One of the curses of modern occultism is the progressive dumbing-down of terms such as watcher of the threshold, holy guardian angel, pentacle, etc, to the point that they lose their original meaning and become trivialised.
One such term is “dark night of the soul”, which means a period of depression or feeling under the weather to the modern occultist. When someone is having a dark night of the soul, the rest of the occult community is expected to reward their pretentiousness by seeing the person as suffering from a mental illness (which they are not) or rally around with hearts and hugs.
But a dark night of the soul is not depression and often does not mean even sadness, but a spiritual crisis which feels like you have been abandoned by whatever God or Goddess is at the centre of your spiritual practice. The term comes from the mystical Catholicism of St John of the Cross but it does happen to occultists when magical practice has been at their centre for a long time.
When you start a spiritual process, there is a rush of excitement and expectation. It slowly evolves into a familiarity with the forces you use to the point they become second nature. Magic provides a magician with the answers to many of their problems. They operate happily within their system and do not need to question it. Without any reason to be challenged, this state can last for years.
But what is happening spiritually during this process is that the person’s ego slowly inflates. They are starting to see their personality as the key to magic. While lip-service might be paid to concepts such as Gods or the Higher Genius, this step is not required as the lower self is safe in its magical cocoon of their previous life.
The lower self must be forced to totally surrender to the higher and transcend their mundane sub-lunar existence to continue the spiritual journey. What triggers a dark night of the soul is usually an event which causes a person to doubt all that has held that spiritual process together. These events are often catastrophic, the death or loss of a loved one, a war, but do not need to be. All that is required is that the event causes doubt and a drying up of magical success. For example, one person experienced a dark night of the soul after her initial initiation in the Western Mystery Tradition, but it unfolded slowly over the years to the point where she could no longer do magic.
Not everyone has one
St John of the Cross said that God does not invite everyone into the dark night of the soul, and there is sometimes the misperception that someone is beginning the experience simply because there is a dryness in their spiritual life. He dismisses these “aridities” may be due to other causes, such as sin, imperfection, laziness, depression or a physical problem.
Since he was a Christian mystic, St John saw three signs that signal a person entering a dark night:
- there is no longer any satisfaction in meditation or any of the other spiritual practices one has had previously or in the other aspects of life;
- the person thinks they are backsliding because there is now a distaste for the things of God;
- there is a sense of powerlessness in using the imagination in meditation because God is now seeking to communicate not through the senses but the spirit through contemplation.
For a magician, their magic fails, and they lose their magical contacts.
This magical failure seems bizarre as spells that have always worked, rituals always performed, meditations that have led to a buzz appear empty. So the magician’s first issue is that they start to doubt themselves or their ability and then question their system. This two-fold attack on the reality that created and sustained them causes them to feel that their contacts and the gods have abandoned them, or the magical path is bogus.
St John believed it was because God was attempting to use a different, more spiritual means to communicate with the person, but it is more likely that the mystic or magician has run to the end of their rope of doing things the “old way.” The Higher Genius needs to take complete control, and this is harder if the person’s lower self is in total control.
The Golden Dawn’s 5-6 ritual has a beautiful method of pushing down the lower self and awakening the higher genius. Ironically this ritual can itself bring down a dark night of the soul as the personality needs to incorporate the experience into its worldview. This was my own experience of this ritual and the following dark night of the soul took more than seven years for me to work through.
When Gods Die
In the dark night of the soul, you do not entirely lose your magical powers. You question if they are having any effect or bringing about real change. For this reason, a lot of your magic will fail. During my dark night of the soul, I initiated people into the Golden Dawn, but I did not feel the will to do much personal work. Most of the time I was happy, and I even wrote two books during this time.
In my case, my Higher Genus wanted me to sacrifice all that for a more magic centred life. This created a paradox because it is difficult to have a more magic centred life when you are not doing much magic. In my case, it created a feeling of unconscious frustration, which becomes more irritating as time moves on. Then in the middle of it all, you doubt that anyone is listening to your magic, and you discover what it is that you have been missing. This dramatically caused my head to explode and led to a gradual reawakening of purpose. With it came the awareness that I could not do anything without the support of my Higher Genuis or the Gods. I was just part of a bigger story that was still unfolding. I could not hide from my story I had to get on with it
I want to say that was the end of it, but the process did not end until it was tested in the fire that such a choice demanded.
It was during the following period that my life collapsed; I lost my marriage, people I believed to be my friends and the magical group I created. From the position of the dark night of the soul, I let it all go and thought that the Higher Genius knew what it was doing. While things happened in stages with temporal overlaps in hindsight, a pattern emerged, and things slowly started to get better, and my magic “returned.”
Others have different experiences, some longer and others shorter some find the process depressing while others do not. Once complete, St John says that it results in some union with God. Again though, how this is experienced differs from person to person. The description is similar to uniting with your Higher Genius, and from that point, it becomes more evident. Many think that a mystical experience is some divine bliss when it is not. Sometimes it is an awakening to a belief that it does not matter what shit you go through. Your changeable personality is not you and is just an expression of the authentic self.
Everyone’s dark night of the soul will happen for different reasons and be part of their story. Some go through several periods in their life, which can be seen as following the dark night experience. It is a spiritual process where your High Genius liberates you from attachments and compulsions and helps you emerge as the hero of your story.
It shows that our life is in a state of transition from something which supports our lower self to one which is headed to a more spiritual place. It is a time when we are called upon to
- Work out what we really believe and enact it daily.
- Remove those things from our life that prevent us from being our own divine hero
- Surrender to our Higher Genius, talking to it even if we don’t believe it is hearing us.
What makes it a dark night of the soul is less we feel depressed, but more we have no motivation to follow the regular practice. Why invoke a god when we don’t believe that it is there? Why study long hours or do regular work when there is no proof it works? Why face our shadows when they are safely buried?
The answer will always come down to “sorry, you must”, and when your Higher Genius has got enough control, then the dark night of the soul will end. You will not be a better person, but you will be you.
One of the reasons it exists is to remind modern magicians that real magic has no shortcuts, no outsourcing, and it always comes down to you and whatever you think is God. It leads you into the darkness alone to face your shadows.
How long does this process last?
A dark night of the soul is rarely measured in days. Most recorded cases are years, with many unaware that they are going through the process, except in hindsight. I want to say there is a way of speeding it up, but I think that would be messing with too many people’s stories. Usually the advice I give is for people to step up their regular magical practice even if they don’t believe it is working or doing anything. Something in doing that seems to help. But once you have gone through it, it will be interesting to see how sympathetic you are to the noob who thinks they have gone through a dark night of the soul because they have had a run of bad luck for a couple of weeks and are feeling a bit under the weather.