Intro This is a topic I’ve touched on lightly every now and again, and I’ve contemplated writing a lengthier article on it. It’s a subject I take rather seriously. The question is in the title itself. Are you dark… or are you just a punk? On the surface that seems like a joke, but I assure you I am deadly serious. In recent years, we’ve had a wave of young guys trying to be dark, mysterious strangers in bad imitation of David Blaine at best, Criss Angel at worst. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the amateur imitating the best when he’s first starting out. And I don’t blame either David or Criss for either of this. What their fans do is completely out of their hands. The problem however is that bad performances are bad for magic. What is darkness? Dark characters and stories have always had a certain appeal. It’s why Batman is one of the most successful superheroes of all time, ingrained into what has become effectively modern folklore. It’s why the horror movie genre has its own subculture. It’s why the ghost story is one of the oldest formulas for fiction and folk tales, why we romanticize history’s villains, and why we have to endure lousy remakes of Japanese horror movies every month regardless of how badly the studio botched the job last time. Sorry, going off on a tangent. The point is there’s something about the dark side (from here on referred to as our Shadow) that appeals to us. There are countless theories as to why this is. Some believe it’s a forbidden fruit principle, others believe it’s an expression of the natural way of entropy, and others believe that we must integrate ourselves with our dark sides to become complete. Whatever the case, we have a fascination with our own personal Shadows, and feel a similar allure toward the Shadow of others. The Shadow is comprised of our morally ambiguous or even amoral fantasies and inner demons, our lusts and desires, our secret passions and all that which we prefer to hide from the world at large. All our negative emotions, fears, and grief reside in the Shadow, and they always flit about on the edge of our mind until something causes them to roll out to the surface like an obscuring fog. Most people go through their lives denying their Shadows. Our society teaches us that we should be happy all the time, even though such a thing is no more logical or mentally healthy than being sad all the time. We’re taught to suppress our inner demons because they’re a reminder of our flawed nature, rather than seeking healthy catharsis and bringing the demons into the light so they can be objectified and conquered. As a result, we become slaves to our Shadows. Perhaps this lack of control is what fuels our curiosity. If only we understood the Shadow better, could we break free of it? I won’t pretend to know the answer. What I can tell you is that no one can escape their Shadow, anymore than they can the literal one that follows us everywhere there is light. It is as much a part of us as anything else. In attempting to suppress the Shadow, it often brings itself to the surface in subtle ways, which leads me to another thing I’ve often said to those looking to practice bizarre magic. Spooky and Creepy Contrary to what some may believe, there is a difference between being spooky and being creepy. In his humorous book, “What Is Goth?”, author Hernando “Voltaire” Aurelius attempts to explain this using somewhat silly, but apt comparisons. Here are a couple from the book. Impersonating a vampire is spooky. Impersonating a police officer is creepy. Putting on whiteface is spooky. Putting on blackface is creepy. Having 27 skull T-shirts in your closet is spooky. Having 27 real skulls hidden in the crawl space under your house is creepy. Starting to catch on? Spooky is an explicit, fictitious representation of that which is considered frightening and dangerous. Millions of children dress up as vampires and werewolves every Halloween, but that doesn’t mean any of those children have an actual interest in dying themselves. Conversely, creepy is that which hides its darkness behind a veil of the mundane. It is often very real, and very dangerous. Creepy things are only glimpsed in day-to-day life, because they do such a good job at hiding themselves. They try to create the illusion of normalcy when in fact if people knew of their true nature, they would avoid them like the plague. To put it simply, punk rocker Michale Graves paints a skull on his face and sings songs about zombies, but is also a registered Republican who has campaigned heavily to have the West Memphis 3 acquitted and also served in the US Marines until an honorable discharge due to an injury to the lower back. He’s what you call spooky. John Wayne Gacy was a contractor and birthday clown who tortured and killed young boys right under his family’s nose. That… is really creepy. What makes magic dark? So we’ve established what the Shadow is, and the difference between spooky and creepy. Now we move on to what that means for us as magicians. All of this has simply been a background to get to the point at hand: what constitutes a dark magician and differentiates him from some poseur who’s just acting angsty to get attention? To understand darkness, you have to get in touch with your own Shadow. You have to accept that there will be times in your life where you experience extreme negative emotions and that you will experience grief. You have to accept that you have fantasies flitting about in your mind that no sane society would condone, and that these are your inner demons reacting to the world around you. You have to accept that your demons are in everyone else as well and that they must be objectified. In other words, understanding darkness means taking what lives there, and bringing it into the light so that it can be rendered powerless. This is something you really should do for your own mental health anyway, but it’s also essential to understanding how to make a powerful piece of dark theater. I can’t tell you how to deal with your own emotions and your grieving process as its too personal. But inner demons are much easier to deal with as they generally behave the same for everyone. For example, if you’ve ever had a significant other stolen from you, you probably wanted to find the other guy/girl and beat them into a pulp. Everybody feels like that because it’s a natural response. You can’t get away with acting on it of course, but if you just let it play itself out quietly in the theater of your mind it causes no harm. If anything it gives you a chance to learn from the situation. Beauty in darkness is achieved when we are able to strike an emotional chord with our audiences by artistically expressing the feeling of grappling with one of these demons. Not dark, just a punk… Unfortunately, not many people understand just how much work goes into this sort of thing. I’ve said it once before, but it’s worth repeating. Some people are mysterious because they don’t tell you anything. Some people are “mysterious” because they don’t know anything. There’s nothing dark and mysterious about teen angst, but no angst-filled teen will admit that. In a few short years, they’ll have to come to the reality however that nobody has their act together in high school. Being a loner because you’re confused and frustrated doesn’t make you tormented. Listening to My Chemical Romance does not automatically make you deep and complex. And while your new fashion sense and taste in entertainment might shock your parents, no one in your own generation is all that impressed because they’re going through the same thing. No one really cares if you can stop your pulse if you’re only doing it to convince everyone how bleak and metal you are. So the number I named showed up on your arm in marks that look vaguely like dried blood. Am I supposed to be impressed? I don’t care if you can stab a pencil through your face, kid. I don’t have any change, leave me alone! A magician who is dark and mysterious makes us feel something. A magician who only shows off and tries to create the illusion of emotional complexity by doing morbid tricks is just a punk.