Time Travelers from (the) Dark: the entanglement of the scientific and the occult in a Netflix series [paper]

Screenshot via Netflix

The third season of Netflix hit series Dark will be dropped online coming Saturday, June 27th. Those who watched the first two seasons know that this is an important date within the realm of the series’ narrative – and those who watched these seasons might also be interested in the following.

Right before the world changed, I participated in a course on ”Nature and the Supernatural” at the University of Amsterdam. I end up spending a lot of time on a paper focused on the subject of time; to be specific, time as it unfolds and dissects itself in Dark (Baran bo Odar & Jantje Friese, 2017-2020). There is so much so say about the series that the
+- 7000 words I spent on it might not even suffice, but I did my best.

This paper is probably fascinating to those of you who are genuinely interested in the ideas that are central to the series’ narrative and the many scientific, esoteric and philosophical premises that underlie them – I take you from quantum physics and time philosophy to Carl Jung and kabbalah. It helps if you are able to read extensive parts in English, as I currently do not have a Dutch translation (and I doubt whether there will ever be one), but you are most welcome to read the introduction in order to check if this for you:)

You can also find and download this paper on Academia.edu [CLICK].

Time Travelers from (the) Dark

The entanglement of the scientific and the occult in a Netflix series

By Tim Bouwhuis

January 17th, 2020

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor dark series poster
Image 1: Dark. https://blogs.chapman.edu/dodge/announcement/qa-with-dark-series-cinematographer-nikolaus-summerer/ (Accessed January 11th, 2020).

‘’Der Unterscheid zwischen Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft ist nur eine Illusion, wem auch eine hartnächige’’
‘’The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion’’
Albert Einstein – quoted at the beginning of the first episode of Dark (2017)

The first season of the German series Dark was introduced on the streaming service Netflix on December 1st, 2017. It swiftly gained immense popularity in the wake of another streaming hit, Stranger Things. While the many memes and fan theories that appeared on the internet may imply the contrary, Dark is not your average binge watch. The series is loaded with subtexts that may or may not become evident to the viewer, dependent on one’s background knowledge and attention for these extra layers of suggestion.

My aim in this paper is to demonstrate how Dark mingles scientific logics and developments with occult themes, ideas and symbols. I argue that the philosophical approach of the series challenges us to think about its themes and ideas in a distinct and perhaps counter-intuitive way; one that excludes neither scientific nor occult perspectives but requires both. This argument rests not so much on a supposed paradigmatic schism between ‘the scientific’ and ‘the occult’, but rather on the conviction that the occult influences in Dark fit a broader and more general rise of interest in the occult in the context of (Western) popular culture. This conviction informs my use of the term ‘occulture’, a theoretical proposal by Religious Studies scholar Christopher Partridge (2004). My analysis of Dark has to be situated and understood in the context of this single but elusive term.[1]

The setting of Dark in 2019 [the initial year in which season 1 progresses] is a small German town called Winden[2], that is surrounded by a forest and hosts a nuclear power plant. The narrative centers around a group of characters and families that live in Winden. In S01E01[3], Mikkel Nielsen, an eleven year-old boy, suddenly disappears while he and a couple of key characters are wandering through the forest at night. His disappearance is the trigger for a chain of developments that links the looming power plant and a mysterious location in the forest to the personal secrets of some of the villagers. It quickly becomes evident that characters in the series have (had) the ability to travel through time, and that the mysteries of Dark evolve around the notion of time. Mikkel’s appearance in the year 1986 in his physical form of 2019 is the first of many time journeys in the series. The idea that ‘’everything is connected’’ is constantly repeated by characters throughout the series. In Dark, time is cyclical. The ending has the potential to be the actual beginning and vice versa; past, present and future get interspersed. Thus, as the series proceeds, the different-and-yet-particular timeslots that are set up [1921-1953/’54-1986/’87-2019/’20-2053, with a standard interval of 33 years[4]] get more and more entangled, until the point that you really need the intertitles to keep them apart. In my analysis of the series I will expand on the ‘logics’ of Dark and its treatment of time and time travel.

The analysis will unfold on two particular levels. The first is the notion of time and time travel as the series presents it, and its relation to perspectives from science and the philosophy of science on the same subject. The second level concerns the dramatic or psychological core of the series, one that, I will argue, uses several philosophical and occult key references to incorporate universal, macrocosmic logics on a microcosmic scale. Thus, the two levels of analysis are intrinsically connected – I merely separate them for structural reasons. In the paper, ‘macrocosmic’ refers to our material world while ‘microcosmic’ mainly concerns the individual and his psychological development. This distinction is inspired by the aphorism ‘’as above, so below’’, which is found on the compact Emerald Tablet[5] ( a cryptic Hermetic text, whereof the earliest known version (in Arabic) dates back to 934 CE[6]) and in the book Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy (1908), that claims to build on the philosophy of Hermes Trismegistus, the alleged wisdom teacher that granted the Hermetica and Hermetic philosophy their respective names. Both the Emerald Tablet and the Kybalion feature in the series, and I will discuss them in my analysis. The Emerald Tablet grants ‘Sic Mundus’, which is the secret organization in the series that aims to control time and time travel, its name.[7] Whereas on the Tablet, ‘’as above’’ purportedly refers to the heavens or the universe (macrocosm) and ‘’so below’’ to our world[8], my slightly adjusted distinction follows the predominant logics of the series: the actions of the individual and his inner transformation (microcosmic level of analysis) are related to the laws and workings of a larger whole, which we may call the macrocosm (in Dark: the material world in its intrinsic connection to the universe).

My analysis of Dark will mainly build on the scripts of the episodes and their mise-en-scène (the ‘content’ of separate shots, which concerns the situatedness or absence of characters but also the presence of particular material objects within the frame). I include quotes of the characters, explanations of relevant plotlines and developments[9] and visual elements (screenshots) to steer my arguments. Dark is a German series, which means that I have taken Netflix’s English translations of the episodes as points of departure (the only exceptions are highlighted quotes in the German language). I take it for granted that some subtle nuances may get lost in translation.[10] The potential ‘intentions’ of the series’ creators and the writers and directors of the episodes[11] are mostly absent in my analysis. Not only is it difficult, if not impossible, to discuss these intentions without lengthy interviews with the creators (in this case: Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese), the interviews that are available online only provide subtle hints to the general backgrounds to the series’ themes, and not to the many direct symbols and references to both scientific and occult sources. Therefore, I contend that there is much more potential in an exhaustive analysis of the series than in an exposé on (the question of) intentionality. On the other hand, I have still used two web interviews with bo Odar and Friese to support my choices for the authors I discuss (in one case) and my overarching interpretation of the series’ psychological arc (in another). Hopefully these nods to the position of the creators will help to substantiate my overall case that the many references to both the scientific and the occult in the series are by no means coincidental, but instead fit the frame of a western (oc)culture that increasingly blends the two.

I: the re-enchantment of the West and occulture

What is occulture? For Christopher Partridge, it denotes ‘’(…) those often hidden, rejected and oppositional beliefs and practices associated with esotericism, theosophy, mysticism, New Age, Paganism, and a range of other subcultural beliefs and practices. (…) Occulture itself is not a worldview, but rather a resource on which people draw, a reservoir of ideas, beliefs, practices, and symbols.’’[12] Partridge wrote his Re-Enchantment of the West (two volumes, 2004) from the conviction that in the West, old (which often denotes traditional and/or institutional) ways of believing are gradually replaced by new modes of religion and spirituality. The first chapter of volume 1 is a critical evaluation of different (academical) accounts of secularization. Partridge argues that what we are witnessing is not an ongoing decline of religion but a confluence of secularization and sacralization.[13] In this context, a new religio-cultural milieu has originated in which people often explicitly oppose the moral and political heritage of Christianity. This milieu resources and is resourced by popular culture.[14] Popular culture is a key component of occulture, as it feeds ideas into the occultural reservoir and simultaneously develops, mixes and disseminates these ideas. In this respect, popular culture fundamentally matters, because it informs the way people think about and interact with the world: ‘’The point is, again, that particular concepts and cosmologies explored in popular culture are not merely expressions of contemporary religious interests and concerns, but they lead, first, to familiarization and fascination, and secondly, to the development of spiritualities.’’[15]

I consider Partridge’s notion of occulture helpful, if not indispensable to understand contemporary popular culture. My personal conviction is that in the past few years (it is now about 16 years since this work was published[16]) the re-enchantment of the West has become even more visible and prevalent than it was at the beginning of the century. This includes and accompanies the ideas, beliefs, practices and symbols that inform and permeate occulture. My main theoretical proposition with regard to Dark is that within the milieu of occulture, real-life occult ideas and beliefs have the potential to influence popular works of fiction, that could in turn inform the ideas and beliefs of actual people. While I cannot prove this without conducting actual fieldwork (or quoting scholars who have done so – both options escape the scope of this paper), I do include it as an hypothesis that corresponds to the popularity of the series. When occulture is taken seriously enough, and I argue there is ample reason to embrace that attitude, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, or to state that the concerned pop-cultural product (in this case, Dark) is simply a work of fiction without any tangible effects and/or connection to its many inspirations and references. This is why it makes extra sense to study the series in relation to the re-enchantment of the West and to situate its many references to both scientific and occult ideas in that context.  

