The Dark Side of Light

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy JA 2

John Algeo at his best: lecturing at Olcott in Wheaton

An old kabbalistic motto holds that Demon est Deus inversus, "The devil is God upside down," or "The devil is God's complement." The Irish poet William Butler Yeats took, as his mystical name in the kabbalistic Order of the Golden Dawn, the initials of that Latin motto, D.E.D.I. Those letters, however, also spell the Latin verb dedi, which means "I have given" and thus punningly suggests that the diabolic is a divine gift.

Yeats probably learned the motto from Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who had been his teacher and had used it as the subject of one section in her great book, The Secret Doctrine. So what is the secret doctrine about this motto and the dark angel of whom it speaks? Blavatsky says of it:

This symbolical sentence, in its many sided forms, is certainly most dangerous and iconoclastic in the face of all the dualistic later religions or rather theologies—and especially so in the light of Christianity. (SD 1:411)

She adds that Christianity certainly did not invent the figure of Satan, for such a concept has always existed. The name Satan in Hebrew means "adversary"; he is consequently a personification of the inevitable balancing forces that must exist in nature: the shadow by which we recognize light, the night that separates the days, the cold without which we have no sense of heat.

To say that the Devil is the inverse, the complement, of God is dangerous, however, because it invites misunderstanding, especially by those whose thinking is molded by dualism, who see spirit and matter, soul and body, the righteous and the reprobate, the saved and the damned as eternal opposites. Those who think in simple dichotomies have great difficulty seeing the underlying unity beneath all diversities. They find it hard to conceive that Demon and Deus, the dark and bright angels, are equally messengers of the Absolute One. They find it hard to give the devil his due.

Yet in our relative world of mayavic reality, all things have their opposites. To know anything is to know it by contrast with something that it is not. Knowledge implies opposition. Without low, there is no high. Without far, there is no near. Without pain, there is no pleasure. Without death, there is no life. Without the dark angels, there are no bright ones. Without Demon, there is no Deus. In eternity, none of those exist. In time, none can exist without its complement. So for the Elohim to be, Satan must also be.

"Homogeneity," says Blavatsky, "is one and indivisible," and "heterogeneity in its dualistic aspect, is its offspring—its bifurcous shadow or reflection," so "that divine Homogeneity must contain in itself the essence of both good and evil" (SD 1:411—12). There are two aspects of this doctrine that are equally important and indeed are complementary, without either of which the doctrine "is certainly most dangerous" because subject to misunderstanding and perversion.

The first aspect is that what we call evil and good are both derived from the divine absolute:

One cannot claim God as the synthesis of the whole Universe, as Omnipresent and Omniscient and Infinite, and then divorce him from evil. As there is far more evil than good in the world, it follows on logical grounds that either God must include evil, or stand as the direct cause of it, or else surrender his claims to absoluteness Everywhere the speculations of the Kabalists treat of Evil as a force, which is antagonistic, but at the same time essential, to Good, as giving it vitality and existence, which it could never have otherwise. (SD 1:413)

This first aspect of the Wisdom teaching about good and evil holds that both of those qualities are equally present in the divine source of all things. That teaching is also found in the great religious documents of all ages and cultures. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna identifies himself with everything in the universe, bad and good: "I am the gambling of the cheat, and the splendor of splendid things" And in the prophesy of Isaiah (45:7), the Almighty is quoted as saying: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." The God of our good is likewise the God of our evil.

The second aspect of the doctrine is that evil is not an independent reality but merely the complement, the shadow, of good:

There is no malum in se [self existent evil, anything inherently evil of its own nature]: only the shadow of light, without which light could have no existence, even in our perceptions. If evil disappeared, good would disappear along with it from Earth. (SD 1:413)

So evil is a reality, derived from the source of all reality, but also evil has no independent existence, being simply the complement by which we recognize good. Those who accept the first aspect but deny the second are dualists or atheists or cursers of God. Those who deny the first aspect but accept the second reject the evidence of their own senses and maintain against all reason that pain and sorrow do not exist.

