A student club named “Church of Darkness?” Is it a kind of satanic cult? A group of evil schemers praying for the institution’s downfall? Not to worry. “Our ethos is mischief and merriment,” says Jack Wrenn ’18 ScM, ’22 PhD, who started it with friends in 2019. “We’re a welcoming group for all those who embrace Brown’s weirdness and want to engage without judgment in any sort of spirituality. What we strive for is to alarm people with our spookiness, delight them with our bizarreness, and disarm them of their prejudices by explaining what we’re all about.” In short, despite the name, Wrenn says, the group—COD for short—seeks to spread kindness, love, and friendship.
COD gives students the opportunity to partake in a variety of numinous activities and traditions. This includes heralding the darkness every new moon by turning off lights around campus, roaming the buildings wearing robes, performing rituals and inductions involving candles, and chanting Latin Christmas carols during the festive season.
Most of these rituals stem from a variety of spiritual and religious beliefs, Wrenn says.
“We’ve had folks from atheistic, agnostic, Jewish, and Christian backgrounds. We’ve had folks interested in paganism, kabbalah, and satanism. Overall, I’d say our relish for mischief and lighthearted engagement with spirituality has notes of discordianism,” says Wrenn, whose doctorate is in philosophy.
Church of Darkness stands for freedom of religious beliefs and expression, and its members don’t mind if people freak out at the mention of satanism. Most of them share a great intellectual appreciation for it, and they hope their club’s “eerie” imagery leads others to face up to their prejudices.
“Theologically, satanism is not anything particularly sinister,” Wrenn says. “The name reflects an aspect of satanists’ commitment to engaging critically with religion, and not to an allegiance to hatred, murder, or any other flavor of evil.”
Besides giving people the chance to engage in religious acceptance and freedom, COD also works to preserve and bring back various school traditions that existed in years past, such as line dancing on graduation day and placing pumpkins across campus on Halloween.
“In many cases, the traditions that we’re exploring come from a time long before the Internet existed, so sometimes we have to reach farther back by going through really old library material and talking to our wonderful library archivists,” says Scott Huson ’23, another founding member. “We also have a large collection of alumni who make it possible for us to look up to 40 years back in Brown history just by talking to them.”
The club’s founders wanted a title that would turn heads and generate negative assumptions (it worked—members have been genuinely accused of being agents of Satan), ultimately providing the opportunity to challenge people about their prejudices and combat the stigma around darkness, Wrenn says.
“We see darkness as something that is safe and equalizing,” declares Cassius Hall ’26, the group’s new leader, or as the club calls it, Magnus of Night. “You can’t see someone’s skin color in the dark; sins are washed away when there’s a lack of light. We are all the same in the darkness.”