There are times, in our faiths, when we will feel disconnected from the gods, the powers, and even nature herself in the most painful, fundamental way possible. We must understand that this disconnection is a natural part of the path of faith and not a sign that we have done something wrong or that our faith has abandoned us. The long dark night of the soul is a concept we have done well to borrow from the Christians.
The trial of feeling separated from ourselves, our communities, and our faith is a harrowing one and one that, often, does not pass easily or lightly. For some it lasts a few days or a few months, but for others, the sense of loss and separation can plague them for years. The sense of loss of the divine for years or decades can be devastating to both faith and practice, particularly in our faiths, where we often believe alone or among small groups. We do not have chapels and churches where we can go daily to prayer and seek out re-connection with trained clergy.
This dark night often comes after having found the divine and a depth of faith that, previously, was not known. For those of us who are polytheist and neopagan revivalists, when we convert or discover the faith that brings us to our gods and our practices, we often experience ecstatic closeness to our divinities and powers. In previous faiths and previous practices, we made have had distance from gods and powers and our new faith gives us a closeness and a joy that we did not know was possible.
This can, then, make our dark nights of the soul harrowing in a different way than is traditional. Often, as people who have sought out our faiths rather than been raised up in them (although that is changing, somewhat), we know all too well what it feels like to be separated from the divine and feel as though ritual and practice are foreign. This feeling is often what led us to our new faiths and conversion.
However, that can drive us to repeat the process. Rather than wait out the trial or dive deeper into our practices, whether by seeking out deeper polytheist and neopagan philosophy and theology or developing practices that continually deepen our faith, it is not uncommon for us to react to this common trial by seeking out another faith, another practice, new gods and powers. We do this because it is a natural, if inappropriate, reaction when it’s how it resolved our distance and loss earlier in our lives.
However, the dark night of the soul is as natural and important as the dark night of the winter solstice. It is something many, if not all, of people who commune and connect with the divine will experience, during our process of living and believing. It is not a time when the divine and our faith have abandoned us, no matter how much it may feel that way. Instead, it is a deeply important moment, whether it lasts for days or decades, in which we can have profound spiritual growth.
When we reach la noche oscura, we should take this not as a sign that we have been abandoned, but that we have been entrusted with a trial that will lead to growth, if we approach it properly. When the gods and powers introduce us to this time of darkness and hermitage, away from them and away from our sense of the world and faith, they trust us to continue in faith even with that distance. They know that we need space in order to grow and that we have come to a time when we need depth as well as breadth.
During the dark night of the soul, we need to plumb the depths of our faith. While we should continue our daily practices and holidays, esbats, and sabbats as we have previously, it is signal to go deeper. This is a time to find our philosophical meaning, to learn why we believe and practice as we do instead of just doing. It is a time to look into the dark mirror and not turn away. Our faiths must be as deep as they are broad.
It is also a time to seek out support. Whether this is pastoral care with trained clergy or psychological therapy with a licensed counselor, the deep, powerful loneliness of la noche oscura is a deeply trying time, psychologically as well as spiritually and psychically. As we are a people who, generally, do not have large congregations and trained clergy who can support us through such times, it is important to seek out sympathetic guides who can provide us with support. It is also a good time to find compatriots who also believe in the gods and powers, even if it is only a group who comes together for holidays and good times.
The dark night of the soul is a painful, lonely, and incredibly trying time and especially so for those of us who did the hard work to find a faith unfamiliar to the faiths of our childhoods. We can experience particular problems and re-experience the trauma of being separated from divine and rediscover the world as cold and lonely. This is a terrifying experience. However, we are not alone in this experience and there are ways we can manage it. Knowing that it will end and that the divine have given us this trial because they know we will withstand it and find the enduring sun other side means that we can win this battle. The other side of the la noche oscura is the rising dawn of new spiritual depth and new connection with the divine. It is worth the battle.