II: Time, (dark) matter and the physics and philosophy of time travel


In order to fully follow and comprehend my analysis of Dark, I recommend the reader to watch the series by him or herself, especially because it enables one to disagree with my understanding and interpretation of it. For this paper, however, it is mainly important to know that the main character, Jonas (played by Louis Hoffman), who will get to know the many mysteries of time, and Adam (played by Dietrich Hollinderbäumer), are one and the same person. Further details will always be explicated in the analysis itself or in the additional footnotes.

Particularly in the first season, succinct dialogues between core characters serve to explicate how time functions in the diegetic[17] world of the series. Of special relevance are the scenes that feature doctor Tannhaus (often together with the so-called ‘’mysterious stranger’’, who is later revealed to be the middle-aged version of Jonas/Adam), because he is the author of a book on time travel (see image 2) and the ‘inventor’[18] of the time machine that is used to travel between different timeslots. In this first section, I explain how time and time travel work in the world of Dark, and I connect it to actual developments in (quantum) physics. The next section will then expand on the way in which dark matter is employed in the series and has to be understood scientifically – that is, as far as we think we understand it.

Image 2: Tannhaus’s book (S01).

In the introduction I already mentioned the cyclical nature of time in Dark and the continuous entanglement of past, present and future. The creators go so far as to call one of the episodes (S01E09) ‘’Alles ist jetzt’’, which denotes the idea of encapsulating the complete course of the universe in one single moment.[19] It also hints at the lack of a first cause that sets things in motion, as postulated by Steven Hawking (1942-2018).[20]

Philosophical and religious views on circular time have existed from early, undetermined times, and they are certainly not limited to ‘non-Western’ (for instance Buddhist) thought. Plato (4th century BCE) wrote that time was curving back into itself.[21] Time is one of cosmology’s mysteries, and the mystery is universal. The point is merely that the linear conception of time – time as a journey from beginning to end, a hi-story[22]  – has proved itself the hegemonic current in the history of human thought. Although we tend to follow the scientific inclination to distinguish objective time (if such a thing exist – you could also phrase it ‘external time’), as measured by clocks and watches, from personal or mind-dependent time, our efforts to challenge our linear perception of time usually stop there.[23] This is partly why I now turn to the realm of General Relativity and (quantum) physics.

Curving time

The linear conception of time was not really challenged before the advent of Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Isaac Newton (1643-1727), whose all-encompassing theory of gravity had been the predominant framework until the early 1900s, had viewed time as a strictly linear process.[24] Einstein crushed this perspective when he proposed empirical arguments that suggested the fundamental relativity of time.[25] It was Herman Minkowski (1864-1909), however, who gave Einstein’s initial theory of Special Relativity (1905) extra gravitas by coining the term spacetime, three years after Einstein had published his groundbreaking paper.[26] Spacetime consists of spatiotemporal points (or events) that are linked to given moments in space. All these points (in a person’s life) are connected in a single worldline. The hypothesis of General Relativity (GR, 1915), which is often described as an ‘upgrade’ of Special Relativity, includes the possibility that worldlines are bent.[27] These particular worldlines could then form closed loops of time, which are formally described as CTC’s (closed timelike curves). What separates theory from fiction is that we do not know if CTC’s exist in our universe, or if they will ever be located or created. We can only state that General Relativity predicts the existence of wormholes, portals or openings in spacetime that would allow the formation of CTC’s. There has been ample speculation that black holes can function as wormholes – Christopher Nolan’s modern science-fiction classic Interstellar (2014) is an excellent example – but there are also plenty of concrete theoretical conjectures about how they might be formed.[28]  

My reference to Interstellar already indicates an entanglement of (popular) fiction and science, and this film is no exception. Throughout the past few years, (western) film and television culture has experienced what could boldly be called an epidemic of time travel-based or centered products. I mention a selection: Once Upon a Time (2011-2018), Looper (2012), Predestination (2014), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Outlander (2014-), Arrival (2016), 2:22 (2017) Travelers (2016-2018), Timeless (2016-2018), The Flash (2014-) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). These films and tv-series have many predecessors that go back to the early 1920s[29], and regularly build on repetitive tropes and ideas. It is no coincidence that there is a scene in Dark where a character called Egon Tiedemann is clearly referencing Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future (1985)[30], the intersubjective summum of popular culture with regard to this particular theme. A swift and ‘rational’ response to this (which you would still hear quite often) would be that it is simply impossible to travel through time, and that this is precisely the reason why we use the suffix ‘fiction’ in science fiction. While this paper is by no means an attempt to prove for once and for all that time travel is scientifically possible, I want to question the presupposition that we can simply dismiss this element of the narrative because it may, at least at first glance, be a purely fictional trope. I will do so by discussing the workings of time travel in Dark through the lens of some particular academic writings on the subject, notably those of David Lewis (1976), David Deutch & Michael Lockwood (1994) and Paul Nahin (1992).

From General Relativity to quantum physics

A 1994 paper on the quantum physics of time travel by David Deutsch, a physician, and Michael Lockwood, a philosopher, has a striking – perhaps ironic – subtitle: common sense may rule out such excursions – but the laws of physics do not. The authors start their exposé with a retelling of the classic ‘grandfather paradox’, in which a time-traveling grandchild murders his grandfather, presumably erasing his own birth.[31] Paradoxes like these are still employed to rule out time travel on logical and theoretical grounds. In Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time (2012), Tim Maudlin concludes that time travel is logically inconsistent, and thus impossible.[32] The problem with such a shortcut is that it foregrounds common sense instead of actual insights from the realm of GR and quantum physics.[33] Theoretical physics in the wake of Einstein defies ‘common sense’ and does not refute the paradoxes some scientists might want to evade. A classic paper on this precise stance is David Lewis’ ‘’The Paradoxes of Time Travel’’ from 1976. Time travel, in the words of Paul Nahin, actually is ‘’the ultimate fantasy, the scientific addition to the human quest for immortality’’.[34] On the other hand, the fantasy element has never really left the equation, and for many scientists, the topic remains a science-fiction. Time travel is subject to serious academic discourse, there is no finite consensus.

One important nuance is that when discussing time travel, GR has to be distinguished from quantum physics. It is easier said than done to bridge the macro-level of GR and the micro-level of quantum physics. On the level of quantum physics, the rules of GR no longer apply, although some scientists have continued their quest to integrate the two.[35] Deutsch and Lockwood state that all apparent paradoxes of time travel could be resolved through quantum mechanics, but their hypotheses on spacetime, CTC’s and the possibility of wormholes build on GR.[36] In a recent paper, philosopher of science Christian Wüthrich states that this latest theory ought, at a minimum, be replaced by a theory that can accommodate the quantum nature of matter. GR, he explains, assumes that matter has essentially classic properties, whereas we know from quantum physics that (degrees of) matter can behave rather differently.[37] Wüthrich asks which implications a solid theory of quantum gravity would have for GR’s implication that time travel is possible. As of yet, however, no such theory has been fully formulated, let alone supported by empirical evidence.[38]

Travelling in (the) Dark

In Dark, the time machine is a wormhole (situated in a cave in the forest of Winden) that connects different points in spacetime through causal loops (CTC’s). Within such a loop, everything is connected, and future and past influence each other to such an extent that it evokes the chicken and the egg paradox: no one can recall anymore which one came first. Darkstretches spacetime and drives it crazy.

Characters sometimes get stuck in one particular slot, which means that they age right there, which in turns alters the life course of their future selves. The idea is that if you know what will happen in the future, you can travel back to the past to alter the chain of events. This may sound ideal, but the characters of the series repeatedly stumble upon the limitations of this method, for instance when Jonas realizes he cannot bring Mikkel back to 2019 without erasing his own existence.[39] Moreover, when characters fail their objectives they get caught in what I call a time prison: a mode of captivity in a different timeslot (either the past or the future) whereby characters no longer master the course of events. A significant effect of this development is that the characters in dispute will age within this new timeslot, which also means that the lives of their future (now past) selves will be altered. A tragic example is Ulrich Nielsen, the father of Mikkel, who enters a wormhole in 2019 to alter the past but ultimately gets stuck in a psychiatric asylum in 1953[40]. All these particular complications of time travel could be studied further in the context of the work of, among others, Lewis and Deutsch & Lockwood, whose papers facilitate time travel but also point toward the apparent limitations of it. An example is a statement by Deutsch and Lockwood that a closed timelike curve will get used up if repeatedly traversed.[41] Finally, characters in Dark meet different versions of themselves because the laws of time travel that are applied in the series allow the co-existence of doppelgangers within a single timeslot.[42] This corresponds with Lewis’ suggestion that a time traveler who doubles back toward the past (but not too far) may be able to talk to himself.[43]

The actual discourse on time travel in the context of quantum physics demonstrates how Dark’s speculative fictions coincide with scientific theory, which, at least in this regard, cannot escape speculation itself. Moreover, we have seen that time travel logics in Dark are based on general relativity – which does not mean, I must preclude, that its rendering of Einsteinian physics is automatically flawless.[44] Obviously bo Odar and Friese can allow themselves speculations that scientists may not even think of –  what is fascinating is that they choose to do so within existing frames of reference.

