and transcended by the revolution, after which nothing of the old order survives; this is the destruction of the state in a general conflagration. By contrast, Marx apparently believed that the state needed to be realized at its highest degree, which would mean that the state as the “Positive” of the dialectic needed to be overcome, transcended, and preserved in the dialectical process, allowing it to be realized anew in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat as it theoretically projects itself into a communist society; the same basic idea is clung to like a dogma by the Marxists that came after his time, even as Marx himself seems to have presented an altogether different view of the state in The Civil War in France. It is the presentation of Bakunin’s dialectic that is of interest here, because even though Lagalisse presents us wiith a dialectic involving a “Positive” and a “Negative”, the process of Bakunin’s dialectic is negation itself. It is the total negation of the old order, and it is destruction, which, insofar as it is still revolutionary, entails the creation of a new world, thus it is a creative act that is also an act of destruction (paraphrasing Bakunin himself). But this creative power, this creative destruction, and the transcendence it delivers, is only possible as a form of negation. It cannot take place as an affirmation of the old order, because the old order in toto must die and be reborn in the revolution. For the anarcho-nihilists that would later emerge long after Bakunin’s death, this reality of the dialectic of creative destruction perhaps leads them to the understanding of revolution as an act/principle of pure negation, total warfare against the order of the world, but without any prescriptive dogma as regards “the new world”. Satan presents this negation in his ceaseless war against God, the razing of the kingdom of heaven manifesting as the spiritual triumph of the dialectic of creative destruction; God will be attacked and dethroned, his angels driven back to the earth, heaven will burn, and once the old order is completely destroyed, only at that moment can the new take place, and the gardens of Ownness will flourish again with flowers of selfhood. Thus it is not for nothing that Bakunin and his fellow anarchists took up Satan as the romantic-heroic representation of anarchist ideals against God, the church, and the state, and herein lies the true legacy of Satan, so much more than the feeble confines of either Rand or the humanists.
Staying on the subject of anarchism and nihilism, we can get some incredibly valuable insights into negation, creative destruction, and thus Darkness from anarcho-nihilism, communicated specifically through Serafinski’s Blessed Is The Flame. The defining feature of anarcho-nihilism as presented by Serafinski is that revolution, properly understood and insofar as it is still regarded as legitimate, represents “pure negation”, that is to say the total destruction of the prevailing order of things, in the face of the abject dominance of that order and the death spiral to which it is heading and to which mankind remains bound. This means that no great vision of the future can be proposed or proceeded except by this negation, meaning that the new world cannot be born in the shell of the old. What Bakunin said about creation and destruction is extended into the axiom that the primary aim of anarchism as a whole is negation, which is to say that the overriding goal of anarchism is the destruction of all systems of domination and all that constitute them. This negation is radically emphasized over the defining of anarchism by any number of “positive programs”, which is to say any ideal for how the new world should be, within the existing order. As members of the CCF said, “the deeper we destroy, the more freely we will be able to build”. This essentially means that any and all hope of constructing a new world could only be preceded by the absolute negation of the old world. Negation in this worldview is justified precisely by the existence of its object – the ruling order – and not any attendant positive structures, which exist for the purpose of survival and not negation, and from the anarcho-nihilist standpoint this negation is at the core not only of anarcho-nihilism and not only of anarchism itself but also of all anti-capitalist politics. The contrary stance, that anarchism is not negation, is interpreted as hiding real intentions to no practical or moral end. The property of anarcho-nihilist negation is also jouissance, the quality of enjoyment or joyfulness that manifests as “uncivilised desire” and the richness of life that emerges from the act of resistance. Jouissance is something that cannot be measured against risks, rewards, or results, and cannot be measured as a teleological goal, rather it expresses itself in itself, through resistance and wildness in, of, as itself. It is like ziran in its self-so-ness. That is the anarcho-nihilist emphasis on the act itself. Strength, that is to say the strength that emerges from the refusal to bow and the capacity to destroy oppression, emerges as jouissance from the will to simply fight, regardless of victory or defeat.
