This is a time that defies description for me and for many others I know. It’s a frightening time as we continue to bear witness to injustices that seem to fall on deaf ears of many of those in positions of power. It’s a confusing time as we seek to find power yet we are too often surrounded by those – intentionally or not – striving to ensure that we are powerless.
It’s a time of grieving and heartbreak as we try to make sense of the senseless, mourn our losses, and try to heal wounds that just seem to continue to incessantly bleed. It feels like such an odd and liminal time. I walk through my garden on a daily basis, and witness the growth, the lush foliage of the forest and the beautiful flowers in blossom. Physically, it is a time of life and birth but given everything that is happening in our world I feel as though I am walking through a garden of darkness and pain. This is a time of shadows.
My blog posts don’t typically venture into the political arena even though my day job involves a great deal of social justice and anti-racism work. To be honest, this blog post is a bit outside of my comfort zone but the willingness to be vulnerable is necessary.
As a white woman, I have learned well over the past few years just how important it is to approach this work with humility and to take a step back in order to ensure that the voices of those most impacted are heard. I have also learned much about my own ignorance and how my well-intended actions may have sometimes caused harm despite my sincere desire to help. As a result, these days I don’t presume to tell people of color how they should think, feel, act, or do their own shadow work.
This blog post is really written for my fellow white pagan women who also feel like they are walking through a garden of shadow and pain. I don’t claim to have all of the answers nor do I feel that there is one right way to navigate these situations. Each of us has to do what we feel called to do and what we feel puts us in right relationship with our deities, our conscience, and our own values and guiding principles. What I can share with you is guidance that I have received that is helping me to navigate this garden with healing and purpose.
Persephone is a goddess who straddles both dark and light. It’s therefore not surprising that when I am experiencing the stark contrast of the physical “light” coinciding with the emotional dark I often turn to her for understanding and guidance. Persephone has been a close presence for most of my life, but in the past few years I have turned to her increasingly for help with my own shadow work.
I explore shadow work in depth in my recently released book entitled, “Persephone: Practicing the Art of Personal Power”. Last night, as I contemplated all the news that I have been seeing and reading recently (including the live coverage of riots in the town near where I live), I spent some time with Her, trying to look at things from the perspective of a deity who is both Goddess of the Spring and Queen of the Underworld.
What I heard most clearly was that this is a time to bring the darkness into the light and to shed a bright light on the dark. Bringing the darkness into the light is the first step, for we cannot shine a light on others if we haven’t explored our own shadows, implicit biases, wounds, fears, and impacts of our actions. It takes digging deep and being willing to see things about ourselves that we may not like and may be afraid to see. It also takes compassion and a commitment to loving ourselves no matter what we find in the darkness.
I strongly believe that for the most part our deities don’t condemn us for our past or our shadows but they do expect that we recognize the impacts of our actions and beliefs and learn from our mistakes. If we are going to in any way heal the collective shadow of this world that we live in, we must be willing to ask ourselves how we have contributed to this shadow not only by our actions but by our silence. This can be terrifying, painful work but I have found that it is necessary and ultimately empowering. It is also a journey that requires constant re-evaluation. I don’t believe that this work is ever done; rather, it continues throughout our lives.
Once we have committed to the work of bringing the darkness into the light, we can begin to shed light in the dark places. One of the shadow issues that I have continually explored since I was a child is a tendency to be a people pleaser. For a variety of reasons, throughout much of my childhood and adolescence I felt that being nice was my currency and I shied away from rocking the boat. This has taken a great deal of inner work to combat in part because of my own shadows and fears around this issue but also because when it comes to racism, our society as a whole has traditionally valued silence over conflict.
Shedding a light on the darkness is frightening and it may result in alienation or judgement by some of those we care about. Yet we must do this. We cannot hide in the dark. In the absence of enough of us being willing to stand firm and hold the lantern up, the darkness will ultimately engulf all of us. ALL OF US.
So what does it mean to shed a light on injustice? It means actively taking a stance. Speaking up against racism and injustice even when there might be personal consequences for doing so. It means educating ourselves and being willing to step into the light by using our power and privilege to be an ally without displacing those most impacted, and with humility and wisdom to know the difference between being an ally and disempowering or silencing people of color. It requires courage to bring to light those individuals and actions that knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate injustice and/or try to hide behind the mantra of “I’m not racist”.
Persephone reminds me that death and birth are both separate and one. They are interdependent, which allows for the contradiction of navigating a landscape flush with life while at the same time feeling the loss and grief that comes with death. She tells me that we must do our own shadow work if we are to have any hope of healing the collective shadow wounds of the outside world that we live in. She reminds me that in a garden, one works with both death in the form of pulling the weeds that do not serve us and life in the form of planting seeds for the things that do.
Death happens in all sorts of small ways while we are alive. It is a letting go and it is scary as hell because we don’t have control over what happens next and we don’t always know what will fill the void. We can and do manifest a replacement; we birth things all the time. Yet, birth can also be hard because the light forces us to see things that may cause us pain and confusion. Emerging in the light is daunting at times. Just think of any baby who has ever resisted being birthed into the light because it is safer in the comforting dark of its mother’s womb. There’s a reason we typically come out kicking and screaming. Death and birth are necessary, and there is beauty and purpose to be found in both.
Persephone draws near and whispers in my ear that it is only through death and birth that change can occur. Change will happen one way or another – the question is what do we want that change to be? Are we willing to do the difficult and intimidating work necessary to manifest the future that we not only desire but that is necessary to ensure that well-being, justice and equity prevail? Persephone urges me to be the undertaker of that which no longer serves or has a place in our world. Be the midwife helping to birth that which is life affirming and necessary to our well-being and survival. Whatever you do, She says, do not sit stagnant on the sidelines.
*You can find more information about Pagan Portals “Persephone: Practicing the Art of Personal Power” here.