Egyptian MythologyGreek MythologySymbolism

Discover four practices to inspire you during the dark night of the soul via mythology and symbolism

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Posted By allegoris

I’ve been into spiritual communities for a while now, and one thing that always seems to shriek many people is the term “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

I have personally been through a handful of them. Some were consciously induced and others were not so conscious.

It got me wondering how our ancestors dealt with this phenomenon and were they even aware that many people went through this.

In this post we’ll explore a brief definition of The Dark Night of the Soul then move on to how the dark night of the soul has been portrayed in myths and through symbolism.

We’ll also see how to turn those into practices so you gain more control over this experience.

Grab yourself a drink this is going to be a long read.

What is the Dark Night of the Soul?

The Dark Night of the Soul was a term coined by a Spanish mystic named St John of the Cross. He used the term to describe an individual undergoing a crisis on his journey towards union with God.

Currently the term is mostly used to describe shadow work or the dissolution of ego. This is something very common when you are on a spiritual journey.

When you take a moment open or tackle old wounds that no longer serve you. This often ends up with a resistance from your old self to let go. This of course depends on how deep this is rooted in you. You are then undergoing The Dark Night of the Soul.

As the saying goes it’s always darkest before the dawn.

Now that you get the broad picture of the term, lets explore how ancient cultures had conveyed this term to us in stories and how you can inspire yourself from those and help yourself into a smoother transition.

The Descent of Inanna/Ishtar in Mesopotamian culture

The Descent of Inanna into the Netherworld is a very famous myth. The dark night of the soul in this case is the metaphor of Inanna descending into the underworld.

Inanna was the Sumerian Goddess of the heavens. She descends into the Netherworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal.

The story describes why she descends, which varies between Sumerian and Babylonian culture. Her journey to reach the Netherworld also varies, but the consistent pattern is the 7 gates that she has to go through to in order to reach there.

When Inanna reaches the gate, she calls upon the gatekeeper. The latter has explicit directions from Ereshkigal on how to make her sister proceed through each gate.

The story emphasizes on how adorned she is with several jewelries and garments and at each gate she has to give up one by one until she reaches to Ereshkigal naked. The Dark Night of the Soul here deepens as she passes through each gate and being naked mirrors the final stage(being naked), showing her vulnerable.

The seven gates serves to show the soul’s descent from spirit form into matter. Each gate leading her to the Netherworld symbolical of death.

This myth has been heavily studied as a metaphor to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life from Keter to Malkuth showing how spirit descending materializes itself by dying in spirit to be reborn into material form.

This metaphor easily extends itself to the chakras too, Inanna has to go through the seven chakras, like the kundalini who has risen to the crown has to descend back into the root chakra.

Photo taken by Neil Howard
Using the chakra to aid your descent to Ereshkigal:

As mentioned previously through the seven gates, Inanna has to strip herself until she is naked, although what she gives up varies from different accounts, this one of them.

Imagine standing before a gate and greeted by the gatekeeper who asks you to remove the following, you can use the imagery below combined with breathing at each in breath you feel the pressure and stress from the chakras, if you have difficulties you can tense each area and each out breath feel the pressure being lifted:

  1. First Gate: the great tiara of her head – Inhale while feeling the pressure in your crown or tense your head, then exhale and feel the release from the crown.
  2. Second Gate: the earrings of her ears – Inhale while feeling the pressure in your ajna or tense your forehead, then exhale and feel the release from the third eye.
  3. Third Gate: the egg-shaped beads of her neck – Inhale while feeling the pressure in your throat or stretch your throat by reclining your head, then exhale and feel the release from the throat and go back to normal position of the neck.
  4. Fourth Gate: the dress-pins of her breast – Inhale while feeling the pressure in your heart or stretch this area by reclining your shoulder blades, then exhale and feel the release from the heart and return into normal position.
  5. Fifth Gate: the girdle of birth-stones of her waist – Inhale while feeling the pressure in your navel or tense your navel area, then exhale and feel the release from the solar plexus.
  6. Sixth Gate: the bangles of her wrists and ankles – Inhale while feeling the pressure in your sacral or tense your hip area, then exhale and feel the release from the sacral chakra.
  7. Seventh Gate: the garment of dignity of her body – Inhale while feeling the pressure in your root chakra or squeeze your sex organs, then exhale and feel the release from the root chakra.

Persephone the unwilling queen

I have yet to meet someone into deity work that doesn’t mention Persephone. She is one of the most loved goddess and is also the matron goddess of many.

Persephone is the daughter of the goddess Demeter and Zeus, she is also the wife of Hades in the Greek pantheon.

As the myth goes Hades sees Persephone picking up flowers in a meadow. He immediately feels love struck by her. He abducts the girl into his chariot and drives off into the Underworld.

This myth instantly sets the tone for the descent of Persephone, even against her will. The myth continues with Demeter, who desperately searches for her daughter.

Once she understands what happened to her daughter, she retreats and creates drought as a protest to have her daughter returned. In some other accounts Persephone is on her own and Demeter is sad.

The drought worries Zeus, who asks Hermes to convince Hades to release her. Hades agrees but not without a trick, after all what would underworld gods be without playing a trick?

