This blog goes with Ep. 45 of Healing Thru Tarot: Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul + Review of the Deep, Dark, & Dangerous Oracle. In this blog, I’ll discuss the dark night of the soul and existential depression and how to navigate those difficult periods of life. I’ll also review the Deep, Dark, and Dangerous Oracle by Stacey Demarco from Rockpool Publishing. I’ll also share with you a custom 9 card spread that I created to help us navigate the dark night of the soul.
Before we dive into this discussion of this very heavy topic, let’s define the phrase dark night of the soul. Different people from different fields may have varying definitions, but it usually refers to a period of time when a person experiences a difficult, painful, and transformative phase of life that often leads to a rebirth. It can be a time of great despair, hopelessness, or a feeling of being lost, untethered or directionless. But this often happens during a spiritual awakening, so although the person may feel unmoored and disconnected from their purpose, this is one stage in a much longer process where significant growth and transition occurs.
The Tower from the Dark Mansion Tarot
This experience can be triggered by the loss of a loved one, a devastating event that makes one question their faith, an illness or health scare, or another significant type of wakeup call that can throw a person into a major crisis point.
During this agonizing phase of life, the person may start to question things around them, they may search for meaning in their life, or wonder what their purpose is. They may start to question their very identity and what they thought they stood for or lived for. Often, a person will struggle when their perception of their reality shifts drastically in a short period of time. This would be what we call in psychology as an existential crisis. And often it can lead to severe depression, feelings of dissociation, anxiety, and intense grief. It’s often called a dark night of the soul because it’s a distressing experience where the person often feels alone in the world and hopeless as this change unfolds. It can feel like quite an uncertain time and leaves people on very shaky ground.
This process can last weeks, months, or years as the individual works out their place in the world and their purpose in this life. It can be prolonged if you resist, fight against it, or try to quicken the process. The key is to observe and surrender. Answers will eventually come. The more we quiet the world around us, the more we can hear the whispers of our soul. Our higher selves will guide us through this process. Trust in that guidance is vital.
During an existential crisis, a person becomes more aware of self and the world, which often leads to depression and anxiety when they come to terms with how the world is versus how the world should be. This can shake people to their core and cause their constructs of the world to shift in distressing ways for them. The world as they have known it crumbles at their feet, and they are left with no structure or foundation to provide them with security and stability until they rebuild the foundation themselves.
Tower from The Horror Tarot
Think of the Tower card in the tarot (shown above). Once the tower has fallen, the decks have been cleared and there’s a blank slate upon which you can rebuild a more solid structure. It’s no less devastating or traumatic though. Most people will instinctively start to rebuild shortly after the devastation in an attempt to lower their distress level. After an existential crisis, the rebuilding occurs internally when we reconstruct our views of self, the world, and our place in it. If any of this sounds familiar, then you’ve likely experienced a dark night of the soul yourself. Know that you are not alone, and you’re not going crazy. I know that’s a concern many have when this happens to them. It’s a shame that up until this point, many people have suffered in silence when experiencing this kind of perspective shift. Luckily, in this particular time in history, more people are coming forward to share their experiences.
The Hanged Man from the Horror Tarot
Having experienced this for myself, my advice is to lean into this massive shift in perspective much like The Hanged Man in the tarot teaches us. I see the dark night of the soul as the Hanged Man in combination with the Tower and the Judgement card. These 3 cards represent a wake up call that our soul has triggered to get our attention so we can have a shift in perspective to see this new calling in life and align our life around that purpose. I experienced a dark night of the soul during my spiritual awakening between 2016-2020. I’d say I started coming out of it in 2020, and the past few years have been more pleasant as I aligned with my new purpose, which is writing and podcasting about topics such as these to help guide people through these challenging life experiences.
The 9 of Swords from the Light Seers Tarot
One reason I think the term dark night of the soul resonates with so many people is that often during this experience we're left alone with our pain and agony in the darkest hours of the night, praying for a way to hold on till morning. I always think of the 9 of Swords from the tarot when I tap into how agonizing those long, torturous nights can be in the throes of this awakening process. It’s that deep sense of isolation and aloneness that makes this type of pain harder to bear. Luckily, many have lived to tell the tale of coming out on the other side of this type of experience to find a more purposeful, meaningful life. And many talk about being grateful for the experience because it gave them a whole new perspective on life and on their purpose on the planet.