The Higgs Boson Blues

In this regard, time travel is not even where it all concludes. Concrete references to the Higgs field, the Higgs Boson particle and dark matter in the series are an even greater encouragement to study the physics of Dark in the context of actual quantum physics.

Particle physicists use the so-called Standard Model to interpret the elemental constituents of matter in the universe and the forces that bind or break it. The Standard Model implies the existence of the Higgs field, an otherwise invisible energy field which pervades the universe. The Higgs Boson is the constitutive element of the field, and it is used to explain how matter gains mass. Mass is constructed from energy interactions between the field and elementary particles that are in themselves massless.[45] The name ‘Higgs’ honors Peter Higgs, the scientist who proposed the existence of a constitutive field particle in 1964.[46]

Image 3: Higgs and his colleagues are mentioned in Dark (S02E05).

In 1993, the American physicist Leon Lederman (1922-2018) popularized the Higgs Boson when he baptized it the ‘God particle’. His book (The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What Is the Question?) is a fascinating case study in the frequently supposed ‘clash’ between science and religion. This is mainly because Lederman involves (and condemns) Christian theology in the scientific quest for knowledge. In his introduction, he mythologizes the relation between Christianity and science in a anecdote-type story that is worth quoting at length:

‘’And the whole universe was of many languages, and of many speeches. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Waxahachie, and they dwelt there. And they said to one another, Go to, let us build a Giant Collider, whose collisions may reach back to the beginning of time. And they had superconducting magnets for bending, and protons had they for smashing. And the Lord came down to see the accelerator, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold the people are un-confounding my confounding. And the Lord sighed and said. Go to, let us go down, and there give them the God Particle so that they may see how beautiful is the universe I have made.’’ — The Very New Testament, 11:1[47]

It is no surprise that many scientists (including Higgs) criticized Lederman’s sensationalism, and yet, there are possibly more people who know the term ‘God particle’ than enthusiasts who can explain what the Higgs Boson is. In Dark, the term God particle is used when Claudia Tiedemann discusses the test results of Winden’s nuclear facility with one of its employees: ‘’the God particle… the particle that gives all things its mass’’(S02E05). What is particularly interesting is that the employee refers to test results that correspond in many, but not all aspects with the calculations of Higgs et al. This affirms how the series is working with the same principle, but adjusts and slightly modifies it in the course of its own fiction.

The actual Higgs Boson may have been proposed in the 1960s, it was not discovered and confirmed before (respectively) 2012 and 2013.[48] This happened at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the European organization for fundamental research in particle physics.[49] In 2008, the LEP (Large Electron-Positron Collider, 1989-2009) transferred duty to the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator to date. LHC experiments are designed to test, challenge and possibly expand the Standard Model.[50]

CERN and the The Duality of Matter

Scientists follow a pattern of duality in their classification of matter, and this is precisely why the term ‘dark matter’ exists as an alternative to ordinary matter. Ordinary matter consists of detectable baryons (subatomic particles).[51] Alain Mazure describes their ‘dark’ counterparts as anti-particles, that have gained the same mass as ordinary matter, but are of opposite quantum number (in terms of their electric charge).[52] Dark Matter takes different forms: black holes, faint stars and galactic haloes have all been linked to the phenomenon, because anti-particles are said not to emit light and radiation.[53] The consensus among most scientists is that about 96 percent of the universe must be made up of dark matter.[54] The existence of dark matter is derived from the fact that the gap between the total density of the universe and the total density of detected (ordinary) matter is too large.[55]

Dark matter is actively created by both Sic Mundus[56] and the scientists of Winden’s nuclear plant. The series shows two separate transitory[57] energy fields that consist of dark matter. Adam speaks: ‘’(…) what is created today is the beginning of the end. (…) it has to be created so that in the future I can lead it to its new purpose. The end of this world’’.[58] The nuclear disaster that happened in Chernobyl (26 April 1986) is evoked, seemingly as an uncanny prelude to the doomsday event that awaits Winden. A part of the plot, predominantly of season 1, unfolds in the wake of the disaster, as 1986 is the first time travel destination, 33 years back since 2019. The references are tangible:

Image 4: Chernobyl in the daily newspaper of Winden (S01E02).

In this context, I deem it no coincidence that CERN was established in 1954.[59] In the world of Dark, this is only one year after the establishment of the nuclear power plant in Winden. While 1953 is introduced in season 1 as one of the time cycles, some scenes in season 2 are set particularly in 1954. Subtle references to a new collaborative scientific initiative make it plausible that the power plant is also a metaphor for CERN:

Image 5: a billboard for nuclear power in Winden, 1953 (S01E09).

We know that CERN actively creates dark matter particles[60], as Sic Mundus and the scientists at the Winden power plant do, and since we have already seen how these particles line up with references to the God particle and the work of Higgs, I conclude that CERN must have been a model and/or inspiration for the scientific and nuclear activity in Winden. We are, at least to some extent, witnessing a mirror world that blends fiction and reality while disrupting the boundary between the two.

Image 6: dark matter-cloud in the hidden quarters of Sic Mundus, 1921 (S02E05).

To conclude the chapter as a whole, the connections between the logics of Dark and the physics of time and time travel raise an ultimate paradox. If we, for instance, consider Paul Nahin’s statement that time machines are ‘’not magic, but rather rational’’, and that his book is not about the supernatural[61], how do we deal with a series that evolves in a radically different way? The next chapter delves into some of the most prevalent occult references, symbols and ideas that are to be found in the syncretic, coalescing universe(s) of Dark.

III: Occult transformation: the dark psyche and Adam’s individuation

‘’The Hermetists understand the art and methods of rising above the ordinary plane of Cause and Effect, to a certain degree, and by mentally rising to a higher plane they become Causers instead of Effects. The masses of people are carried along, obedient to environment; the wills and desires of others stronger than themselves; heredity; suggestion; and other outward causes moving them about like pawns on the Chessboard of Life. But the Masters, rising to the plane above, dominate their moods, characters, qualities, and powers, as well as the environment surrounding them, and become Movers instead of pawns. They help to play the game of life, instead of being played and moved about by other wills and environment.’’
– The Kybalion (1908)[62]

In an interview with Vice, Jantje Friese states that there is ‘’something inherently German’’ about the series. She puts what she describes as Dark’s ‘’dry creepiness’’ down to the German national psyche, and explains how she perceives this particular quality: “We feel delving into those dark themes has a lot to do with who we are and what happened in the first years of the last century, when basically there were two world wars and lots of people were killed in the name of Germans,” she says. “It’s something that we, as the younger generation, talked about extensively in school and always with the question, how could this happen? How can people actually do such dark and creepy things? I think those themes, the darkness in human behavior itself, is something that is very German.”[63]

This declamation of German-ness has supported my decision to use the ideas and writings of two well-known German authors, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) in my discussion of the two central psychological themes of the series: determinism (versus free will) and the attainment of freedom via individuation or the transformation of the self. I intend to demonstrate how the first theme ultimately leads to the second, or, in other words, how the series proposes the transformation of the self as a process that becomes possible once the laws of determinism are overcome. This explains why I will devote more attention to Jung’s work on the self than on Nietzsche’s ideas about determinism, and why I will get to Jung via Nietzsche. I do not regard the immense oeuvre of Jung as an interpretive tool on itself, but as lens through which many fundamental ideas and symbols from the series can be discussed. Via Jung, I analyze the presence of the Emerald Tablet, the Kybalion and the Ouroboros in the series and expand on some of their philosophical and occult bifurcations in Gnosticism, Lurianic Kabbalah and medieval alchemy. I choose to do so because the scope of this paper does not allow historical exposés on all these esoteric branches, while I do think that they are all relevant to a proper understanding of the series’ esoteric philosophy. This also means that my analytical aim is not so much to offer exhaustive historical accounts of Jung’s many influences (and even of the work of Jung himself, which would be a task on itself) , but rather to detect which ideas are reflected in the series and to which possible end(s).

Mirroring its approach with regard to the logics of time in its diegetic world, Dark uses specific characters for the exposition of its philosophical and occult ideas on human existence. In the first season, emphasis is put on Noah, who is framed as the initial antagonist[64] before it becomes clear (in the course of the second season) that Adam is (or has become) the actual mastermind of Sic Mundus. He is everyone’s (puppet) master, including Noah’s. All the occult key references in Dark come from (or are connected to) Sic Mundus.

