Dark Night of the Soul

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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.
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.
Still, after a dark night of the soul in a local dive, he proposes.
Winter proper may be just beginning, but the long, dark night of the soul will soon be shrinking and brightening into something much more manageable.
Logistically speaking, this makeshift space might not have been the first choice but the claustrophobic atmosphere felt like an apt way to witness one man's long, dark night of the soul.
Depression is first and foremost a spiritual disease, a dark night of the soul.
In the midst of all this, during a dark night of the soul, Jesse is confronted by an odd force that enters his body and grants him near-absolute influence over others.
Like a budding butterfly wrapped in its cocoon, we, too, experience a dark night of the soul before a Eureka
He describes Querry's journey from aridity to laughter as he moves through the dark night of the soul.
The long dark night of the soul has never felt darker or longer.
poem, poem be strong like a shock wave, Grieg's Concerto in A Minor put down roots, find the source, bloom, bear fruit come to life, poem, I need your blood poem, poem be as perilously lovely as the drunken woman in the painting by Munch what counts are only the base colors, yellow, black, red what counts is fire there is a time for hope and a time for despair what counts is fire if you have no flesh you do not know love nor do you know death poem, poem be in the sun in the eye of the world in the turning of bread into motion in the constant decay that is the condition of all synthesis in the blood fire, be there is a time for hope and a time for despair what counts is fire and ice poem, poem be like the dark night of the soul
Ana Maria Pacheco's Dark Night of the Soul shows strange creatures tormenting a tied up body, and Simeon Solomon's 1870 The Singing of Love shows androgynous characters, reflecting his homosexuality and public denial of it at the time.