Destiny Lore: What is The Darkness?
For the last three years, we’ve theorized what Destiny’s story is about. The smaller portions and more interesting tales within it have come to life over time, but we’re largely in the dark when it comes to The Darkness. Given that the overarching story of the franchise is “Dark vs Light,” and a good deal of our enemies are considered “forces of the Darkness,” it’s worth our time to extract what exactly it is. By examining the forces of the Darkness, and how their purpose aligns with its call, we can determine what it is. By the end of this series, I intend to prove exactly what the Darkness is. It brings new, fascinating meaning to the Light and even to the title, Destiny.
Ghost Fragment-Darkness III (Toland's Journal)
"Why does anything exist?
“No no no no no don't reach for that word. There's no 'reason'. That's teleology and teleology will stitch your eyelids shut.
“Why do we have atoms? Because atomic matter is more stable than the primordial broth. Atoms defeated the broth. That was the first war. There were two ways to be and one of them won. And everything that came next was made of atoms.”
“Atoms made stars. Stars made galaxies. Worlds simmered down to rock and acid and in those smoking primal seas the first living molecule learned to copy itself. All of this happened by the one law, the blind law, which exists without mind or meaning. It's the simplest law but it has no worshippers here (out there, though, out there - !) "
Teleological thinking is opposed to Deontological thinking.
Teleology: I exist, therefore I am
Deontological: I am, therefore I exist
For us to understand what the Darkness is, we need to understand a few parts. If I put ads on the site, I’d split this into multiple articles. But for the sake of cohesive thought, I’m going to present this as a single piece with multiple chapters.
To understand The Darkness through the Universe's reaction to it, so we can for our own
What ties us to Teleological expression and definition is that verbal language is reference based. We find an object and a subject. We then form sentences using appropriate nouns that our audience can mutually understand. Debate, discussion, research, and human intelligence is based around the goal of ascribing meaning to everything we ever need to reference, and creating a body of knowledge to sustain those future conversations.
Humans often use culture as a crutch. Religion, ritual and law can all be sources of structured knowledge that help us relate, and even rebuild when our existing understandings are torn down. People whose lives are crushed through trauma, self-doubt or grief often turn to these.
A mourning widower turns to religion. An aging actress turns to Scientology. A millionaire orphan examines a senseless act of violence by imposing justice on the cruel world which robbed him of the biological meaning that develops in childhood; he becomes more than a man, more than a bat, he becomes a physical manifestation of the opposing force that should have protected his childhood's stasis. He becomes Batman.
Take note of the order of my justification. Because it's the exact kind of response that The Darkness manifests. No, we didn't kill The Darkness' parents. We killed Crota's parent, sure, but we had the decency to kill him first.
I believe the Darkness is a deontological force that the Universe is using to counter the teleological Destiny of humanity. By “the Universe,” I mean whatever power(s) that control it. The powers that be are examining a handful of species and interrogating their response to this overwhelming force. This overwhelming force is, in turn, the universe's natural response in countering its inhabitants which REFUSE to comprehend their roles within it.
We see this in the Cabal and the maintenance of their Empire. We see it in the Hive and their ritualistic culture. We see it in the Vex and their grappling with existence itself. And boy, humanity is behind in every way.
“This explains everything, understand? This is why the universe is the way it is, and not some other way. Existence is a game that everything plays, and some strategies are winners: the ability to exist, to shape existence, to remake it so that your descendants - molecules or stars or people or ideas - will flourish, and others will find no ground to grow.
“And as the universe ticks on towards the close, the great players will face each other. In the next round there will be three queens and all of them will have armies, and now it will be a battle of swords - until one discover s the cannon, or the plague, or the killing word.
“Everything is becoming more ruthless and in the end only the most ruthless will remain (LOOK UP AT THE SKY) and they will hunt the territories of the night and extinguish the first glint of competition before it can even understand what it faces or why it has transgressed. This is the shape of victory: to rule the universe so absolutely that nothing will ever exist except by your consent. This is the queen at the end of time, whose sovereignty is eternal because no other sovereign can defeat it. And there is no reason for it, no more than there was reason for the victory of the atom. It is simply the winning play.
“Of course, it might be that there was another country, with other queens, and in this country they sat down together and made one law and one tower and one army to guard their borders. This is the dream of small minds: a gentle place ringed in spears.”
Toland is, of course, criticizing The Tower—who’d previously exiled him for his curiosity in the Hive. This last sentence reveals his gripe and his ambition: Humanity has isolated itself, refusing to engage in this process, known as The Sword Logic. Toland’s theory is neither his own, nor one that began with the Hive.
Oryx grappled with his godhood—powerless as a mere god within an uncaring universe—by literally killing his god, chopping him into pieces and stealing his power. He then declared himself a god. Impressed? You should be. But further lore shows that even the worm gods that Oryx is beneath are just specks against the cosmic forces that guide them. These powers that be are unaware of our presence in their world except as a wrinkle on its surface, and our attempts to scrutinize their existence are those of ants scrutinizing the cosmic expanse of the bottom of a shoe.