Nietzsche’s demon

‘’Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein’’
‘’If you gaze into an abyss for too long, the abyss will also gaze into you’’

– Friedrich Nietzsche (quoted at the beginning of S02E01)

In S01E08 doctor Tannhaus states that causal determinism forbids us to alter the course of events within a single temporal chain, but that it is inherent to human nature to believe that we play a role in our own lives. This purported illusion of the mind relates to Nietzsche’s ideas on human suffering. According to him, all than we can expect in this life is to suffer; but our impotence to deal with meaningless suffering causes us to project reasons and explanations on the cosmos. These efforts are futile, since we cannot reduce suffering, and the more we try to do so, the more it will weaken us.[65] The Gay Science (1882) contains a passage that is frequently quoted to explain Nietzsche’s view on the eternal recurrence of events:

‘’What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence-even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?’’[66]

Many commentators have convincingly argued that the core suggestion of this scenario is not to embrace eternal recurrence as a universal truth, but rather to stress how adopting the attitude can have a lasting effect on one’s psychological resilience.[67] It is not enough to accept suffering, one must ‘love’ it – this is what Nietzsche called amor fati.[68] The more suffering one can bear, the stronger one becomes.[69]

Annihilating emotion, destroying time

The only character in Dark that comes to embody this credo is Adam, or the final Jonas, the main character of the series. For quite some time throughout the first two seasons Dark perpetuates the dogma that ‘’everything is predetermined’’[70], and the two fundamental ideas that underpin it are both brought forward by him. The first is the restrictive effect that every individual’s emotions and desires have on his or her behavior. ‘’We are not free in what we do because we are not free in what we desire’’, Noah states in S02E10. ‘’We are not free until we have laid off all emotion’’, Adam adds in the same episode. Although one could deny this statement a truly Nietzschean status – amor fati may be ultimate freedom, but it does not eliminate all emotion – Adam’s attitude is the outcome of a Nietzschean process: he has learned to embrace suffering and to extinguish his desire to alter the predetermined course of events on the physical plane.

The second idea that is used to explain determinism in the series is the god-like quality of time itself. In S02E05, Adam proclaims that ‘’the god mankind has prayed to for thousands of years (…) exists as nothing other than time itself’’. Thus, when Adam says Sic Mundus has declared war on God and that God is their antagonist, he actually claims to express their intention to wage war on time. In this regard, ‘god’ (or time – I will get back to the apparent reference to the demiurge Chronos/Kronos when I discuss the gnostic undertone of the series via Jung) is not an acting, thinking (metaphysical) entity, as he is in monotheistic religions[71], but ‘’a physical law with which one can negotiate as little as one can with one’s own fate’’.[72] The solution of Sic Mundus is to create a world without time.

Thus, the world of Dark is strictly deterministic (only) without time travel. Time travel is employed as a means to ‘break time’, that is, to escape from a human life course in the bondage of time.[73] In this regard, the ultimate attainment of the series transcends Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. In his work, just as in the series, the universe repeats itself and things that happen, will happen again. Adam and Sic Mundus confirm that this is indeed how it works, but they have found a way to break the eternal cycle.

This is why only Nietzschean philosophy does not suffice to explain Dark. Whereas the idea of eternal recurrence mirrors the cyclical timeline of the series, and Nietzsche’s godless determinism corresponds with Adam’s nihilist worldview, Nietzsche’s work does not contain an ‘emergency exit’; there is no enlightenment for the enlightened. This is where I turn to the appearance of the Kybalion, the Emerald Tablet and the Ouroboros in the series and to Jung’s notion of individuation as a means to delve deeper into the philosophy of Adam and his Sic Mundus-society.

Hermetic instructions

Image 7: The Kybalion (S02E01).

The Kybalion appears on Dark in only one brief instance, and it is easy to miss it. The book is shown in a quick close-up in S02E01, and it contains a photo of the Sic Mundus-society, which indicates a close connection between the society and Hermetic philosophy. The Kybalion was written much later (1908) than the terminus post quem and the terminus ante quem (plural) of the texts in the Corpus Hermeticum, but the authors, who identify themselves as the Three Initiates (after Hermes the Thrice-Great), establish a direct link between their work and the wisdom teachings of Hermes Trismegistus: they are ‘’students at the feet of Hermes, the Master’’, who aim to give to the [other] students (i.e. readers) a ‘’statement of the Truth that will serve to reconcile the many bits of occult knowledge that they may have acquired’’.[74]

One idea that is central to the Kybalion is that of duality: “Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half‑truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.’’.[75] Dualism follows from duality, and with this term I refer to the use of two supposedly irreducible, heterogenous and often opposed principles. The quote from the Kybalion already indicates that this radical understanding of duality cannot sustain itself. In fact, the Three Initiates state that ‘opposites’ are really the two extremes of the same thing, and every opposite is a paradox of itself.[76] This is significant because I argue that Dark deconstructs duality in the exact same way, and that our understanding of this particular rendering is crucial to the development of plot and the transformation of Adam/Jonas.

In S01E08, it is stated that human thinking is infused with dualism: ‘’Everything appears as opposite pairs – but that’s wrong’’. In S02E06, Claudia Tiedemann tells Jonas that there are two groups that try to control time travel. She calls them light and shadow, and ensures Jonas that ‘’they are the light’’.[77] The point here is that these opposites (other examples in the series are paradise and hell, and, in terms of time, beginning and ending) are false opposites: they are solely extremes of the same spectrum.[78] Within the story arc, this is ironic and atypical, for it means that there is no real protagonist or antagonist, no hero and even no real ‘battle’ between the two groups mentioned by Claudia. The end goal is to reconcile the opposites and make them one, which the Kybalion states as well.

The alchemical Tablet

The prevalence of the aphorism ‘’as above, so below’’ in the Kybalion helps to explain why the Emerald Tablet – the source of the phrase – recurs throughout the series.[79] Its most appealing appearance concerns the tattoo of the Tablet on Noah’s back[80]:

Image 8 : Emerald Tattoo (S01E04). Note that the triquetra (trinity knot), the symbol at the bottom, is an addition of the series’ creators. On a basic level, the symbol represents the three dimensions of space and time. In S01E10 the triquetra is used to represent three of the series’ timeslots (1953, 1986 and 2019).

The tattoo is modelled on an engraving in the Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (1609)[81] of the German physician and alchemist Heinrich Khunrath (1560-1605)[82]:

Image 9: The Emerald Tablet (Heinrich Khunrath, 1606).

The Emerald Tablet had an immense influence on medieval alchemy.[83] This is also why it is not strange that we see the alchemical symbol of the Ouroboros in the series, alongside the Emerald Tablet. This symbol of the serpent devouring its own tail is usually accepted as ‘’symbolizing in general the essential Unity of Matter and in particular the Work which had neither beginning nor end’’.[84] For Dark, the symbol is perfect, as its allusion to infinity could represent the eternal cycle in which the characters are trapped and the ‘Work’ that Sic Mundus sets out to accomplish in order to break that same cycle. This last assertion also aligns with H.J. Sheppard’s suggestion (1962) that the Ouroboros symbolizes the life-span (‘Aeon’) of the cosmos, which is rejuvenated every spring but ends by consuming itself.[85]

Image 10: The Ouroboros as the lock in the cave where the wormhole is situated (S01E08).

Whereas Dark does not provide verbal references to the Emerald Tablet (nor to the Ouroboros), its presence as a visual trope (in fact, it is the series’ most iconic symbol) indicates that we can take the analogies between the philosophy of Sic Mundus and Hermetic Philosophy extremely seriously. What is also striking is that Isaac Newton was obsessed with the Tablet and even provided his own translation (around 1680), which once again underlines that this paper’s distinction between science and the occult is an artificial one.

From the valley of shadows to the mountain of wholeness

‘’I can describe the experience only as the ecstasy of a non-temporal state in which present, past and future are one. Everything that happens in time had been brought together into a concrete whole. Nothing was distributed over time, nothing could be measured by temporal concepts’’.[86]
– Carl Jung on a series of visions he experienced in the spring of 1944 –

I will now turn to a more elaborate discussion of some of Carl Jung’s ideas, especially his notion of individuation via the integration of the Shadow. Jung was a fervent reader and interpreter of various occult philosophies (or streams of thought), including Gnosticism, Kabbalah (especially in his late years) and medieval and early modern alchemy. While I already stated that I cannot do justice to all these purported categories on themselves, I do suggest that the impressive range of symbols, references and ideas in Dark accordingly evokes a risky but relevant question: is there possibly a single thread that binds these philosophies, at least in the context of Dark?

