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Darkness and the shadow self

People often conflate ideas of darkness, shadows and horror, with ‘evil’.

But something that is ‘dark and shadowy’ is not necessarily something that is evil.

Many of the things I’ve liked through my life have been frowned upon as being something bad, possibly evil, depending on who you talked to, activities like listening to heavy metal, watching horror films, and reading weird books that bordered on the occult.

But reflecting on this as an adult, I would say that although some of these things have scared me, and some of them may not have been good for me, the vast majority never had a feeling of evil about them!

Not in the same way many ‘everyday’ things had, traumatizing me as a kid, from TV current affairs shows about fingers turning up in custard, to sinister ‘Do not Steal’ posters in supermarkets with a photograph of teenagers with black bars over their eyes . . . entertainment and information distributed by legitimate businesses, approved by government organizations, and viewed as acceptable by the general adult population.

I remember reading a horror comic when I was about eleven that was probably too grown up for me, but it had a story where a Priest is challenged to go through a maze of temptations by a smart-looking Satanist with a golden retriever sleeping at his feet. The priest accepts the challenge, and enters the maze; but he is seduced in a room full of beautiful women, emerging out the other end of the maze a fallen man.

The devil character starts to gloat about this achievement — but in a flash of inspiration and defiance, the priest suddenly grabs a rock, holds it over the dog’s head, threatening to kill it, and panicking, the Satanist falls to his knees and pleads with the priest not to do it

The priest then laughs, dropping the rock, a hollow victory having proved that the Satanist was not purely evil, in the same way that the Priest was not purely good.

A completely dark kind of Aesop’s fable, these were the kind of comics that back in the 1950s were the focus of a US senate investigation and a campaign to ban them for their sinister influence on young minds. My particular comic was from the late seventies, found in a second-hand bookshop during the late eighties, but it was of the same tradition. And though I can now see both sides of the argument, understanding where the parents and teachers were coming from, I still feel that the devil’s maze story taught me an important truth about life with a much greater clarity than I can ever remember experiencing at school.

In Jungian psychology, the shadow self is the area where many of our darker subconscious feelings, desires and instincts lie — and, if you accept this as a concept, then it is a built-in part of the human condition; as important to the lighter side of you, as night is to day.

And sticking with my corny melodramatic metaphors, I would go on to describe evil unscientifically as something that results from the stagnation of the natural flow of energy within an organism, big or small, real or metaphoric. Evil, in a historical sense, is usually the result of some kind of repression, where a person, or a country, does not express itself openly and honestly, and so it festers into something that comes out all twisted-up and uncontrolled in an act of anger, or great national violence, like a civil war.

Anyway, I know this is a strange post, but it is something that I regularly think about. Even though they are just terms and concepts for things that do not exist as hard material objects, they are still threaded through our lives and history, as abstract forces, which sometimes seem to take over for a while, during wars or personal crises.

And the reason I write about this it is that I feel there is an important distinction to make between things that are dark and shadowy, and things that are inherently evil. Especially in the 21st century, where people no longer like labeling things in religious concepts (such as good and evil), or even by using fruity psychological theories that cannot be confirmed with the scientific method (tests with repeatable results).

But I think that creative people still have the challenge of trusting their subtle perceptions of the world, by attempting to capture experiences that are new or unexpressed, and sometimes that makes it okay to revive older concepts to help explain something.

I would say that not all horror comics are evil, but to some people, they are; that’s just the feeling they get when they open one up, and that’s a completely valid feeling . . .  there have also been pretty normal films that many people have loved and lauded, but I have felt an underlying current of evil in it, which most people would find laughable, and not understand how I have come to that conclusion.

But that’s my feeling; I can’t change it.

So, subtle personal perceptions always win out at the end of the day, and that perhaps is the only guiding principle you can rely on, when it comes to working out what you like in life, and what things are for you.


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