Friday, March 21, 2014

The Shadow Self

Occasionally, one hears whispers of a practitioner doing shadow work.  What is the Shadow?  What, exactly, is Shadow work?  The Shadow is that part of ourselves that we have hidden away in the darkness.  It is that part of ourselves that we do not like or understand.  It is the personification of all that is negative about our personality.  The Shadow is nearly equivalent to the Ego.  Shadow work is working with the Ego and finding that place where we have locked away the things we don't like about our selves.  It's facing our own demons.  When we personify that part of us which we hate, and look at it, really examine it, we sometimes find out that it isn't the monster, but we are.

My own shadow was chained and stripped of her dignity when I discovered her.  She was living like an animal, half-starved, within the darkest recesses of my own soul.  When I approached, of course, she attacked.  She didn't retreat, so I hadn't broken her.  Thank the gods!  I watched her come at me over and over.  She wasn't interested in listening to me for sure.  She eventually tired and I sat down just out of her reach (because I know me and I know how clever I can be).  "Are you ready to listen?" I asked.

She looked at me and growled.  "You know who I am," I said.  "I have come here to let you go, not chain you farther."

Her expression changed from anger to curiosity.

I looked hard at what I'd done to myself.  I was ashamed.  This piece of me was something I had spent many years trying to force to 'be good.'  This piece of me was untamed.  She sat back as I released her, not saying a word, but not really trusting me, either.  My Shadow contained all of my fears, some healthy, some unhealthy, some outright ridiculous.

For the next several weeks, I had many conversations with her.  In reality, she drove me a bit crazy.  I would spend quiet moments at my job trying to concentrate and she would throw alien emotions at me, images of horrific things, or worse, images of distasteful words and deeds that made her feel powerful and needed, but left me bewildered.  She was challenging me to keep my word that I would not lock her up again.  I spent that time feeling very uncomfortable within my own skin.  Yet, I kept my word.

I became very conscious of my words and, usually, let her have her say (in my mind) before I would respond in earnest to whomever I was talking to.  Occasionally, I would let her scathing wit bubble up and, because it was so out of character for me to say such things, those around me would laugh heartily in surprise.

This, however, is just my experience in working with the Shadow.  I have come to love her very much.  I have been reading things lately that say the Shadow should be destroyed and I completely disagree with that sentiment.  I would never vanquish a part of myself because I find it to be unpalatable.  I would rather discover why I find those things undesirable.  Wicca is a journey of self-discovery, isn't it?  How can I discover anything about myself if I am just destroying the things I don't like?

I see the 'destruction' of the Shadow as the ultimate Ego bait-and-switch.  "I am so learned, wise, etc. that I have destroyed the darkest part of myself, vanquished it forever."  Really?!?  That statement doesn't sound very altruistic to me.  It doesn't sound very learned or wise, either.  The mere suggestion that the Shadow can be destroyed sounds too good to be true.  (Guess what they say about things like that!)

From where I sit, if one believes that the Shadow can be destroyed, then the Shadow has already taken over.  The practitioner has become complacent in his or her learning and believes that no one 'below' them can teach them anything new.  Just the act of seeing people as 'below' or 'less than' is also an act of the Shadow.  (I believe that we all have things to learn from each other, no matter where we are on our paths.)

I have learned a great many things from my Shadow self.  She says, "You have been learning Craft for nearly 15 years! Own that!"  I reply, "You are right, but it has only been nearly 15 years.  That is a mere blip in time for so many more people than me!"  She then replies, "Yes, it is more than some and less than most, but you should still own it.  That is nearly the sum of your adult life!"  So, I own it (mostly, I have just begun to own it and verbalizing it still makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I know so little).

Because I work with my Shadow on a regular basis, I have chosen to recognize that I may have had some experiences others have not.  I choose to recognize that I can bring something to the table in discussions.  In that recognition, I also see that I have to watch my words and deeds.  She is still here and, sometimes, my Shadow doesn't like how things are playing out, so she throws a fit.  She is, after all, still my Shadow.

In the future, I plan on doing a 'Practicals' blog on working with the Shadow, if there is any interest.  It may even become a sub-set in the 'Practicals' series if my beloved readers wish it so.  If you would like to know more about the Shadow or privately discuss some of your own experiences with it, you can always email me using the contact form, or you can message me on Facebook here.

Until then, brightest blessings, Friends!


  1. I would be interested. I find a lot of similar things and I never knew where they came from. Today for instance I would just like to bite someone in half - no one in particular just anyone who comes into my path. I guess my shadow is a lot more active recently since I've ignored her for so long.

    Yes, I would be interested in reading more about how to work with Shadows.

  2. Hey Jilly-Bear! Thanks for the input! I know what you mean when you talk about wanting to bite someone in half. My Shadow has a pretty mean streak herself. From my own experience, those seemingly stray emotions or thoughts that are super uncharacteristic of us come from the Shadow. When I was first working with mine, she wanted to do cruel things to people. Looking back, I'm pretty sure it's because of the not-so-nice things she went through.

    Ultimately, I made a pact with her that we would explore those things together in a safe way and then let them go. I allowed her to guide me in writing some pretty gruesome and violent stories. She was delighted that she could set people on fire or something equally as nasty "just because" and (despite my trepidation, at first) I became more peaceful for it. There was no more desire to lash out when I didn't get my way. After, the writing was burned. It was expressed and let go of. I think the letting go was the most important part. We so often forget to let go of things (good and bad) and that's a lesson in itself.

    I'll start writing about working with the Shadow. There's interest, so there is a need for it. :) Good luck!