Last weekend I had the great pleasure of representing the Grey School, along with the ever brilliant Rae du Soleil, at the Vancouver B.C. Pagan Pride Day. It was held outdoors in a park just outside the city (in the suburb of Surrey). We lucked out and had decent weather, though the wind got a bit feisty at times. There were a decent number of attendees and we had some really great discussions.
One of the things that really struck me about this event (I hadn’t attended it before) was the diversity of immediate reactions to my saying that I was the Grey School’s Dean of Dark Arts. The reactions ranged from “Oh cool” to abject horror. Now, that in itself isn’t all that surprising (pagans do run the gamut on opinions on DA) but what was really surprising was just how different the bases were for those reactions.
The people who thought being involved in DA was nifty ranged from the ever present Potter fans to people who were obviously fond of the Dark Arts themselves. By far the most common reaction to my title was to be relatively positive and then ask what the term meant at the school. These folks took one look at my book (Defense Against the Dark) and generally assumed I was a good person and that DA at the Grey School was probably positive – as, of course, it is. The ubiquitous Potter fans thought the similarity between my title and the defense against the dark arts title at Hogwarts was just the coolest. These folks might not look to deeply into what I do, but at least they don’t think I’m evil. Then, naturally, there were the shadow practitioners that performed the expected “does she actually practice what she preaches” verbal sparring that I quite enjoy.
Then there were the detractors. I do expect a fair number of people to hear that I practice the Dark Arts and immediately misinterpret what I do. The ambiguity of the term makes this unavoidable. I’ve come to expect that a certain number of the more lily-white/fluffy members of the pagan community to shriek in horror at the mention of “black magick” before they ever bother to find out how the term is being used. I was pleasantly surprised that just about all of these folks were open minded enough to let me explain how we use the terms “dark arts” and “black magick” (which we use to mean the study of defensive magick, creatures of the night, and low magick). Once they understood what we actually meant they accepted it as a good thing.
What actually surprised me were the one or two people who heard what I did and assumed that I was on the far side of the light and went around indiscriminately destroying dark creatures. That was a new one. I practice shadow magick. My practices are about as dark and disquieting as you get while still maintaining ethical standards. I teach defense because there are bad things out there that would like nothing better than to tear your face off. There is a huge chasm between blasting everything that scares you and learning how to protect yourself when necessary. One can respect and even embrace the shadow while still keeping a wary eye.
In reality, the Dark Arts is a practice that requires practitioners to balance personal ethics and protection with a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them. A practitioner that actually understands dark creatures can determine when they should be respected and allowed to go about their business and when they need to be acted against. A practitioner that is an expert in defense can apply the minimum amount of force necessary to correct a problem without going overboard or disrespecting others. A practitioner that truly understands low magick can apply their magick at the critical fulcrum point that will slide things their way without disrupting the waft of the universe. Yes, rash and ignorant practitioners can wreak havoc – but that is true regardless of the flavour of magick they practice. Any expert worthy of the title can balance keeping themselves safe, sane, and healthy, with working magick in the world.