I’m grateful for all my experiences during my awakening period including my dark night of the soul. It allowed me to change my priorities in life and switch paths as far as my career goes. I don’t see how that would have happened without this experience to wake me up to a new calling in life. My dark night of the soul led to a massive rebirth where I shifted from counselor to podcaster, author, and teacher using tarot as my main tool to teach and inspire all types of healing. I feel much more aligned to this path. I’m able to reach a much larger audience this way and it feels like more important work to me. I want to create more of a ripple in the pool basically. And through this process I’ve shed a lot of old beliefs, habits, and characteristics that weren’t compatible with my new calling.
When you google “Dark Night of the Soul” you will find that it is in reference to the name given retroactively to an untitled poem by the 16th century priest and mystic St. John of the Cross. In that poem, he describes the anguish of the separation of an individual’s soul from God. And that can be what it feels like – like a heavy inconsolable grief. I see it now as a wakeup call to realign with the soul because we’ve gotten off path. That’s why it feels so soul shattering when it happens. And you’ll hear people say the experience has shaken them to their core. It’s a very dramatic and visceral experience. And it leaves a lasting impact on those who have lived through it. The good news is that with time, things will ease up. You’ll start to find meaning in your life again and hope will return. Just remember that it’s always darkest before the dawn. But this is a process where you can’t skip steps, so it requires patience and a willingness to bend.
Meditation helps through this process because it shuts out the noise from the external world and allows you to hear messages from your higher self. The answers lie within. We must go inward to find them. Think the Hermit card here. That’s why the tarot is such a helpful tool in this process. Finding tarot was key for me because that was my lifeline during my dark night of the soul. It kept me tethered to something meaningful.
There weren’t many people I could talk openly to when I was going through this experience, but the cards helped tether me to this plane of existence at a time when I felt disconnected and like I was spiraling out of control with no safety net. The cards saved me. And starting this podcast to share my experiences helped tremendously. That’s when I could start to see light at the end of the tunnel because I had a new purpose – to chronicle my healing journey with tarot and share it with you.
Awakening isn’t a fast process. It takes time to let our conditioning fall away so that we can reconstruct our perception of ourselves. So much of what we believe about ourselves comes from what others told us - who to be, how to act, what to feel. This awakening helps us understand that we won’t find happiness and fulfillment living that façade anymore. True joy comes from being our authentic selves. And you will emerge from this experience as a version of yourself that is much closer to your true essence – your soul’s essence. That’s why you often see people change careers or leave relationships if they weren’t happy in those situations. These awakenings inspire significant change.
If you are going through a dark night of the soul, you may be feeling deeply depressed and full of despair. You may be feeling lost with no hope of overcoming this dark and stagnant energy you find yourself stuck in. You may feel disconnected from self and others, and isolated or empty. If you’re wondering if there’s a way forward, there is hope. Research shows that connecting to your life purpose helps with these dark periods often called existential depression. This type of depression often stems from questioning the meaning of life itself, your life purpose, and your place in the world. For many, this phase of questioning and changing world views proves to be an opportunity for significant growth. This transformation tends to be most common amongst analytical thinkers who tend to overthink and worry, those who ruminate about the world’s problems, and type A personalities.
This is the type of depression I suffer from. And the only way I’ve found out of it is to connect back with my purpose. That’s the thing that tethers me back to something stable. As a life path 4, I do much better when I’m tapped into something that grounds me. That will always be what I’m on this planet to do – my purpose. It gives me meaning and direction. Finding meaning in our lives anchors us. It’s vital for humans to make meaning out of our daily lives. Without it we can drift far from the path we’re supposed to be on. This becomes so clear when we experience loss and try to search for meaning in our grief. Think back to the times in your life when you lost someone or something you loved including jobs, relationships, or loved ones. Did you go through a period of searching for a reason it occurred? Did you try to make meaning out of the loss? That’s human nature.
Sadly, while these struggles can end in growth for some, it of course doesn’t always end that way. Sometimes the hopelessness and despair are too much to overcome. These trying times can bend us so much we break, especially when we feel powerless and unable to solve the problems we face. In times like these we will try to grasp for something to hold onto as an anchor point, but if a person is unable to hold on tightly enough, they can lose that fight. These awakenings can be so eye-opening that it can be impossible to go back to the life they had before, and for some people that can end up being so jarring that they can’t find their footing once more. That’s a bell that can’t be unrung as they say. Just know it’s completely natural to struggle through difficult times.
Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, says that whether or not a person is able to pull themselves back together after the disintegration that occurs during an existential crisis is based on what he calls “an inner force, largely inborn, that impels people to become more self-determined to control their behaviors by their inner beliefs and value system rather than by societal conventions or even their own biological needs.” It is this inner determination and set of values that drives them to live consciously and deliberately, which is vital because that’s what drives people toward introspection and self-development, and it allows them to reintegrate themselves at a higher functioning level than before the crisis. Failing to reintegrate at a higher level or just staying at the same level as before can have disastrous consequences like worsening depression, paralyzing fears or anxieties, hopelessness, learned helplessness, psychosis, and even suicide.