In the introduction of a volume on Jung’s perception of evil, Murray Stein writes that ‘’his whole psychology and psychotherapy were aimed at overcoming divisions and splits in the mind and at healing sundered psyches into operational wholes’’, and that ‘’wholeness is the master concept of Jung’s life and work, his personal myth’’. This ideal of wholeness finds neat expression in the psychological operation that Jung called ‘individuation’. Individuation originates in Jung’s life-long fascination for the unconscious and his attempts to integrate this sphere with the conscious self, thus facilitating self-knowledge. John Pennachio writes that individuation is Jung’s ‘’primal and original expression of inner life directed toward the task of wholeness and integration’’.[87]

Fundamental to individuation is the integration of what Jung coined the ‘Shadow’.[88] In his view, every individual possesses mental qualities that the ego condemns, with various reasons, such as shame and peer pressure. Because the self cannot live with these qualities, he hides them away, which practically means they resort to the unconsciousness. The most extreme effect of this process is that the ego projects his own shortcomings on other human beings.[89] The aim of individuation is to invert this disintegration by acknowledging the existence of the Shadow. In Jung’s words, ‘’to become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real’’.[90] The shadow is a moral problem; it demands the individual’s full awareness of (and thus responsibility for) his own decisions and actions.[91] This also means that the Shadow is not evil per se. ‘’What is in the shadow may well’’, Stein states, ‘’be seen as good and useful for promoting human life and well-being’’.[92]

The ego as the great sacrifice

Integrating the Shadow equals deconstructing the ego before rebuilding it, and this is where I get back to Dark. My suggestion is that the distinction between light and shadow (supposed metaphors for the two parties that try to master time travel), uttered by Claudia Tiedemann (S02E06), is a direct nod to Jung’s Shadow and thus to the psychological (and physical) transformation of Jonas into Adam. For Jung, the Shadow is the greatest challenge to the ego-personality, and I think Jantje Friese (the series’ co-creator) is aware of it. In an interview with Vulture, she was asked the following:

Some of the time travelers certainly dream of “ending the cycle,” as they phrase it, of finding a loophole that gets them out of the time loop where everything keeps happening the way as it has always happened. Is this some irrational hope they stick to? Or is there a real possibility that they can prevent some of the horrible things that went down in Winden?

Friese’s response: ‘’They think they know how this works but they don’t. They are still human. They will never be able to overcome their inner longings, their ego. They would need to completely crash their ego structure to get a grasp of it’’ (italics mine).[93] 

In S02E06, Claudia Tiedemann tells Jonas that he has to fight the battle against himself. What is this battle? It is the destruction of his ego that is the prerequisite of him becoming Adam. An essential feature in the process is the annihilation of emotion.[94] Adam’s decisive act in S02E10 – killing Martha, the love of Jonas’ life – is the trigger to Jonas’ eventual transformation into Adam.[95] The restricting effect that emotions and desires have on the individual before he is able to transform all tie back into the central character of Jonas/Adam, for before he becomes Adam, he is bound to desiring Martha. After her death, a process of mourning and pain sets in, and only when Jonas has become numb to these feelings can he be(come) Adam. Martha is the necessary sacrifice to secure Jonas’s ‘freedom’: she is an obstacle in his process of individuation, because she makes him an emotional being and thus weakens him. Recall my discussion of Adam’s repugnance to emotion in the context of Nietzsche’s determinism: ‘’we are not free until we have laid off all emotion’’. Likewise, in Jungian terms, the inferiorities that constitute the shadow are of an emotional nature. They belong to a ‘’lower level of personality’’ and its affects are a sign of human weakness or the incapability to control the self.[96] Until the self has laid off the ego, ‘’the suffering that necessarily attaches to life itself cannot be evaded’’, but in the process of individuation ‘’lies the possibility of transcending this world’’.[97] Adam is made whole through the (symbolical) sacrifice of Martha, because his desire for her previously marked the connectedness of his ego (Jonas) to the material world that he is finally ready to give up.

Material destruction or immaterial transformation?

What makes Adam’s process of individuation so ambiguous is that in Dark, it does not signify a ‘clean’ moral problem, or solely the transformation of Jonas’s ego, but rather Jonas’s/Adam’s gradual coming to terms with the complete destruction of the world. ‘’It took me ages to accept having to be part of the disaster I wanted to prevent’’, Adam proclaims (S02E10). Since he is the endpoint, the center[98] and the final incarnation of Jonas, all Jonas’s initial attempts to prevent a nuclear disaster (S02E10) from happening are futile and ironic. While individuation may be an idealistic process for Jung or the Hermetic initiate (in terms of the Kybalion), in Dark it appears misanthropic and fatalistic:

Image 11: answer: ‘’You burn it down’’ (S02E01).

In this particular context, one could maximally stretch the psychological process and propose a twist that is a hundred percent Jungian: that the complete series is a psychological exercise. This would also remove the sting from the chilling enterprise to destroy the world. I refrain from doing so, however, because such a take on Dark would completely refuse to account for the many allusions to our actual world (spacetime, relativity, dark matter, CERN, Chernobyl, and so on), as I demonstrated in the first section.


Comparisons could well be drawn between Jung’s individuation and a Gnostic process of illumination, which is precisely what John Penacchio attempts to accomplish in his article ‘’Gnostic Inner Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’’.[99] Similarly, Robert Segal (1987) writes that ‘’the Gnostic progression from sheer bodily existence to the rediscovery of the immaterial spark trapped in the body and the reunion of that spark with the immaterial godhead symbolize the Jungian procession from sheer ego consciousness to the rediscovery of the unconsciousness within the mind and the integration of the ego with the unconsciousness to forge the self’’.[100] The complicating factor here, however, is the utter instability of the terms ‘Gnosticism’ and ‘Gnostic’. Many authors, including Michael Williams (Rethinking ‘’Gnosticism’’, 1996) Karen King (What is Gnosticism?, 2003) and Fryderyk Kwiatkowski (2016, with regard to ‘’Gnosticism’’ in fiction studies) have written about this[101]. Confusion already arises in the papers that set out to align Jung’s psychology with Gnosticism; for instance, whereas Penacchio assumes there is a single concept of ‘’Gnostic illumination’’, Segal contends that Jung misconstrues Gnosticism.[102] Expanding my analysis too far into the realm of Gnosticism would thus not only destabilize it, it would also arouse extra confusion with regard to the arguably uniform character of Dark’s philosophy. This does not mean, however, that there are no elements in the series that can be identified as ‘Gnostic’. In S02E10, the use of the song ‘’My Body is a Cage’’ (Arcade Fire, 2007), evokes the idea of the spiritual body trapped in the material world. In fact, one could construe the world of Dark as a whole as a prison, both in terms of the regular material world and the ‘’time prison(s)’’ that I already referred to. A last reference that shows up in almost all presumably Gnostic accounts is that of the ‘demiurge’ or (evil) creator god. This concept appears present in Dark as well, when Adam equates God and Time, or Chronos. In Greek mythology, especially in the Hieronyman Theogyny (second century BCE), Chronos is the demiurge that also personifies time.[103] In Jung, the demiurge is ordinarily associated with the ego, which indicates, in Dark, that by destroying his ego, Adam also destroys Chronos (the demiurge): ‘’the toppling of the Demiurge by the true God (i.e. Adam, my addition) symbolizes the toppling of the ego by the self as the center of consciousness’’.[104]

Jungian Alchemy

Jungian exegete Edward F. Edinger (1922-1998) stated that the Emerald Tablet was actually a summary of the individuation process, which immediately explains why its text also fascinated Jung. On December 20th, 1940, the Swiss psychologist devoted a complete lecture to the Tablet under the heading Alchemy I.[105] Jung, Murray Stein writes, ‘’treated the thoughts and images of the alchemists as projective materials, and he analyzed them with an eye to the archetypal images and structures revealed in them’’.[106]

I emphasize that Jung considered the uninterrupted intellectual chain from alchemy back to Gnosticism to substantiate his work. For him, alchemy was even Gnosticism disguised as alchemy, and his discussions of Gnosticism deal mostly with parallels to alchemy.[107] In this regard, the ‘’alchemical process of extracting gold from base metals is a continuation of the Gnostic process of liberating fallen souls, or sparks from matter’’.[108] Thus we can see how via Jung’s interpretation of various occult streams of thought and practice, a particular genealogy of ideas arises, which may clash with historical methods but corresponds with the way in which references are rendered in Dark.

Adam Kadmon and the restoration of the world

To add one extra significant occult stream, Lurianic Kaballah (and Jung’s reading of it) helps to understand why Adam has adopted the name of the first man in Genesis. Adam Kadmon, or the primordial Man, is an important Kabbalistic symbol; he is involved in a process called ‘’Tikkun Olam’’ (or Tikkun ha-Olam’’, which denotes the restoration of the world (in Dark: restoration through complete destruction, death and rebirth)  by Man (i.e. Adam). This restoration is also called the second creation, which aligns with the course of events in Dark: breaking the cycle of time and replacing it with a new one[109] is in itself an act of creation. Adam Kadmon embodies the Sefirot[110], which Sanford Drob describes as the purported ten value archetypes through which the world was initially created[111]:

Image 12: the Sefirot in Dark, on the right side of the image (S01). The piece of paper appears to be cut from Alexander Roob’s Het Hermetische Museum: Alchemie & Mystiek (2003), p.312. The image in the middle comes from Andreas Cellarius’s Harmonia Macrocosmica (1660) and is portrayed on p. 53. The image in the upper right corner appears to be cut from p.275 and shows diagrams from Nikolaus von Kues (Hamburg, 1988) and Athanasius Kircher (1650).