But the Occultists . . . who recognize in every pain and suffering but the necessary pangs of incessant procreation: a series of stages toward an ever growing perfectibility . . . view the great Mother [Nature] otherwise. Woe to those who live without suffering. Stagnation and death is the future of all that vegetates without a change. And how can there be any change for the better without proportionate suffering during the preceding stage? (SD 2:475)

To solve "the great problems of life, pain, and death," we must experience them. To use the idiom of those today who pump iron: "No pain, no gain."

The doctrine of the wisdom tradition thus holds that there is but one inexhaustible source of reality from which all things come and apart from which nothing is. And it further holds that intelligent forces derived from that source bring into existence the universe we know, and in so doing they necessarily operate with dualities of many kinds, including those we call good and evil. The process of achieving good involves the strain of suffering evil.

The Dark Creative Forces

Some of the intelligent forces or angels, as we also call the creative agents in the cosmos, work to make the substance of the universe dense, to immerse consciousness in matter, and to isolate separate individual existences. These forces devoted to density, unconsciousness, and separateness are the dark angels whose goal is the emergence of the many from the One, the involution of matter, life, and spirit. They are the centrifugal, creative forces that bring forth the many from the One.

Other forces work to refine substance into subtler states of existence, to increase consciousness, and to connect separate selves into a network of cooperation and sympathy. The forces dedicated to subtlety, consciousness, and reunion are the bright angels whose goal is the conscious, voluntary reintegration of the many into the One, the evolution of the universe to its omega point. They are the centripetal, regenerative forces that return the many to the One.

Blavatsky describes the world process as proceeding on three parallel lines: physical, intellectual, and monadic or spiritual. Those three lines lead respectively to the development of substance, consciousness, and unitary awareness.

On the physical or substantial line of development, matter at first becomes increasingly dense until it reaches some nadir of density, some singular state of inconceivable compaction, as in one of the black holes of the universe where physical law, as we know it, does not hold. From that point of maximum density, matter evolves into complex but also more rarefied states—the matter we know being more empty space than substance and therefore already very subtle. The future of matter is an increasing etherealization.

On the intellectual or conscious line of development, awareness is progressively restricted as it moves through the elemental kingdoms, until it reaches its nadir in the mineral state, where its responses are limited to those restricted ones we call chemical reactions and the like. Thereafter it evolves through the vegetable and animal kingdoms, in which responsiveness to the environment and to other beings becomes increasingly acute, as plants respond quickly to the physical conditions around them and animals to other beings. When awareness reaches the human kingdom, interior reflection and self consciousness flourish. Humanity is well along the road to increased awareness of the universe, but before us still lie vistas of perception and knowledge that we can yet scarcely imagine.

On the monadic or spiritual line of development, the Oneness of the source is progressively divided into smaller and smaller, more and more restricted and limited units. Ultimately, to be sure, there is only one Monad (from the Greek, meaning "unity"). But as that Monad is reflected in evolved matter and the developed kingdoms of life, it is continually refracted, so that it seems to itself to become increasingly limited and fragmented. Thus the One apparently divides into the many.

This process has also been described as one of "group souls" that individualize. In the mineral kingdom, vast areas and types of substance are ensouled by one aspect of the Monad. In the vegetable kingdom, the domain of each ray of the Monad is much restricted but still encompasses whole species of plants. In the animal kingdom, the Monad is even more restricted, expressing itself through an ever- decreasing range of physical forms. Among the higher animals, a single group soul (which is one separate ray of the Monad) may express itself through only a few separate bodies at a time. Finally, in the human kingdom, the monadic line of development reaches its nadir, for each human being is a distinct individuality, a persisting bit of separateness from the primal unity of existence.

