There comes a time we all know, there’s a place that you must go. Into the soul, into the heart, into the dark.
~ Melissa Etheridge, Into the Dark
I often think that the current spiritual and New Age movements neglect the power of the shadow. Just recently at a Pagan gathering I watched members shy away from the mention of the dark. Everyone seems keen to adopt the lightworker moniker yet is reluctant to balance the light/dark scales with an appropriate shadowy title.
The dark is the place where nightmares live, fears fester and parts of our personality, not deemed fit for public consumption, hang out. The darkness commands us to visit when life becomes challenging and we’re faced with situations that tear at the heart and rip to the bone. Darkness beckons when you crumble and fall.
You can spread the word about love and peace and unicorns and rainbows – and please do, but don’t forget to mention the things that transform us: loss, grief, fears, the limits we thought we’d never reach and the depths we thought we’d never sink.
I’ve been transported into the darkness many times. Sometimes it carries you away in an instant: the world you once knew changed forever. And other times, you fall slowly like a feather on a summer breeze. Depression, heartbreak, anxiety, estrangement, ill heath, divorce, self-harm: they have all, at one point, turned me inwards to where my own personal darkness lies. The tendency to fight the darkness and resist the embrace is as strong as the desire to be consumed. Even in the dark place, there is a struggle of balance: fight or submit. We’re not taught to embrace the darkness nor to accept that it is as perfect as the light-side.
Inanna, the great Sumerian goddess, heard the call of the dark. She heard the great below and went to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal. Inanna passed through seven-gates and at each one, had to remove an item of clothing or jewellery. When she met with her sister, she was naked. Seven judges passed a sentence of death over Inanna and they hung her corpse on a hook. Fearing that this was going to be her fate, Inanna had instructed her priestess to rescue her. The god Enki made two ‘creatures’ that went into the underworld to barter with Ereshkigal. When they found her, she was writhing in agony, apparently ready to give birth. The creatures took Inanna’s corpse, sprinkled it with the food and water of life, and they left the underworld. Ereshkigal’s ‘demons’ followed and insisted that she was not free until someone could take her place. To cut a long story short, Inanna offered up her lover as a replacement.
In the darkness, we find our shadow-sister. The one who strips us naked, destroys what we thought held sacred and insists on being left a replacement when it’s time for us to return out of the ‘underworld’. That replacement is something we thought we couldn’t live without but as it turns out, we can. And we do.
Our shadow sister isn’t warm and cuddly. Inanna and Ereshkigal do not like each other. Our shadow sister isn’t there to mirror our loveliness. She’s there to show us the parts that we hide away because the ‘upper world’ doesn’t approve.
We have public masks that hide the true nature underneath. We fear if other people, or even our conscious selves, see who we truly are then we’ll be spurned or deemed unlovable. Yet, the shadow sister is our strength, not our weakness.
An aspect of my shadow sister is the sovereign archetype. She is queen of her world, like Ereshkigal, and she scares me. When I was growing up, women who displayed this archetype were labelled controlling, domineering or “lazy cows”. And I strive so hard not to be that type of person because on a subconscious level, I want to be loved by the father whose opinion formed my beliefs. For the longest time, I would (and still do) shrink away from women who have this queen archetype. Not because I see them as controlling etc, but because I’m afraid I will see myself in them…..that I will want to be like them too. I blamed this feeling on the clash of introvert and extrovert personalities but in reality, I see my shadow sister.
Keeping my queen archetype locked away in her dungeon of darkness has not been healthy. I’ve over-compensated with servitude so no-one will see that I’m a ‘lazy cow’ too. I take on too much. Has this helped me? No. I love to be of service but it smothers my queenly shadow sister who flourishes in receiving. I’ve realised that if I want to stop playing small in life then I have to journey into the darkness to make friends with the sovereign shadow sister. I cannot go where my spirit is leading me unless I embrace the queen tightly.
Shadow work is not meant to be light.
It’s meant to be deep and transformative. You step into the darkness to find the truths, to learn the hard lessons and to come out the other side stronger and more whole. You look at your shadow sister and realise that she is not less than you, not more than you, but an equal. And that she is lovable, perfect and an integral part of you.
Find your shadow sister and love her. Love her hard. And in return, she will lead you out of the darkness and towards the light.
I write about depression and meeting the shadow sister in a new The Girl God anthology. Inanna’s Ascent: Reclaiming Feminine Power is available now.