The very essence of the Dark Night of the Soul is the process of first gaining connection and communication with the divine and then to lose it. Thus, this process may be likened to losing a lover or friend, a true crisis of a spiritual nature. Everline Underhill wrote a very good definition in her book Mysticism:
The ‘Dark Night of the Soul,’ once fully established, is seldom lit by visions or made homely by voices. It is of the essence of its miseries that the once-possessed power of orison or contemplation now seems wholly lost. The self is tossed back from its hard-won point of vantage. Impotence, blankness, solitude, are the epithets by which those immersed in this dark fire of purification describe their pains.
The traditional view on Theurgy has its basis in Neo-Platonism, which (through its theory of emanation) in fact incorporates the belief in ascension and gradual purification onto spirit. This is also the doctrine of the Holy Qabalah; the Tree of Life is a species of a Jacob’s Ladder, which initiation tries to emulate. That is why the Dark Night of the Soul is a very real experience in a Golden Dawn initiatory context.
Some clarifications (2014-06-06)
But the loosing of faith is unmistakable in this natural process – however, it doesn’t have to be that one looses faith in Godhed per se, but it may be “limited” to loosing one’s faith in the initiatory path, in the system in which one is working, a loosing of faith in the tradition that you are adhering to – i.e. one may loose one’s faith in the “religion” without loosing one’s faith in the spiritual dominion or God.
There is also the phenomenon of losing one’s faith in oneself as an initiate, the reduction of one’s own worth as a spiritual person; the feeling of being unworthy as an Adept which makes it akin to depression or melancholy, but still being induced by the spiritual pursuit and initiatory process itself. Perhaps the mystic and magician experiences a somewhat different Dark Night, because the initiatory path is not only based on faith alone, but also on empirical experience. But it is possible to loose one’s faith in or sense of the meaning of it all; one may ask oneself: “Is it worth all the effort and all the sacrifice?”
With detachment or renounciation of the material I actually refer to the life of wordliness and the life of the profane, not the reduction of the worth of matter itself or the elements themselves; when you enter the path of initiation you have to leave your old life behind, sacrifice what you have gained before, what is considered to be valuable in the consensus mind of the profane. To live a spiritual life is not to live a mundane and wordly life; it is a life subjected to higher principles than that of money, riches and wordly power.
Initiates are seldom successful in the eyes of the profane, although the initiate may be very satisfied with his or her life regardless. It is because the initiate denounces the limited worldview of the materialist; he or she doesn’t measure success with the contents of one’s wallet, or the social standing, or how many “likes” one receive on Facebook. The path of the initiate is not the path of egotism or petty prestige; although the initiate still has a functioning ego or self, it has to be subjected to the principles of the Higher Self.
Quite often the initiate may become shunned or feared because he or she has choosen a different path of life with entirely different values, which makes him or her dangerous because he or she is a threat to the current world order. Initiates are radical and by their very nature subversive, however not necessarily consciously, but because they are not any longer part of the general paradigm of their times.
I wonder if much of the opposition that I have encountered during the recent days against the though of the Dark Night being part and parcel of initiation is not the result of the post-modern fear of melancholy, the manic quest for happiness and success which is fed to out brains from media and Western authorities. I am not suggesting that this is a kind of fear which has motivated Frater Barrabbas to oppose my position, but perhaps some of his more zealous supporters. Post-modern neo-spirituality and self-help books is part of a general “prosperity theology” which reflects the post-modern commersialist western culture.
In our post-modern society we are taught that feelings of depression, grief and sorrow is something dysfunctional and bordering on antisocial. Therefore, there is the common opinion that it is good to take medication when you are feeling low on a regular basis or during prolonged periods, so that you may return to a prosperous life as a producer and consumer. There is a common fear of the dark and night in our post-modern society as a outcome of this, as it berieves you of your expected success in life.
The initiatory process goes contrary to this general and consensual opinion; there is ebb and flow in all parts of nature – we are all mano-depressive to a certain extent, as we as microcosms reflect the fluctuations of the macrocosm. Thus the Dark Night is nothing to be shunned or avoided; rather it is to be embraced as a sign post of successful initiatory work. I have written before on the subject of depression as a way to self-knowledge. I am not advocating a romantic view on suffering; what I am saying it that Darkness cannot be avoided and has to be embraced instead of fearfully escaped to be able to be worked through.
Thus, my major point is that the Darkness of the Soul is as natural as Light or Illumination of the Soul; remember that the night is never as pitch black as just before the dawn. However, eventually the sun sets in the West and the Illumination of the soul is temporarly lost (regardless if it it induced by a loss of faith in God, in the Tradition or in Oneself), only to be regained again, and again. This is an ongoing process of cyclic development; thus the Dark Night is a companion on the path of the initiate as is the Light of Day. It is part of the ongoing natural process.
Image of the Tarot Key No. XIX ‘The Sun’ is