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The Magickal Purpose of Horror

A Feast of the Powers of Darkness
Stalking the Dark Archetype in Mainstream Media

previously published as a feature in issue 29 of WitchCraft magazine

It seems the public just can’t get enough of the “dark and mysterious”, hence the popularity of TV series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Charmed”, and films like “Queen of the Damned”; also sci-fi series such as “Stargate SG1”, “Sliders” and of course, “The X-Files”. In all these mythologies the mystery and power is bound up with the perceived duality of Good versus Evil, and the more fiendish the Evil, the more we seem to enjoy the triumph of the Good.

Both the creative and destructive polarities of the ongoing Creation are real forces that operate in the Eternal Present. In dualistic thinking these forces are interpreted as the moral opposites of Good and Evil, in order to discriminate between the harmful and the beneficial in human terms. Originally a daemon or demon (from the Greek daimon) was a god, angel or celestial power, ranging through varying degrees of ethereality, from the greater gods down to individual genii (plural of “genius”) or spirits. We often find two daemones accompanying an individual, one providing good conscience, the other prompting evil - but probably the same personal genius, interpreted differently at different times.

While probably not practical for the beginner, the more powerful magickal perspective is that both angel and demon/devil are essentially the two polarities of the One Power of evolutionary creation – they are the same. Both constructive and destructive forces are involved in the translation of Spirit into Matter, because creativity needs the lower-astral energies of materialisation, and the energy of Shaping automatically involves the energy of Un-shaping.

In the process of bringing our spiritual potential through into reality we naturally encounter pressure and restriction in working with the physical plane.

This density has a resistance which has the evolutionary function of opposing our efforts, a “darkness” which has immense power and creative fertility. If you can stay conscious, these “dark spirits” of creation can be befriended and enlisted as Allies. Because we are not separate from anything in the cosmos, “angel” and “demon” are aspects of our being on another frequency-level. Which polarity manifests at any given time depends on how aware and awake you are, your ability to consciously choose positive or negative. This means that we get the energy-pattern and circumstance that we need for our growth, but not necessarily the one a human ego would want.

In a recent episode of “The Secret Life of Us”, a particularly wild party is described as a “feast of the powers of darkness”, a quirky combination of inebriation, sexual experimentation, accident, black humour and gate-crasher violence. Ancient mystery religions deliberately set aside sacred times for orgiastic celebration, so that the forces of chaos and disruption could be given the means to express themselves. In the more formal Apollonian mysteries of ancient Greece, the priesthood could direct the power released by the orgy into the needs of the community. In the Dionysian revels, however, (much frowned upon by the state) the Maenads, crazed female followers of the shamanistic god, would tear apart and devour any animal or human in their path.


Chaos and negativity are available to us at any time we allow ourselves to slip into unconscious and low energy states, and whether we like it or not, sometimes these “blind side” states are necessary for transformation. These “dark energies” are necessary Gate-Guardians and Allies for the transformational breakthrough and Initiation into expanded consciousness. Like the process of cell regeneration in the body, they are the catabolic forces necessary for the continuation of life itself, breaking down old forms so that renewal is possible. It is through the crisis of darkness, madness or illness so often associated with creative genius that the candidate for shamanic initiation descends into the inner or “under-world” and experiences dismemberment or fragmentation at the hands of the innerplanes teaching-Spirits.

All the ancient creation stories featured the primordial Chaos from which issued forth all the gods and the created world. The Elder Gods, symbolising the monstrous evolutionary combinations of the earliest forms - often featured human, animal, bird, fish and plant merged together or emerging from each-other. These contained the prototypes of all of Nature’s shape-shifting beings and spirits ever after, from giants, centaurs, satyrs, vampires, werewolves to Bigfoots and Yowies, etc. Each Now-moment of Nature’s eternal Dreaming contains the memory of the primal turmoil of Creation, the cyclic changing of the guard between the turbulent Elder Gods, the principles of creative Chaos, and the newer Sun-gods or principles of creative Order.

In ancient Qabbalistic tradition, the first created Beings of Primordial Fire were known as the Sons of God, the Watchers of the Heavens. Called angels or messengers by the Church, daemons or Grigori by the Greeks, Anakim by the Sumerians and Babylonians - some rebelled against their higher orders, descending to educate and civilize primitive humanity. Their mating with human women created giants called Nephelim. While some achieved great wisdom and renown, others became depraved monsters.

To amend matters the Watchers destroyed the lands where the evil Nephelim dwelt, resulting in the legends of the Flood and Atlantis.