He agrees to release her if Persephone eats nothing from the underworld. In some accounts Hades places a pomegranate seeds her mouth while in others he tricks her into eating it.

The metaphor of the pomegranate here relates to fertility, abundance and in some cultures marriage. By eating the pomegranate seed, Persephone binds herself to Hades.

The number of seeds she eats determines how long she would stay with Hades. The accounts vary between 3 and 6. Thus Persephone would stay 3 or 6 months with Hades as the Queen of the Underworld and the rest would be spent on Earth with Demeter.

Persephone passing through the realm of living and dead is metaphorical for seasonal change and intimately linked Eleusinian Mysteries.

Persephone's Descent into the underworld
Photo by Wikimedia
Working with Persephone:

Deity work is a very common practice. One word of warning before you begin: make sure you feel connected to Persephone and do a thorough research about her to understand her fully before you begin.

If this sounds appealing to you, then there are various ways you can honor Persephone not just during the dark night of the soul but as a matron deity too. Here are three ideas to get you started but let your intuition take the lead on this one:

  1. You can make an altar for her.

  2. You can also offer her flowers.

  3. If you are into channeling, you can also channel guidance from her.

The Grace of the butterfly

Have you ever taken a walk or stroll outside, then notice a butterfly flutter near you? Nature is symbolical and sometimes even provides us with messages.

I remember sitting in the garden while going through a dark night of soul trying to catch some vitamins D and staying in the present moment. A butterfly fluttered around me and I wondered, does it mean anything?

The butterfly is symbolic of metamorphosis, the life cycle from a caterpillar to a butterfly can be symbolic of death and change.

Later down the road the butterfly became my first nature spirit guide. I eventually used it as part of my energy work and it has worked wonderfully to uplift me and help me.

How to use the butterfly:
  1. Relax completely using your favorite meditation technique.

  2. Now visualize and feel yourself as a caterpillar slithering.

  3. Once you can feel yourself as a caterpillar, stop slithering and begin the process of crystallization.

  4. Stay in this frozen state for as long as you are comfortable.

  5. Once you feel ready to break through the cocoon, you really want to feel the pain of going from a caterpillar to a butterfly, feel what you were once and what you are.

  6. Expand your wings, feel the lightness of it, feel your new body.

  7. You can note down this experience and repeat it as many times as you wish until you can deal with change better.

The Dark Night of the soul through the symbolism of Tarot

Death Major Arcana

The Death card of the tarot seems to be a misunderstood one, yes it involves dying, and no it doesn’t mean you are physically dying.

Death Card Tarot

On the card death rides his white horse, the adults kneel in front of him while the child stands with arms open. In the background you can find the sun rising, so what does this all mean?

The death card usually appears in a reading when you need to go through an enormous amount of transformation. This card points out that you are consumed by fear and this affects your belief system, which ripples into reality. The transformation you have to go through is so big that by the end of it you come out a brand new person.

The Tower Major Arcana

Another card that represents the dark night of the soul is the tower. Now this card evokes more a feeling of upheaval.

The Tower

The tower provides a dramatic scenery, lightning strikes shaking the tower, people falling out while clouds and rain surround the tower.

When this card appears it can feel that you’re going through a wave of chaos and destruction usually this card shows chaos and destruction that is external but impacting you. You’re shaken out of your comfort zone and thrown into unstable ground. The aim here is to realize that you have been building and providing energy to pillars that no longer benefit you. The tower represents a change in belief system, values and/or your sense of purpose.

How to work with the tarot cards:
  1. Get in a comfortable position.

  2. Quiet your thoughts using any kind of meditation.

  3. Once you are fully relaxed and your mind is quiet, grab either the death card or the tower card.

  4. First you want to look at the imagery.

  5. Then you want to gaze at the image until the edges and the artwork are shimmery.

  6. Now close your eyes, are you able to see the imagery in your mind’s eye? If yes proceed below if no maybe you could record yourself describing the imagery to aid you.

  7. Once you have the imagery in your mind’s eye or you have the general feeling from the image, you want to  enter the image.

  8. Notice anything that comes up whether it is images, sounds, feelings, etc.

  9. Once you feel that you have absorbed all the information you need slowly come back to conscious awareness.

  10. If you wish you can note down in a journal all you have gathered during your trip.

Conclusion (TLDR)

In this post we explored the dark night of the soul in relation to two myths that share a common pattern.

The descent in both myths points to our ancestors already having the knowledge of the dark night of the soul.

Inanna’s descent not only to describes the dark night of the soul but also shows the descent of spirit into matter.

The Greeks used the story of Persephone to show the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth.

Those two stories also provide the ability to relate personally whether you are using passing through the gate in relation to chakras or using Persephone as a matron goddess.

We also explored a couple of symbolism linked to the dark night of the soul.

The butterfly’s process of change from a caterpillar into a butterfly shows how you shed one side of yourself into another aspect of you.

And finally the symbolism of two cards from the tarot’s major arcana that shows the dark night of the soul.

Have you been through the dark night of the soul before? What were your experiences during that time, and how did you end up on the other side?

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