There comes at least one occasion in everyone’s spiritual unfoldment when the darkness arises, the moon ceases to shine and the stars fail one by one. It seems we are cut off or even expelled from all our sources of grace, wisdom and beauty and there is nothing to stop the process. On a different arc, psychologically we accept and make terms with our Shadow, where there be buried as much gold as dragons. There are many names and terms for this process; confronting the Dweller on the Threshold, entering the Dark Woodland etc. But hey, when in the dark wood finding a name is the least of our concerns.
In the Golden Dawn system the classical time for this process is the liminal stage of the Portal where we are stretched between the two poles of Apprenticeship and Adeptship, our personas being literally torn apart to reveal the Inner.
Of course people being people not processes, there are no hard and fast rules for when the Dark Woodland arises before us. I’ve known some people enter this process between Zelator and Theoricus and others not at all in the Outer Order.
Recently I have had some folk criticise the Golden Dawn for not handling this process of dissolution and darkness very well at all. Over the years I have heard (and had) the same criticisms about Wicca (despite the Second degree), Buddhism (despite practices like Chod), Creation Spirituality (despite the Via Negativa), Christianity (despite the Crucifixion), New Ageism (despite…err…) and other traditions.
Now of course we do need to make sure our traditions offer support and structure for those of us entering and lost in the Dark Woodland. On the other hand the simple truth is that
No tradition handles this Darkness well.
No tradition can do this since the essence of the Dark Woodland is to be lost, naked, vulnerable, unsure, mad and to feel completely alone. If we feel held, supported, understood by our tradition, if we are not cut off inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) from everyone, we are not fully in the centre of the woods. The sense of complete and absolute aloneness is paramount to this experience.
I was blessed to be given a prayer early in my Pagan youth where I would pray to Goddess to take me and use me and lead me even into the places where She was not. And She does exactly this. There is a piece somewhere in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s influential Mists of Avalon where Vivienne realises the Goddess is no longer with her, that she is alone and has in fact always been alone.
No tradition can teach us this as it is a personal experience. It is however, if the process completes itself, the last personal experience we ever undertake since beyond the Dark Woodland we enter the transpersonal and are never a single, discrete person again. To quote once more a favourite teaching from St Paul:
So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
This of course will not, and cannot be but poor comfort for those within the Darkness as, sorry, but you need to be alone. I am of course reminded of Dion’s teaching here:
There are two deaths by which men die, the greater and the lesser. The death of the body, and the death of initiation. And of these two, the death of the body is the lesser.
At physical death with practice, luck and love we can be surrounded by family and friends with inner contacts helping us through. During the initiatory death of the Dark Woodland we are completely alone and that is one reason it is a greater death than our body.
From God we are born, in Jesus we die, through the Holy Spirit we are reborn.