While tradition suggests that the immortal spirits of the Nephelim (“fallen ones”) can still incarnate in human form, in their form of intermediary spirits they are collectively known as the “demonic” hierarchy. Though Christian dogma portrays them as rebels against God, fallen angels as beings of primal Chaos are only performing their natural evolutionary duty by forming the lower worlds. The only beings that could possibly be considered the personification of evil are those generated by the evil thoughts and passions of humankind, which hover in the lowest levels of the astral planes.

Kirk, in his “Secret Commonwealth” (1691), considered the Faery people to be an order of life halfway between humankind and angels. Witch lore tells of the wisdom of the Watchers being saved from the Lost Lands by priestly survivors of the cataclysm, who arrived in Britain and Europe, and mingled their Faery blood with the Prytani, the Neolithic pre-Celtic inhabitants of Britain. The legend of Elven ancestry persisted through successive layers of invading cultures, Celtic, Roman, Saxon and finally Christian beliefs. In the traditional folk-memory behind both Christianity and Paganism the “daemons” or faery beings have been understood as the offspring of fallen angels, neither intrinsically good nor evil, but with enormous potential for either.

The shaman’s subsequent “re-membering” or re-assembling into a more powerful form, is a reflection of the process of physical death, when the elemental spirits of the body do their work of deconstruction, releasing and transmuting the energy and consciousness of the deceased. In both physical death and the metaphysical death of Initiation, they will break down the habitual mental constructions of “normal” reality. The universal fear of “demons” is actually the fear of the disturbing natural anarchy that teems behind the outer stability of the universe, its flow and flux, the shape-shifting forces of transformation, which to the ego feels like annihilation. 

There is always a fateful flaw in the structure of the ego-personality that breaches the protective auric shell, the “dark side of the door” that allows the energies of the Collective Unconscious to stream in. If you are able to consciously interpret these energies and communicate the deep urges and unconscious needs of the group, people will call you a genius. If, however, your personality is not strongly grounded, and you confuse your own personality with the archetypal stream, instead of communicating it, you will lose touch with personal reality, and people will call you mad.


In astrology, the darker energies of both the personal and Collective Unconscious, correspond to the archetypal mythologies of the outer planets: Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. In terms of the small conscious human ego, these planets represent uncontrollable energies. The only course open to us is to consciously cooperate with the unconscious urge toward wholeness and more inclusive consciousness that these planets symbolize. They are linked to the archetypal Godform of the Destroyer - not petty physical destruction, but as shakers and destroyers of limited ego boundaries. In their mythologies all these deities are mostly invisible, mysterious, hidden and not easily approached. The outer-planet archetypal energies are strongly connected to both genius and madness, between which the line is indeed very thin.


The Jungian psychological concept of “archetype” is not equivalent to the magickal concept of archetype. This is a “confusion of levels”. It is a mistake to equate Archetypes with the Gods themselves. The Gods might be understood as “Divine Archetypes”. While being the true essences of the Gods, utterly formless and unknowable, their reflections or templates in the human mind are like a filing system, attracting imagery from human experience and conditioning. It is these archetypal images, formed on a deep unconscious level of the innerplanes, which express aspects or facets of Divinity, known in magick as “Godforms”. Archetypes are the symbolic vessel-images in the human mind, both individual and collective, through which the Gods can manifest and communicate.

This confusion is mirrored in the problem of addiction which so saturates our society, where we project the essentially limitless and formless – love, power and divinity – outside of ourselves onto things that are limited – onto substances, sex, money, work, people, etc, instead of recognizing Divine Love as the all-pervading, inner God/dess-force that we are all part of and can never be separate from.

So how do we bring the blessing power of the Gods into manifestation? We give them material ritual offerings that express their archetypal imagery – incense, music, dance, flame, the wearing of masks or make-up, of symbolic robes and colours, and in ancient times, the animal sacrifice. The other way is through the Ritual Art of mediumship or possession – usually called “assumption of the Godform” – a conscious mediation where an individual’s normal consciousness is suspended or expanded and their body is made available for the Being’s expression by their free assent.

