Womb of the Black Goddess: Horror as Dark Transcendence

The goddess Kali, by Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The goddess Kali, by Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During the recent NecronomiCon 2013 — a conference of all-things Lovecraftian held in HPL’s beloved Providence — I participated in a panel on weird fiction. During the lively and interesting discussion, the opinion was expressed that much weird or horrific fiction seems to be written from a “bleak existentialist perspective.” While that may well be true, I was nonetheless struck by how this perspective is anathema to my own.

A survey of the genre may well support the notion that those who create or consume Horror art are a minority of grim realists who have come to accept, and even revel in, the myriad miseries of life on Earth. Their art could be seen as a cry against a society dominated by sun-blinded optimists who waltz blithely through life, convinced of its innate order and pleasantness.

But I suggest that the situation is far more layered than this.

I do not personally write from a bleak perspective, for this implies a state of powerless frustration over a set of natural and societal laws that hold the human species in their thrall. My fiction is a celebration of transgression of all laws, of transformation, and ultimately of transcendence. It is not a nihilistic lament.

I have long stated that I am for the dark, and that my work is a paean to it. Does this mean that I revel in cruelty, violence, and misery? No more than anyone else, I’d imagine. But my interests, both artistic and philosophical, reach beyond the base destructive behaviours perpetrated by the ignorant and the power-hungry.

My work is the fiction of the wilderness, not of civilization. When I say “wilderness” I do not refer exclusively to the natural landscape, although that is certainly a major component of it. By wilderness I mean the vaster world which was not designed by humble Homo sapiens; a world that, I might add, was not designed for us either.

Reducing the issue to fundamental principles, one may say that civilization is the product of masculine consciousness, the child of the left brain (which governs the right, dominantly dexterous hand). It is the paragon of daylight and logic, of tidy order and the observable cause-and-effect phenomena that provide evidence for the physical sciences. In esoteric lore, the right hand is the active one. This is the current of solar-phallic activity, calculating and often utilitarian, which fostered the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, economics, and politics. Whenever one hears a person (whether their physical gender is male or female is irrelevant) boasting about how they only believe in what they can see and touch, one is encountering an expression of masculine consciousness, the type that recognizes only the dayside of existence.

But alongside this there exists, of course, the required opposite polarity: feminine consciousness. This is the realm of intuition, receptivity, and mythic dreaming; of night, Spirit, and the subconscious.  This is the true wilderness where manifestation is spontaneous, the realm of the left (or “sinister”) hand, the great Darkness that is the source of the greatest of all energies: the mysterious.

“Supernatural fiction not a logical process. It is a descent into the womb of the Black Goddess. It is a flash of complete being where the regressive dark is given full expression.”

In my fiction, I attempt to revere and express this Darkness. My tales are more of the feminine consciousness than the masculine. They are not warnings about the fearsome dangers that may contaminate the pristine order of society unless we put up the good fight to preserve our way of life. They are revels in the wilderness, mediums through which one may become receptive to the hidden, the shadowy, the Other.

Tantra, the ancient and oft-misunderstood body of esoteric teachings from the East, suggests that many effective writings not only reference the black goddess but in fact contain some of Her essence. According to this doctrine, to read words about, for instance, the goddess Kali — avatar of the sinister, left-hand, or dark path — actually stimulates the dark-feminine current in the reader’s consciousness.

I believe that much supernatural fiction operates in this manner. It is not a logical process. It is a descent into the womb of the Black Goddess. It is a flash of complete being where the regressive dark is given full expression. And this is exquisitely valuable, because now, more than ever, humanity requires measures — even if only the relatively passive rite of acting as audience to unsettling works of art — that confront us with the illogical, the non-rational, and the liminal.

John Whiteside Parsons, the legendary twentieth-century American occultist and one of the founders of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote the following:

We live a symbol of what we know [life] is, and, finally transcending the symbol, become one with it. This is the wisdom of the cave-men that we have lost. It was their sanity; the lack of it is our madness. We no longer know how to act, and having lost the symbol we have lost the reality.

Not by logic, not by intellect, nor by reason can we regain it — but by wild dances, solemn rites and chants in unknown tongues. Only in the irrational and unknown direction can we come to it again.

Perhaps with the advent of civilization, with all its myriad comforts and merits, humankind was lured away from this “symbol” that Parsons describes. But this does not mean we have lost it altogether, nor that civilization needs to be physically destroyed in order to recover it. This is where Horror and ritualistic art is most valuable.

In my opinion, every woman and man possesses the capability to recover his or her own symbol. I believe it is recovered by living a deep life, by learning to hear the voice of one’s instincts and one’s own body, to invest trust in the import of one’s dreams, to accept the fact that the inner experience is the iceberg, and that the quantifiable methods of science and logic do not apply to every facet of one’s existence.

In this respect, perhaps Horror is Parson’s “wild dance” and “chant in an unknown tongue.” It figuratively sets fire to civilization, thus allowing the dark symbol obscured by too much blinding Apollonian light to shine forth, even if only for a few moments.

So, to reiterate, my own Horror is far removed from bleakness. I try to write stories that are joyous things filled with a great, gruesome beauty. Yes, they are drenched in shadows and strife and terror, but so is the black goddess Kali, with her necklace of severed human heads and her blood-slathered palms. Yet Kali is often depicted with her tongue jutting out playfully. Laughing, Kali is immersed in the lila (“divine play”) of the total universe, with all its shades of light and dark embraced.

I like to think that perhaps, in some small way, this depiction of Kali may also describe the function of my own Horror fiction: to allow readers to take part in the lila of life beyond the apparent fixedness of our dreary civilization.

I’d say that is function enough.

About Richard Gavin

Richard Gavin is the author of CHARNEL WINE, OMENS, THE DARKLY SPLENDID REALM, and AT FEAR'S ALTAR. He has been praised by Publishers Weekly and hailed as a master of numinous horror fiction in the tradition of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and H.P. Lovecraft. S.T. Joshi calls him "one of the bright new stars of contemporary weird fiction." Richard lives in Ontario, Canada.

Posted on September 25, 2013, in Arts & Entertainment, Echoes from Hades and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you for the mind food, Richard. I will no doubt use some of your words when I respond to people who wonder why a pleasant person like myself is so interested in the dark side of things. Cheers!

  2. My pleasure, Sam. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m glad you found some merit in the essay.

    All best,
    Richard

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