by Stacey Warde
My life, as the lives of so many others, has been playing itself out like a bad dream.
I’ve entered the dreaded dark wood of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which begins with the Inferno, where gods and holy personages, the people we thought had our best interests at heart, are seen for what they really are: Evil, gluttonous, corrupt, and villainous. I’ve met my share of them, mostly, like Dante, in the church.
It’s almost 3:30 a.m. and the neighbor’s dog complains through the window next door to be let inside. Her owner sleeps soundly through the plaintive barks.
The moon will be full in less than an hour.
A distant great horned owl hoots, echoing into the crystal blue moonlit shroud covering the surrounding valley. A cop prowls with his lights off, driving slowly, like a drunkard, down the wrong side of the road.
Another car passes every few minutes, the whir of its tires against the cold, blue asphalt sounds like the sudden splash of surf rushing up black sand on a winter night.
Who the hell would be out driving at 3:30 in the morning? And where could they possibly be going? Or, coming from? What occupies their hearts and minds?
It doesn’t make sense to me, the quiet slinking under cover of darkness. Few things do in the underbelly of night, and even more so in the broad light of day when the slinking of ill-intent is less obvious.
This journey of the dark night leaves me with many questions. But one, more than any other, stands out: Where do I belong?
The flat, two-dimensional view of life in popular American culture — good and evil, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight — no longer serves as an adequate guidepost for what is real.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And worse, the church, that paragon of all that is good and virtuous in American life, and which claims to know the “Way,” stumbles blindly, reeking of its own hypocrisy, meanness and wrongdoing, unable even to guide itself.
Without a Virgil, I’m lost. We’re all lost. The gods are silent but stirring.
I’ve given up on church and religion. Its answers about God — “The God” — sound like crystal shattering in my ear. They feel trite, contrived and false; wishful thinking and adolescent fantasies. A moment of silence and prayer for the lost? How about weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth?
The New Age solution to think positively makes me want to puke. It’s whistling in the dark.
I think of Job in the Hebrew scriptures, the most modern book ever written. There are no easy answers. Not even the wisest, most orthodox or even hip person can answer Job’s complaint. His sufferings, as the worlds’, are an anomaly.
And God — “El Shaddai,” the Hebrew word for Almighty — what is God in that story? A cruel and arrogant brute not unlike the Greek gods of antiquity who sadistically toy with their helpless supplicants.
El Shaddai, or rather his consort, Satan with El Shaddai’s consent, murders Job’s 10 children, destroys his household and property, mercilessly assaults Job’s body with disease until he is covered in boils, lamenting his woes, alone in an ash heap. Job, longsuffering and faithful to the bitter end, is the only one who remains virtuous. Even God fails to answer Job’s complaint.
Like Job, I demand an audience with the Almighty to lodge my complaint, and claim my innocence, to protest the senseless suffering of so many. There’s no plausible reason for these sufferings, for the bad dream I’ve been living in concert with others.
“You create your own reality,” one of Job’s New Age friends tells him.
“You’re full of it,” he answers back. “If I create my own reality, what do I need God for? What do I need you for?”
Unlike Job, however, I’ve given up on God, at least the one I have known until now, the one who is All-Everything except dark, contrary, mysterious and evil.
I should consider myself lucky, a friend told me recently, that the Inquisitor isn’t shoveling hot coals onto my disemboweled intestines. He’s right. Five-hundred years ago, my body would have been splayed open and savagely torn apart for spreading heresy against the church.
But I know the real reason for such holy violence. I know, as do Dante and Virgil, the dark secrets and lies that bishops and priests keep safely tucked under their pious collars, how vicious and mean and cowardly they are, how much they deserve their painful, eternal sufferings.
I don’t believe in the devil, another Christian contrivance conceived as the bugaboo of all that is horrible, painful and unexplainable. The devil, the dark god, if you will, is, I believe, just another face of God, if God is the Ultimate Reality.
The primitives knew this long before the church fathers turned the One God into two — black and white, body and spirit, good and evil, God and Satan. Our ancestors understood there was no difference, only shades of grey, turning from light to dark to light again.
They had names, both male and female, for these different shadow-like faces of the One Spirit: Wotan, Loki, Freya, Odin, Kali, Astarte, each emerging from the primordial soup as another aspect of the energy activating the cosmos.
These existed long before there was a church, eons before there was a devil. The devil is a scapegoat. Even Flip Wilson — “The devil made me do it” — knew that.
The dark god inhabits the Underworld, where sooner or later everyone visits — in dreams, mythology, Dante’s Inferno, in life and death. There’s no escape. And when we arrive at the Underworld, we don’t necessarily encounter a devil, only shades of ourselves, our enemies, all that has been rejected from our consciousness.
We have met the enemy and enemy is us. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” What then? What remains of this dark night? What am I to do? There’s no turning back.
The dark god dwells in the loam of our own repressions and denials, appearing in the night with horns, cloven hooves, and the pungent vitality and fecundity of earth.
He inhabits the shadowy wooded places where men and women have danced naked together for ages, drunk in their own eroticism, muscled, virile and potent, drawing sustenance from one another and from their Dionysian longings to release their own vibrant power.
It’s no wonder that the Western world, driven by the Christian ethic to subdue the earth and deny the body, has nearly decimated the world’s forests. So why not give up on God, at least on the one-dimensional Western monotheistic Monolith we’ve come to know? The one who drinks our blood and eats our flesh, and asks us to sacrifice our loved ones on the altar of faith?
We need the dark god, not a being separate from but the other face of God, to awaken from our nightmares and make sense of the parts of our lives and ourselves we fail to understand, to finally discover where we really belong, to know there is no really true safe harbor for this passage.
The cobalt color of the full moon’s light slowly, reluctantly gives way to the silver sheen of dawn’s arrival and the world emerges from the shadows of night but remains as dark as ever, cloaked in ignorance and religious bigotry.
I wait for my Virgil to show me the way through this dark passage, to guide me through the stench and horror of the Underworld, where perhaps I may gain some insight, an advantage from sufferings, and emerge finally to find a home. §
Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.