This blog may seem glaringly obvious to some people, or perhaps utter nonsense, but for me it represents a recent insight and new way of looking at the deities I honor. I'm sharing my thoughts here for the reader to contemplate and come to your own individual conclusions.
Since I have been pagan I have regularly run across the concept of Dark Gods, usually deities of war, battle, death, or the underworld. The term dark in this case indicates an association between the deity and the aspects of life or the world that people tend to fear; Gods like Kali, Baba Yaga, the Morrigan, Odin, Ares, and Hecate are often referred to as being Dark Gods. Some people will advise avoiding such deities altogether while others will say that approaching them requires extra caution and care. They are said to be less forgiving than other Gods, generally, and harsher. Dark Goddesses often fill the role of Crone in traditions that follow Grave's Maiden-Mother-Crone division of the divine feminine, and Dark Gods are often said to rule over the dark half of the year, further associating them with things that many people perceive as frightening or negative. These ideas can be found in books, websites, and online conversations easily and have become commonplace beliefs in neopaganism. I certainly have fallen into this general line of thinking as a sort of default, even though I am dedicated to deities that are usually described as dark.
What I realized, after reading a variety of personal experiences from different individuals who attended a Morrigan ritual at Pantheacon, is that the entire idea of Dark Gods is, in many ways, an illusion, at least for me. It is based in a focus on the deities associated with things that we, as modern people, fear because we usually are disconnected from them. Most modern people, especially those with no direct experience of battle and war, look at these concepts as negatives to be avoided, and see the Gods associated with them in a similar light, whereas to our ancestors Gods of battle and war had an important place. Death is feared, especially in our culture where death is often portrayed as an enemy to be fought and most of us are removed from the reality of death since we don't even raise and kill our own food never mind deal with the hand's on reality of people dying. Even the underworld of the Dark Gods - home of the dead - is seen by some as a place to be avoided because to consider the underworld as a good thing is, on some level, to accept the inevitable death of the self. We fear what these Gods represent and so we fear them.
This view is also rooted in dualism, an approach to deity that would have been foreign to our ancestors (well most of them anyway). It plays into that dreaded either/or mindset that sees everything opposed to something else. To believe in Dark Gods is to, logically, believe in Light Gods, for if the Dark Gods are the ones connected to what we fear then the remaining Gods must be connected to that which we do not fear. When I think about it in these terms I can see that the entire idea does not work for me. The contrast between one group and the other seems to be a reflection of nothing more profound than a modern divine popularity contest, or a reflection of the historic filtering process where the pagan Gods were viewed through a foreign lens and categorized from that perspective. People say that Dark Gods are harsh when crossed or offended - are the other Gods less so? Doesn't mythology show us that any deity when offended is likely to react badly? People say that Dark Gods are the teachers of hard lessons - but are the other Gods lessons any easier? Or isn't it just that we can feel more comfortable with a Goddess of healing than a Goddess of battle, even though both deserve equal respect? It is true that the Gods usually called Dark are known for some of their negative interactions with people, yet there are also examples of positive interactions. In the same way the non-Dark deities are usually seen as gentle or safe, yet we can often find examples of them acting against our interests or punishing those who offend them. Balder is viewed as a God of light by many yet he is also a warrior. Aine is seen as a Goddess of the sun and fertility by some and yet she is also the consort of Crom Cruach who seeks to steal the harvest each year. The Dagda is a God of wisdom and abundance, yet he possesses a club that can strike 8 men dead at one blow. My point here is that the Gods are all complex beings that can never be defined in such broad strokes or absolutes.
There is also the risk with this view of missing important nuances of a deity by focusing exclusively on one narrow aspect of what that God relates to. The Morrigan is not only a Goddess of war. Kali is more than just a deity of destruction. Ares is not just a God of war. And in the same way each deity is more complex and diverse than any simple label can convey. To approach them otherwise is to reduce the deity to a caricature.
I am devoted to several deities often defined as Dark, and yet I do not approach them this way - they are simply the Gods who called to me and who bless my life. Really how can I call Dark, with all the implications of that term, Powers who have supported my life and responded to my prayers? How could I ever urge people not to honor my Gods, or even to fear them, when they have done so much good for me? Certainly they deserve to be approached with respect, but that is no more or less true for the Morrigan than it is for Brighid. And when we put so much emphasis on treating one group of Gods with such fear and caution isn't there the danger of becoming lax with the others and treating them with less?
In the future I am not going to divide the Gods this way. I will give all the ones I honor equal respect and treat them with equal caution, and be aware of the tendency to become too comfortable with the "Light" Gods and too fearful of the "Dark" ones. Because I see now that each individual deity has both Dark and Light, both positive and negative within them.