The Dark Side
“If you only knew the power of the Dark Side.”
Dark Side, Inc.
Would that I walked a spiritual path as clear-cut and uncomplicated as that which Mr. Lucas appears to show us in the Star Wars sagas. It would simplify things immensely if the Craft really were divided into Light and Dark, and all one had to do was choose which one to follow.
But things just aren’t that simple in the Way of the Witch and, I suspect, Mr. Lucas’ message isn’t that simple either. I think a bit more thought and intuition went into the crafting of the Star Wars mythology than we might expect, considering all the flashy special effects.
Now, I haven’t read any of the Star Wars books, so I’m probably lacking considerable depth in the mythology as a whole. Those of you who have that depth, please bear with me. I can only address what I have seen in the films.
In the course of the films, we are told that the Force is an energy field which interpenetrates and binds together everything in the galaxy. We are further told that this Force is divided into good and evil, the Light Side and the Dark Side, and that the Light Side is difficult to master, whereas the Dark Side has an insidious allure because it is the easier path. The Light Side is to be pursued by our heroes, whilst the Dark Side is to be avoided like the plague.
An interesting mix of archetypal images. The Force, as we first meet it, would seem to closely parallel the Tao of early Chinese philosophy. The division into mutually antagonistic opposites, however, smacks of Western Dualism.
But only if we take these definitions on face value.
We repeatedly hear about “the Dark Side of the Force, ” and how people “turn to the Dark Side” because it appears easier and more powerful. But why is this? If the Dark Side is in fact easier, more seductive and ultimately more powerful, then why isn’t the galaxy already overrun by Darksiders?
We don’t really see any difference between the powers of the Light Siders and those of the Dark Siders. Okay, neither Obi-Wan nor Qui-Gon Jinn ever threw lightening bolts, but you always got the feeling they could if they wanted to/needed to. Aside from this, both sides seem to have pretty much the same abilities.
So what separates the Light Side from the Dark Side? I think Lucas’ message is a bit more subtle than Good vs. Evil with mankind caught in the middle. We are told that Vader “turned to the Dark Side of the Force.” But if the Force really is analogous to the Tao, then the Force is everything, including oneself. So in saying one has “turned to the Dark Side of the Force, ” we are in a very real way saying that one has turned to the Dark Side of oneself.
This, I think, is Lucas’ real message, and it is where the spirituality of the fictional Jedis parallels the very real spirituality of contemporary Pagans.
The real and important difference between the Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force, the only difference that really matters, has nothing to do with the Force itself. It has to do with the nature of the individual, and whether that nature is inclined to the ethical or unethical use of power.
I wasn’t part of the Craft when Star Wars came out, but I have to wonder: Was there really all that much talk about the Light Side and the Dark Side of the Craft before Star Wars? Even before I chose to walk the Way of the Witch, I knew something about Wicca and neoPaganism, and I heard early on that there was no such thing as a “Good Witch” or a “Bad Witch, ” that what mattered was how one used one’s powers. Star Wars has certainly had an impact on our contemporary culture and mythology, and I do wonder how much it has colored our perception of our own spirituality, especially with so many new Pagans coming from the “Star Wars generation.”
Before we go any further, let’s look, for a moment, at what I call “Dark.” Admittedly, there are magickal Paths that are inherently Dark – some forms of Ceremonial Magick and Satanism, to name two. With apologies to those who are more tolerant than I, I don’t consider either of the above to come under the rubric of Paganism, and I think that, for the Satanists at least, the feeling is mutual.
But even within “Pagandom Proper” there are Paths that make use of Dark symbolism and imagery, and which connect primarily with the Darker aspects of Deity. My own Patron is Scathach, the Shadowy One, She Who Strikes Fear. Not the “Lightest” of Goddesses, to be sure.
And yet, I have seen Her dance, laugh, heal and comfort. So She is not “all Dark, ” and this is a crucial point in Pagan spirituality – we don’t see anything or anyone, mortal or otherwise, as a manifestation or personification of pure Good or pure Evil, totally Light or totally Dark. We recognize that there are infinite shades of gray, and that within the Light is a little Dark, and within the Dark a little Light.
So what we have is not a choice between dualistic Realms of Light and Dark. What we have is access to a Universal Power, and the burden of how we choose to use that Power. This is a good deal more problematic than just signing up for the Light Side or the Dark Side. Its not something that we can just “sleepwalk” through; it requires thought, consideration, self-examination and, ultimately, self-knowledge. Without these, it is too easy to make the wrong choices.
As Pagans, we do not have the luxury of simplistic, formulaic ethical scripts. Even the much- vaunted “Harm None” comes into question, given the right circumstances. If I cast a binding spell on a known child molester, am I doing him harm? Am I on the Dark Side? If I do not bind him, and he harms another child, have I contributed to that harm through my own non-action? Personally, I know what my choice would be, and I would gladly accept the consequences of the Law of Threefold Return. But I pose these questions to illustrate that if there is a Dark Side, then it resides within each of us, and that it manifests in the way we use our power.
Nor is this crux the sole province of Pagans. We all know people, from public figures to close friends, who have “turned to the Dark Side” a time or two in their lives. What this really means, in keeping with Lucas’ mythology, is that the person took the “easy way out;” they took the money to look the other way, they lied to avoid consequences, they took their anger out on innocent bystanders, they cheated or stole or backstabbed or any of a thousand other things. They had the power, in that moment, to do the right thing – we all do. But, for whatever reason, they made the wrong choice. We all do, every now and then.
Believe me, I’m not holding the moral high ground. I’ve done enough harm in my life to last me through several incarnations. And I’m bound to do more harm before I leave this one. I try not to, but I’m human, and I have a whole raft of “human weaknesses” that are wide open to the lure of the Dark Side. A dozen – a hundred! – times a day, I am presented with the choice to use my “power” for Good or Ill. And when I say “power, ” I’m not talking about anything as grandiose as the Force. Our power is often nothing more and nothing less than the opportunity to smile or to frown at a complete stranger. I can’t say I always choose to smile.
No, I don’t believe in a nefarious, mysterious – even glamorous – Dark Side to the Craft. But I do believe in personal integrity and responsibility. I believe in the Wyrd of Right Action, and in the redressing of any wrongs that I commit, whether I intended that harm or not. It isn’t an easy path, and sometimes I wish it were written out in “Ten Easy Commandments or Less.” But that isn’t the case on the Path I have chosen. So I work to keep myself open to Divine guidance, to learn from my mistakes and to earnestly try to make the right choices in any given moment.
In Their Service…