There’s a term we often see thrown around in modern paganism the ‘dark night of the soul’ which as I understand it is a period where someone has a crisis of faith. What we don’t see discussed very often but something I see happening and have experienced myself – is more prosaic and personal. It happens when a person’s faith remains constant but what they lose touch with is their inner sense of self, that internal identity that anchors a person in who and what they are.
It happens for a variety of reasons and it can be a slow creeping uncertainty or a sudden crisis of identity. Sometimes it comes from a desire for acceptance and an inner feeling that the you need to change who you are to earn that. Sometimes it comes from something Paganism suffers from all too frequently, the cult of personality; you fall into following a well-known or charismatic person and start tailoring yourself to fit what you think that person expects. It may be rooted in a desire to earn praise or to avoid criticism but it expresses itself the same way: in a slow change of personal preferences.
Maybe you always loved vanilla and amber oil perfume until people in a group criticized that as being ‘basic’. Maybe you always loved wearing pink until you heard a group of people mocking someone wearing that color for being a poser. Maybe you hated wearing big jewelry until you got the idea that all witches needed to. The reasons and expressions vary but it always seems to be rooted in conformity one way or another.
You’re going along living your life without being aware that you have been transformed, changed into a shadow of yourself, and then one day you suddenly look around and realize that you don’t know yourself anymore. You aren’t your Self anymore. You’ve become the external expression of what you think other people expected you to be, but it isn’t you. It’s a mask, and not a comfortable one.
Maybe fear holds you in place. Maybe you decide to stay in that costume because you think it gets you what you’ve been looking for, whether that’s friends, or community, or respect. Maybe you simply don’t know how to find your true self anymore because you’ve lost that self somewhere along the way in a forest of dark trees and grasping hands.
Maybe you look in the mirror and you see a stranger standing there but in that stranger’s eyes you can still glimpse your Self. Maybe you see a spark, a hint of who you used to be. Maybe you catch a whiff of vanilla and amber and remember how happy it makes you, how much you love it. Maybe you start buying pink again. Maybe bit by bit you stop caring who judges you or what they think – or maybe you stop caring all at once as if you were throwing a concealing cloak to the ground. It doesn’t matter. Whether it’s fast or slow, just like it doesn’t matter whether the moth coming out of the cocoon bursts out or takes it’s time as long as it gets out healthy and alive.
We all lose ourselves at different points along the way. We forget who we are, we allow other people to shape us, to decide who we are for us. But it’s in our hands to change that. We can choose to find ourselves again and to step back into our selves. We can stand up and embrace what we like and do and be what we want. Yes we will be judged for it, but as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.”
It’s not always easy getting your true self back, and I don’t mean to make it sound like it is. Once you’ve lost that sense of self sometimes it’s like rebuilding from the foundation up and you have to remind yourself of every aspect. Sometimes stepping into your true self means realizing that the person you were is gone and the person you are isn’t real, and you have to find your self all over again from scratch. It means getting to know yourself and trusting your own preferences over other people’s opinions. And that can be very difficult.
Here’s a funny thing though that’s worth remembering: true personal power only comes to us when we are standing in our true selves.
Find your true self.
And when you do, you’ll find your power.