The Hive use their religion, rituals and mastery over life and death to travel and split themselves between multiple dimensions. The Ascendant, such as Oryx—The Taken King—even shift their own consciousness into this Ascendant realm, near ensuring his own immortality. He hosts a parasitic “worm” within him, as do all Hive. These worms are direct disciples of The Darkness. They compel their hosts to feed them through endless conquest, eventually of the whole universe. Oryx is unique in that he seeks mastery over this power. The Warpriest feeds his worm for him, while researching and devising methods to separate it from him. Meanwhile, Oryx himself steals the power of his patron Worm God, tapping directly into The Darkness and giving him the power of The Taken King.
Within the SWORD LOGIC, what survives: is. The Hive assert their dominance by acting on this and cataloguing their conquests in The Worlds’ Grave. The Sword Logic is a method for the Hive to act on deontological purpose handed down to them from the worm gods. We must note that the Sword Logic is not the word-for-word purpose of The Darkness. It is a religious dogma, approximated to accommodate truths that are derived from the purpose of The Darkness. Unlike most, if not all of humanity, the Hive have met and interacted with their gods. The Hive are terrifying because they act on motivation that even the most religious among us have never had to face: the direct word of a god.
As we have not met The Darkness and cannot approximate the will of The Light ourselves, we must derive some meaning from the Sword Logic as a reflection of The Darkness to even attempt to rationalize our place within the universe.
Refer now to The Vex, the second and only other race to have rationalized some form of meaning within the Destiny universe. Their behavior and goals are centered around writing themselves into time itself. Immediately after encountering this story element, on my first playthrough of the game, I assumed this meant a higher state of being within the universe itself.
But Captain Kinghorn on r/DestinytheGame offers a more interesting and plausible theory.
We know the Vex to be an organic species that augmented themselves heavily, maintaining life through biological cellular matter called radiolarian—a non-sentient protozoic organism found on Earth. According to this theory, they are attempting to splice themselves into the universe. Their method is not unlike genetic splicing in GMO organisms. Through simulation (we know not through alternate reality, or computing, if they are even separate to the Vex), they create multiple realities around events, adjusting new models to suit their goals. At the center of the network of confluxes running these realities—is Atheon: “Time’s Conflux.”
Within the Vault of Glass, it is supposed that the Vex can compose entire timelines of segments spliced from these simulated realities. Atheon is the conduit for these to “flow together.” Their goal is to write their current iterations into the universe itself. There are multiple models of the Vex over time: Precursors, Descendants, all the way to fully organic lifeforms. For a simulated species that exists across time and space to reach its true potential, it must exist across the breadth of those measures in its most fully realized state. Effectively, this means rewriting their own history, making the current iteration of the Vex to be one with the Universe for eternity.
But there’s one twist. The Vex completely eschew the Sci-Fi archetype of machines seeking pure rationality to a narrow, pre-programmed end. They don’t seek to overcome The Darkness, or even destroy The Cabal or Humanity. In fact, they frequently show indifference towards the latter two. What makes them different is worship. The Dialogue in the game claims that The Darkness is such an either overwhelming or incomprehensible force that the Vex—a purely logical force—determined that the most rational course of action was worship. We see this in The Black Garden, as Vex of future, present and past worship the Heart, a manifestation of The Darkness.
Of the two races to directly experience The Darkness, both were driven to form deontological doctrine. And unlike Oryx and The Hive, the Vex take this worship extremely seriously. Bungie claims The Vex are inspired by Lovecraftian monsters. For those unfamiliar, the stories that Lovecraft tell are those of humans staring “into the abyss,” that Nietzsche warned “stares back.” Protagonists are driven to the realization of insignificance in the face of unfathomable cosmic horror. Attempting to rationalize or confront such force drives them to insanity, suicide, or complete submission.
The Vex and Hive fall into the latter category. They submitted to The Darkness, in worship. For the Hive, it was a self-serving symbiosis; for the Vex, it was the rational response. To inspire such purity of deontological doctrine in such purely rational forces, The Darkness must be exactly the horrific unfathomable horror that Destiny’s story implies it is. Vanilla Destiny’s failing was not to oversell its indiscernible nature, but to undersell the scope of bewilderment that we should experience in facing it.
So how has humanity responded to The Darkness? With belligerence and madness. Belligerence in the sheer violence of pursuing our narrow goal: the surmounting of our immediate enemies. Toland’s accusation is that The Tower is but “a ring of spears.” The Vex have goals larger than our own, as do the Hive. We merely respond when their goals intersect with our sense of territory and survival: The most basic animal instincts. In facing the cosmic the threat of The Darkness, our goals are remarkable unambitious.