Dabrowski says that those who successfully reintegrate after this crisis do so by acceptance of the situation, leaning into self-awareness, and holding firm to their core values that transcend their immediate environment, circumstance, or culture. Their focus shifts to universal, humanistic, and altruistic values. This may take the form of a new career path because here they are able to align their goals and daily tasks with their altruistic vision going forward. This offers them meaning, purpose, and hope for a better tomorrow. Those focusing on continual development and self-improvements fare the best in these extreme circumstances that trigger substantial transformation. Though these people will likely still experience episodes of discomfort and distress as their awareness continues to grow. That’s just a natural part of the process.
People who understand this dark night of the soul process and what to expect as this unfolds seem to adapt more easily and don’t run as high of a risk of spiraling out of control or contemplating suicide. The fact that you are reading this blog right now and learning about the aspects of this existential experience means that you are already in a good position to find your way forward in a successful way.
George Kelly, a constructivist psychologist whom my dissertation of constructivist assessments was based on, notes that “humans do not enter a world that is inherently structured; we must give the world a structure that we ourselves create. Thus, we create psychological constructs, largely through language, to make sense out of our experiences of the world.” It was through my extensive study of Kelly’s work on construct theory that I truly understood that if we as humans were able to construct our own views, thoughts, and perceptions of self, world, and others, then we are also capable of deconstruction of unhealthy constructs and reconstruction of the core constructs in our construct systems. That has always been an empowering realization for me. See, we are the masters of our own fate when we understand the power we hold in the construction of the worlds we live in. In essence, we can try on a pair of constructs until we find the right fit. And reinvention or reconstruction can be fun if you lean into the adventure of it all.
Experimentation is often how we stumble on the solution we’ve been searching a lifetime for. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
One of the exercises I love to use with clients that want significant change in their lives, is a role-playing exercise where the client creates the ideal character or personality they wanted to embody, and then step into that role for two weeks in their everyday life. This technique, Fixed Role Therapy, is a constructivist technique devised by George Kelly that helps the client get a feel for what it would be like to walk in the world in a different frame of mind and energy without risks because they would step out of the role after two weeks. It’s a trial run of sorts to see how different it feels to move in the world in a new manner. After the exercise is complete, the client is given a choice to incorporate any of the lessons they learned from the role-playing exercise and adopt some of the traits from that role into their daily lives. Or they could return to the way things were before the exercise.
Many of the characteristics that clients often choose to experiment with are traits they admire in others but don’t feel they embody. Most clients end up adopting many of the characteristics of that role into their life after the exercise is over because they often find it more comfortable and successful than they had imagined it would be. If you want to learn more about Fixed Role Therapy, I coauthored a journal article on this technique that detailed a case study in real life. The journal article is titled FIXED ROLE IN A FISHBOWL: CONSULTATION-BASED FIXED ROLE THERAPY AS A PEDAGOGICAL TECHNIQUE – it was published in the Journal of Constructivist Psychology and details how to do this technique step by step if you want to give it a try.
If you are going through a dark night of the soul, here are some suggestions to help you navigate your way through this dark period that hopefully will help you get to the other side where there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Connect to your life purpose. We feel alone, stuck, empty, and out of alignment when we’re cutoff from our purpose. Those who live purpose driven lives and understand how their actions impact those around them seem to adapt the best to major changes in life. This is why “It’s a Wonderful Life” resonates with so many. Going through our daily motions, many of us don’t realize the reach our actions will have on the lives of those around us. But each of us carries the potential to impact those we interact with, those we inspire, and those we teach for years or generations to come. Once we catch a glimpse of this potential, our lives take on a greater meaning to us. This keeps many of us getting up each day so that we can build a better world for those around us. What saves me every time I experience one of these dark periods in life, is re-connecting with my purpose and why that’s important.
To reconnect with your purpose, examine what you stand for. Some ways to figure this out for yourself is to explore your core values. What motto do you live by? What quote sums up your philosophy of life? What would your ted talk be on if you had ten minutes to impart some of your hard earned wisdom to others around the world. What is your mission statement? If you don’t have one, spend some time writing one that declares your core values, your aspirations, how you want to make a difference and the reason you find this work meaningful. Dare to do some soul searching here to truly get to know yourself.