In this, Negation is the true source of life, and is hence a creative destruction. Destroying the old order down to its last vestiges, without yielding to the concept of futurity or the idea of a rational struggle for human progress, alone leads to creation as a jouissant phenomenon. The new world is not born in the shell of the old but in its ashes. Darkness is that timeless power of negation which is the true source of life, and even the brightest lights. It reduces things to ash and nothingness and is in this destruction the source of the potentiality of creation that gives rise to life, thus life itself. In Darkness, creation and destruction are indistinguishable from each other. Satanism itself contains this wisdom, and when Stanislaw Przybyszewski emerged the critics of Satanism knew it. Constantin Ponomareff, for instance, had observed “liberating impulses for renewal” in what he called “the intrinsic nihilism of the symbolist sensibility”. He may have been describing an apparent fin-de-siecle artistic/romantic Satanism found in the Decadent movements in Russia and Poland, among the latter of which we find the first self-declared Satanist: Stanislaw Przybyszewski. Przybyszewski’s Satanism has certain elements suggestive of a broader nihilist outlook, perhaps familiar to the anarcho-nihilism previously discussed. In Satan’s Children, the character Gordon opposes one of his comrades for his desire to build a future directed around “socialist principles” by suggesting that it was better to destroy the order of the world for the sake of negation, as is suggestible by his statement that Napoleon would have been a god (or more accurately a Satan) to him if he had overthrown kings without instating new ones and dissolved the order of things without creating a new one. Satan is described as “the God who speaks through the deed, and incites the deed”, from which we may gather that Satan favours and is expressed through acts of liberation (hence, negation) in themselves and not their teleological significance. In The Synagogue of Satan, Satan is established as the great liberator and God the great oppressor, but in this Satan is not merely the author of science and all the great “humanistic” arts and virtues but also the god of lawlessness and defiance in themselves. Przybyszewski’s conception of Satan and the “evil” (and for him evil is affirmative) he represents possesses a further agonistic quality, the darkness of the soul linked to the presence of pain and the absence of happiness, suffering and dissatisfaction linked to progress and evolution. Satan is also an abject embodiment of sexuality, which for Przybyszewski is also the engine of human creativity and individuality, and sexual desire is framed as both the eternal creativity and the remodeling-destructive. In all of this Satan as presented by Stanislaw Przybyszewski represents the force of creative-destruction and negation expressed as cosmic anarchy and lawlessness, all natural to humans and the driving force of the growth and freedom of life.
Przybyszewski’s conception of Satanism hues very closely to the Russian nihilist movement that emerged in the late 19th century. This nihilism tended to mean a political and social belief in the negation of all social authority. In Ivan Turgenev’s novel, Fathers and Sons, a nihilist is defined as someone who “does not bow down before any authority, who does not take any principle on faith, whatever reverence that principle may be enshrined in.”. It also seems to have been a term used to refer to a broader philosophy of epistemological and moral skepticism that was developed in Russia at that time. The young Russian nihilists were completely against the traditionalist establishment and also disappointed with the progressive reformists of their day, and so they found themselves opposed to both at once. Nihilism has been characterized as a demand for “nakedness”, meaning the “stripping from oneself of all the trappings of all culture, for the annihilation of all historical traditions for the setting free of the natural man, upon whom there will no longer be fetters of any sort”. That basic idea accords well with Przybyszewski’s concept of the “naked soul”, a pure soul or self that is stripped of all social constraints and which he believed was accessed by artists who managed to transcend normal cognition and the five senses. It’s also an idea echoed by anarcho-nihilists to this day. In fact, the Russian nihilists themselves, such as Sergey Nechayev, were uncompromising in their opposition to both the state and the church. Other anarchists have taken up support for nihilism in Russia and beyond. The Russian anarcho-communist theoretician Pyotr Kropotkin, in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist, defended nihilism from being construed as terrorism, and argued that nihilism was an affirmation of the rights of the individual and a negation of all hypocrisy, and because of this a “a first step toward a higher type of men and women”. Encyclopedia Britannica likely interpreted this stance as Kroptokin having “defined nihilism as the symbol of struggle against all forms of tyranny, hypocrisy, and artificiality and for individual freedom.”. In Italy, the individualist anarchist Renzo Novatore frequently called himself a nihilist on the basis of having defined nihilism as negation, meaning of the negation of “every society, of every cult, of every rule and of every religion” and the rejection of all retreat from life as it is. The negation inherent in Mikhail Bakunin’s precept of the unity of destruction and creation and his statement “Let us therefore trust the eternal Spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternal source of all life” has sometimes been argued as the influence of nihilism upon Bakunin’s thought. And of course, how can we forget Max Stirner, who set his affairs on Nothing. Although anarcho-nihilism is itself its own tendency defined by a set of ideas about anarchism and negation that distinguish it from the “mainstream” of contemporary anarchism, in all reality nihilism has always been sort of a part of the history of anarchist thought and at least some aspect of it makes anarchism as a tradition of political philosophy what it is. Many founding figures of anarchism were never big opponents of nihilism, and at least some actually supported it. Ultimately, thought, what matters about all of this is the tradition of negation, in an active political and philosophical sense, that lies at the core of nihilism or anarcho-nihilism, and the extent to which it relates to the concept of Darkness that has been discussed at length thus far, to Satan, and to Satanism as a living concept with a radical heritage that extends past the claims of authority established by Anton LaVey and his acolytes.
