The Dark Night of the Soul

A 16th century Christian mystic known as “St John of the Cross” wrote a now famous writing/poem that many refer to as the “Dark Night of the Soul,” and is part of a larger body of work.  In this text, he describes the spiritual crisis faced in order to unite closer to God.  Since the theme for the Lammas edition this year is on match-making and connections, I thought this may be a good subject to discuss: the connection of our own higher mind and spirit with that of our god(s) for spiritual wisdom … the spiraling upward in which we attempt to eventually evolve and grow through progressive cycles of reincarnation and the eventual at-one-ment with the “Supreme Being.”

I must first state that I was introduced to this spiritual idea of the “Dark Night” from a modern pop-culture reference when I first listed to the lyrics titled, “The Dark Night of the Soul” that was recorded by Canadian singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt.  The song was featured on her album, “The Mask and the Mirror” and I also have had the pleasure to see her perform this song live.

“Oh night thou was my guide,
of night more loving than the rising sun,
Oh night, that joined the lover to the beloved one,
transforming each of them into the other.”

– Dark Night of the Soul, by Loreena McKennitt, from the album “The Mask and the Mirror.”
1994, Quinlan Road


When I first heard this song it spoke to my very soul. I decided to look into where the inspiration for this song came from and I found she developed this from the poem by St John of the Cross and I began to think more fully about its inner meanings and why her song called to me on my own spiritual journey or even the spiritual journey of anyone exploring any mystic path – no matter what spirituality or religion.

So what does this concept mean to us following an esoteric path within the Ancient Wisdom Traditions?

The path of initiation, whether marked by physical ceremonies such as the initiations of Wicca, or of the personal gnosis obtained through spiritual self-discovery, marks a “beginning.”  This is a new beginning, a fresh-start and the chance to begin again. It marks a moment in time where nothing will be the same again.

Many folks that follow a mystical path within the Ancient Wisdom Traditions follow the tenet of Reincarnation.  This current life may not be the first time many wisdom-seekers have gone through some sort of initiation ceremony.  The ceremony in this life might even reveal to us information that we might have forgotten in flashes of ancestral memory or even déjà vu.

During this time of our mystical work and immediately after initiation itself, we typically are so “charged up.”  We feel the strong and close connection within the circle of initiates.  This close connection may be for a number of reasons, such as in knowing the fact that those brothers and sister standing in the circle with you at that moment have also gone through the same ritual and each one having their own unique experiences after going through it.  Others may provide you with advice on what they have received and even stories of others who have passed through it so that you know what to expect.

It is said that after initiation occurs, the law of compensation (karma) speeds up.  After a period of time, some initiates have reported that they have gone through what may be described as a “Dark Night of the Soul.”  This subject has also been described in many Theosophical texts, such as the chapter titled, “Spiritual Darkness” in a book called “The Spiritual Life” by Annie Besant:

“First comes the well-known fact of the quickening of karma, once we have set our feet resolutely towards the portal of the Path.”
– The Spiritual Life, by Annie Besant. 1990, published by The Theosophical Publishing House

In the understanding of the differences between the astral plane and the physical plane, we learn there are many type of presences or entities that reside within both.  Physical plane events that happen to us can lead to us creating thought-forms on the astral plane when powerful thoughts leave the astral and mental bodies.  The physical event and the astral emotions are connected.  Sometimes we experience these feelings without the physical cause because the stabilization on this plane is not ready to find a place of expression and form yet.  Since some thought-forms are short lived, some may never find eventual attainment of physical events according to the theory of planes.

A long line of mystics have written throughout the ages how they have experienced doubt on their path, or the feeling that their god has abandoned them.  Maybe it is a doubt of a well-loved tenet or precept of their path?  All of this can be found on the spiritual discovery to “Know Thyself” which was found written above the ancient temples of times past.  Today, many of us reconnect with this concept by placing this sign over our present day temples in order to remind us constantly before we step through that temple entrance that we should “Know Thyself” and know WHY we are entering within its sphere.

Overall, it seems to be our human nature to desire a place where we all belong. To feel needed, wanted and appreciated.  I know that I was told by a woman I deeply respect that “Everyone must have a purpose.”  I think the hard part of this journey is just finding “what” that purpose is?

“People need spells. But the most effective one is to reach a point in life when you know your place in the Universe, and know the exhilarated magical feeling of a harmonious existence with your environment and your fellow man.”
– Cast Your Own Spell, by Sybil Leek. 1970, published by Bee-Line Books, Inc.

Finding your place in this world is a struggle for many.  I know I have been through this many times myself and in some ways, many of us are constantly re-checking ourselves and occasionally making course-corrections when needed. We are spouses; we are brothers, sisters, healers, teachers, employees, employers, leaders, followers, sons, daughters, etc.  We are young, we are old.  But with all of these labels that we and society have placed on us, what label would we use to describe ourselves?  Are we already who we want to be?  Are we on the path of becoming whom we would want to be?

Those who heavily study esoteric subjects and mystical concepts may find this describes them well:

It seems we go through cycles of initiating, ending or re-assessing, or riding out a place of understanding in our spirituality.  When I begin a new spiritual study or pursuit, I know I go into it with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm.  This is the exciting time.  This is the time when things just spark.

Then, little by little, triumphs of new-found insight in the particular spiritual study keep us motivated to continue our learning process.  As we have time for meditation and contemplation, the discoveries continue to propel us forward to continue our advancement – continual discoveries being made.

Then, there comes a time, when it seems that we have plateaued with the spiritual pursuit.  It seems that we can’t go any further.  Maybe we seem stuck, or maybe we have tapped into something in which we have found all the spiritual attainment that we may want on said subject in this current incarnation.  Sometimes, that plateau is okay with us.  Each of us is in charge of our own spiritual growth and when it comes to certain spiritual pursuits and subjects, I may choose that I have learned what I need to learn and not push the subject any further.  Other spiritual subjects just seem to nag at us, or something within may tell me that I need to press on.  It could be that it may just be because the particular subject is truly fascinating to me, or maybe just the feeling that I don’t have the complete story.

In the instance in which I know that I must push onward and upward, I know that I have a threefold path to face: re-assess, keep going or change the course.  Deciding what to do is always the hardest part of this and this is where on occasion I may feel that spiritual crisis of doubt, abandon or even just frustration that I am not discovering the answers that I am looking for quick enough.

At the end of the day, how might I know, as a spiritual seeker, that I have found connection to the answers that I am looking for?

A beautiful quote by Gita Bellin has always assured me:

“A thing is complete when you can let it be.”
– Gita Bellin

Blessed Be!


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