MII Mask
MJ 2006
About Us
Other Events


Mythic Passages, 
		the newsletter of the Mythic Imagination Institute, a non-profit arts and education 
		corporation.  Copyright 2006

A Book Review

Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals
By Thomas Moore
New York: Gotham Books, 2004.
ISBN 1-592-40067-1
320 pp. paperback

A Review by Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D.

Dr. Dennis Patrick Slattery

Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D. is Core Faculty, Mythological Studies, Pacifica Graduate Institute. The author of over 225 articles on culture, psychology and literature, as well as author of 7 books, his most recent is entitled Grace in the Desert: Awakening to the Gifts of Monastic Life (Jossey-Bass, 2004), which describes a spiritual pilgrimage staying in 12 monasteries and Zen Buddhist centers in the United States over a three and a half month sojourn. He was also a presenter at Mythic Journeys 2004, and he presented a lecture and workshop on February 17 and 18, 2006, for the C.G. Jung Society of Atlanta, a partner of the Mythic Imagination Institute.

Readers will know and remember Thomas Moore's reputation from previous best sellers: Care of the Soul and Soul Mates were enormously successful less because they carried the aura of "Self-Help" books but because they offered the intelligent, reflective lay reader another corridor for imagining their daily lives as opportunities for contemplation, even for spiritual renewal.

Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals Dark Nights of the Soul , which I believe will be another best seller, is not a duplication of Moore's earlier work, but a deepening spiritual exploration of the soul's need to descend, to be emptied, to feel the dry heat of darkness. The title is taken from the 16th century Spanish mystic, poet and theologian, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), who writes in his classic text that as the soul moves toward God in love "it first feels dryness and emptiness and then begins to be cured in suffering through purgation of all desire." Stripped of its grasping and impulses to possess, the soul moves into and through darkness to a state of contemplation, reflection and release from appetite.

Moore's book moves within the spirit of the Spanish mystic's thoughts in order to begin to sketch the outlines of a spiritual psychology, to bring the theological imagination to bear on the complex pilgrimage of each soul as it journeys towards what more than one writer has called "a fruitful darkness." Let me say at the outset: this book is not problem-solution oriented. Rather, it gently and persuasively shifts our attitudes towards our common experiences such that we can perceive them in a different light; better said, in a different darkness.

Swimming against the common conventional currents of cure whose intention is to rid the individual of suffering and pain, Moore instead asks: how might conditions like melancholy and despair and emptiness and feelings of ennui not be stigmatized as abnormal and then jettisoned for some vague notion of normalcy? Rather, what do these conditions do to serve the soul as it moves towards insight, deepening awareness, a fuller consciousness that "calls for a spiritual response, not a therapeutic one"?

Wasteland 1937 Pulling from literature, poetry, cultural trends, philosophy, his own personal sufferings, music, theological writings, archetypal psychology and biography, Moore asks the reader to entertain subtle and complex ideas, to improvise, to dare to run riffs on conventional ways of thought in order to break out of them and break through into fresh, original insights that one can call one's own. He reveals for example, in the many variations of the "Dark Sea Journey" how metaphors lead us to meanings about our own darkness, not as something negative from which we escape to the light, but as a place "to sit, to incubate in the belly of the whale," to prepare oneself for a birthing that cannot yet be articulated. And this caution: psychological language "is heroic and sentimental" which often allows "no deepening of imagination. The language we use is important; it should reflect some intelligence about life." Therapeutic language, in its limitations, may actually suffocate a fuller sense of awareness than promote it. Poetic language, which values the figural quality of our life's contents and actions, actually increases the intimacy we can experience by reflecting on the more disturbing conditions we discover in ourselves.

Rather than diagnoses, Moore calls for the rebirth of rituals in our lives which can evoke the imagination's responses and treat with respect the original and unique contours of our darkness. In a consumer-oriented culture, where the prevailing mythos is passivity, watching, viewing, Moore's book shakes us a bit out of our lethargy and encourages each of us to "search for a living story that is yours and is crucial to health." Paying attention to the narrative that one is rather than to a rational explanation of the causes for why you are a particular way yields a fresh, more crisp and incisive vision of one's being, a spiritual impulse in the soul that is less comfortable with dry dogmatic assertions, and more engaged by authentic feelings wedded to vital ideas and images.

If psychology and therapy move towards the sun, light, warmth, enlightenment, rational causes, cures and solutions, Moore's method is moon-like, lunar, dark, shadowy, invisible, opaque, open-ended. Needed then is another kind of imagination, one that does not insist that all darkness become light, but that darkening itself is a method, a mythic way of being present to the soul's melancholy, its irony, its paradoxes and its contradictions. His book reveals how to respect and even become a bit comfortable in the muddle of the journey of our lives. Lingering, waiting, being patient, accepting being stuck, stillness, meditation without a goal, breathing, being present to this moment with an open heart, acceptance of pain and suffering - these are all therapeutics of soul that if nurtured, reveal soul's voice that may otherwise be muted and missed for its wisdom.

Moving in darkness is a paradox, finally, in Moore's lexicon, for it is both a place of concealment and uncertainty and a dimension of revelation. Darkness has its own wisdom, as does silence. His book will guide you into these nether regions, as Virgil guides the quivering pilgrim Dante, into the farthest depths of the unconscious realm of soul making.

Return to Passages Menu

Subscribe to the Passages e-zine