Find ways to live a more mindful life where you stay in the present moment. Focusing too much on the past can keep you rooted in your trauma and stuck. Focusing too much on the future can spike anxiety levels as well as depression and hopelessness because the future appears bleak to many. But all we have is the present moment. None of us are promised more than that.
Draw, write, or capture in an artistic way the essence of this darkness and despair you feel. This type of expression is cathartic. That’s why I wrote my book series, The Divining Sisters, to chronicle my spiritual awakening and the discovery of intuitive gifts that I was lucky enough to find in that darkness that led me back to the light. If I could draw what that dark night of the soul felt like for me, I’d sketch a woman at the bottom of a pit, enveloped by darkness in the fetal position. I was stripped bare with nothing but my inner sage to guide. Luckily, she arose from that darkness and nudged me to pick up the tarot. That was my way out.
Through this artistic exercise, see if you can get a sense of what the hidden lesson is for you. Our pain and wounds are often our greatest teachers in life. What would this pain say if you put words or images to this painful experience? For me, it’s so empowering and healing to go back and read what it was like in that moment. It’s an experience I never want to forget. Luckily, my book series chronicled much of my experience, so re-reading it gives me strength. I’m proud of coming out on the other side of that pain. Now, I can teach others how they can find their own way out of the darkness.
Try an automatic writing exercise to explore this darkness more fully. Prompts you can use for this type of exercise could be – Through this darkness I feel… This darkness is teaching me… My anchor in this unsettling time is… What’s cluttering my way? What’s distracting me from my path? And What’s casting a shadow of darkness over my light? Once you have those answers, work on removing these distractions and obstacles to reveal your light once again.
Try a pathworking exercise with the Chariot card from the tarot. During the visualization, see yourself moving forward out of this darkness. Where does the chariot take you? Which direction is the chariot going? What’s the destination? Or use the Judgment card because the Judgment card to me represents a call to a higher purpose or my soul’s call. When you step into this card what does your soul say to you? What’s calling you? Where are you feeling called to make a change? Is it a change in career, a new relationship, or a new cause to devote yourself to?
Judgment card from The Tarot of the Abyss and The Light Seers Tarot
Hopefully, some of these suggestions will help guide you forward on your path through your own dark night of the soul. It is never an easy phase to be in. Just know one day, the light will break through the darkness, and you will find a new path forward. And maybe one day you will look back on this experience and be proud of how far you’ve come.
Rockpool Publishing also sent over the Deep, Dark and Dangerous Oracle created by Stacey Demarco and illustrated by Kinga Britschgi. If you don’t like love and light oracle decks, then this is a perfect deck for you because it has 3 categories for the cards which consists of deep, dark, and dangerous, which are clearly marked on each card.
Stacey defines deep as entities of either the deep sea, deep unconscious, or deep environments. Examples in the deep category are Kraken, Hades, Cerberus, or Hydra. The dark category consists of subjects whose realm is a dark place or the night itself such as Hekate, Circe, the Morrigan, and Kali. And dangerous is reserved for entities that are often out to get us who are frightening and often deadly if we aren’t careful. Examples would be Banshee, Medusa, or Harpy to name a few.
Stacey says, “There is great beauty and power in darkness. What if, by stepping into the realm of the monsters and the things that go bump in the night, what seems twisted and dangerous is actually a torch leading us out of the darkness into divine wholeness?” I love this way of looking at shadow work. That’s where the most healing can happen if we are able to wade through the deep and face our own darkness within.
This 44-card deck is full of dark and delicious energies, dark goddesses and gods, what she calls dangerous heroes and shadows, and creatures like werewolves, mermaids, vampires, etc. The cardbacks have a striking red and black aesthetic featuring a snake with shiny red gilded edges. The cards provide us with one keyword that relates to the significance of the card image.
These cards are great for shadow work, and Stacey even used a Carl Jung quote to introduce the guidebook “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious.” This deck helps us to explore that which is still mysterious or unknown to us. By diving into the shadow, we are urged to learn from our shadow and observe what goes on in the darkness because it’s when we ignore it or deny it that we risk those aspects of ourselves gaining more power and influence over our lives.
This deck dares us to befriend our shadows and find beauty in their power if we are bold enough to face them in the darkness. There's much to be learned from observing and communing with these shadowy aspects of ourselves that we’ve been too fearful of acknowledging. We talked in the last episode about embracing our shadow and about the untapped potential that exists within our shadow. And this deck offers us a way to access these shadow aspects of ourselves so we can work together to reach our full potential. That’s what makes this a powerful tool for shadow work which often comes up for us during our dark night of the soul.
