“I found myself in a dark wood” ~
Dante before envisioning The Divine Comedy.
When we stand at a crossroads and need to make a transition, we must first enter the dark night of the soul. Out of confusion and seeming chaos the new path emerges.
Everyone has difficulties—some inordinately hard but all essential to their calling. We struggle in relationships, work, health, and with how to live meaningfully. We must make transitions—literally die to one way of life and be reborn into another.
When we feel a failure or have a loss forced upon us, only one hope offers solace — that of starting over. The hope and dream of these moments of total crisis are to obtain a definitive and total renovatio, a renewal capable of transmuting life. Even the nonreligious in the depths of their being sometimes feel the desire for this kind of spiritual transformation.
When we must die to the old way and be reborn to the new, the rites of mysteries and the images of myths bring us comfort. They help us to get out of the purely cognitive mode and find truths in deeper, soulful ways.—
When absorbing the vast literature of myths, e.g. in works by Joseph Campbell and Grimm’s fairy tales, some common elements stand out.
Ritual—Since the beginning of human’s presence on Earth, evidence of rituals evolved and bound cultures together. In the beginning of human history, funerary caches of Neanderthals reveal death ceremonies, which have continued in our funerals and cremation rites. Rituals or rites that constitute the definition of “mystery” honor planting and harvest seasons, solstices and equinoxes.
Libation—On the simplest level of transformation, we drink intoxicants or take medicines to feel chemically altered. We eat food and drink liquids to satisfy hunger and thirst; these elements are transformed by our body’s systems to keep us running right. We transform food by using fire/heat to boil or roast it. Preparing food the way we do is a high cultural achievement. We take this form of change for granted but in myths and stories the metaphors of cooking and consuming food and drink often appear.
Music—For many people when they experience symphonies, operas, rock concerts, or sacred chorales, they are put in touch with a sense of the sacred that makes them feel renewed. In some cultures, like Bali, the gamelon music and dance can induce a state of trance.
Sacrifice—When one can surrender to sacrifice for a higher good, one feels joy.
All of us at different points in our lives will have to “sacrifice” one job for another, one lover for another, one home for another. It may be that like sheep, we are following the herd, a collective idea, or a naïve sentimental attitude too much. The outer attachment will have to be broken in order for something fresh — a new direction, a new structure — to take place.
The ancient principle that something must die in order for rebirth to occur still functions. It may be very hard for us to let go of what we love, especially if it is a loved one, a career, or a way of life, but the equally strong principle of change in life requires it. One emerges from the ordeal as another. One’s former state must be annihilated to begin a renewed spiritual life. This transformation goes far deeper than a switch of lifestyle. In early cultures a person was given a new name to signify the change.
Cycles—You move from darkness to the light, suffering to joy. And the next stage leads to another ending, and so on in one cycle after another, like the seasons.
Journey, labyrinth, change—The darkness/confusion/chaos one enters can be compared to the pathless forest or a labyrinth. Herein lies your heroic journey — the path that will define who you are and are becoming. Change is essential.
Remember, whether mystery or myth, many interpretations have been written about them, but what really matters is your own journey. You may read good source books and find those with which you resonate with or thrill to. Then you know you’ve discovered what helps you.
For a more thorough explanation of working with the symbols as you go through transitions, get my book Your Soul at a Crossroads with Steps You Can Take Not to Lose it.