I have engaged in some further discussions about the topic of the Dark Night of Soul recently on Face Book. What has come out of this discussion is a more refined definition of the Dark Night of the Soul that magicians as well as mystics might experience. According to those who disagree with me it has to do with the aftermath of experiencing a powerful but momentary union with the Godhead, in all its glory and majesty. The resultant sense of loss after such an experience, also temporary, produces in the magician the archetypal Dark Night of the Soul. Tomas Stacewicz has responded to what I wrote with his own article, and you can find it here. I have also read with interest what he has proposed as comments on one of my Face Book status postings,
While I would never say that it is impossible for a magician and initiate to experience pain, darkness, doubt, fear and even despair while undergoing a powerful transformative initiation (in fact I have stated that this is very likely), I wouldn’t necessarily equate that intense experience with what a mystic undergoes through the Dark Night of the Soul. This is because a mystic nakedly approaches the Godhead by faith alone, whereas a magician is armed with faith based on the experience associated with magical experiences. There is also something decidedly masochistic about how a mystic deliberately prepares for this occurrence. Christianity does emphasize the suffering of Christ on the cross (particularly in Catholicism), and so a Christian mystic should also experience a similar level of suffering in order to be considered legitimate. Also, as I indicated in my article, the Dark Night of the Soul is nearly a constant companion for the mystic, but it doesn’t seem to be something habitual for the magician.
Tomas seems to have ignored the details that I presented in my article about how a monastic adherent seeks to undergo union with God and all that it entails. Based on what I have written, it makes more sense for mystics who have diminished and emptied themselves so that only the naked and unadorned psyche is still extent to have these kinds of experiences. How could worldly magicians who are still full functioning and participating in the mundane sphere be capable of having this kind of experience unless they themselves were reduced to nought?
I think that Tomas is actually engaging in a romantic association and a glorified identification with the mystic path, even though, unlike a mystic, he is still functioning in the world. He has a job, material possessions, property and social obligations. A true mystic would have eliminated everything in his life that might have interfered with achieving union with the Absolute. Tomas seems to believe that because he has experienced what he thinks is the archetypal Dark Night of the Soul that all such experiences must be the model and foundation for all other magicians. In fact he goes on to point out that experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul as he defines it represents an important mile-stone signifying one’s true level of development and achievement. In other words, if you haven’t experienced this phenomenon, then you couldn’t possibly be an adept, or for that matter, an initiate. He is quite adamant about this belief, and there seems to be no middle ground. Here are Tomas’ words to that effect.
“However, my own experience [of the Dark Night of the Soul] and the experiences of other initiates proves beyond any doubt that it is possible and even constitutes a requirement to become a successful Magician or Adept.”
I suppose I should be insulted by what Tomas has said (since it excludes me from being a magician or even an initiate), but I won’t take it personally. I have the utmost respect and admiration for Tomas and I believe that he feels the same way about me. Despite the narrow definition that he has flatly proposed, we have agreed to disagree. Still, I felt it important to respond to some of his points to more clearly define the nature of my own tradition and magical perspective. Tomas seems to believe that I omit the importance of the Dark Night of the Soul in my magic because I define matter and spirit, and my pagan path, differently than he defines his spiritual path. He sees it as a difference in our paths, but I think that it is merely a difference in semantics.
While I agree that our paths are somewhat different, it is difficult for me to accept that they are that much different. My reply to Tomas is that he might be conflating the Dark Night of the Soul, which is a very specific phenomenon in Christian mysticism, with a difficult and particularly harsh transformative initiation. Of course, this is matter of opinion, but I felt that it would be constructive to contrast how we see reality and perhaps get a glimpse of the truth behind our passionate beliefs.
