The Dark Night of My Soul.
I first encountered the term dark night of the soul when I was in a giddy, juicy, hormone-infused phase of life.
My instantaneous reaction to this phrase was one of awkward discomfort. Those evocative feelings were coined in a poem from a Christian Mystic, St. John of the Cross, describing our descent into darkness, depression, disillusionment. I was anything but. I was the re-enchanted, loving, kind mother of a young baby.
I was awash in deep satisfaction and contentment, with that rooted knowing that everything was as it should be. And although it didn’t resonate deeply at that moment, the phrase dark night of the soul was just the balm my soul needed. A foreign and unrecognizable medicine.
I obsessively Googled, asking the librarian if she knew anything more — anything connected at all — and tossed the words around my brain at night in the darkness. Those words, dark night of the soul, felt not only like a friend from long ago, but one whom I had longed and lusted for. It was as if someone had taken the words out of my mouth, except that wasn’t what I needed to express.
I couldn’t conceptualize why exactly I was in a happy place within my life, and yet, obsessively, secretively reading about the dark night of the soul.
Those years that just suck the life force out of you.
Demoralizing, diminishing, demanding, and desperate circumstances, emotions, realities.
Challenges, changes, and choices, when nothing feels right. When nothing is right.
Treading water on a stormy ocean, on a moonless night, pounded by relentless waves.
And I felt a little twinge of guilt, wondering why I felt so compelled to explore this, and why it resonated in the first place. It certainly didn’t match my current experience, or my understanding of my stories, my history.
Each time I opened my browser to pull up yet another page of quotations and references, I dragged myself over those questions. Was it an unexpected streak of schadenfreude? Was it a deep-seated fear that I was compulsively exploring via a surrogate? Why couldn’t I just be happy?
But a dark night of the soul felt like a metaphor, not only for the dark periods of my life, but for my whole life.
It was as if I had tried so hard to turn a page, to move past those phases of life that were challenging, depressing — or downright dark — that I threw the baby out with the bathwater, only that baby was me. Trying to compartmentalize the delicate phases of my life, I had ruthlessly compartmentalized myself.
I was carving, justifying away the parts that made me cringe. The fleshy bits that made me feel less worthy, perpetually hungry, as if my desires were an infection to be contained. In an effort to move past those phases of life that had eaten me alive, I had silenced the woman who experienced them, first hand. I denied her, that former version of myself, a connection to my present.
To acknowledge, embrace, accept those dark nights of the soul meant claiming myself. All of myself. My histories, stories, and who I was when no one watched. To be willing to hold myself, boldly and brazenly. To me. To all of it.
And this was the gateway to truly embracing my power of transformation. Transmutation. The same woman who struggled, fought tooth and nail, was the very same woman that luxuriates in a milky bath with rose petals. The same woman who fucks outside on the grass and the dirt with ancient feral pleasure.
It didn’t imply that some former self of mine was less deserving and needed to be banished. It meant that I never left myself stranded.
It didn’t imply that I was healed and well, shining and sparkling, fresh and anew, magically liberated from depression, defeat, and depletion. It meant that I never tried to throw parts of myself away as if they were trash.
It didn’t imply that I was never going to struggle again, or that my struggles were an indicator of some implicit failure. It meant that I knew I had my own back, no matter what came my way.
It didn’t imply a lack of self-control or of some implicit failure central to my character that I couldn’t always tread water. It meant that I knew how to swim in deeper waters.
It implied there were nights. And days. And those nights and days and the rising and falling of tides was my life. The way that I spent my days was the way I spent my life. It was all me, one big shimmering continuous thread, birthing different versions of myself. Constantly in flow, constantly transforming.
It meant that darkness was a part of me. Part of my history. Part of my story. Part of my magic.
And I was no longer willing to differentiate, separate, or alienate any part of sacred, holy self.
I was fearlessly home.
Sarah Lowe is a traditional animist witch, folk herbalist, tarot reader and teacher. Inspired by outdoor temples of the Pacific Northwest, the cycles and mysteries of the moon, and the magical elements, her work is made up of folklore, fairy tales, forest, and all that is feral. She teaches currently at Feral Heart Mystery School. You could follow her on Facebook and Instagram.