Dark Night of the Soul

Also found in: Wikipedia.

Dark Night of the Soul

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The “dark night of the soul” is a step in the mystic life in which, after experiencing some joy and success in the quest for mystic union, one enters a period of profound loss of any spiritual contact. The term entered the mystical vocabulary from the book of that name by Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross (1542–1591), although the state had been described by mystics previously.

Mystics recognize that the development of the higher states of mystical consciousness includes a variety of obstacles and periods in which the joys and ecstasies that so motivate the mystic disappear for short periods as attachments to the things of the world are stripped away. However, the dark night refers to a state that happens only after one has made significant advancement toward thegoal of mystical union. It seems to be a final obstacle prior to moving into a state of constant awareness of the divine presence. Essential to the dark night is a loss of the idea of the mystic’s effort to engage in meditation and contemplation to an understanding of the ultimate impotence of human effort in spiritual affairs. In the end, the experience of the divine is a gift to the mystic. Saint John and others distinguish the dark night from other periods that negatively contrast with mystic highs by its length and the heightened sense of loss and despair.

In the profoundly secular experience of modernity, the idea of a dark night has been generalized to refer to the more common experience of disorientation that occurs during times of personal transition, such as occurs when one moves from adolescence to adulthood or when one experiences significant loss, perhaps through divorce or the death of a family member. In such cases, one often has to make a profound change in self-identity that can be accompanied by depression, anxiety, and even paranoia. Spiritually, it frequently includes a loss of any sense of relationship with higher spiritual realities (expressed differently according to the structures of one’s religious life).

Knowledge of the commonness of the dark night experience allows a sense of hope, based on others’ testimony as to its ephemeral nature, to permeate the time of depression and despair, after which a new self-image may emerge.


Harkness, Georgia. Dark Night of the Soul. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1945.
John of the Cross. St. Dark Night of the Soul. Trans., abridged, and ed. by Kurt F. Reinhardt. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1957.
Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1930.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
The background of nearly all was the sky by night, the dark night of the soul, with wild clouds swept by strange winds of hell and lit luridly by an uneasy moon.
His reflections on this dark night of the soul are cathartic -- a buoy to those who have been hurt by the church.
One book I recently read is Beyond the Dark Night of the Soul by Master Del Pe.
It is a long dark night of the soul played out on the international stage.
Nobody goes looking for "the dark night of the soul." But I suspect it's hard to find a very interesting person without one.
One reason might be that the exhibition space is very dark indeed--evoking Dante's 'dark wood' or even St John of the Cross's 'Dark Night of the Soul'--with the artworks, often powerful in themselves, displayed in stark, Technicolor relief.
It is a fitting song to end this cycle of poetic settings of different expressions of grief, stitched together with poems which spoke to the composer in the midst of his "dark night of the soul."
This ancient tradition of the hiddenness of God in the darkness brings to mind the development in spiritual theology of the tradition of the dark night of the soul, such as that experienced by St.
In the context of this opera, 'nigredo' is a term from Carl Jung meaning "dark night of the soul"--an essential prerequisite to that soul's enlightenment or full realization.
Since ancient times, faithful Christians have spoken about what John of the Cross called the "dark night of the soul." This "dark night" descends upon even the most faithful believers, upon those who have walked with God for years.
This aridity is perhaps what St John of the Cross was referring to when he coined the term the dark night of the soul.Even the most committed lovers have their moments of doubts so that they have to keep asking each other time and again, mmmh, do you love me?Yan Martel, in Life of Pi, writes that we should not beat ourselves too hard if sometimes we find ourselves harbouring doubts about our lives and our beliefs.
Still, the group said it would continue to call out the Duterte administration, adding that the past three days of introspection during Holy Week allowed each one 'an opportunity to examine our country's dark night of the soul.'