Shining a Spotlight on Dark Nights of the Soul

Alone, alone, all, all alone,

Alone on a wide wide Sea!

And Christ would take no pity on

My soul in agony.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, In Seven Parts” (1798), Part IV, lines 224-227

In my last post, I wrote about the beauty and the power of prayer and how it forms the core of my contemporary Polytheist devotional practice. But I certainly have had my challenges over the years in sustaining my practice, like any other religious person committed to devotional piety.  Whether the span lasted for weeks or even months on end, the spiritual crisis known as the “dark nights of the soul,” a term first coined by the sixteenth-century Spanish Counter-Reformation mystic known as St. John of the Cross, was a dreadful phenomenon I’ve endured many times. Continue reading

Merry Mithrasmas!

MITHRAS, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the wall!

“Rome is above the nations, but Thou art over all!”

Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,

Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!

–Rudyard Kipling, “Song to Mithras” (1922)

 

During my lunch break yesterday I went to the Christkindl Market in Daley Plaza, Chicago’s annual Yuletide celebration of Teutonic culture and the contributions of German immigrants to the city’s rich, culturally woven tapestry of history. Amidst the cheerful booths showcasing Bavarian woodcarvers’ wares such as nutcrackers and cuckoo clocks, and the food vendors with their mouthwatering apfelstrudels and warm and spicy glüwein to ward away winter’s chill, you’ll find a Nativity scene, the subject of many a tourist’s photograph. In front of it, stretched out on a fence, stands a banner from the Freedom from Religion Foundation brazenly wishing passers-by a “Happy Winter Solstice!” There’s a message below the headline, the first sentence of which reads: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the Birth of the Unconquered Sun–the TRUE reason for the season!” I smiled and applauded, then took the obligatory photo for my Instagram account. I thought warmly of the first Winter Solstice public ritual I’d ever participated in, way back in 1999, which honored the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus) as the god Mithras. I was obsessed with researching everything I could about the cult of Mithras, and I took it upon myself to write a research paper that I presented to the Gardnerian coven I belonged to at the time. I’d like to share the fruits of my research here, as Winter Solstice is imminent, and I like to muse on how this Persian import of a cult provided serious competition for a nascent Christianity in the Late Roman Empire. Oh, if only history could have turned out differently… Continue reading