Marvel Explained: The ‘Darkhold’ – How Scarlet Witch is Connected to the Elder Gods
Scarlet Witch’s powers are immense and important for the survival of the multiverse, but where do they come from? And what is the Darkhold?
Chaos magic is as much a part of the Marvel universe as the multiverse is. We’ve seen examples of chaos energy and the gods it comes from in the MCU – WandaVision and both Doctor Strange movies center on it. But what is it, and where did it come from? This is going to be a weird ride.
The Elder Gods of Earth
The Elder Gods first appeared in the Thor Annual #10 in 1982. They were created by Roy Thomas and inspired by Egyptian and Greek mythology, as well as the Cthulhu Mythos.
In the Marvel universe, they’re ethereal beings that have vast universe-altering powers. In the Marvel universe, ethereal beings with vast, universe-altering powers exist. Chthon, Gaea, Hyppus, Isuus, Oshtur, and Set survived from the first group of entities that the Demiurge spawned when it visited Earth four billion years ago. Supposedly, this sentient life force, the first being to visit the planet, would later split into the Infinity Stones. But that’s an explainer for another time.
A Hunger for Power
All was not peaceful and good on Earth. Set discovered he could gain power by eating other gods and become the first murderer on Earth when he did so. The process caused him to degenerate and become a demon. The other gods observed the power Set had amassed and copied his actions. Those who were not devoured transformed into demons. Only Gaea abstained from the practice.
This led to a conflict that would change everything. A war broke out between a group of evil gods led by Chthon and a benevolent faction led by Gaea. In order to save the world, she asked Demiurge to provide a way to conquer the demons. Gaea then went into the depths of the planet and gave birth to the first of a race of new gods – Atum. The new gods slew the demons and absorbed their energy. With their energy, Atum became Demogorge, aka the God-Eater.
To escape the Demogorge, Chthon and Set created the Flickering Realms and the Serpent’s Sea – the first two Inner Planes located near Earth. Before Chthon left, he wrote the Darkhold on indestructible parchments of flesh, which contained all of his arcane knowledge. It serves as a physical link between Earth and the Flickering Realms.
The Darkhold Creation and Early Days
The Darkhold (aka the Book of Sins or the Book of the Damned) survived outside of Chthon’s imprisonment. It bound the parchments into a book that holds the most powerful and terrifying spells imaginable. Spells that can bend reality. In the Marvel Universe, the book influenced the creation of the Necronomicon and the Cthulhu Mythos. Some of the most powerful beings have passed it through their hands and sought it for its power, both for good and evil.
Some of the spells it contains:
- Accessing Limbo
- The Origins of Lycanthropy
- The Origins of Vampirism
- Conjuring Darkforce
- Controlling the Will of Others
- Summoning Chthon
- Siphoning Psionic Energy
The tome has a long history in the Marvel Universe that starts with the Pre-Cataclysmic Era – when Atlantis was above sea level. Thulsa Doom and his cult used it until Krull killed the evil sorcerer. Doom created the first vampire – Varnae – with one of the spells within the tome.
In the Hyborian Age, Conan, Red Sonja, and the sorcerer Zula used the Darkhold to fight Varnae when he returned after a 10,000-year-long nap. Zula held on to the book for a while, using it to defeat Set-worshipping sorcerer Thugra Khotan. The tome disappeared after the sorcerer used it to transport himself and Sonja away from a conflict.
The Darkhold Passes Hands
The Darkhold pops back up on the timeline in Babylonia and again in the Middle Ages when Mephisto gets his hands on it. The extra-dimensional demon imprisons the demon Oscuram into one of its pages. When it left his hands, it fell into Morgan Le Fay‘s clutches.
She and her cult of Darkholders summoned the Elder God Chthon, planning on making the powerful ethereal being do their bidding. Le Fay underestimated Chthon’s power. She imprisoned him in Wundagore Mountain after failing to send him back to the Flickering Realms. Seeing what evil the Darkhold was capable of, Morgan’s lover Magnus stole the tome and sealed it in the Tower of the Darkhold on the Isle of Wight.
It stayed there until the time of King Arthur when Modred sought the book, planning to use it for good. He ended up sacrificing his soul for the power the book promised. It was then obtained by The Church, and its pages were scattered in hopes that it could never be used again. The book then makes a journey – it’s gathered by a monk who is burned at the stake along with the Darkhold. It reappears and is possessed by the Catholic Church, who uses it to fight vampires. Dracula tries to acquire it in the 1600s but fails.
The Darkhold in Modern Times
In the 1920s, a team of archaeologists discovered a pre-Babylonian tomb and went insane when trying to translate hieroglyphs that tell the story of the Darkhold’s creation. Toward the end of the decade, Baron Gregor Russoff acquired the book and managed to make a copy of it.
When Russoff read the origin of werewolves in the Darkhold, he himself contracted lycanthropy. He tried to raise Chthon, hoping for a cure, only to be struck down. Russoff’s son, Jack Russel, ended up with this book. He gave it to a priest to translate, and the priest ended up being possessed by a monk who had worked on the book in the 1100s. During the exorcism, it was assumed the Darkhold was destroyed.
It showed back up (along with the Darkhold Dwarf that tempted people to use the book) during the Rise of the Midnight Sons. The next person to use it was Doctor Doom; one of its spells helped him access Limbo. The book then took interest in Carnage, and a new cult of Darkholders tried to sacrifice him to conjure Chthon. Instead, the symbiote was empowered by the elder god and brought him back to himself. Then it went to Baron Zemo.
The Darkhold and Scarlet Witch
The Darkhold that’s been passed around over the centuries has been a collection of journals, scrolls, and copies. The one true book made by Chthon on parchment made of flesh was hidden away in Abysmia. The reading of this true Darkhold opened a bridge between the Flickering Realms and Earth and woke Chthon. In order to defeat the elder god, a group – including Wanda Maximoff – crossed into the Flickering Realms.
They had to prepare by reading the book to understand the madness of the realms. The entire group ended up being corrupted because they read too much. They are all shown alternate, distorted visions of their lives. Wanda sees versions of the Scarlet Witch – herself – across the multiverse.
Wanda was born near Wundagore Mountain, where Chthon has been imprisoned for centuries. She’s been touched by him, so she has a fraction of his power. With this ability, she crosses into the Flickering Realms. She defends the world against Chthon’s true form and then fuses herself with the True Darkhold. She carries the Darkhold and Chthon’s power within her.
The Darkhold and the MCU
WandaVision brought the book into the MCU via Agatha Harkness who used it to try to control Wanda, to keep her in the hex illusion she’s created. Harkness ultimately fails, and at the end of the series, Wanda has gained control over her significant power. She gains more by reading the Darkhold and slowly loses parts of herself as the book takes hold. The Scarlet Witch emerges.
She finds herself in an internal struggle with the Scarlet Witch in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. That fight nearly destroys everything.
The next place we’ll see the nefarious tome is in Agatha: Darkhold Diaries, which will debut on Disney+ fall of 2024. Kathryn Hahn returns as the fan-favorite witch with the best theme song. The story is a mystery – no clue if it will follow WandaVision or go back into Agatha’s past. Its lead writer is WandaVision head writer Jac Schaeffer.