For Jung, Primal Man was the symbol of the ego, and the ego that succeeds in integrating the (shadow of the) unconsciousness becomes Adam Kadmon; the self, or God himself.[112] ‘’God’’, Segal writes, ‘’encompasses the whole psyche because he reconciles opposites within himself.[113] He thereby symbolizes the ideal state of wholeness, selfhood, or ‘individuation’’’[114]. Adam, the first and the last man (see also 1 Corinthians 15: 22 and 45, in which Paul, in a prevailing exegesis, equates the final Adam to Christ), is God himself.

All is one

There is one crucial observation that has remained undiscussed, and that is that Jung’s psychology completely embraces the type of monism (and thus anti-dualism) found in the Kybalion. His ideal of wholeness fits the Three Iniatiates’ credo that ‘’(the) All is one‘’[115], and his opposition to dualism mirrors the Kybalion-idea that oppositions are no absolutes but mere paradoxes in the trajectory toward reconciliation.[116] While it may be academic suicide to sketch a transhistorical intellectual stream of occult thought, this enterprise is precisely what Sic Mundus represents in the series. The extremes of spacetime coalesce with the Hermetic image of the Emerald Tablet, a reference that stretches ages. Accordingly, the writers of the Kybalion bring us back to the earliest encounters between myth and reality when they claim that all the fundamental and basic teachings embedded in what they call the esoteric teachings may be traced back to Hermes.[117] Fiction’s master move is that it does not care about these boundaries; for the core of Dark is surprisingly uniform. Despite its macrocosmic play with time, the narrative truly evolves via the mental transformation of a single character. Adam is the Jungian patient who becomes the doctor, and the boy (Jonas) who becomes the initiate, who in turn becomes the initiator.

Thus, to conclude, I argue that these syncretic ideas substantiate the case for a predominantly (albeit not completely) psychological outlook on the occult philosophy of Dark. Not only does Adam follow the path of Jungian individuation, with many possible links to Gnosticism, Kabbalah and alchemy, this process contains many echoes of the Hermetic transmutation of the mind that is prescribed by the Kybalion. In the end, the flashy appearance of this work may well be the key to understanding the series’ psychological core and its symbolical and philosophical rendering of the occult.


Is Sic Mundus a Hermetic society or a masterclass in speculative quantum physics? This paper has suggested that the answer is ‘both’, since the series fundamentally conflates science and occulture. Dark’s scientific exploration of spacetime, brings about an age-old philosophical question: are human beings the creators of the future or mere puppets of their destiny, bound by fate and the laws of determinism? The answer comes from Adam, whose Sic Mundus-society is drenched in occult references that play dice to gain full authority over the series’ scientifically tenable, but speculative logics. Eventually, the question is (and remains) whether the process of individuation that progresses at the series’ psychological core will allow Adam to transcend a macrocosm in which everything is predetermined. If he succeeds, the paradoxical opposites that are reconciled in the works of Jung and the Three Initiates may definitively dissolve in the world of Dark as well, granting Adam’s final apotheosis. A similar process of dissolution already occurred on the level of my analysis. Scientists argue the duality of matter, Newton was fascinated by the Emerald Tablet. Jung was a psychologist and an occultist at once; Nietzsche believed that all opposites were solely extremes of the same chain, just as the Three Initiates proposed it in their Kybalion. At the same time, In Dark, the members of Sic Mundus are obsessed with scientific progress and breakthrough via the (de)(con)struction and control of dark matter and the mastery of time travel. Science and the occult, it turns out, are two made one.

From there, the core of Dark partially mirrors the core of occulture: as we saw in Partridge, secularization (through rational science) and sacralization ( through the increased interest in the occult) accompany each other, but they are a part of the same discourse, embedded in the same history. The series’ viewers may approach Dark’s many themes in countless manners; they might be scientists or devotees of Jung, science-fiction nerds or readers of Nietzsche. The point is that these boundaries are merely superficial; they might be applied, they might collapse (or be permeable). Occulture accommodates both resolutions, as a hybrid milieu that shapes and is shaped by pop-cultural products as Dark.

Dark is not finished; a third and final season is set for 2020. One of the most important questions that will have to be answered, as we have seen, is whether the writers will allow Sic Mundus to ‘’break the cycle’’, which would practically mean they defeat time and transcend the purported law of predetermination. The cliffhanger of S02E10 (along with the nuclear climax) brings in an extra complicating factor: after the death of Martha, another incarnation of Martha enters the stage. And once again, this appearance makes sense in the realm of (quantum) physics, especially when we look at the idea of quantum splits and Hugh Everett’s many world-interpretation of quantum mechanics (1957).[118]

What is merely important here is that synchronicities like these continue to demonstrate how the creators pose and reconcile questions and propositions of the scientific and the occult. With no one to account for the immense variety of plausible interpretations, I have attempted to approach the source material as closely as possible. One can endlessly stretch the implications of the many ideas, references and symbols present in the series, and the aim has always been to guard the porous boundary between analysis and speculation. In any case, the immense scope of the series’ philosophy and its undeniable appeal to a worldwide streaming public indicate one thing: that occulture is a serious sociocultural phenomenon which demands much more attention in Religious Studies and related fields.


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Dark. Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. Netflix. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5753856/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_3 (Accessed January 1st, 2020).


‘’Dark’’. https://blogs.chapman.edu/dodge/announcement/qa-with-dark-series-cinematographer-nikolaus-summerer/ (Via Google, accessed January 11th, 2020).

‘’The Emerald Tablet from the work of Heinrich Khunrath, 1606’’. https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/822399581932529457/ (via Google, accessed January 5th, 2020).

All images from the series are screenshots taken by the author.

Full reference list

[1] For more literature on ‘Occulture’, aside from Partridge’s writings, see, for instance, the special issue of Aries (13.1) on Occulture and Modern Art.

[2] Alaina Urquhart-White, ‘’Is Winden from Netflix’s ‘Dark’ a real town? Germany’s answer to ‘Stranger Things’ is steeped in legend’’, Bustle, https://www.bustle.com/p/is-winden-from-netflixs-dark-a-real-town-germanys-answer-to-stranger-things-is-steeped-in-legend-6746510 (Accessed January 12th, 2020).

[3] ‘S01E01, S01E02, S02E01’, and so on. This is my consistent denotation of the different episodes of the series. S denotes ‘season’, E denotes ‘episode’. In my analysis, I will regularly refer to specific episodes, but not to timecodes.

[4] Throughout the first season, there a multiple occult references to the number 33, especially when Doctor Tannhaus and the mysterious stranger (characters that will be discussed later) discuss its relevance. These are some of the references: Jesus performed 33 miracles, there are 33 litanies of the angels, 33 canto’s in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and 33 is the age at which the Antichrist will begin his rule (states the mysterious stranger in S01E08). Moreover, 33 sheep are ritually murdered in S01E03 and Mark 13:33 is quoted. Charlotte Doppler, an important character in the series, explains that the 33 years mark the solar-lunar cycle (as an alternative to our purportedly misleading calendar of 365 days) through which all things are exactly as they were 33 years ago (S01E05).

[5] Also known as the Smaragdine Table, Tabula Smaragdina, or the Secret of Hermes.

[6] Antoine Faivre, ‘’Hermetic Literature IV: Renaissance – Present’’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 536. While Hermes Trismegistus is the purported (mythological) author of the text, any (supposed) original version is lost.

[7] The phrase on the Tablet reads ‘Sic Mundus Creatus Est’, ‘’That is how the world was created’’.

[8] This explanation is common, but ‘’so below’’ may also refer to something else, for instance to the alchemical metals. It heavily depends on the precise context in which you would find the aphorism.

[9] In the paper, I will not provide an exhaustive summary of the plot of the first two seasons. Not only would such an attempt prove itself unnecessary – my focus is not so much on the narrative and its proceedings as such but on the ‘logics’ and ideas that underpin it –, the series genuinely contains an incredible amount of characters and plotlines that together defy simplifications of its narrative course. Therefore, I will only refer to particular narrative developments if they are key to my analysis of the scientific and occult ideas and concepts that are to be found in the series.

[10] Any shortcomings in this regard are my responsibility alone.

[11] For an overview of the episodes and their respective writers, see: Wikipedia, ‘’Dark (TV Series)’’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_(TV_series) (Accessed January 12th, 2020).

