The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross
trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez

The spiritual classic that explains the initiation of hte dark night

The Path of the Universal Christ
Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet

A comprehensive explanation of the initiations of personal Christhood, including an explanation of the dark night in modern language

Violet Flame to Heal Body, Mind and Soul (Pocket Guide to Practical Spirituality)
Elizabeth Clare Prophet

The use of the violet flame through meditation and mantra can be of great assistance in dealing with the initiation of the dark night

The dark night

Many people throughout the ages, men and women, all types of people, including saints and mystics, have borne illnesses in their bodies. Some bore their personal karma in the form of illness: they took that energy into their body and transmuted it through the suffering of the illness. Others have taken illness into their bodies as a means of balancing planetary karma—the sins of the world, if you will. They have also felt the piercing of the heart. Some of them have written of this experience.

With this initiation of the heart comes an experience that has been described as a “dark night.” The sixteenth-century mystic Saint John of the Cross wrote about this initiation, which often comes to the soul in the form of serious illness or trial. John of the Cross describes two different dark nights that the soul experiences in the return to God—the dark night of the soul and the dark night of the Spirit.[1]

The dark night of the soul

The dark night of the soul is when the soul is beset by its own karma. It is a period of darkness, when everything looks black. There may be a sense of depression or despair. Hopelessness and grief may burden the soul. This dark night  may be triggered by an experience that life brings to us—the loss of a loved one, an accident or a serious illness, a painful relationship or a failed relationship, emotional or mental trauma, very difficult circumstances in life, sudden loss of income—all kinds of things can trigger this deep grief, depression, and sense of darkness.

Most of us have experienced some element of the dark night of the soul at some time in our lives—there are few who have not been touched by some deep sadness or burden. Even living in a family where we are not understood or appreciated can be experienced as a dark night.

The dark night of the soul is experienced as one encounters the return of his or her personal karma. For a time, the human creation almost completely obliterates the light of the Higher Self. It is as if a dark cloud descends, and all appears to be dark and gloomy and devoid of light. One barely finds anything good or lovely upon which to dwell.[2]

I think most cancer patients experience these feelings at some time during their illness. In the experience of the dark night, the soul may also feel a sense of separation from God. The heavens seem closed, and prayers don’t seem to go anywhere. For those who have a strong belief system, this can be a real test of faith, but many do emerge stronger spiritually from it.

The dark night of the Spirit

The dark night of the Spirit is a different initiation—it is more intense and more severe. It occurs in the midst of the initiation of the crucifixion. (Jesus demonstrated this initiation for us publicly and in a very physical and tangible manner, but many others have also passed through the same initiation spiritually in one form or another.) The dark night of the Spirit is when the soul is actually cut off completely for a period of time from God and the Higher Self. During this time we are required to sustain our connection to God through our own efforts. It was at this point on the cross that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”[3]

As we go through the initiation, our loved ones and caregivers stand at the foot of the cross comforting us, yet they are not able to take us down from the cross just yet. How often have I seen family members, especially mothers and fathers, say that if they could give their own lives for their children’s, they would. It is at these times that the Angel of the Agony stands at the side of the one who is on the cross and that person’s family, comforting them and assisting them through the initiation.

One may experience the initiation of the dark night several times in a lifetime, and the initiation may last from hours to days or months. Some may even undergo this test for years, and it may take on a variety of forms. Illness in all of its forms, particularly cancer and terminal illnesses, can be a crucifixion. Even the forms of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, can feel like a crucifixion. I certainly felt that sense of separation at times during chemotherapy. I believe that many who suffer in this way would be greatly comforted if they knew about the initiation of the dark night of the soul and dark night of the Spirit, and if they knew that “this too shall pass.”

When we are on the cross with our Lord, time seems to stand still. We can see no light at the end of the tunnel, and it seems as if we will never be taken down. In addition, we feel powerless to help ourselves. We cannot even wipe our own face. It is then that we need others, when we require the prayers and ministrations of our loved ones and community.

Help on the path

What helps during these times? First, it helps to know that all things come to an end. The dark night does not last forever.

Second, we can understand that suffering is one way in which we can balance karma. Saint Paul spoke of it as a means of earning a “better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35). It can be a means of purifying and raising the soul.

I believe that surgery itself can also be a quick way to deal with personal karma. By willingly sacrificing a part of our physical being, we may also clear an unhealthy portion of our spiritual being, opening a door to healing at other levels.

There are things that can assist us during our dark night. Friends and family can be a great comfort, and we should lean on them if they are willing to help us to carry the cross. If they can wipe our face and comfort us, it is surely a grace. However, we must do our best, too, and not leave it all up to others. Most cancer patients that I have seen do everything they can to carry the load, and the problem is more often than not getting them to allow others to help them.

Even if we see ourselves going through a spiritual initiation of the dark night, it does not mean we should reject modern methods of alleviating suffering, such as pain medication and all of the benefits of allopathic and complementary medicine. These are gifts of God for us, and we are intended to use them. There is no benefit in suffering needlessly when an alternative is available. Better to control the pain and do as much as we can with our lives.

Oil of spikenard can help ease the pain of the dark nights of the soul and the Spirit. Spikenard was the oil that Mary Magdalene used to anoint Jesus in preparation for his crucifixion. This holy oil can help us through the initiations of the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension.

But probably the greatest assistance and the greatest need is prayer and spiritual work. “Pray for one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”[4] Prayers by the patient and prayers for the patient can make a great difference. I look forward to the day when every hospital and place of healing will be filled with prayer. Imagine hospitals with teams of people who pray for healing of body, mind, and spirit, for the alleviation of pain, depression, and complications of treatment, for divine direction for the staff and the patients, and for new methods of treating the diseases that are causing so much grief and heartache.

The use of the gift of the violet flame can also be a great assistance. The spiritual energy of this flame can help to lift physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burdens and lighten our karmic load. The violet flame has its own intelligence, and it knows where to go and what to do. Anyone can use it. A simple prayer or mantra is all it takes to release the energy of the violet flame through the power of your Higher Self.


1. For a more complete description of the initiations of the dark night, see Saint John of the Cross, “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” and “The Dark Night,” in Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, trans., The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1979), pp. 66–389; also commentary on the teachings of Saint John of the Cross in Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Saint John of the Cross on the Living Flame of Love (Corwin Springs, Mont.: Summit University, 1985), audio recording.

2. For additional explanation of the dark night of the soul and the dark night of the Spirit, as well as the crucifixion as an initiation on the spiritual path, see Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Path of the Universal Christ (Corwin Springs, Mont.: Summit University Press, 2003), pp. 167–213.

3. Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34.

4. James 5:16.


Excerpted from A Journey through Cancer, by Neroli Duffy