The Evil of Darkness explores the story of darkness and the meaning of light. It’s a two-fold story of our biological relation with darkness and a series of personal stories when I was growing up in Afghanistan that shows the cultural and social meaning of darkness. The aim is to show that our relation with darkness goes behind vision and it impacts our senses and it shapes our cultures. Its presented in format of storytelling with humour and takes the form of comedy while dealing with facts. It maintains an oral history narrative format but told with humour.
I am from Afghanistan and I have
a story about the darkness.
Its not the story you think but Contrary to the
prevailing belief it’s a lesser known story.
Have you heard of Mubbah, Azazil,
Warka Bodai and the Witchpox?
Well, its that kind of story.
At the age of 13, so ten years
ago, I was hunting in the afternoon but we had little success so my uncles left
without packing. I can’t imagine leaving my 12 year old to pack, not that I
don’t want to, but he won’t. I was determined to have dinner, similarly my 12
old wants dinner but just don’t want to catch or make it.
The clouds started to turn pink
and red further in the horizon but the streaky strips of white clouds were
straight above me as far as the heavens. I started to tap my foot which was
followed by a sensation of something going up and down in my stomach; this
useful feeling signals to me that its time to stop what I am doing and start to
move on. So I pulled the nets from the wheat fields and packed them in my bag
and started walking home. The darkness threw its blanket just as I had
stretched my bird net and quickly engulfed everything.
All children were to arrive
before dark and report to their stations within the tall confines of castle
walls. The dinner is served early and the rest of the night was spent on the
roof top “gazing at the stars”, I should have used other words that make it
sound romantic but it was very boring . Dinner was the only time when the oil
lamp was lit for a couple of hours and the rest was just darkness and stars,
again, every time I say stars in English it sounds less boring, we should have
another word for stars which make them sound boring.
I had failed on the instruction
given to me but it wasn’t my fault. It was another primordial instinct that had
tricked me. The light had tricked me into believing that the castle was closer.
The learned behaviour of dangers in the dark was shadowed by the impact of twilight
in the dusk on my senses. Studies have shown that saturated hues in twilight
can intensify emotions. More saturated hues can have amplifying effects on
emotions, intensifying our feeling and enabling senses. Its also documented
that natural light can make us relaxed or even over confident. Hue saturation
at twilight can alter our sense of distance by affecting figure ground precepts.
Since Leonardo Da Vinci's Trattato
della Pittura mentioning luminance contrast as a cue to pictorial
depth, perceptual science has confirmed that it directly determines what will
be seen as nearer or further away in two-dimensional visual configurations.
Strongly saturated inducers produced significantly larger proportions of
foreground effects indicating that these inducers stand out as figure against the
background. In short the hue saturation of light has the functional role distance
formation, and in particular figure-ground percepts.
In the village there was no
electricity, they never had it. It was actually a national hobby to watch the
light, they would go to the big city and come back with tales of an incandescent
bulb, if lucky plurals.
If you see any Afghan staring at
a street light until their legs wobble in dizziness is not a learned behaviour
from moths but part of cultural mores.
Its very much in line with what the
British do when the sun comes out, it makes no sense to strangers. Both men and
women take off most of their clothes and start walking around town with a can
in their hand, getting over friendly and shouty. Your angry and aggressive Mr
Hyde overshadows the polite and shy Dr Jekyll . now you tell me which one
is more of a transformation.
No wonder your elderlies don’t
like friendliness and loudness. Its associated with the worst of human
behaviour. Somebody has got to explain to them that other cultures are friendly
and noisy with their cloths on.
We live through hard times and
our differences are exacerbated by hardships and cost of living. I had to downsize
hosting Afghans. They gaze at the light all night long and my energy prices had
gone through the roof. They leave all the lights on until the morning.
- Zaki, can I switch
off the light?
- No, I am still watching it.
- but you were asleep!
- I am watching it in my
sleep - doh! (and he has the audacity to
Oil lamps were scarce and was
only lit a few hours in moonless nights, other than that it was pitch black. Afghan
Black is my new colour suggestion to Dulux for their winter collection. They refused
and added it was too dark. They said it was on grounds of safety as the painted
object will be invisible in dim lights. At night everything turned black, it
was as colours and contrast had gone to sleep. Darkness meant a new world had
overtaken our green fields and tall mountains. Kind of similar to what you
create when you go camping, actually not really, because its forever. You can
do it, if you go camping forever. I haven’t heard of a forever camper because
that’s crazy, and then you will be one of us.
I walk faster as I start to hear
the night creatures coming out. Then suddenly something hit me – I mean
literally in the face. It was a bat, it was so dark that even the bats couldn’t
see. I could hear them screaming and whizzing around me. I run the rest of the
way as I crouched low to avoid collision with bats and creatures.
As I got closer to the compound,
I saw a shooting star lighting the night sky among thse twinkling stars. The
majesty of its shining trail that scattered like a trace of glowing dust in the
sky further emersed me in the world of darkness. The shooting star gave me a
sense of reverence for the nature and the two worlds we are living. The history
of night is not a simple one, yet in our natural history museums we have no
section for the night life, no dark room. All we get is a cheesy Night in the
Museum movie and a sequel which is even cringier.