[12] Christopher Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West. Volume 1. Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture (London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 68, 84.

[13] Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, 4. Sacralization here is the process of setting things apart for the new milieu/spiritual environment.

[14] Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, 4.

[15] Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, 141.

[16] Obviously Partridge’s own work has also progressed from there, but I still work with these two volumes because they still denote most effectively (and broadly, in terms of scope) what occulture is and why it is important.

[17] Diegetic means ‘’inherent to the world of the story’’.

[18] In S01E09, Claudia Tiedemann instructs Tannhaus how he can build the time machine. In S02E03, we learn that the older version of Claudia has traveled to the past to tell Tannhaus how we could tell the future (young) version of Claudia how the machine works. This may sound very confusing, but it is based on a principle called the ‘’bootstrap paradox’’: when an object or a particular piece of information is sent from the future to the past, it ceases to have an origin. This is also how Tannhaus’ book could find him before he wrote it. The paradox is explained in S02E03.

[19] This is expressed by means of a voice-over at the very beginning of the episode. The ‘’alles ist jetzt’’-aphorism lines up with a thought expressed in the Nature of Time (1986), where J.R. Lucas states that ‘’there cannot be a real, modal or ontological difference between future and past, because the present – the instant that divides past from future (’’decision time’’) depends on our criterion for simultaneity, and our criterion of simultaneity depends on our frame of reference’’. J.R. Lucas, ‘’The Open Future’’, in Raymond Flood and Michael Lockwood, eds., The Nature of Time (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 130.

[20] Paul J. Nahin, Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction (New York: AIP Press, 1993), 72.

[21] Nahin, Time Machines, 70-71.

[22] With emphasis on ‘story’.

[23] David Lewis, ‘’The Paradoxes of Time Travel’’, American Philosophical Quarterly (April 1976), 147. Nahin, Time Machines, 125.

[24] Tim Maudlin, The Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 153-54.

[25] For a concise introductory read on Einstein, see: Michael Krause, CERN: How We Found the Higgs Boson (Hackensack: World Scientific Publishing, 2014), 153-156.

[26] In this line of thought, spacetime becomes the fourth dimension, on top of the three-dimensional space that standard physics accounts for. Nahin, Time Machines, 96, 101.

[27] General Relativity predicts that massive bodies such as stars and black holes are responsible for this process. This is also where gravity originates from. David Deutsch and Michael Lockwood, ‘’The Quantum Physics of Time Travel. Common Sense may rule out such excursions – but the laws of physics do not’’, Scientific American (March 1994), 69-70.

[28] Deutsch and Lockwood, ‘’The Quantum Physics of Time travel’’, 70. Nahin, Time Machines, 81.

[29] Wikipedia, ‘’List of time travel works of fiction’’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_time_travel_works_of_fiction. Accessed January 5th, 2020.

[30] S02E09.

[31] Deutsch and Lockwood, ‘’The Quantum Physics of Time travel’’, 68.

[32] Maudlin, The Philosophy of Physics, 162.

[33] Paul Nahin stresses that much resistance to the idea of time travel is based on sheer skepticism. Nahin, Time Machines, 48.

[34] Nahin, Time Machines, 2.

[35] Nahin, Time Machines, 58-59.

[36] Deutsch and Lockwood, ‘’The Quantum Physics of Time Travel’’, 72.

[37] Christian Wüthrich, ‘’Time travelling in emergent spacetime’’, in Hajnal Andréka and István Németi on the Unity of Science: From Computing to Relativity Theory Through Algebraic Logic, edited by Judit Madarász and Gergely Székely (New York: Springer, 2019), Online Access: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1907.11167.pdf (Accessed January 8th, 2019), 1.

[38] Wüthrich, ‘’Time travelling in emergent spacetime’’, 2. See also: Elizabeth Fernandez, ‘’Could Quantum Gravity Allow US To Time Travel?’’, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/fernandezelizabeth/2019/09/09/could-quantum-gravity-allow-us-to-time-travel/ (Accessed January 12th, 2020).

[39] Mikkel meets Hannah, the mother of Jonas, in 1986. Mikkel and Hannah marry and Mikkel becomes Michael Kahnwald, Jonas’s father. Obviously the creators of Dark also play with the opportunities of time entanglement; Hannah, for instance, sleeps with both Katarina’s husband and son. When characters in Dark realize how their relatives and acquaintances have acted in different timeslots, both awkward and funny scenes are the result.

[40] Ulrich thinks that he can change the future if he kills Helge Doppler, a character that is connected to the disappearances of Mads Nielsen (his brother) and Mikkel Nielsen (his son), respectively in 1986 and 2019. Ulrich fails to do so, but is still arrested and ultimately locked away in the asylum because Helge does disappear and the police suspects Ulrich of complicity.

[41] Deutsch and Lockwood, ‘’The Quantum Physics of Time Travel’’, 70.

[42] For instance, Noah meets a younger version of himself (S02E01) and Adam meets his youngest incarnation Jonas (multiple episodes in S02).

[43] Lewis, ‘’The Paradoxes of Time Travel’’, 147.

[44] I am more interested in the fact an sich that the creators are working with these theories.

[45] Jim Baggott, Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012),  xi, xii, 3, 171.

[46] Higgs worked together with a team of fellow scientists who came to the same conclusion, presumably independently.

[47] In this sense, and through the lens of Lederman, the ‘God particle’ is actually the ‘God-damned particle’. Lederman jokes that his publisher did not allow him to use that term. Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If The Universe is the Answer, What Is The Question? (New York: Dell, 1993), 2-3.

[48] The discovery was announced on July 4th, 2012 and confirmed in 2013.

[49] Tejinder Virdee has stated that CERN is the ‘’United Nations of physics’’. Krause, CERN, 1993.

[50] Krause, Cern, v, 42.

[51] Nirmala Prakash, Dark Matter, Neutrinos, and our Solar System (Hackensack: World Scientific Publishing), 288.

[52] Alain Mazure, Matter, dark matter, and anti-matter: in search of the hidden universe (New York: Springer, 2012), 63.

[53] Prakash, Dark Matter, Neutrinos, and our Solar System, 288, 363.

[54] Ken Freeman and Geoff McNamara, In Search of Dark Matter (New York: Springer, 2006), x.

[55] Prakash adds that the presence of dark matter could be inferred from the way galaxies rotated. Prakash, Dark Matter, Neutrinos, and our Solar System, 288, 363.

[56] The headquarters of the organization in the year 1921 are in a lair beneath a church. The different areas of the lair are shown extensively in the series, especially in the second season.

[57] Throughout the series, we see the energy fields in both vast and fluid states.

[58] S02E10.

[59] Vetle Nilsen and Giovanni Anelli, ‘’Knowledge transfer at CERN’’, Technological Forecasting & Social Change 116 (2016), 113.

[60] Dorine Schenk, ‘’De Antimateriefabriek’’, NRC, https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2019/11/29/de-antimateriefabriek-a3982140. (Accessed January 12th, 2020).

[61] Nahin, Time Machines, 10.

[62] The Three Initiates, The Kybalion. A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt of Greece (Hollister: YOGeBooks, 2010 (1908)), 16.

[63] Matthew Whitehouse, ‘’we spoke to the creators of your latest supernatural Netflix binge’’, Vice, https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/a3jgmp/dark-netflix-interview (Accessed January 6th, 2020).

[64] ‘’Noah did not want to save the world from evil, he is evil’’ (S01E10).

[65] P.J. Kain, ‘’Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence, and the Horror of Existence’’, The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 33 (2007), 50-51.

[66] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science. With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, translated by Walter Kaufman (New York: Random House Inc, 1974 (1882)), 341.

[67] Kain, ‘’Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence, and the Horror of Existence’’, 55, 57, 60.

[68] ‘’love of fate’’.

[69] Kain, expanding on these Nietzschean ideas, writes: ‘’If one is able to embrace eternal recurrence, if one is able to tum all “it was” into a “thus I willed it,” then one (…) reduces suffering to physical suffering, breaks its psychological stranglehold, and eliminates surplus suffering related to guilt’’. Kain, ‘’Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence, and the Horror of Existence’’, 60.

[70] Although the (psychological) doctrine of eternal recurrence is strictly deterministic as well, this does not necessarily mean that we are also bound by the chain of cause and effect (recall that Tannhaus used the term causal determinism – this is what that entails). While there has to exist a particular sequence of events in order for these events to return eternally, the cycle has no distinct beginning or ending, nor is it teleological. Thus, Nietzschean determinism is the type of determinism that eschews divine providence. Kain, ‘’Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence, and the Horror of Existence’’, 51. Arnold Zuboff, ‘’Nietzsche and Eternal Recurrence’’, in Nietzsche: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert C. Solomon (New York: Anchor Books, 1973), 349.   

