Monday, October 13, 2014

What is "Dark Fluff?"

One of the Facebook commenters on last week's "Dark Fluffers" article asked for a definition of "Dark Fluff." When I was writing up the article I did a search, but as the term has mostly been thrown around magical discussion groups and nobody seems to have posted a specific article on it I was unable to find a usable link that didn't include a lot of other stuff not relevant to the definition. So let me be the first to post one.

A common criticism of popular books on occultism is that they are "fluffy." That is, the authors pull a bunch of stuff together in a manner that is not intellectually rigorous and combine it with material that they simply make up. For a long time most of the worst offenders were authors who tried to sanitize occultism in some fashion, and make it all "sweetness and light." This approach apparently sells book, but whether it teaches effective spiritual technology is anyone's guess.

Recently, though, the opposite approach has also become popular. Instead of distorting occultism into something nice and safe, the authors instead distort it into something that is intended to sound dark and scary. The Enochian magical system was an early victim of this treatment, which I believe is why many people consider it an especially dangerous form of magick (when, as far as I can tell, it is not).

I find the desire to make magick extra-dark profoundly confusing. I suppose there are people out there who are drawn to things precisely because they're dangerous, but I've never been one of them. I at least understand why someone might want to present magick as bright and happy, because that makes it sound accessible and fun. But as darker than it already is? No thank you.

What these dark authors seem to be trading on is the mistaken assumption that if something sounds dark and scary, it must be deep and serious. But dark stuff can consist of made-up, unworkable nonsense just as easily.

As far as I can tell, the actual term "dark fluff" was coined by Jake Stratton-Kent, author of The True Grimoire and Geosophia. The first searchable reference I can find is this exchange between Jake and Jason Miller, in the comments on this article from Jason's Strategic Sorcery blog. Jake comments:

There is a whole genre of ‘Dark Fluff’ with words like ‘dark’ and ‘transgressive’ sprinkled liberally about in the hope of appearing edgy. Apparently fans think if it is ‘dark’ it can’t be fluffy – WRONG! Fluffy means puffed up and lightweight, and comes from the school of MSU (making shit up) regardless of being light or dark.

to which Jason replies:


Dark magic is more often than not Dork Magic.

If I had to choose between sweetness and light fluff vs “Dark” fluff I would probably go sweetness and light. At least the motivations are good.

Jake went on to include a more detailed exposition in a manifesto posted about six months later to the Solomonic yahoo discussion group. Aaron Leitch quotes his comments here:

Which brings me to the Bertiaux/Grant end of the spectrum, what I call ‘dark fluff’, a major epidemic in recent modern occultism. There are so many ‘darker than thou’ types out there playing silly games with the Qliphoth, Necronomicon, Atlantean initiations and such. The grasp of the roots of magic in this ‘niche’ is even more bogus than the ‘occult establishment’ of the C19th and its offshoots. Indeed, they are much more similar to that establishment than they imagine. Spookying up the Golden Dawn, Crowley and modern witchcraft with a dash of Lovecraft and Qliphoth etc is no more informed about the real roots of Western magic in goetia. Its just more of the same in all but the most superficial details.

M.C. over at The Lions Den also chimed in with this article, commenting:

This question arose recently when myself and a student were building on the subject of potential unforeseen and adverse side effects that could conceivably result from the practice of magick as whole, and that which involves spirits traditionally regarded as "evil" in particular. Needless to say, as one of a few practicing magicians who isn't "afraid of the dark" the idea intrigues me. (and no, I don't mean the dark fluff bullshit so aggressively marketed these days as "the next big thing". Thats not dark. Nor is it of any value except to the social outcast seeking to be seen as rebellious; It's just cleverly marketed crap, much like the finbarr corpus).