In the admittedly very Christian-influenced tradition of Western occultism, Satan has almost always represented the power of negation. I have already outlined Levi’s views on Satan as the principle of negation, and how this was the true nature of his role as instrument of liberty. Stanislas le Guaita, a French occultist taking after Eliphas Levi, presented an inverted pentagram with the goat’s head in his book The Key to Black Magic. He described the original pentagram as a symbol of the “Magician of Light” that “transmits the power of the Divine Plan”, and described the inverted pentagram as “nothing more than a symbol of iniquity, perdition, and blasphemy”, whose horns rise from the mud to attack heaven. This subversion, of course, can be thought of as necessarily a negation of the “Divine Plan”. Ideas about Satan as “the eternal negation” are not uncommon in mysticism as well as religious and literary commentary. Among the literary tradition of Romantic Satanism itself, Lord Byron’s Satan, or rather Lucifer, as he appears in Cain tells the titular protagonist that the sum of human knowledge is “to know mortal nature’s nothingness”. In Ernst Schertel’s Magic: History, Theory, and Practice, we find a conception of the “satanic” not dissimilar to the ideas of Stanislaw Przybyszewski, in that Schertel casts Satan as a creative, “value-setting”, “value-increasing” principle, a “fertilizing, creative-destroying warrior”, set against Seraph, the resting, preserving, “value-effecting” principle, the spirit of possession and peace. The “satanic” is described as meaning “kinetic”, “actuality”, “ektropic”, or “free energetic valence”. In theory, this can sound like the opposite of negation, but Schertel insists that “Evil is the dark-violent, irrational, destructive-creative”, that this is the principle of Satan, and, citing Schelling, this principle is “nothing less than nothing else but the original cause of existence, insofar as it is striving towards actualization in the created being”. Hell in this view is the “pre-world” of pure potentiality, the power of evil being the raw potency that, in Schertel’s view inexorably arcs towards the created world of Seraph. Such is the meaning of that cryptic phrase “Satan is the beginning, Seraph is the end”, but the latter is not greater than the former and Satan is in everything that lives and appears, lying in the depths that he might break through again. Thus darkness, thus Satan, thus an unreasonable depth is the source and heritage of reality and creation. Satan, then, is a sort of “ground of being” for the universe.
A more literal interpretation of Satan parsed from the source material of the Bible would position Satan as an entity as The Satan, a title for a generic adversary or the name of an angel in God’s court charged with the prosecution of mankind on his orders. This, admittedly, is an interpretation I held when I was more attached to Luciferianism in particular, which obviously required a strict distinction between Lucifer as God’s adversary and Satan as God’s angel; but of course, the reality that approaches me nowadays is not so straightforward in view of history. From the New Testament’s hint of Satan as a larger and less tangible force against the work of God, to the occult legacy of Satan as a force of negativity, there is always more to Satan than appears in any static literary form. And since I’m still talking about the concept of Satan as negativity, let’s assess his role in the system of Kabbalah, or more particularly his place in the Qliphoth. The Qliphoth are the “impure” forces within creation born from an event referred to as “the breaking of the vessels”, caused by the overflowing of the light of Geburah. Their function is seemingly to continually perpetuate destruction through their contact with and enveloping of the seed of God’s creation, and in Western occultism they are collectively referred to as the Tree of Death, the reverse or “other side” (Sutra Ahra) of the Tree of Life. Satan, in this arrangement, represents Thaumiel, the inverse of the sephirah Kether. Whereas Kether represents the singular and indivisible unity of God, Thaumiel represents the aggressive tension between two poles that suggests intractable conflict instead of indivisible unity; whereas in Kether all is united, in Thaumiel all is divided. Satan, alongside Moloch, can be understood as the Prince of Division (to paraphrase Guy Debord), and their presence emblematic of a warlike urgrund or concept thereof meant to contrast with the divine urgrund of God’s unity as presented by the system of Kabbalah.
Conclusion: Towards A Theory of Darkness
So, we have traversed many ideas of how to look at Darkness in this article. What can we learn from them so as to summarize our conception of Darkness? We might be able to parse from all of this a concept of Darkness as an active-negative force that serves as the urgrund of authentic creative process. Darkness might also be thought of as a condition of negativity in a broader and more abstract sense, as well as active negativity, that negativity which destroys and then creates in the ashes of the destroyed. Darkness inasmuch as it relates to “the demonic”, accrues a “monstrous” quality via its negative power, in that it is, in an apophatic sense, not “the light”, but also in a more active sense a destroyer of the fetters affixed to “the light”. Because of the consistent themes of philosophical negation and negativity I have been able to parse from these diverse conceptions of Darkness, it may in fact be prudent to understand negativity as the primary characteristic of Darkness. Of course we probably shouldn’t overlook the idea of Darkness as mystery, as denoting a kind of quality of occultation and alterity. This aspect of negativity, drawing from the apophatic quality, might position Darkness as the Other that is presented via the Jungian unconscious. But then Darkness is not entirely other, in that haunts us as the soil of life and the engine of our very selfhood. Perhaps we could look at it as a compound concept.