[71] This, I take it, is what Adam is referring to when he talks about ‘’the god mankind has prayed to for thousands of years’’, although this generalization obviously obscures the differences between Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

[72] Here Adam’s line of thought slightly deviates from Nietzsche’s, for according to him, ‘Man’ as such IS the making of the decisions that bind him. This is the extreme result of Nietzsche’s deconstruction of human subjectivity; there is no physical law that binds a subject, because it is not possible to separate the two. Zuboff, ‘’Nietzsche and Eternal Recurrence’’, 348-49.

[73] Lucas, in The Nature of Time, writes that ‘’The scientific argument for determinism used to be very strong, but now has lost almost all its cogency in view of the indeterminist nature of quantum mechanics’’. Lucas, ‘’The Open Future’’, 129.

[74] The Three Initiates, The Kybalion, IX, 6.

[75] The Three Initiates, The Kybalion, 12.

[76] Heat, for instance, is not the opposite of cold: instead, the two ‘degrees’ move on the two extremes of the same spectrum. The Three Initiates, The Kybalion, 13, 35.

[77] See the part on Jung, where I will expand on the concept of the Shadow.

[78] It is striking that this idea is present in Nietzsche’s philosophy as well. In The Will to Power (1901), Nietzsche argues that Will as a single force is the product of difference or the differentiation of two ‘opposed’ energies. Opposed is placed between brackets because, again, these poles do not exist as extremes on themselves. They are solely different states of the same chain. J. Hillis Miller, Ariadne’s Thread: Story Lines (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 45.

[79] For an overview of the various appearances and modifications of the Emerald, see: Julia Teti, ‘’Sic Mundus Creatus Est: The Importance of the Mysterious Emerald Tablet in Netflix’s Dark’’, Popsugar, https://www.popsugar.co.uk/entertainment/What-Meaning-Emerald-Tablet-Netflix-Dark-46346131? (Accessed January 12th, 2020).

[80] What is particularly interesting here is that when the Tablet appears as an actual painting (S02E04), it is not the original of Khunrath but the tattoo version – cut off at the bottom and modelled around the triquetra.

[81] Khunrath made the engraving in 1602, but the result was not officially published before 1609.

[82] Image source: ‘’The Emerald Tablet from the work of Heinrich Khunratj, 1606’’, https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/822399581932529457/ (via Google, accessed January 5th, 2019).

[83] Kyle Lee Williams, ‘’Turning Toward Earth: Themes, Sources, and Influences in the Emerald Tablet’’, Psychological Perspectives 59, volume 1 (2016), 71.

[84] H.J. Sheppard, ‘’The Ouroboros and the Unity of Matter in Alchemy: A Study in Origins’’, Ambix vol. 10, no. 2 (1962), 84.

[85] Sheppard, ‘’The Ouroboros and the Unity of Matter in Alchemy’’, 89-90.

[86] Jung quoted in Lance S. Owens, ‘’Jung and Aion: Time, Vision, and a Wayfaring Man’’, Psychological Perspectives 54 (2011), 259.

[87] John Penacchio, ‘’Gnostic Inner Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’’, Journal of Religion and Health vol. 31, no. 3 (1992), 241.

[88] The Shadow occupies its own paragraph in one of Jung’s collected works, Aion. Carl Gustav Jung, Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self, translated by R.F.C. Hull, Second Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959 (1951)), II (paragraph 13-19). ‘’The brighter the ideal, the baser seems to be the shadow’’, Stein writes. Murray Stein, ‘’Introduction’’, in Jung on Evil, edited by Murray Stein (London: Routledge, 1995), 6.

[89] Stein, ‘’Introduction’’, 10, 19.

[90] Jung, Aion, paragraph 14.

[91] Jung, Aion, paragraph 14.

[92] Stein, ‘’Introduction’’, 16.

[93] Lars Weisbrod, ‘’The Creators of Netflix’s Dark on Why Writing Time Travel-Stories Is Like Playing Jazz’’, Vulture, https://www.vulture.com/2019/06/dark-netflix-season-two-time-travel-interview.html (Accessed January 6th, 2020).

[94] In the Kybalion this is called ‘neutralization’. The Three Initiates, The Kybalion, 86.

[95] Because the series is achronological and messes with time, we already witness Adam multiple times (and in another timeline, predominantly that of 1921) before he kills Martha in 2020.

[96] Jung, Aion, paragraph 15.

[97] Jung quoted in Penacchio, ‘’Gnostic Inner Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’’, 237, 243.

[98] “The further the creation is from the Centre, the more it is bound; the nearer the Centre it reaches, the nearer Free is it.” The Three Initiates, The Kybalion, 93.

[99] Penacchio, ‘’Gnostic Inner Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’’, 237.

[100] Robert A. Segal, ‘’Jung and Gnosticism’’, Religion 17 (1987), 301.

[101] For a quick and basic overview of different academic understandings of the category of ‘’Gnosticism’’, see: Fryderyk Kwiatkowski, ‘’About the Concept of ‘’Gnosticism’’ in Fiction Studies’’, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 18:3 (2016), 2-5. I also wrote a paper in which I discuss the fragmentary nature of the category myself, see: Tim Bouwhuis, ‘’Towards an Intertextual Eden? Canonical Interpretation, Genesis 2-3 and the Challenge of Gnosticism’’, https://timbouwhuis.nl/genesis-2-3-canonical-interpretation-and-the-challenge-of-gnosticism-paper/ (Accessed January 13th, 2020).

[102] Segal’s central argument is that Jung (mistakenly) parallels Gnosticism with alchemy, because alchemy fits his ideals perfectly. Segal, ‘’Jung and Gnosticism’’, 301.

[103] The Hieronyman Theogyny is one of the so-called ‘’Orphic Theogonies’’, that are discussed extensively by Dwayne Meisner in his book Orphic Traditions and the Birth of the Gods (2019). The Hieronyman Theogyny is the subject of the book’s fourth chapter. Dwayne A. Meisner, Orphic Traditions and the Birth of the Gods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), chapter 1, 2 chapter 4, 23. Jung, on his turn, used the term ‘Aeon’ (from the Greek ‘Aion’) to denote different ages of world creation. The mythological implication of ‘Aeon’ is not only the age itself but also the personification of that age. Aion is in fact one of Jung’s most important and complex works. It contains Jung’s explanation of the ‘Shadow’ as well. Owens, ‘’Jung and Aion: Vision, Time, and the Wayfaring Man’’, 268.

[104] Segal, ‘’Jung and Gnosticism’’, 319.

[105] Williams, ‘’Turning Toward Earth’’, 73.

[106] Stein, ‘’Introduction’’, 7.

[107] Segal, ‘’Jung and Gnosticism’’, 302.

[108] Jung called the unifying fact of a central and defining experience within these traditions an ‘’imaginative, mythopoetic initiation’’. Owens, ‘’Jung and Aion: Vision, Time, and the Wayfaring Man’’, 261. Segal, ‘’Jung and Gnosticism’’, 303.

[109] ‘’The Future begins. A new cycle’’ (S02E10).

[110] For an introduction on the Sefirot, see, for instance: Moshe Hallamish, ‘’The Doctrine of the Sefirot’’, in An Introduction to the Kabbalah, translated by Ruth Bar Ilan and Ora Wiskind-Elper (New York: State University of New York Press, 1999), 121-166.

[111] Drob, ‘’Jung and the Kaballah’’, 110.

[112] Adam Kadmon unites within himself the Sefirot through which the world and humankind were created. Segal, ‘’Jung and Gnosticism’’, 318. Drob, ‘’Jung and the Kaballah’’, 110.

[113] Drob calls the Kabbalistic concept of the ‘’Other Side’’ the Kabbalistic predecessor of Jung’s Shadow. Drob, ‘’Jung and the Kaballah’’, 110.

[114] Segal, ‘’Jung and Gnosticism’’, 318.

[115] With ‘All’ the Three Initiates not only refer to all things, but also to ‘The All’, the source of all creation, in which no real duality can exist. The Three Initiates, The Kybalion, 35.

[116] ‘’Life needs the opposites’’. Penacchio, ‘’Gnostic Inner Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’’, 243. In Jung’s work, as in Nietzsche’s, we also find the idea that differentiation is the product of energetic tensions between opposite poles. Stein, ‘’Introduction’’, 18.

[117] In the light of Jung’s fascination for alchemy and the alchemical symbolism in the series, it is also interesting to note that for the Three Initiates, ‘’the legends of the ‘’Philosopher’s Stone’’’’ were an allegory relating to Hermetic Philosophy, ‘’readily understood by all students of true Hermeticism’’. The Three Initiates, The Kybalion, IX, 6. Moreover, Jung discusses Hermes (or actually his Roman double, Mercurius), as ‘’the spirit (of the unconscious psyche, my addition) who knows the secrets of matter’’, whose possession brings illumination. Stein, ‘’Introduction’’, 7. Williams, ‘’Turning Toward Earth’’, 71.

[118] Nahin, Time Machines, 201. Deutsch and Lockwood, ‘’The Quantum Physics of Time Travel’’, 72-73.

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