Often when I hear people talk about the dark night of the soul it’s usually described as a form of depression, without much attention given to the euphoria of the experience. The concept comes from an untitled poem by Saint John of the Cross, written in the sixteenth century. The poem emphasizes the act of turning inward during an existential crisis in order to align the soul with the Divine. In fact, the poem describes the dark night as joyous and repeatedly praises it for its transformative power! The dark night of the soul is a cathartic (and ecstatic) experience and deserves further examination beyond the crisis point.
Humans are social creatures, and a major aspect of the human experience is fulfilling a sense of belonging. We want to connect with each other. But in adolescence the desire to belong is so strong that we might ignore our own intuitive intelligence and instead look outside ourselves for external validation. Expectations and/or pre-defined hopes are put onto us from peers, mentors, culture, and media to be and think certain ways. And if the environment is painful enough, we might choose to reject those parts of ourselves that others find taboo, just out of survival.
Rejection of the childhood self can still run on autopilot in the shadows of our adult psyches, and reacquainting ourselves with those lost parts helps to heal the areas where we feel wounded. By gently reintegrating those aspects, we gain the joy of embodying unconditional love and respect for our own humanity. Below are four techniques to reconnect with your inner child.
I’m heading off to the desert this week for an utiseta, a ceremony in deep wilderness that allows a practitioner of magic to go under the veil and completely disconnect from the human world. There’s nothing “to do” during an utiseta other than meditate and open oneself to receive answers as they come (while also utilizing basic survival skills). While I’ve been preparing for the six-day ceremony for five months, most recently I completed a spirit bath to balance myself before entering the void.
This year I was fortunate to come across the written works of the Irish poet and theologian, John O’Donohue. O’Dononhue’s first book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom expounds on the Irish concept of an anam cara, or “soul friend,” a spiritual mentor of the early Irish church. In his analysis, O’Donohue examines how the theory of an anam cara might be applied to contemporary life for spiritual development. Additionally, O’Donohue draws upon the syncretism of paganism and Christianity within Ireland to tell parables about the anam cara, which appealed to me as an Irish-American deepening her work with ancestral magic. I find Anam Cara to be among the more thoughtful treatises within the self-help genre. Its framework allows for compassionate healing, without falling into the trap of hyper-individualism often represented in New Age literature. Anam Cara is a guide for how to be a good friend, and its central theme is worth exploring as a model for living in this world.
As someone who was raised in a New Thought household, I have spent my life studying and practicing positive-mind mechanics, such as Law of Attraction. Often when I encounter theories about the causative power of the mind, arguments generally fall into one of two camps: either every thought creates our reality or there’s a rejection of the notion entirely. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do think that the mind plays an intimate role in how we experience physical reality, but I don’t believe it is the only influence. Because in addition to being raised within the New Age community, I am also a professional historian who studies and teaches social movements of twentieth-century America. I have a deep understanding of the power of historical context, which in the collective memory is often very painful. Just as shadows exist in our individual psyches, so do shadows haunt our collective past. Thoughtfully speaking about positive-mind mechanics can be challenging in New Age circles due to the over eagerness of most practitioners to diminish the influence of historical and cultural contexts. I want to expand on this by exploring why context is important, and how applying contextual analysis can help craft a life desired of living while ethically contributing to the mutual benefit of others.
In recent months I’ve become increasingly aware of how often people within New Age feel privileged to justify racism. There is a pervasive belief in New Age that marginalized peoples want to experience marginalization, because their soul consciously embodied into that experience in this lifetime.[i] This line of reasoning compounded with a goal to “center in one’s truth” is an open invitation for upholding white privilege. Too many times I have witnessed white folks within New Age gaslight people of color for “talking from their ego” when it comes to calling out racist behavior. Even I have been accused of egotism when addressing it.
Ritual is work. That’s what I learned in 2018 from my teacher Ylva Mara Radziszewski in their healing craft program available through Crow Song Healing Arts at the Cunning Crow Apothecary in Seattle. The two year program trains magical practitioners from various traditions to be spiritual counselors, applying magic as medicine. In my own Northern European heritage, this is akin to the cunning folk of centuries past. In 2018 I completed the first year of the program, a foundational course for decolonizing magic and reclaiming a practitioner’s connection to it. The healing craft program (aka witch school) concludes each year with a two-day initiation ceremony. Students give a presentation of some form that embodies what they’ve learned about themselves and their magic, and it was within this context that I found myself reclaiming and performing on myself the Rite of the Five Seals of Sethian Gnosticism.