With so many of us feeling a bit hopeless these days, I am reposting this small essay on the Dark Night of the Soul.
I read a short blog post the other day that made me sad…and sympathetic. It was by a young woman who felt she had lost the mystery of her Pagan path. The power of the rites had flown. She doubted. Her anguish was palpable in what she wrote.
This may have been the first time that had happened to her.
Yet I can guarantee that, if we follow any spiritual path for a sufficient length of time, this same thing will happen to each of us. At some point, the mystery dries up. The excitement dies down. The thrill of discovery is not as thrilling as it once was. Usually, this doesn’t happen all of a sudden and usually not in the early part of our journey with Isis. Rather, it’s a slow erosion that we don’t even notice. We just don’t feel like tending Her shrine or meditating or making offering today. We find we have other things to do. Practice slips away. That wonderful sense of Isis being with us in every step of our lives slips away. But we hardly notice.
Until we do. Notice, that is. Then, we might panic a bit. Especially if we have chosen a priest/essly relationship with Isis. O my Goddess, O my Goddess, O my Goddess! What happened? Where is She? What have I (not!) done?
If we’re not careful—and forget to breathe—thoughts and feelings can quickly escalate from there. Why am I even doing this? What if it’s all a lie? Where is She? Where is She? Where is She? We ask questions, but get no answers. It isn’t like it was before. We don’t seem to be who we were before, either. We may feel like strangers to ourselves just as we feel like strangers to Isis. We feel alone, cut off from the Goddess, perhaps even cut off from other human beings and from other pleasures in our lives.
The first thing we must understand about such periods in the spiritual life is that, though we feel desperately alone, we are not. Spiritual people throughout the ages have had this experience. Prehistoric shamans probably had it. There’s even a term for it, a term you probably know. It’s the “dark night of the soul,” which is the title of a poem and a treatise written by the 16th century Christian Mystic known as Saint John of the Cross. He writes of it as a necessary part of the soul’s journey to union with God. The phrase is so perfectly evocative that it has been adopted by many spiritual traditions today.
There’s even an ancient Egyptian precedent. It’s generally known as A Man Tired of Life in Dispute with His Soul (Ba) and is found in Berlin Papyrus 3024. The papyrus itself has no title. What we have left is the last part of the work; the first part is missing. In it, a scribe is arguing with his ba, trying to convince his ba to die with him. The man berates himself and declares the world around him to be a horrible place. The ba argues that the scribe should live and die only when it truly is his time. Egyptologists consider the papyrus very obscure and difficult. As a result, there are many different translations of the papyrus and they differ widely in their interpretation.
We do not know the purpose of the papyrus or the period to which it is dated. Most scholars put it in the First Intermediate Period, a time of confusion between the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Some have theorized that the author’s despair is a reflection of the chaos of that Intermediate Period. Bika Reed, who is of the Schwaller de Lubicz school of Egyptology, has interpreted it as an initiatic text, essentially dealing with the dark night of the soul.
We don’t know for sure, but the point is, this happens—and it has always happened. But what do we do when it happens?
I can tell you that I have had more than one dark night of the ba in my life with Isis. I have learned that patience and persistence are the keys to survival (as they are in so much of life). In these dark and dry places, we must be patient with ourselves and with the Goddess; we must persist in our practice. Even if we don’t feel anything happen when we meditate with Isis or when we place flowers upon Her altar, we must continue to do so. But we must also give ourselves a break. It’s okay if we don’t feel anything right now. It doesn’t mean Isis has abandoned us. It only means we are in a period of transition, even of initiation. Some consider a dark night to be part of the process of ego death that must precede a deeper relationship with the Divine, in our case, with Isis.
We may even give ourselves another type of break. If it had been our practice to meditate daily, perhaps we do so once every few days or once a week. That’s okay, too. The important thing is not to stop altogether, even if the sense of connection isn’t there. We just persist. Eventually—in a month, or even a year—something will change. The shell surrounding our hearts will crack. Like the Child Horus, our hearts will struggle out of the egg and be born. Eventually, we will return to our practice and find that it, too, is transformed. It is deeper, richer, juicier.
Held in Her wings, we are Becoming, even when we don’t know it.