In my previous article I did state that painful transformations can and do occur, but if and when they occur they usually represent something specific about the individual and their own spiritual process, and they are not necessarily archetypal to all such experiences. The cycle of transformative initiation is something that is constantly repeated and it has lesser and greater cycles, so there would be a periodicity to experiencing intensely powerful and difficult changes regularly in the life-span of a magical initiate. While magical initiates follow the cycles of light and darkness and that this is feature of their path, the experience of darkness that a magician undergoes is not same as the Dark Night of the Soul. It is has neither the intensity nor the depth, and this is because it is just one phase of the initiatory cycle.
Another point that Tomas has made in his article is that modern pagans cling to the material world and are unable or unwilling to detach themselves from it in order to truly experience the manifested glory of the Godhead. Here are his words:
“All spiritual paths and the followers thereof distance themselves from the material world to a certain extent, Theurgy as well as Mysticism”
As I pointed out in my article, a modern pagan doesn’t differentiate between spirit and matter, rather they consider them to be fused into a holistic structure that can’t really be separated except through the artifice of the mind. Modern pagans don’t “cling” to the material world, they in fact embrace and fully live in it, and they celebrate its various wondrous mysteries and manifestations. We perceive that spirit and matter are conjoined in union so that life and the material reality becomes something sacramental. Thus, to a modern pagan, every living thing is a sacrament!
I also find the term “pagan reconstructionists” be somewhat misleading regarding my own beliefs and practices because as a modern pagan what I do has only the barest and rudimentary relationship to ancient pagans and the paganism of antiquity. Granted, there are pagan reconstructionists, but I am not one of them. That is why I call myself a Modern Pagan and not a reconstructionist. Even so, what I am doing is celebrating a religious tradition, although it is a very modern and newly developed one. Our work as Modern Pagans and Witches is not yet complete. In fact, we have only begun our spiritual and religious adventure. However, all magicians are more or less modern, since the cultural context and consciousness of even a few hundred years ago is irreparably lost to us.
Because I have equated the transformative cycle of initiation with that of the Hero’s Journey, I have also shown that a complete cycle includes both a descent and an ascent. The initiate undergoes a total shattering of the self and then a reconstruction and a reintegration. Such a process is often painful and difficult, perhaps even profoundly so. Still, the purpose of this cyclic process is for the initiate to psychically die and be reborn so that she might evolve and succeed in integrating the archetypal cosmogonic cycle with the temporal world - in other words, to achieve her individual and her collective destiny. In order to play a part in the destiny of the world, the magician initiate must be fully engaged with that world. It is also important to be balanced enough to avoid the extremes of material imprisonment or material corruption. Therefore, to be a magician and an initiate it is important to be able to function in the material world so that she might help to change and transform it. A magician is not detached from this world, in fact, the world in its spiritual and material manifestations is the great teacher, guide and even the harsh mistress of trials and life threatening challenges.
Tomas also discussed in his Face Book comments that the Dark Night of the Soul was analogous to losing one’s connection to the Godhead and then experiencing the darkness of doubt, loss of faith and the miseries associated with suddenly being bereft and abandoned. While I don’t doubt that this is a real phenomena that an initiate can experience, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is the same as the Dark Night of the Soul. The process of the transformative initiation cycle reaches its highest point when the initiate experiences a complete breakdown and shattering of the self. Would that kind of experience also produce the same feelings that one might mistakenly think is the Dark Night of the Soul? Certainly it would be painful, perhaps even agonizingly so, and it would seem that one is deserted, alone and without any advocates or assistance. As I have stated previously, when this happens in a successful initiatory cycle it is just one of many stages. So these feelings, however intense, quickly pass as the initiate experiences the next stage, which is union with the opposite and hidden dark-self and a complete revitalization and restoration.
When I have undergone this process I have experienced the pain of the breakdown and shattering of the self, but it is always followed by the joy and celebration of rebirth. I could indulge in the pain and attempt to prolong it, but I see no reason to do so. The natural cycle consists of a shattering and a breaking down of the psyche into the rudimentary parts, and then a corresponding powerful regeneration and rebirth. Why would I attempt to block or halt this natural process? I suspect that doing so would distort or even cripple the transformative process, making it like a regressive fall into madness. Yet the tendency to rebirth seems to be much too powerful to resist.