Each card has a keyword, message, and duality message which can be a warning or could be paradoxical themes. This duality could be seen as light and shadow. She also pairs a plant companion with each card that could offer the essence of the message that you might want to use in your work or spells. For instance, Poppy goes with Hypnos for rest. And she provides us with crystal companions for each card as well for healing, cleansing, or spellwork. For example, black tourmaline goes with Hades for dealing with the underworld.
As you can see, you will learn a lot about mythology, the shadow world, and working with dark, denser energies with this deck. You could use this tool for shadow work, or you could pair this deck with the Queen of the Moon oracle also by Stacey Demarco to use the moon phases or lunar energy with your shadow work or healing work.
Thanks to Rockpool Publishing for sending this deck over for me to use in my own shadow work journey and to share with you today. It’s perfect when you’re experiencing your dark night of the soul because it’s a way to learn how to heal while still in the darkness, and it can help you conquer your fears of bumping into your shadow while going through this intense period of your awakening. There’s so much we can learn from our shadow selves. In fact, if we put in the work, we can take our healing to a whole new level if we’re able to even embrace our shadow and work toward integration.
Other decks I’d suggest during dark periods are the Oracle of Shadow and Light, The Sacred Rebel Oracle, and the Wild Unknown Archetypes. I’ve found each deeply comforting in dark times and I’ve reviewed those decks in other episodes. Links to these decks are at the end of the blog.
Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul Spread
Here's the spread I created called Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul Spread. If you throw this spread for yourself, I'd love to see the photo of your spreads. Please tag me on Instagram @healingthrutarot and please use #HTTnavigatingthedarknightofthesoulspread - you can pin this spread from my Healing Thru Tarot Pinterest account
I also have a How to How On Spread in my spread ebook called Healing and Mental Health spreads Vol. 2 (below) if you need another great spread for support during difficult times.
Healing Thru Tarot's Spread Ebook Line
A Spread for All Seasons - 17 custom spreads
Healing and Mental Health Spreads Vol. 1 - 15 custom spreads
Healing and Mental Health Spreads Vol. 2- 15 9-card spreads
Shadow Work Spreads and Workbook - 20 spreads
Books and Decks shown in this blog or recommended: Deep, Dark and Dangerous Oracle, The Light Seers Tarot, Sacred Creators Oracle, Wisdom of the Oracle, Lightworkers Oracle, Work Your Light Oracle, Starseed Oracle, Tarot of the Abyss, Wild Unknown Tarot, Wild Unknown Archetypes, The Dark Mansion Tarot, Magick and Mediums Oracle, Oracle of Shadow and Light, Sacred Rebels Oracle, Queen of the Moon Oracle
Link to Podcast Episode 45 on Anchor click here
And if you are looking for a good witchy book, pick up my new book series, The Divining Sisters. Book 1 in the series, The Call of the Cards (shown above) and Book 2 We Divine Three (shown below) are both available as ebooks $4.99 and paperbacks $14.99. The paperbacks are on Amazon and the ebooks are also on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, Scribd & more.
Find out more details on my novels on my author website author.heatherhardison.com
Magic Mind Discount
One of the things I changed during my spiritual awakening was my diet. I went vegan and supplemented any unhealthy substances with healthier alternatives. I’ve tried all kinds of coffee replacements over the years, and this year I started replacing my coffee with Magic Mind, a 2-ounce elixir that’s easier on my stomach than coffee and doesn’t leave me with jitters. It keeps me alert and energized for the day, giving me about 7 hours of productive work for all my creative projects like writing and editing the books in my book series and writing and recording new podcast episodes just like this one. This elixir gives me all the energy I need to keep juggling all these projects thanks to the natural ingredients like the nootropics and adaptogens. If you’d like to try this elixir for yourself, - https://www.magicmind.co/htt You can use my Code at checkout: HTT (all caps) to get 40% off your first subscription or 20% off your first one-time purchase. My 40% off code only lasts 10 days, so hurry to catch that deal. They also have a money back guarantee. If you’re looking for better focus or more productivity from a healthier alternative to coffee or energy drinks, give this Magic Mind a try.
*If you would like to support this podcast monthly, please consider signing up for a small pledge to help me be able to continue to produce these quality episodes every two weeks. Use the link below to sign up to support through anchor.
Are you enjoying the Healing Thru Tarot podcast and companion blog? If so, now you can gift me a coffee or two to kept me fueled as I pull all-nighters writing the scripts and recording all the episodes. Help me keep this content flowing by sparking my inspiration! Just click here to gift me a caffeine fix.