Dancing With Your Shadow
by Sylvana SilverWitch
“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”
— Dr Carl Gustav Jung
As I understand it, the Shadow is a psychological term first introduced by the late Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Carl G. Jung. The Shadow is that in us which is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. Our Shadows are often sinister and rejected aspects of our being, so there is explicit undeveloped potential in them. We are not aware of it, because anything that is unconscious is just that. Everyone has a Shadow. It is not something unusual or only typified by serial killers or rapists. I believe that “talking” with and somehow coming to terms with the Shadow self is essential for self-awareness.
As a Witch, I represent the dark or Shadow side for some people in my culture. At this time of year, when I see the stereotypical green-faced, big-nosed Witches on broomsticks, I am reminded that this is still very much a Christian-based country. Many Witches have suffered the discrimination of being the mirror of someone else’s Shadow.
Though many Christians have damned the unknowable or unconscious — along with Witchcraft — neither is specifically related to malevolence, as some fundamentalists would have us believe. Darkness has been condemned as evil for eons, and the Shadow has been demonized along with every other “scary” aspect of human behavior, including sexuality, for thousands of years. Hmmm…could it be sex? Is that where the Shadow self lives, in our sexuality? No, it’s much more than sex!
Experiencing your Shadow self means facing all of the nuances of yourself. Yes all — especially the deep, dark ones. Sliding down the rope of emotion into the black abyss of the mysterious or scary parts of you. Most people cannot tell you what they fear will happen if they were to ever give up control and just take that leap of faith into the unknown. But they can tell you that the mere idea scares the pants off of them!
I believe that the more fear you have, the less comfortable you are with the unknown…the less in touch with your Shadow you are. When you come face-to-face with it time and time again, it begins to seem familiar; friendly and darkly inviting.
Many of us pagans are familiar with and have danced with the Shadow. Some of us do a lot of Shadow work over the years. Some of us avoid it at all costs as too edgy, scary or weird. When you face your demons (the things you hate the most about yourself or the things you judge yourself most harshly for doing), they seem to shrink until they’re less and less scary and powerful. When you can stop judging yourself and welcome the lessons of the Shadow, only then can you walk in the power of your Shadow.
I think that the whole idea of integration of the Shadow self is nothing more than being in touch with all aspects of yourself. Integration is about being a whole person. It is feeling and expressing emotions and taking what there is from an experience, whether others would consider it good or bad. Remember, good and bad are totally subjective, and in looking back on something that you once considered really bad, you might now see it as a turning point or learning experience that was very good for you in the long term.
I remember when my dad first found out that I was a Witch. I was all of 16, and he said some very distasteful things to me about it. To him, it was the worst thing that ever could happen to me. But I was free and light and happy, and it was one of the best things ever to happen to me. Now, these many years later, I am the person my dad warned me about!
The Wiccan Rede says: “Do as thou will, harm none.” Can we accept accountability for our reality, in more than theory? Can we accept that a part of our will is our Shadow? If so, what can we do to recognize, accept and let go of needing to control our Shadow?
Altering our outlook from one of fault to one of responsibility can help transform what happens in our world. Our future is of our own making, and what takes place inside of us will be reflected outside of us as our reality. Ok, so this is sometimes an incredibly complex thing, and it usually takes some time and practice. Almost no one gets it overnight, so be patient with yourself.
You might want to meditate on this ancient adage given to us from the Emerald Tablet by the magician and alchemist Hermes Trismegistus: “As above, so below, as within, so without, so that the miracle of the one can be established.” What it is saying is that whatever is within us will also be outside of us. Inner states of consciousness will be imitated in outer situations time and again. If we are able to look at the implications of these repeating patterns and cycles, we will see the synchronicity of actions and situations. Eventually, as we become integrated, the miracle of the one is established as we become one with ourselves.
The first useful thing to do, in order to begin to see our Shadow sides, is to begin to take total responsibility for our lives and our selves. As Witches, we are supposed to do this anyway, but how many victim sob stories have you heard from would-be Witches? I sometimes cannot believe the number of people who claim their power, only to give it away to “them”– the what/whoever that supposedly subjugates them.
Being in the human experience of the corporeal world, most of us have had numerous painful, difficult experiences where it appears unmistakably as if the situation is another person’s fault, or maybe it’s bad luck in life or whatever else we want to name it. In light of this, taking full accountability for what appears to come to us is not generally an easy task. It is well worth the effort though, because when we take responsibility for what happens to us, we can then be in a position of power instead of a victim of circumstance. We can learn to make choices instead of accepting the default. We may learn and grow from the experiences and make an inventive decision when confronted by a difficult situation.