My case is that a magician experiences a total shattering and destruction of his psyche instead of experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul . He might believe that this experience is the Dark Night of the Soul if he is so romantically inclined. That is what I think is being described by initiates and magicians who believe that they have experienced this phenomenon. I don’t either doubt or dismiss what they have experienced, but I choose to frame it differently because to me the whole context of the experience is a magical process, and it is startlingly different from what a mystic undergoes.
Still, the question remains that Tomas has pointed out in his Face Book discussions. Can one loose their connection to the Godhead and still be a magician? This statement reminds me of that song by REM “Losing My Religion.”
Consider this, the hint of the century
Consider this, the slip
That brought me to my knees, failed
What if all these fantasies come
Now I've said too much” REM - “Losing My Religion” (part of the lyrics)
When it comes right down to it I suppose anything is possible in the various experiences and phenomena of magic; but losing one’s connection to the Godhead is a peculiar one, at least in my opinion. Let me explain why I think that this is so.
I have defined ritual magick as the methodology that incorporates the practice of godhead assumption as the fundamental state of consciousness for all magical work. So, that means that an initiate who performs magic is doing so under the aegis of his or her personal godhead. If that is a prerequisite then it would be difficult to lose connection to the greater Godhead and the One because the personal godhead is synonymous with the greater Godhead. There is no difference except in one’s mind and perceptions.
As the initiate progresses through the transformative processes of initiation, the apparent differences melt away and the initiate becomes more aware of the Godhead Within and the greater Godhead Without, and that they are one and the same. Is there any possibility that one might lose their connection with the personal Godhead? Perhaps in the beginning when it is a new experience which hasn’t become an integral part of the magician’s innate nature; but once it does, then any kind of spiritual disconnection is unlikely to occur. It wouldn’t be impossible, but such an occurrence would represent a catastrophic setback. It would be a total nullification of one’s entire initiatory process.
In all of the years that I have practiced ritual magick, I have never experienced this kind of loss of connection. I am aware of my inner godhead and often it resonates in a synchronous manner with the greater Godhead. Sometimes my mundane life has most of my attention and at other times my magical and pagan religious work are my primary focus. I also need to manage and balance living in the material world with being a pagan, witch and a ritual magician. I am focused on world events, thus making me worldly, but I also am keenly aware of magical and spiritual processes within and outside of me as well.
As a magician, I am seeking to be a master of both the material and spiritual world, since from my perspective, they are one and the same. What this means is that I experience a cycle of magical and mundane occurrences, and both of these occurrences are part of the overall process of conscious evolution. They are just part of a greater continuum that reaches from my unique individual experience and perception of life and its meaning all the way to the absolute levels of being. In my opinion, the road to self-mastery is where these different levels become unified into just one level all within my overall perception. Perhaps the one Tarot card that epitomizes that whole process to me is Atu V, the Hierophant.
Anyway, I have never been in a situation where I have not had, in some manner, a connection with the Godhead. For me it is only a matter of precedence, intensity and focus. I have never lost my “religion” since it is completely integral to my being. I know the nature of Spirit from my experiences with it, but I also know that it resides wholly and completely within matter, and the truth is that there is no distinction between them except in my mind. My beliefs and my faith are based on my experiences. From these experiences I seek to derive various maps, rules and doctrines that encapsulate what I have experienced. This is an evolving process, so what I hold to be true today will undoubtably change tomorrow. It is quite a different process than holding particular truths and doctrines based on faith alone, which is the starting point where the mystic begins his or her path.
Someday, perhaps in the future, I hope that I will be able to completely eliminate the distinction in my mind between spirit and matter, and when that happens, I will know what it is like to be a man and a god simultaneously. Until that time, I will continue my work and strive to realize the mystery and nature of the Godhead within me, and by outward projection, to know it in the world.