What is a “Dark Night of the Soul?”
The Dark Night of the Soul is a deep recess of hidden memory, our Shadow, coming forward to be seen. Within these hidden realms we find our truth disguised as our greatest fears.
A Dark Night of the Soul can either be perceived as an existential disconnect from Spirit and our spiritual purpose or as an obsessive focus on Spirit/spirituality while simultaneously neglecting or disconnecting from other aspects of self and reality. Both ends of the Dark Night spectrum are arising in order to be balanced within us.
The degree to which we hide or resist our shadow will likely mirror how the Dark Night personifies itself in our lives. Whether through external experiences like toxic relationships and tragic events or internal ones like fear-based mindsets and depressed emotional states, we are becoming deeply familiar with what our shadow is and what ultimately yearns to transform into wisdom and healing gifts for ourselves and others.
Although Dark Nights feel chaotic to us on the surface there is a Divine order to their arrival. Dark Nights rise within the larger cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Dark Nights of the Soul are “ego death” initiations on our journey where an old sense of self and worldview are no longer congruent with the entirety of our soul. This reckoning of old and new energies helps solidify a foundation for us to be reborn. The darkness is the rich primordial ground needed for new life to seed and grow. We cannot speak about Dark Nights without acknowledging their connection to our light.
The part of the soul’s journey where the hero or heroine is called to confront or “battle” their own demons in order to gain wisdom. Although it may not be a conscious motive at the time, this is the goal of any Dark Night period. Certain veins of wisdom can only be accessed through confronting our fears and releasing what no longer serves us. It feels dark because it references our shadow selves shattering the illusory worlds that must meet their end. Suddenly we are faced with any pain, loss, or traumatic memory longing to be loved and integrated within us.
In mythology, Dark Nights are sometimes referred to as the Underworld, a hidden realm, almost always underground, that forces the protagonist to release illusion through various trials (ego death) in order to be reborn into higher, more authentic states of being. Dark Nights can also be personified as archetypal characters like the Dark Queen, Crone, Hag, Witch, Dark God/ Goddess or Deity who embodies themes related to Death/Rebirth, Night/Nightmares, War/Battle/Destruction, Magick, Shapeshifting, Divination, Healing, and Prophecy.
7 Ways to Embrace your own Underworld Journey
Ideally, we would willingly descend into the Underworld in order to regain wisdom we have lost or forgotten. Most of the time, though, Dark Nights feel as if they are forced upon us because we are too fearful of what we might discover about ourselves or how we’ll be called to change. I’ve listed seven ways that have helped me work with difficult Underworld transitions rather than against them and how I have come to embrace my own Dark Nights of the Soul. 1. Be patient with yourself and your soul’s need to grieve.
A Dark Night of the Soul is different for all of us. Give yourself time to grieve. Just as you cannot be rushed to heal from a loss of a significant loved one, so too do you deserve all the time you need to heal from any soul loss. There is no set amount of days for you to “get over it” and “move on”. Grief is cyclic, waves of sadness and anger come and go, so do not feel disheartened if you progress in some areas and regress in others. Losing aspects of who we once were can be just as devastating, although this type of psychological grief is rarely talked about in a society hyper-focused on advancement and progress than on endings and death.
2. Remember that the Dark Night is not a punishment because you’re a bad person. It’s the opposite. A Dark Night is a fundamental step on the soul’s journey. It means you are ready to anchor in more of your true self. The Dark Night can be an indicator of where we are hiding from our truth, that is all. You never deserve to suffer, and you are not being punished for past mistakes. If this belief arises for you to work with, that is okay, but know that putting too much emotional weight behind false beliefs like this can trigger a downward spiral that might keep you in the underworld for longer than is necessary.
Just as some of us will avoid the darkness, others prolong our stay and become addicted to it. We might feel as though we are closer to our emotional body and spirit, perhaps we feel more inspired or creative. It’s important to make sure you are not sucked into the trap of lower emotions in order to connect to your soul or believe that you must suffer in order to produce meaningful art.
3. Challenge yourself to do something that scares you. A great way to build positive momentum when you feel powerless to the Dark Night energy is to willingly challenge yourself to do something that scares you, especially if it has to do with developing life purpose gifts, talents, and abilities. As discussed earlier, the Dark Night of the Soul functions for you to face your fears and reclaim your deepest truth. Deciding to align yourself with this transformative momentum can significantly decrease difficult symptoms or experiences. For example, if you are afraid of being rejected by a family member because of your spiritual beliefs, taking a leap of faith to create a podcast where you discuss spiritual topics of interest to you means you are no longer resisting what your soul seeks to bring forward. The Dark Night now meets you where you decide to conquer your fears rather than disguising as your worst possible nightmare to get your attention.
4. Create resonance with the new energies that are emerging. Visualize yourself transformed by the Dark Night and tune into any guidance you are receiving from the version of you who has fully integrated their Dark Night lessons. What steps would this “future you” tell you to take? Is there a feeling or an awareness that would like to be introduced into your life now? What Dark Night lessons and teachings can you bring into the world to help others on their journey? Slowly build up these qualities each day and take note of any subtle shifts or messages that emerge. This is especially helpful in times you feel stuck or believe you will be in a Dark Night transition forever.
5. Honor the Dark Night through Ritual and Ceremony. It can be as simple or elaborate as you desire--but honoring your Dark Night of the Soul through personal ritual and ceremony is profoundly transformative. Whenever you feel ready for this work, acknowledge all that had to be released from your old worldview and reality and hold gratitude for the gifts that are currently arising or are on their way to you. Be honest about your emotions. It’s okay to admit you are still grieving, confused, or angry. A very real and raw part of you can co-exist alongside the part of you that is aware of the healing and transformation taking place in your life. A ritual or ceremony dedicated to honoring your Dark Night can also meaningfully signal to your subconscious that you are prepared to return to the Upper World again.
6. Journal or write a story about your own Underworld Journey. Writing down daily thoughts and experiences through a Dark period can serve as a guide when you find yourself facing yet another difficult or challenging experience. Looking back on your process can remind you of your resiliency and strength-- you now have solid evidence of what worked for you in the past. When you write your Underworld Journey in the form of a story, you can also discover the parallels between your life and those of mythological characters and archetypes. This allows you to view your very personal suffering from a wider context and is often reassuring when you feel alone in what you’re going through.
7.Reach out to others and create boundaries with those who don’t support you. Let friends and family you trust know that you are currently in a Dark Night of the Soul. You do not owe anyone private, sensitive or detailed information. Simply letting others know that you value their support and friendship during this transitional time can be extremely beneficial. Clearly state what might need to shift or change in your relationship if that’s necessary, especially if it means spending less time in draining or negative social situations or participating in activities that are no longer resonant with your path.
It’s essential to set firm boundaries with those who are not supportive of you. When you rise into a new version of yourself relationships may naturally fall away on their own, or you might need to take a step back and spend less time around those who are harmful or toxic to you in any way. There is never any need to feel guilty for setting healthy boundaries for yourself and your healing process. Setting boundaries and getting to know your own energy also allows you to build new connections with individuals, groups or communities that are more like-minded and harmonious with who you are.