We cannot learn fully about ourselves if we do not understand and accept our Shadow. I believe that if we resist our Shadow selves, we are going to continue to attract these same negative situations through the mirrors of other people. New situation, same feelings?
The Shadow can also be an archetype. An archetype is a symbol or icon that represents something universal and typically occurs in the same way in everyone’s consciousness. The green-skinned, big-nosed Witch that we all see at Halloween is an archetype. Many of us have a dark aspect to our witchcraft, whether it’s that we do love magick or lust after power. For some of us who live in the broom closet out of fear or necessity, our very craft is a Shadow.
The foremost of our Shadow demons is death. It could become a big problem if we allowed our fear of death to rule our lives. We’d never go outside, we’d never kiss a lover or a child, we’d never risk at all. We rise above these fears because the experience of life is more gratifying than the experience of locking ourselves up in alarm. But we let apprehension stop us in so many other areas of life. I am not advocating doing brainless or reckless things, but sometimes a bit of a risk is beneficial for the soul. I think a lot of people get that from other outlets; food, sex, gambling, playing sports or having exciting or dangerous hobbies. Those are safe expressions of the Shadow side. Guys can beat the hell out of one another on the hockey field or in the boxing ring and it is perfectly acceptable, but a “fight club” like the one portrayed in the Brad Pitt movie is somehow unacceptable. Why do we make these distinctions between good and bad?
So what does this Shadow theory look like in real life?
I feel safe in saying that we have all had incidents with people that truly irritate, annoy or exasperate us. Each time we feel ourselves overreacting emotionally to a feature or trait in someone else that pushes all of our buttons (and there will usually be a disgusted aspect to it), we can be sure that we are seeing a part of our own Shadow. (I certainly am guilty of this!)
We will not be able to stand these other people or be able to be around them at all. The response is generally intense revulsion because these characteristics or qualities that we loathe in others are our own and they are typically working external to our awareness. Because they are rooted in our unconscious, usually they will be the exact opposite of what we consider to be true about ourselves.
Upon meeting a person exemplifying the light part of our Shadow, we will be very drawn to and may even fall in love with him or her. This is the good part of our Shadow. But many of us have more difficulty with the negative experiences that occur as we bump into our Shadow. This is the psyche’s own way of bringing itself into the light — meaning the light of consciousness. Think about the two people that you dislike the very most, and why you dislike them. What are those qualities that you abhor about them? What part of yourself are you denying that exemplifies those qualities? This part of Shadow work is not so much fun!
Living in the shadows of normalcy has never really been much of a problem with me. Because I am an artist, a dominant woman, a psychic and a Pisces, almost no one ever expected me to be “normal.” So I got comfortable in my Shadow early on and wrapped it around me like a soft blanket.
Certainly, being so immersed in my Shadow side occasionally has caused me some problems over the years. A few times it’s caused me some grief over someone’s incorrect assumptions or perceptions. Usually it’s helpful not to squick the person who is in charge, — like your boss — if you want to be a part of their program.
Sometimes it’s felt like a dip in an icy river when I have been forced into the daylight and had to consider what cowans were seeing when they stare at me: extra long red nails, gothy makeup, waist-long red and blonde streaked hair, piercings, tattoos, cleavage ala Lily Munster and of course the de rigueur all black, vampiric wardrobe. I haven’t lived in any closets for a very long time, and I find it funny and a little strange when people are so fascinated with me because of it. More importantly, I can tell how in touch with their own Shadow selves they are by how they react to me. It’s kind of like holding up a mirror to some of them. So, yes…I tend to push people’s buttons just doing my grocery shopping — though I shop generally at three or four in the morning these days, and I encounter fewer rude stares at that time of night, but there is still the occasional drunken laughter.
The Shadow is certainly not about appearance. Everything I just listed as an example of why people stare at me and why I make them exceedingly uncomfortable has nothing much to do with my actual Shadow side. I like costuming, and some of that may relate to some of my Shadowy aspects, but clothing alone isn’t it.
Because my Shadow energy is so strong, sometimes people look at me and just “know” that there is “something wrong” with me. I am too much, too sexual, too edgy, too dark, too Witchy, too scary, too “insert your favorite word here.” I don’t mind too much usually, because it is true. I am very much in touch with what drives me. I know most of my faults and shortcomings well; I recognize and accept that I am less than the perfect person I’d like to be. Even goddesses have their dark sides, and some of the darkest are my inspirations.
