3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.
–St. John of the Cross, from Stanzas of the Soul
Mysticism has sometimes been denigrated by magicians, particularly post-moderns who are immersed in the psychological model of magic to the point of solipsism. However, unlike traditional mystics, many modern pagans and magicians (and others) have made an art of combining mysticism with everyday life, bringing what they learn “back down to Earth”. This can add a dimension to experiences that we’re often left with no answers to. A good example is the Dark Night of the Soul (which will hence forth be abbreviated as “DNS”, adding an extra dimension to DNS errors).
To a magical practitioner, the DNS is often hallmarked by a lull in magical practice, as well as a number of upsets and problems cropping up in the everyday life. However, unlike the usual “My life sucks, everything sucks, I hate life” periods people may go through, the DNS is a period of purification and renewal. Things that are no longer healthy for the individual are purged, and new patterns may be created, particularly as the DNS lifts from the person’s life.
I recently came to terms with the fact that I am in the process of coming out of my third DNS in six years. You’d think I’ve had learned how to recognize these things by now, but each time it’s been different. However, they’ve all been valuable stages in the process of learning and growing as an individual.
The first time started in 2002. I was in a pretty unhealthy relationship at the time. It was exceedingly codependent, and we were both bad enough at communication that there were a lot of important things that weren’t getting talked about. So here we were, ignoring the sinking ship we were both drilling holes in–and I was, quite predictably, miserable. I had gone directly from living with my parents while going to college in my hometown, to moving in with my then-fiance. I’d never lived a day by myself–and what I didn’t realize was that I deeply craved my own space. I felt crowded and unhappy and kept telling myself that love would fix it. While there were good parts to that time period, I got more and more stagnant as time went on, and I felt as though my body itself was beginning to shut down.
This pattern got broken by my job sending me out to South Dakota for three months (without the fiance). Within my newly found breathing room, I was able to suddenly take a step back from my life and figure out just what was wrong, and what I needed. I had felt stunted for a good long while, and this trip gave me a chance to stretch myself out. I read Robert Anton Wilson’s and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! trilogy, reawakened my exploration of my therianthropy (which had been repressed for a while), and took the time to do a few things I swore I’d never do. All this contributed to the first real growth spurt I’d had in the process of individuation in a long time. When I got home, I broke off the relationship entirely, got the apartment to myself, and proceeded to spent many months healing deep wounds and questioning who and what I really was. By the time a year had passed, while there was still a lot to work on, I had come quite a long way from being depressed and feeling trapped.
The next DNS was sparked on the summer solstice of 2004. Over the next half year or so I would move three times; go through two painful breakups; explore and come more to terms with my sexuality and gender identity on a number of levels; total my car; and experience a number of other upsets. I also did a TON of magical experimentation that went right along with the state of flux my life at the time. One of the most notable was a six week period in which I deliberately divided myself into four different personae according to some of the second circuit material in Wilson’s Prometheus Rising as a way of getting to know myself more deeply*. (Incidentally, not long after the experiment ended, I saw a Jungian therapist for a couple of months. When I told her about the experiment, she said it was a “creative” way for me to explore myself.) I essentially shattered a lot of preconceived notions along with the rest of my life (though nothing that got me arrested).
This DNS was resolved as I slowly began sorting through the pieces of what was left in autumn 2004. I left a lot behind that I no longer needed (as well as a few things that I missed terribly, but that needed to move on). One of the best things I came out with was renewed creativity, the beginnings of a good relationship, and the outline for Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone. It had been a crazy time of my life, but it left me a lot clearer and more focused than when I’d gone in.