In this sense, we humans, far from being the crown of evolution, as we are vaingloriously wont to imagine ourselves, are actually the nadir of spiritual development. As the most individual of all beings, we are the most separate from the divine Unity and thus the farthest of all beings from our common source. In us the monadic development reaches its lowest point. Our future is to reestablish connections, to forge the links that will bind us back to the Unity, to become One—consciously, deliberately, of our own free will. At the omega point of evolution, we are to merge without losing our identities, to recreate the Unity, but then a Unity that knows itself and has chosen its state. Through the outgoing phases of these three lines of development—the densification of matter, the limitation of consciousness, and the individualization of spirit—the dark angels are the governing forces. They guide the involution of the universe. They make it solid, unresponsive, and fragmented. They bring the world into being. They are the creators.

But once the nadir on each line of development has been reached and the forces turn backward to evolve out of those limitations, the bright angels become the guides of evolution, and the work of the dark angels becomes evil in the sight of those who are evolving. The work of the dark angels continues, however: Black holes are still compacting matter throughout the cosmos; consciousness still flows into the mineral forms and so is restricted; living creatures still move toward the spiritual separation of individuality. The impulse of the dark angels—the involution of matter, consciousness, and spirit—is all around us. But the human path now lies in a different direction, and so for us their work has become evil—not evil in itself, not malum in se, but evil relative to our direction.

As human beings, we value the work of the bright angels, because we are well along the paths of refined substance and increased consciousness, and we have turned the bend on the path of spiritual unity—although we have just made the turn, so the old forces of separateness are still strong within us. But however much we sympathize with the upward path of evolution and the work of the bright angels, we should not scorn the other. The work of the dark angels—to solidify matter, to funnel consciousness into it, and to make separate, distinct centers of identity—must come first. The work of the dark angels is necessary to the total ecology of the universe. Without them there would be nothing to evolve, and the bright angels would have no role to play.

The Dark Angel Within

However, while we respect the work of the dark angels, we must take care not to become a part of it. Our destiny, our dharma, is elsewhere. Yet there is still a temptation within us to follow the dark path. That temptation does not concern the densification of matter, for black holes are far from our condition in time and space. Neither does it much concern the limitation of consciousness, for we evolved from mineral unresponsiveness eons ago. Only exceptionally and pathologically do human beings sink back to animal or vegetative states of unconsciousness, and then it is no more than a temporary regression, not lasting beyond the bounds of a lifetime, and seldom as long as that.

Spiritual regression, however, is another matter. We have only just made the upward turn in monadic evolution; we are newly emerged from the nadir of spiritual isolation and separateness. Before our individualization, the dark angels were our friends and guides. We have old ties with them that are not easily unknotted. We sympathize still with their forces; we resonate still with their discordant melodies. They are still within us.

One of the teachings of the wisdom tradition is that we are composite beings—not simply souls with bodies but compounds of principles evolved separately over the eons and brought together to make up our natures. The elements that compose us are like distinct rays of light of various colors and intensities that are focused together to illuminate a scene in a play. The lights become one illumination, but they are projected from several lamps and reflect the nature of those lamps.

The creation myth of Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine has an episode in which the progenitors of humanity are discussing our making and what must go into us to produce a complete humanity (Anthropogenesis stanza 17; SD 2:105). The Earth gives our gross physical body, the Solar Spirits give our life energy, the Lunar Ancestors give the model of our personality, the Heat of the Sun gives our desires; but humanity needs also "a mind to embrace the Universe," and none can give humanity that intellect, until the Sons of Wisdom add their light to the others. This creation myth has various interpretations, but one of its significant meanings is that we are composites of evolutionary impulses that are historically independent of each other, though they have combined in us.

Our prehuman development was directed toward making us spiritually independent, to bring us to the unique isolation which is the human state—the condition of individualization. The dark angels made us human by building up the individual ego. We are the creatures who are alone. As we evolve from the human to the superhuman kingdoms, we will move from spiritual isolation to spiritual connectedness, integration, interdependence. However, our natures have been molded by the dark angels of spiritual isolation and separateness. And the effects of their labors remain strong within us.