Lilith is a goddess best known in our present culture from the Jewish tradition as a strong, lusty, demoness who preys on men at night and kills babies. She is scorned in stories and folklore. because she was supposedly the pariah first wife of Adam. According to Barbara Black Koltov, Ph.D, in this tradition she represents the Shadow woman, one who refuses to be subjugated or dominated and who personifies the illogical, defiant aspect of womanhood and the horrors that abound in the dark of the night, and especially in the dark of the moon. She arouses apprehension and revulsion, because she alternately is a nubile young woman who seduces men and leads them away from their virtuous, pious lives and a hideous hag who begets death and kills babies descended from Eve, out of retribution on Adam.
In The Book of Lilith, Koltov explains this mythology of Lilith and the rituals, practices and purification rites carried out by men and women to protect themselves from her. These include following specific guidelines before engaging in marital sex and the use of birthing amulets and talismans for mothers and infants in which protection spells and petitions to placate Lilith were inscribed to prevent her for taking the infant’s life.
I can identify with Lilith, Hecate, Kali and the Morrigan…the mysterious goddesses that have been there from the beginning to help guide us through our darkest times. I feel comfort and safety in the darkness. I wrap it around me like a protective amulet to keep out those who would do me harm. My Shadows take many forms, everything from tattooing and piercing to BDSM and vampiric blood play. My bitchy nature is part of it, as is my procrastination, my inability to throw things away, my sexual proclivities and of course my tastes in clothing and music.
If you’d like to get more in touch with your Shadow there are many things that you can do. Do a sex magick ritual, commune with the dead, do a hypnotic regression to your death in a past life, ask a few trusted friends to give you some honest feedback about your faults (without you saying anything or responding at all except to say thank you), do a ruthless self analysis, make amends to people you have harmed or slighted in the past or find a friend that will allow you to be just as bitchy as you need to be for one whole evening or afternoon. Do some BDSM play, get a tattoo or a piercing, have selfish, wild circus-monkey sex with your lover and ask for everything you want, go inward and remember past hurts and get angry about them, examine your childhood for whatever was lacking and mourn it, remember old lovers, play sad love songs and lament lost love. Be selfish, mean, bitchy, lazy or whatever you have been accused of in the past for one whole day without feeling at all guilty. Try to be “bad” occasionally just for fun, and I guarantee that you will feel more balanced and healthy than ever.
I include a Shadow rite here for those of you who enjoy more formalized work. Blest be the darkness!
Shadow Dancing Ritual
Perform this rite on the dark Moon to integrate your Shadow self.
Black robe, black altar cloth, anointed candles, cakes, etc.
Silver glitter, Bell, Cauldron, Matches, Mirror.
Hecate, Lilith or Innana incense and oil, black paper and silver ink pen
Music: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, or any Goth or black metal music or other suitably sinister and/or soothing melodies.
Set up your ritual space with everything you need. Take your ritual bath, and then anoint yourself with the Hecate oil and dress in your ritual robe.
Have the room dimly lit.
Turn on the music, then ground and center.
Cast your circle in your usual manner, but invoke the dark goddess — Lilith, Innana, Hecate — with some thing like below:
Tonight, on this darkest of nights, I am ready to journey into the darkness, to meet my Shadow and listen to his/her story. Dark one, you who have given me courage, guide my passage deep into the Shadows and out again. Ancient ones, I invoke you to guide me into my darkness tonight to meet my Shadow self.
Make it so.
Make it so.
Make it so.
Ring the bell three times to summon your Shadow self. When you feel yourself ready, take the pen and paper and write down everything you can identify as Shadow traits. Faults, idiosyncrasies, downfalls, etc. Everything that you think is wrong or bad or needs to be changed about yourself should all be listed on the paper. Now read it over aloud. Read it again and again…as many times as it takes for you to not be ashamed, upset, guilty or to have any reaction to the words.
Once the energy has been drained off your Shadow qualities, then read the paper over again, but add “I forgive myself and release all judgment over _____. (whatever the quality was.) Do this as many times as is necessary for you to feel like it “takes.”
When you have finished, sprinkle the glitter over the paper list and bless each of the qualities that make you unique. Fold the paper, and place it in the cauldron to burn. Ring the bell three times, and take three deep breaths as you release your Shadow from its previous bondage.
Dance around the circle, allowing your body to release the judgment and express your newfound freedom. Dance with your Shadow, waltzing with it in your arms like an old lover. Raise energy by dancing to anchor the ritual in your reality.
When you’re finished dancing, look into the mirror and tell yourself sincerely how fabulous you are, perceived faults and all.
Have a celebration of cakes and wine and allow your Shadow to integrate into you fully. Release your circle, elements, gods, etc. Bury the ashes outside in a safe place.
Be your whole self from now on.
Sylvana SilverWitch is a local Sylvan Tradition High Priestess and has been HPS of the Sylvan Grove for many years.