Insofar as we may discuss the concept of a violent – no, the better word is perhaps wild – ground of being, parsed from Esoteric Buddhism and Satanism among other sources discussed here, I think it is actually worth considering if it is not more worthwhile to treat it as somewhat broader than Darkness in the strict sense, a conception of Chaos in the sense that I might have thought about for a long time. But it’s worth noting that Chaos in the world of the ancients was more specifically a pre-state of formless and undifferentiated potentiality, or an original state of jumbled matter, than the dialectic being described here. Perhaps the question of Chaos, and indeed Wildness as a concept, is best saved for separate articles, though perhaps it is also worth considering that multiple principles of this nature operate rhizomatically in multiplicitous cosmos. The dialectic of rebellion in conjunction with violence presented in my treatment of egoism, hongaku thought, interdependence, and Satanism, may in fact point to that dialectic comprising a greater abstract force to be dubbed perdition, whose emblem, at least as far as Western occultism is concerned, is none other than the goat and its pentagram, and hence Satan. No doubt this conception should provide depth and charge to Satanism as a creed and worldview, especially insofar we may say that perdition is the only true “law” in the universe, but it also calls upon a heritage of pre-Christian concepts such that I will argue that it may constitute at least part of a Pagan worldview. We can refer what I have discussed earlier about the rebellion inherent in the Greek cosmos, we may also refer to the dialectic of successive conflict that proceeds the creation and destruction of the North Germanic cosmos, and perhaps there is still more room to consider Mesopotamian cosmos similarly.
In any case, as long as we are at this point, and we have some idea how to establish Darkness as a concept, even if possibly a compound concept, there is but one elephant in the room: what to make of Light? I feel like that ought to be its own article, but in the sense that opposites attract it is fitting I try to address it to some extent here. If we relate Darkness to the source of things, to a concept of a negative ground of being, then light is one of the things that issues out from it., eventually sucked back in, and eventually re-emerging, and so on, and so forth. What we understand thematically as “Light” is often tied to ideas about consciousness, which society and countless generations of philosophical thought set against the impenetrable unconscious, and this consciousness itself owes its existence to the chain of creation and destruction set by that same ground of being, and derives its sense of self-awareness from that same impenetrable unconscious. In thinking about it for this article, I have sometimes thougt about Light in terms of the way Guo Xiang, yet another ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher, talks about “traces”. A “trace”, in Guo Xiang’s thought, is a footprint of an original actuality, an echo of the original self-so or spontaneity that we may read as the original self-so but which is ultimately not the original self-so or spontaneity. But when a person comprehends the traces, they don’t comprehend their origin. Laws, for example, are what Guo Xiang regards as traces of “marvellous events”, and the latter is to be proclaimed over than the former. Darkness, in Guo Xiang’s thought, is a way of referring to the original spontaneity preceding the “trace”, such that his concept of “darkening” means to dissolve trace-cognition so as to harmonize yourself with the original spontaneity and self-so of the original Wu, or Non-Being. The dark spontaneity of Non-Being, originary spontaneity, leaves traces that suggest teleological will and light, which must be surpassed in order to grasp the original spontaneity. The discussion of Being versus Non-Being is not irrelevant here in that light, if it corresponds to anything, probably corresponds to Being, like the concept of God, and darkness with Non-Being. But if Being proceeds from a ground of being, theoretically that would make Being dependent on that ground as its point of origination. Philosophers like Tillich would posit that God is this ground, but God is just one more Being, one more consciousness, one more light, his creation one more trace of the spontaneous power of Darkness.
Light issues forth from Darkness, not as a binary opposite to some equal and antagonistic power (or at least, not antagonistic outside the sense that Light sets itself against a Darkness it feels it must vanquish or dominate), but was one of the countless products of the negative ground of being, the creative nothing of the universe, in the same way our selfhood and any fixed ideas about ourselves are mere traces of the creative nothing that is our “true” selfhood. There are lights out there, that is there are things that produce light, ourselves included, but they are small parts of an infinite larger field of cosmic being, a field whose source is dark instead of light. To alight the Black Flame is to take up the creative nothing of ourselves, the inner negativity of life, and the shadow that is other and inward to us, as the active force of our being and power, to activate the true nature of ourselves and of things. It is to hold ourselves to the root, as Wang Bi said, that is to say we hold ourselves to Darkness, wield the power of negation, with our eyes alight with the light of profane illumination as Walter Benjamin saw it, against all of the illusions before us. The enlightenment that proceeds from this, from our depths in the underworld, this light of our profane illumination, that is the true dark sun in us.