A Chthonian Religion/Darkness

Gardeners of the spirit
Know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth,
As without light
Nothing flowers.

— May Sarton, “The Invocation to Kali”

Neo-Pagans embrace darkness and death as a natural part of the cycle of life. As Sufi mystic, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, explains:

“Initiates have always known that rebirth only happens in the darkness. In the moist darkness of the feminine, new life is conceived and carried. Should our culture be dif­ferent, reborn only in the light, on the brightness of con­sciousness? When we envision a future of technologi­cal or scientific progress, we avoid the dark­ness, just as we have turned away from the primal power of the femi­nine that is the real giver of life. And so the sterility of our disbelief surrounds us, because we do not dare to wel­come the darkness, the unknowing, the wis­dom of the feminine.”

Neo-Pagan deities often combine in one symbolic person both the light and the dark, the positive and the negative, the benefi­cent and the terrible. For example, many pagan goddesses from history claimed dominion over both love and war, and were de­scribed as both chaste and promiscuous. They combined nurtur­ing motherliness and bloodthirsty warlikeness. They governed the entire cycle of life, from birth through death. They were ob­jects of both attraction and fear.

Robert Elwood and Harry Partin have observed that in spite of our expectation of the sacred as something positive, “There is also a frightening dimension to the sacred; it may reach out and slay those who presume too much.” Pagan elder, Fritz Mun­tean, elaborates:

“These frightening elements require a kind of cautious awareness that honours them as a part of our psyche that cannot be rendered harmless by good will or reflec­tive meditation. Most especially they cannot safely be de­nied or repressed, for they are elements of the numi­nous, and what belongs to the sacred must some­how be acknowledged lest they act themselves out … By some­how rendering conscious and acceptable these subter­ra­nean aspects of the divinity—these suppressed un­der­ground emotions—we can legitimate the demonic and de­structive as having rights of their own on the strength of their therapeutic potential. But we must clearly under­stand that we do so at our own peril. … The same power that can give us rebirth can also drive us mad.”

Updated 2019