With his affectation of cartoonishly overdrawn lipstick and opaque contact lenses, the heavy metal artist Marilyn Manson is like a distorted male/bisexual Goth version of his fellow “archetype-priestess” Madonna, striving to push, morph and shape-shift himself into freakish extremes, inspired by such influences as Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich and the satire, parody and theatre of the grotesque that featured in the Cabaret of Weimar Berlin circa 1901. He creates multimedia art-forms in the tradition of the Dadaist and Surrealist art movements, based on subconscious, irrational processes, anarchy, rejection of socially conventional beauty: “I aim to revive the attitude of chaos and reckless regard for tomorrow, in order to make today’s creations as genius as possible. No more rules to where the ‘stage’ ends and the audience begins.” Like Eminem, he too is a priest of the random chaotic archetype, deliberately courting lower astral entities and thought-forms. His portrait paintings are full of eldritch, “goblin” people, a punk version of Brian Froud’s nature-spirit and fairy illustrations.

In artistic terms, he may be “pushing the boundary”, but from the magickal perspective, he is definitely not “driving the bus”. Professionalism in the ritual arts of Priest/esshood requires that possession by the archetypes, or “assumption of the Godform”, be conscious and controlled. In his case, it is as though a whole succession of mad monkeys are behind the wheel!


On both the physiological and metaphysical level, adolescence is a powerful transition which mainstream culture is incapable of addressing. Because the wisdom traditions of the Rites of Passage - Coming of Age, Birth and Death, and Eldership are now mostly lost, it is up to us, as adherents of the Old Faith, to put true Elders in place who are capable of taking young people through this Initiatory time in a sacred and honourable manner.

Most contemporary adults are carrying the psychological scars of never being validated, guided or welcomed into the community as young adults themselves. When you consider how many generations this goes back, is not surprising that adolescent children are a mirror too painful for their parents to really look at and acknowledge. In adolescence, new, raw faculties and feelings are being activated. According to Rudolf Steiner, the energy blueprint of our “soul purpose” comes into us at age 14. Whenever an inner psychic/spiritual process is denied and repressed into unconsciousness, it usually expresses itself negatively in the outer world. Deprived of the Rite of Passage that would give grounding and meaning to the sexual/spiritual quickening, our whole society is doomed to perpetual unresolved adolescence, obsessed with sex, money and power in their most addictive, ungrounded forms.

One of the deeper causes of addiction is this society’s suppression of the spiritual drive toward Initiation, the empowering vision-quest for individual purpose within the pattern of Greater Nature. The orgasm of ecstasy, the shamanistic peak-experience that fuses love, sex and religion, has been driven underground, along with the ancient traditions that teach non -destructive ways of “getting high”.

The adolescent need to rebel against any kind of authority, will not respond to any “psychologising” based on individual or family causes. This is because it is an ancient, collective phenomenon that cuts across class, race and culture. The incoming “soul energy” that demands recognition and craves its own clan to belong to – will often find it through rebel music – the alienated sub-culture, rap and heavy metal, usually raw, dumb and angry music with a driving, primitive, powerful rhythm. This satisfies the unconscious desire for communal ritual, for sound is a Ritual Art that can ignite deep primeval emotions that are hard to contain, a wonderful demonic rage that roars through the body-animal.

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A torrent of ingeniously offensive and demented lyrics – randomly violent, misogynist, homophobic, and not without a certain crude black humour – has won a huge following for the hip-hop artist and hardcore rapper Eminem. With the brilliant but warped lyric talent of a “bent bard”, he seems to be a frustrated shaman-priest, evoking the warrior archetype in its contemporary, darkened and wounded form. 

This damaged male psyche (Animus) that dwells in both men and women is very repressed and unconscious in contemporary Western culture, and therefore restless and dangerous. The repressed masculine craving for power and aggressive expansion is perhaps best represented by the cultural denial and suppression of Wotan/Odin who is also related to Robin the Hooded Man, Kernunnos and the Green Man. Unlike the Graeco-Roman gods, who reincarnated in the saints, angels and divine attributes of the Christian era and also in the arts, alchemy and astrology of the Renaissance, Wotan was too wild and primitive to be integrated, erupting in his most negative form during the Nazi regime and in many urban guerrilla conflicts since.

Though the ancient Teutonic astrology is now mostly lost, some writers consider his closest affinity is with the planet Uranus, associated with magick, inspiration, sudden change, eccentricity, invention, originality and rebellion. In the Greek mythology, Uranus usurps power from primordial Mother Moon, symbolising the time of separation from the feminine, when the primal waters of chaotic, undifferentiated consciousness gave way to the separate ego. When we become self-reflective, we separate from our natural oneness with Nature.

