The Evil of Darkness



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.


The Evil of Darkness

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 Doh! me)

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 members.  

Not only 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.

What 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 him.

From 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.

I 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 hawk

And took me and flew across the sky

I saw nothing but an ocean of light

As it moved, consciousness rose and voiced its sound

Made every foam fleck a new bodying

Matter receives a signal from the sea it floats in

But without the sun,

No one would see the moon

Or the ocean light

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