The biblical myth of the Fall can be seen as alluding to this human individualization and its consequences. In that myth, Adam and Eve, who are proto-humanity, are led by the serpent (the dark angel) to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The knowledge that the fruit imparts is of their own separate identities. In their disobedience to the divine prohibition against eating, they assert their separate wills—they become choosing individuals. That is the Original Sin, whose punishment is expulsion from the unity of the Garden of Eden into the diversity of the fallen world. And the first man and woman retain and pass on to their descendants the consequences of their separation—a fallen nature and a susceptibility to the wiles and temptations of Satan, the adversary, the personification of spiritual separateness.

Within the stark simplicity of the myth of the Fall and original sin lies a great truth. We inherit the effects of our past, and an action that may have been necessary—a quest for knowledge, a coming of age, an attainment of independence—can have consequences that, if unchecked, are inappropriate for our further development. Good things of the past may become bad things of the future.

The dark angels guided us to human independence and still have a place in our lives, for they are the impulse to self-survival. They are ego exalting. They are self-assertive. Human society has not yet reached a stage at which we can do without such motives to action. And indeed, although in mature humans those motives must become transformed into something less violent and more considerate of others than they have been in the adolescence of our species, we will never be able to do without them altogether. For the world can progress only when all of us in it are pulled between the twin poles of good and evil—of unity and separateness. As Blavatsky put it:

In human nature, evil denotes only the polarity of matter and Spirit, a struggle for life between the two manifested Principles in Space and Time, which principles are one per se, inasmuch as they are rooted in the Absolute. In Kosmos, the equilibrium must be preserved. The operations of the two contraries produce harmony, like the centripetal and centrifugal forces, which are necessary to each other—mutually interdependent— "in order that both should live." (SD 1: 4161)

To preserve the equilibrium and produce the harmony within the human constitution, all forces need to be balanced—including those of the dark angels. Their forces have been called collectively the Dweller on the Threshold, and Jungian psychology personifies them as the Shadow. In Christianity they are spoken of as one's personal devil.

The devil within may not, like C. S. Lewis's Wormwood, get letters from his uncle Screwtape, or have quite as distinctly human a personality, or be as fully committed to the Christian variety of dualism; but the personal devil is more than a literary convention. Each of us has impulses, habits, and proclivities that cluster and can be imbued with a personality something like Wormwood's. The dark angels are cosmic powers that guide the involution of the universe, but they are also psychological forces from our past that shape our responses to the present.

The dark angel is a part of ourselves with which we must come to terms. As the impulse to separate ourselves from others, it is the mirror image of the bright impulse to unite with all life. Our omega point is to realize both impulses harmoniously—as separate individuals, to unite with all other separate individuals in a single pattern of compassion and benevolence. Thus the bright angels and the dark angels are both necessary to us. And what is most necessary is that we learn how to deal with both in their proper times and places and according to their proper powers.

At the end of her discussion of the kabbalistic motto, Blavatsky describes an image of:

…the "Magic Head" in the Zohar, the double Face on the double Pyramid: the black pyramid rising against a pure white ground, with a white head and face within its black triangle; the white pyramid, inverted—the reflection of the first in the dark waters, showing the black reflection of the white face...Demon est Deus Inversus (SD 1:424)


This article was initially reprinted from Maria Parisen's book, Angels and Mortals: Their Co-Creative Power. Originally printed in the March - April 2005 issue of Quest magazine.

The author, John Algeo (November 12, 1930 - October 13, 2019), was an American professor who was President of the Theosophical Society in America from 1993–2002, and then served as Vice President of the international Theosophical Society in Adyar, Chennai, India until 2008. He had a distinguished academic career at the University of Georgia as a professor of English language and linguistics, and then was Professor Emeritus. In 2014, Dr. Algeo was awarded the Subba Row Medal for his significant contributions to Theosophical literature.

In 2009, your editor started to closely collaborate with John Algeo on the Theosophy Forward project. This cooperation lasted until 2017.

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