To reach the dark once more

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.



  1. sophrosyneradical · February 17, 2010

    Excellent essay! I’ve commented on the relevance of Saturn and lead as well. IMO, these are definitely essential components of an actualized adept.

  2. Peregrin · February 17, 2010

    Hello…thanks. Yes, i agree with you and in planetary terms you are dead on target 🙂

  3. Arcad · February 17, 2010

    Care Fra Peregrin,

    I like what Dion Fortune says about the lesser and the greater death. However, I believe throughout initiation there are various or multiple “deaths” one has to go through – in some way. Already the start committing yourself to the Great Work kind of requires something like that since at least the decision to start and commit yourself to this, is a huge change and giving up of old habits etc. On the other hand, not every change needs to be linked to such strong wording. I see what you mean with the Dark Woodland as the extraordinary experience. somehow I thought that this would be something linked to the being in, or crossing of, the Abyss?

    In L.V.X.

  4. Peregrin · February 17, 2010

    Care Fr Arcad,

    thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree there are smaller deaths of initiation throughout our journey. And as Tibetan Buddhism teaches us, this life is as much a Bardo (transitional state) as death. From my own tradition, “For the moment of death is every moment and at every moment we may rise in the Light as One, knowing ourselves for the first time.”

    Using the familar symbols of the Tree of Life and Dark Night of the Soul, we can see from one perspective there are multiple dark nights. The first, as you say, when we first decide to give up the path of the Natural Man and move from Malkuth through the Path of Tau. Then when we move from our inner selves to who we actually are – from Yesod through the Portal experience into Tiphareth via Samech. And Finally when we traverse the great path of Gimel unto the One through the Abyss. In one sense these three middle paths are one path under different phases, like H2O is gas, liquid and solid depending on the environment.

    Thanks 🙂

  5. barthimaeus · February 17, 2010

    Hi Peregrin,

    as always a beautiful treatment of a difficult subject. I am particularly provoked by your statement that “no tradition handles this darkness well”. I suspect you are right, if for no other reason than that we need to go through this darkness alone to find our selves.

    Yoda: That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
    Luke: What’s in there?
    Yoda: Only what you take with you.

    I recommend this episode of Chasing Hermes that deals with these times of spiritual darkness:

  6. Peregrin · February 17, 2010

    Hi Barthimaeus,

    I wanted to use this from Star Wars too but felt the short piece was already heavy on quotations. So thanks for this 🙂

    Thanks too for the link; will listen to that shortly.

  7. Karma Dorje · February 18, 2010

    Excellent piece. I think that it is more than that no tradition handles this well. Traditions themselves are just a way that we gird ourselves against reality. There are of course many points on the tree where we have to give up not only our fears but also our hopes. Religious beliefs are generally a conglomeration of both.

    Those that complain about this have only their own selfishness to thank for the experience. The surest way to soften the Dark Nights is to strongly aspire to benefit others and to actually begin to work to help them. Then one is easily carried through the desolation. The buddhist practice of tonglen actually flips around one’s fixation so that even if one experiences depression, one immediately puts it to use in helping others and hence develops joy.

    Now compassion is its own special kind of heartbreak, but that’s another story…

  8. Samuel · February 18, 2010


    An excellent post. I think you are spot on that “no tradition” handles the Darkness well. Even in reading St. John of the Cross, it is definitely a personal experience.

    At best, in my opinion, any teacher who is helping a student or students in a tradition should have successfully transitioned their own Dark Night as it were to give some aid to their charges.

    As a GDer myself, I also agree that each Grade brings its own mini-Dark Night especially if the grades are properly integrated into the sphere of sensation. These often lead to a more traumatic one at a later stage (Portal and/or after the Vault) – in my experience.

    In LVX,

  9. Peregrin · February 18, 2010

    Hello Karma Dorje,

    thank you for highlighting the practice of Tonglen in this context. It is truly a form of universal medicine. There are Christian mystical compassion equivlants, but the universal nature of Tonglen makes it more accessible I feel 🙂

  10. Peregrin · February 18, 2010

    Hello Samuel,

    yes i agree the transition between any grade highlights the liminal and essentially naked-insecure nature of our life if we live without the centrality of the One. Mini dark-nights thus occur. Thanks for sharing your experience which resonates with my own.

  11. Saskbound · February 19, 2010

    Thank you for this posting. I am reminded of the transfiguration, where Christ was at the mount. He was faced with the crucifixion, but perhaps He didnt know He would resurrect or what the outcome would be. Like He said on the cross even ‘oh god, why has thou forsaken me’.

  12. Pingback: The Dark Night of the Soul « Sleeping In the Rain
  13. Pingback: The Dark Night of the Soul « Aeon Of Horus

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