Uranus is a son of Earth, and was also her lover, fertilising her with rain, life forms, lakes and seas. After his castration by one of his sons (Saturn), Uranus separates from Earth, becoming a Sky-god, a wounded male creator, a castrated father, leaving Earth bereft and suffering without his fertilising erotic power. For humankind, this represents a separation from our sexual Oneness and balance, which means that women need to marry their Inner Male (Animus) and men need to marry their Inner Female (Anima). While Wotan’s outer aspect seems to involve power in the outer world of the ego’s goals and aims, his essential shamanic nature as a “man of power” offers the potential ability to work with inner spiritual forces, changing consciousness and of shape-shifting “between the worlds” to gain wisdom.

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There is a lot about an artist like Eminem that a disadvantaged member of our dysfunctional society could identify with – abandonment by his father; a psychologically unstable mother; switching schools every few months, getting beaten up on a regular basis; the loss to suicide of the uncle who introduced him to rap; his own suicide attempt when his first album, finances and marriage all fail. Deciding he has nothing to lose and everything to gain, he then regroups, creating his performing character (his Magickal Personality!) “Slim Shady– a foul-mouth talkin’, no remorse havin’ prick”, and recording his demos “in character”.

While cheerfully admitting that the dark, “satanic” and gothic imagery adopted by Black Sabbath was a marketing strategy promoted by their management, heavy-metal icon Ozzy Osbourne has nonetheless, fuelled by alcohol and drugs for much of his career, managed to do a pretty good imitation of a primitive blood-sacrificing berserker-priest! A high school dropout and teenage jailbird who grew up in extreme poverty, his work experience included a stint at a mortuary, and his longest job before the band was in a slaughterhouse.

Practising opposite a cinema and noticing that people would “pay money to be scared”, the band decided to “write scary music”. Reportedly under contract to fling 25 pounds of calves’ livers and pigs’ intestines into the audience at one series of concerts, Ozzy soon started getting pelted with disgusting things in return, including, at one point, a live bat. Thinking it was a rubber toy, Osbourne bit into the animal only to find it was alive! Several rabies shots later, the media blew this bizarre incident out of all proportion, causing record sales to skyrocket, and his concerts to be hounded and boycotted by animal rights activists ever after.

Up to a point, the heavy-metal wild-man and the hardcore rap-artist could be seen as doing ritual battle with “dark spirits” in public, calling them out into the open. Whereas the indigenous shaman draws out the evil spirits, giving them to Mother Earth to “compost” and transform – the negative energies released through this kind of unconscious ritual performance are unfortunately just spewed back into the audience.

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Without any pattern for transformation, no healing can occur, and the cathartic release of dark energies becomes a vicious cycle and addictive in itself. Because the Arts in general have lost touch with their ancient origin as Ritual skills, many talented performing artists are unnecessarily damaged or destroyed by their work. As an aspect of the Sacrificed God or the Scapegoat/Devil, the Anti-Hero is potentially a Healer-Shaman who feels the pulse of pain in our wounded society and carries the Collective Shadow in order to transform it. Why wouldn’t the voiceless and disempowered, the alienated and the angry, love and worship the ones who make it to the public stage to howl, rant, twist in the wind and cathartically spew bad blood? The half-healing of validation, of finding some kind of clan-identity must seem better than no healing at all.

It is usually the sensitives – the ones with artistic sensibilities, natural, raw mediumistic ability and a lot of unbalanced emotional psychic content – who are the weak link through which the unresolved “ghost” of family, community and society will play itself out. They have a self-destruct mentality because they know they are carrying something somehow “dark” and unacceptable, yet also have a deep instinct that the dark forces contain a power that can help them. When used to dissolve victim mentality and the illusion that our limitations originate in the outside world, anger can be a potent and transforming force.

This is the real instinct behind the adolescent appetite for intensity and dark energy. Tribal elders have always known that adolescence is the right time to hit them head-on with a frightening Rite of Passage that contains the patterns of transformation, the cosmic wisdom-traditions, and initiatory Death-Mysteries of the tribe. They are driven within themselves to confront their inner Fear-Guardian and take on their own power. Also, they have little chance to “act out”, or project power outwards onto the “establishment” or perceived authority figures, because they are given a great deal of real and meaningful responsibility.

In its voluntary descent into the underworld of madness and chaos, there is a shamanistic parallel in the deeper aspects of the Horror genre. Paraphrasing Ann Rice (author of “Interview with a Vampire” and “Queen of the Damned”):

“Vampires are who we are: our ruthlessness, our desperate quest for companionship, warmth, love and reassurance in a world of full of gorgeous temptations and very real horrors … so much affluence and so much common awareness of violence, injustice and poverty. Vampires are fallible beings with the power of Gods, exactly like us… Life is a horror story, but it is a horror story with great, great meaning.”

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