So this latest DNS started in the summer of 2006, after a series of very rapid changes:
July 2005 – Meet Taylor, my (now, not then) husband, in person for the first time
Autumn 2005 – Agree to let Taylor move out to Seattle with me (from Pittsburgh)
March 2006 – Move to Seattle, end up with a job in a warehouse
May 2006 – Finally have the circumstances to rent a place to live rather than staying with family; end up in a too-small place
July 2006 – Get married to Taylor
August 2006 – Quit warehouse job to embark on quest to find job using my writing/editing skills
This began nearly a year of increasing stress and unhappiness. First, although I agreed to let Taylor come with me and I wanted to marry him, I didn’t realize that I still had so many personal space issues under the surface. I figured I’d lived alone for three years–wasn’t that enough? And gods knew I was crazy about him, *and* we had a solid foundation to our relationship despite the quick progression from dating to marriage. Still, any relationship goes through a lot of changes in the first year, and compound it with being stuck in a small space when one of us is feeling seriously crowded, and it was a recipe for disaster. On top of it, in order to live in a part of Seattle that was accessible to where we each worked, we were stuck right in the middle of the city and had to deal with massive amounts of traffic. We barely ever got out of the house, let alone out into the wilderness for some much-needed hiking. And Taylor found he had absolutely no connection to the place whatsoever, so he grew increasingly miserable with his hour-plus driving commute each way, and me getting more unhappy for no obvious reason…
It’s probably a good thing I was working on the Field Guide at this time, since it was research and theory-based, not magical-practice based. My practice went almost completely dead, I felt an increasing disconnection from spirituality in general, and this was probably the closest to the classic DNS I experienced. Things slowed down, stagnated, and, quite honestly, sucked.
This has been the toughest DNS to work my way out of. It really shook the foundations of my relationship with Taylor, though to both our credit we managed to keep communicating and working through things and processing them as they happened–no nights spent with one of us at a hotel or friend’s house, no throwing things at each other. It got tense, but even at the worst we kept communicating. I think we both really wondered if we’d survive this.
And yet, we did. This past spring, Taylor convinced me to give moving to Portland (OR) a try. We’d visited there a few times and found it to be much smaller and greener, and with a TON of people who really wanted us to move there (not that our Seattle friends hated us, of course). So we did this past June. The move was pretty easy, and we managed to get the exact apartment we wanted, half of a house that we share with three of our best friends. Taylor got a job right before we moved, and I got one less than a month after. We’ve managed to get out to hike (there’s a great place 20-30 minutes from our front door, driving). And we live in an awesome neighborhood with a two dollar movie theater, lots of nice restaurants, and a huge park a five minute walk away. In short, we’ve found an excellent place to live, and to recover.
And we have been recovering–me from my DNS, and Taylor from dealing with the fallout. Therioshamanism is one of the products of this recovery. This need for a more formalized path, and a renewal of spirituality, is one of the things that was freed up by the removal of all the drek that has been removed by the most recent DNS. But it hasn’t stopped there; along with my spirituality, I’m reevaluating everything from my communication patterns to my wardrobe. In short, everything is bound together in this, and therioshamanism has been a way for me to focus and centralize that effort.
While I’m not where I’d like to be, I’m working on it. I make my mistakes, pick myself up, and keep going. This rebuilding from the ground up is even more intense than before, but I have more to work with this time, too. And I have my partner, my lifemate, and numerous relationships, spiritual and otherwise, that I’m working on deepening. There are still aftershocks to deal with, but as I come out of this DNS into a new day, I realize that what hasn’t killed me really has made me stronger, spiritually and otherwise. It ties into all things in my life, just as therioshamanism does; spirituality isn’t just something to be kept in a box, a mysticism that stays way up in the clouds, only to be accessed as an escape from the pain of this world. Spirituality is that pain, as well as the recovery from it, and to separate it from everything else, to ignore its role in even the darkest times of life, is to miss one of the greatest roles it can play.
Spirituality is the dark night, and it is also the spark of light that brings us through. One cannot happen without the other; both are necessary for completion.
* If you’re interested in reading more about this experiment, I did a full writeup in Magick on the Edge: An Anthology of Experimental Magick