Nevertheless, this indifference to our world isn’t the case for all members. Numerous cults and individuals have interrogated our role within the universe, only to be met with contempt or exile. Most notably, the Future War Cult, a group who believes that war with the Darkness is inevitable. They are supremely curious in fate, and the altering of history.
During the Golden Age, humanity used a device known succinctly as “The Device” or “CHASM. Based on Vex technology, it allowed humans to simulate potential timelines. The project was scrapped after users became mentally unstable, worshipping the machine as a god. Post-collapse, FWC rebuilt these machines within The City. What’s notable is that most users went insane. Those who did not, reported various timelines where The Darkness wins or The City has been destroyed, with little detail.
This tells us a lot. Those who remained sane, presumable did so because they learned so little, escaping with but a surface understanding. The guardians who went insane saw this same subject matter, but in a more detailed manner. And it broke them. They went completely insane.
This is Lovecraft’s storytelling. Remember the previous statement:
“Protagonists are driven to the realization of insignificance in the face of unfathomable cosmic horror. Attempting to rationalize or confront such force drives them to insanity, suicide, or complete submission.”
Insanity. Suicide. Complete submission.
Just in response to the CHASM simulation, we witness two of these exact reactions. For those Post-Collapse: Insanity. For those in the Golden Age: Complete Submission. To understand our relation to the darkness we’ll need to interrogate these reactions in the same way we did the Hive and Vex. Neither of these two races experienced any notable insanity, but the Vex did demonstrate the same worship.
First, look to the Golden Age response of worship. Here, the CHASM device gave humans the first look at the oncoming Darkness. This may not be related, but it’s worth noting that one Kingsfall chest armor piece is named “The Chasm of Yuul,” with the description: “A slew of writhing things there was also, on that cusp of Light and Darkness.” I bring this up because the Hive creator of this gear references the phenomenon we see here—Darkness approaching the Light.
Golden Age humans had no previous encounter with The Darkness, so it raises a question: Where did the simulation get the data to render The Darkness in such a detailed fashion? A probable answer is that it used Vex data, as the CHASM device is based on Vex technology. But we don’t fully know the lore details that went into its creation. The technology is called “mind forking,” so as far as we know, the only data comes from the human mind—and the technology is an external computer that powers this advanced mental state. It is very possible that The Darkness is a mathematic certainty, an endpoint eventuality of the laws of reality itself. Our existing understanding supports this theory.
Post-collapse humans responded with descent into insanity. The survivors paint a picture where the Darkness has won, destroying The Last City. Reinterpreting this via the Lovecraftian elements: they’re not inspired to worship, only to madness. Here, the vision is significantly different from the Golden Age visions. It’s one of pure, unadulterated cosmic horror, so unfathomable that it breaks the mind.
So what did Future War Cult learn from their experiment? They detail in a gauntlet description:
"Accept war as a fundamental process, not a transient condition."
This is the Sword Logic, seen from reverse. the Sword Logic is frequently confused as a magical process: Through victory, one becomes stronger. In reality, it’s a simple deontological ethic divined by the Hive as their charge from The Darkness, via the worm gods. To be the strongest species, they must conquer all else. The worm gods enforce this drive by forcing continual feeding. When Oryx fails to feed them, the worm begins to eat him. He responds by summoning his sisters, killing them both and feeding them to his worm—before confronting and slaying his patron worm god. It’s not until he does so that he become a god himself.
The lore makes it very clear that his godhood isn’t defined by his ability to Take. It’s merely an existing tool he stole from the worm god. Oryx is a god because he killed his god. War is a fundamental process because it defines the victor. That is the sword logic. After reviewing The Darkness through the lens of simulation, the Future War Cult comes to this same conclusion.
Humanity is in a unique situation. Our victories over the Hive and Vex prove their approaches to be imperfect and unsustainable. Their defeat disproves their response’s validity. So we face our own choice. How do we respond to the Darkness? How do we respond to a cosmic horror we can scarcely comprehend?
Our response to the Darkness cannot be worship or madness. It must either be suicide, or nothing short of a total seizing of our manifest destiny. We will not capitulate as the Hive did. We will not surrender our nature as the Vex did. The perfect species must be humanity, because we can make it so. Through our Raids, we proved that our sheer intelligence and strength overwhelms both the Hive and the Vex. By the own logic of The Darkness, we have determined that our response is superior to theirs and by our own self-determination, we will prove superior to The Darkness itself.
Suicide or else total victory. Those are our two options in facing this force, because our victory disproves worship and defies madness. We determine our own fate. Our destiny is ours to define, and we do so with every boss we kill, bounty we claim and armor piece we tear from the corpses of our enemies. Likewise, with every god, machine, or tyrant we slay—we become legend.
We answer to ourselves and as we are born from graves, we are born to deliver death to a universe, bludgeoning it with the force of unbreakable power until it succumbs to our will. It’s no derived Logic, or imagined Reality: The Darkness must bow to us because we are its Destiny.