WHAT IS THE SHADOW?
There are many aspects and writings on Shadow. It is impossible to work with Shamanism and not run into Shadow. Shadow can be very tricky, and can certainly lead us astray during our personal shamanic journey work, and healing. One of the voices of Shadow I have named “the Constant Critic”. You know that voice…. “I could never do that”… “none of this is real”…. “pfft this will never help”… This face of Shadow can stop us in our tracks, whenever we try to delve more deeply into our self, regardless of how that looks. One of the tricks I use, I tell my students to have a very comfy chair right near their Anchor Spot, just for the Constant Critic. And I tell them to let it know to stay in the cozy chair as they go off on their journey. It is important to let the critic know they will pick it back up on the way “out”. Then if (and it will) it has criticism, it can share it with them AFTER their experience.
The Shadow, is an aspect of the Soul, providing a way for our psyche to separate good from evil. It is, quite literally, the embodiment of all the impulses and qualities, we have thrust into the unconscious, because the Ego finds them unacceptable. It is, all that we feel we should not be – sexual, angry, hostile, vulnerable, masochistic, self-hating, guilty, weak, etc. For men, showing compassion and emotion may be included, if these things are not acceptable to express in your family or culture. Social ideas, such as stereotypes about physical appearance, life roles of men and women, and sexual and racial prejudices reside here.
Shadow also includes positive traits you may have denied, such as power, justice and creativity. It may also include your interest in and desire, to practice shamanism, paganism, magick, etc. Anything you, your family, or society (consensus reality/overculture) deems as “forbidden” or “sinful” may be found in your Shadow Self. These things are not “evil”, they simply are not perceived as being “acceptable” – again by “consensus reality”. Each time we allow our thoughts to dwell upon strong, negative feelings, we add to the strength of our Shadow Self. In its mildest aspect, it is that part of us that we are uncomfortable accepting, and hope no one else sees. In its most radical aspect, it becomes Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde,where two totally separate aspects and personalities share a single biological body, each oblivious to the other, but each having their outlet into the physical realm.
Shadow has long been discussed and worked with, throughout our cultural histories. We have Goddesses and Gods given the task of protecting our psyche from our less than desirable aspects. Cerridwen, Durga, Persephone come to mind for Goddesses. Charon, Hades, Thanatus come to mind for Gods. In my Shamanic Journeys the Being who greets me in the Underworld is Horse. I have come to understand, Horse is a personification of my Shadow. Horse has taken me to many dark places and left me to explore those places on my own. Horse is not a power animal, it is the shamanic face of my Shadow.
I think it would be unwise of us to deny the existence of the Shadow Self. This being is very much alive and active in the Other World realms. We will encounter the Shadow, and its sly opposition, when journeying, especially if the journey is for soul retrieval, healing, or problem solving. We cannot attack Shadow with the idea of destroying it, but rather, must recognize it as a vital, important part of our self. By confronting Shadow, we learn to work with it, knowing that both so-called positive and negative energy are required for balance.
A healthy person is a balanced person. By separating good from evil, we set up a conflict within ourselves that presages a potentially destructive downfall. Let me clarify here. To make moral judgments, “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “evil”, based on consensus reality within any social structure is absolutely necessary to maintain law and order. But when we internalize judgement and reinforce it with strong negative emotion aimed at ourselves, Shadow grows and becomes more difficult to maintain.
Any time a polarity is over-lived, without having been balanced by its counterpart, an eruption of the counterpart can be expected. A “boogey man” is created that begins to haunt us and make us fearful. Remember radio plays (or perhaps you are way too young to remember!) “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!!!” It knows the deepest, darkest, ugliest secrets of your very existence. The more we separate ourselves from it, the more it grows in darkness, size and power. No fear is stronger than the fear of our own Shadow, and nothing is more destructive than the defences we adopt to avoid confrontation.
There are many ways we run from Shadow, and there are many benefits that we get from doing so. Or so we think. Keep in mind, “Avoidance never was empowerment. Avoidance never leads to evolution.” Avoidance is like Flu medication, it masks or curtails the symptoms, but when the medication wears off, we are well aware the illness still exists. True self-empowerment comes from overcoming the problem, not by avoiding it. What we are really doing is denying ourselves the opportunities for growth we might otherwise have had.
I have found in my shamanic work Shadow is a TREMENDOUS teacher. When we confront the Shadow, we are forced to face ourselves, and learn about ourselves. Shadow Self is like a trickster; lurking in the shadows being mischievous. If it knows that it is glimpsed, for even a second, it slinks away. Tricksters constantly teach us something about our self, though it may not be pleasant. If you listen, the lessons may come easier, but if you turn your back and try to run, well Shadow will always find you, and likely, your lesson will be harder.
Other resources you may enjoy:
- A guided meditation for finding your anchor spot.
- Our latest podcast on tricksters!
- Interested in finding a friendlier teacher? Perhaps this upper world journey will help!
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