To weigh in myself, I'm sure after all this it comes to no surprise that I agree with Jake, Jason, and M.C. wholeheartedly. While I don't see the appeal of the whole "dark dark dark" angle, it clearly has a market beyond dime-store psychopathic losers like those covered in the previous article. And it seems to me that this target group is being manipulated and misled into seeing only one side of the coin just like the "sweetness and light" folks.

So where does the truth lie? I can only speak from my own experience, but to me magick encompasses the totality of conscious existence, light and dark intermingled. It therefore seems to me that the most authentic approach is a middle path that integrates both darkness and light, the chthonic and celestial poles of metaphysical existence. And it's a a path that you have to walk, not a fashion statement you can purchase.

UPDATE: In response to the first comment here and to head off others, I want to clarify that what I agree with wholeheartedly is the overall idea, not necessarily the specific examples given. I've never been drawn to the "dark stuff" myself, so I haven't studied Grant or Bertiaux in enough detail to have an informed opinion and I don't even know what the "finbarr corpus" is.

Suffice it to say that I think the term "dark fluff" can be applied to any magical system that's more focused on on how edgy and weird and evil it is than on techniques that actually work. I will leave it up to the reader to determine for themselves whether they think this is or is not the case for any particular author.

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Parzival418 said...

I think calling Bertiaux dark fluff is a bit... Missing the point. If you actually read Bertiaux you see he's not all that dark. I think the association with Grant and the weirder stuff from the VGW causes a misconception about his work that a real look at his work reveals he actually writes a lot abut healing, balance etc. And developing your own system of Magick. Some people just gravitate to the darker, weirder stuff as opposed to the crux of his work. See Syzygy by +Palamas for a more detailed and insightful look at Bertiaux's work than some of the other commentators.

Scott Stenwick said...

I haven't personally studied Bertiaux enough to have a strong opinion of his work either way. It's Jake's overall assessment that I agree with, not his specific examples. I haven't studied Grant that much either, so again, not much in the way of strong opinions. I will say that both have produced work that's unusual and original, and not simply a rehash of the usual material, but how well it works is a whole other question that I'm not in any position to answer.

I guess I've just never been drawn to the darker, weirder stuff, which is why I find the popularity of "dark fluff" kind of surprising. But there's clearly a market for it.

Da'ath Vader said...

Jason hit the nail on the head, I actually came to post a similar comment. Taking a superficial summation of ANY occultist, I think it is possible to label them a dark fluffer. Are they though? Probably not. Most criticisms I see leveled at Bertiaux or Grant rarely offer anything insightful, but rather just the same 1970's fear mongering over semantics like 'qlipoth'.

This is not aimed at you Scott, as you've explained your position. But just to anyone who may be reading the comments :)

IanC said...

My main concern with Grant is that his scholarship is no better than that of your sophomore Wiccan. Gerald Massey? C'mon, nobody thinks there was ever a "typhonic Egypt" except followers of Grant. Atlantis? Disqualifies *any* occultism from serious consideration in my book, since there's not the slightest reason to think it existed. Qliphotic Qabalah? Made up in Grant's head, mainly. At least he doesn't seem to have misunderstood his Tantric sources as thoroughly.

Bertiaux is mainly incomprehensible to me, but I find the idea of creating a personal universe and living in it about as exciting as crawling into a hole.

Unknown said...

The popularity of "dark" themes really appeal to people with a certain aesthetic that resonates with the imagery. There is about an equal amount of dark fluff out there as there is fluff of a lighter type. The only real way to find out which you are looking at is to read it. Of course, what is fluff to me may work for you. Success has been had in workings using everything from well known God's and spirits from all traditions to comic book and movie characters...

Scott Stenwick said...

Hopefully this article did not give the impression that I believe the only fluff out there is dark. On the contrary, I know that there's plenty of light fluff all over the place.

My point is more that just because something is dark, that doesn't mean it isn't fluff. I don't think whether something is dark or light has anything to do with its quality, whereas I've encountered too many people who think that just because something is dark and confusing, it has to be deep and significant. Sometimes stuff like that is just a bunch of crap.