We talk about the dark ages or
dark minds or her dark heart and have you wondered if darkness at its essence
is a bad thing. I grew up in a very
superstitious place – well, there was nothing super about it. The night was
introduced as an evil place that banishes the light and we should never seek to
find sources of unusual sounds or lights at night. I think it might have been a
method for curtailing curiosity and wandering outside the walls, but its also
possible that it was the fear of the evil witch whose gaze would infect you
with the deadly witchpox – a deadly disease causing your skin to boil. Its pointless to argue which one is the truth,
they should be understood as mere metaphors. We illuminate the night with fire
and light; it creates Brightness which is the central quality of light. In
addition to brightness I think light improves sociability and bonding among the
family. The low intensity flickering light we artificially create at night doesn’t
remove emotions, but keeps them steady. This can lead to people having the
ability to make more rational decisions in low light and find it easier to
agree with others in negotiation.
Darkness disrupts our vision as
it requires light to make those acute and sharp imagery. We don’t have a vision
system that allow us to take in as much light as is needed to see in the dark
and our other senses are not as such that they can compensate.
Darkness affect us
psychologically and through other senses and I struggle with the night, the
moment it starts to get dark I become unsettled and I usually retreat to a corner
to shutdown. Most of all I am hounded by the night terrors. Unlike most people
I just don’t sleep through the night and most of the time await for the dawn.
My own struggle with the night has made me aware that its not our vision but a
wide range of senses and emotions that impair us at night. We all sense and see
the world in different ways and if you sense and see in a different way and you
become aware of it then it heightens the contingency of our perception. This
has made me interested in Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi, who is the founding father
of Sufism. Sufism is less concerned with why its theory of the world is the
correct one and more in finding ways not to refuse others visions of reality.
We know that darkness and light
are different phenomena but that’s not all they are lightness and darkness have
cultural meaning and we come to the dark with all those cultural association.
Darkness impact our other senses and emotions too, so we come to it with
stories and patterns of personal responses. Natural light occurring at night or
unexpected fires in the valley are caused by Mubbah a witch like
creature that lures your senses at night and will strike you with such ferocity
that’s unmatched by any evil of the day time. We are required to bound
ourselves within the thick tall walls of our home with immediate family
the nature but also places of communal use are lurking with creatures of evil;
for instance the watermill should absolutely be locked before the last light
fades. At night it’s a gathering place for the ghosts of the past. Story has it
that one of my distant cousins who used to be a sharp and diligent person became
mad after he slept a night in the water mill. He was brave and unconventional;
he made a bet with his friends that the ghosts in the mill was a myth and to
prove his point he told his friends he will sleep in the mill and to prove it,
he asked his friends to lock the door from the outside.
he didn’t know was the watermill was enchanted and at night was possessed by
the wondering bride. The Wondering Bride is the spirit of a young woman who was
forced married to an elderly man. On her wedding night she run away and sought
refuge in the watermill. The miller initially gave her refuge but betrayed her
by notifying the villagers who came out with pitchforks, surrounded the mill
while carrying torches and sat fire to the mill. She has returned with
vengeance and haunts unsuspecting men who enters her domine at night. Her ghost
is a burning flame of fire that glows at night. The light from the flame is so
bright that any man exposed to it will go mad in lightness. My cousin screamed
all night but no one dared to go and unlock the door. But what his mother
didn’t know was, the wondering bride was unharmful to women and children. He
never was again his usually charming charismatic self but became scared and
paranoid. His mother died soon afterwards in sorrow that she could have saved
that day the fable of “The man who screamed wondering bride” was born. Since
you haven’t heard the expression, its used when we don’t care about someone’s
suffering because its self-inflected. Feel free to use it as part of an
experiment we are doing to see if it catches on. We don’t have something
equivalent in English.
am convinced he was schizophrenic (no translation available into Farsi); his
mother create the fable to protect him from stigma by blaming it on the
Wondering Bride than a defect of the brain. but what do I know I am half
banished for being so stupid that I can’t see clear and present danger and only
come up with fancy words. “halfbanishment” is a thing and we need to have a
proper word for it.
I might have been stupid because
thinking back I realise that what they tried to do is to create spaces which is
free from human influence at night and reduce our impact on our environment by
giving the night to the nature. Recent research has shown that light pollution
fundamentally alters the night environment and the nature of creatures that
come to life at night. Our actions at night can impact the night creatures and
disrupts the ecosystem that we are a small part of; when we go to sleep at
night and close our doors it allows another world to flourish. Over half of all
creatures are either nocturnal or crepuscular – which means they inhabit both
the day and night. This is not to mention the plants and trees taking a break
from us – they need it. We need a break from us. If we dominate the night as we
have owned the day then we will have a bigger impact on the natural world. Studies
have shown that brain cells tend to be the most sensitive to light at nights.
Night light can even have an impact on those who are blind when it comes to
circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythm is our internal clock. It influences
melatonin secretion, cortisol activity and alertness. Light, particularly white
and blue light suppresses levels of melatonin, helping us stay awake and alert,
reducing levels of melatonin and keeping us awake. sleep problems can
eventually lead to behavioural change and impact our limbic system.
Our vivid and colourful vision is
not very useful; Chromatopsia is a rare form of colour blindness where patience
experiences an increased perception of an environmental hue this means they can
only see in greyscale the advantage of which is being able to see better at
night. It improves memory for shapes and creates deeper narrative of physical
phenomena. The military highly value them too and are hired to spot camouflages
as their vision can’t be fooled by colours. I am a bit suspicious at the later
claim, surely everything looks like everything else.
As my story of darkness moves to
a metaphorical twilight I believe we should all be more willing to accept the
darkness in order to appreciate more the value of light.
Or let me share a vision Rumi had
in state of trance where he witnessed the creation of life and light:
The moon at dawn stooped like a
And took me and flew across the
I saw nothing but an ocean of light
As it moved, consciousness rose
and voiced its sound
Made every foam fleck a new
Matter receives a signal from the
sea it floats in
But without the sun,
No one would see the moon
Or the ocean light