Traditionally, the Samhain season is considered a good time to explore the deeper, more intense, mysteries. Sometimes this includes a focus on what’s generally termed “Shadow Work”. I have done and taught this kind of Work for many years and it’s not hard for it to go sideways and cause big problems. But it’s really important!
So I thought I’d share the system I developed for my Shapeshifter students to work on those parts of ourselves that we’ve hidden away. This is a relatively safe system if you follow the steps in order and don’t get ahead of yourself (and I know some of you will ignore that advice, so if you need help with anything, please pm me and I’ll see what I can do to assist).
There is a tendency to believe that Shadow is about those things that are commonly held to be not-good: violence, promiscuity, dishonesty. This can be true, but is not always true. If you are a fighter, your penchant for violence isn’t a Shadow; it’s a gift. If you are fighter, one of your Shadows might be fear of weakness, or empathy. The same goes for other experiences or proclivities: prostitutes are served well by their desire for lots of sex with many partners. Storytellers should be good at making things that are not true sound true. The point is that your own Shadow material is unique to you.
Generally, Shadows are those things that we are hiding, for whatever reason. They are either too beautiful or too ugly to let show, so we stuff them away in any secret place where they sit and do their silent damage. They are beliefs that don’t serve us, which may have come in through the dominant culture, from our families of origin, or other group we desire to belong to. They may be feelings that we are afraid to share, desires we are unwilling to have fulfilled, or truths that remain unspoken. They are things we’ve done that we are ashamed of, and they are the very feeling of shame.
Think of Shadow as a creature for which you are responsible. Think of what it feels like to be hidden away by your maker, never (hopefully!) to be seen again. Sad. Angry. Now let’s have some compassion for that being, formed through no fault of hir own. Let’s see how we can help them and us heal.
The Shadow House
Many of us have done work in our personal sacred space, our astral temple, the center of our spirit life outside of the physical reality. There is an entire landscape that surrounds our temple space, which we access through all sorts of journeys. There is even a dark-wooded place where light doesn’t reach; a frightful abode which houses those parts of us that we’ve exiled. It is our Work to find that Shadow House and become willing to cross the wasted clearing, to step up on the falling-to-pieces porch, and unlock the door to our fear and our power.
In the House you might find the Shadow of the 5 year old who was shamed for showing his penis to the little girls in class; the 10 year old that never told on the neighbor for lighting the fire that burned the house; the 20 year old who slept with all her friends’ boyfriends as a twisted show of ‘power’. You will find the dreamer who was told his dreams were crazy; the artist who hasn’t made art since her father told her that artists are bums; the passionate lover who is unwilling to admit to the kind of love he desires. The denizens of the House are as unique as each moment of our own lives. But the way we deal with them always involves seeking them out, practicing compassion and listening to their stories.
The Shadow House can be deeply frightening, worse than any scary movie or haunted castle. We may fear even getting close to it. This is excellent! That means that there is so much to be reclaimed within those walls. There is plenty of Work for us and we *can* do this. Imagine the incredible relief as we clean up one room after another, rediscovering bits and pieces of us that we’d forgotten entirely about!
Before heading out to this place, however, we seek a willing helper, a powerful ally to join us, hold our hand, light a candle for us as we step across the threshold. This ally may be someone we know, a spirit that has been with us all along, or it may be someone new. We may have helpers in the shared reality as well (psychotherapy works! Yay!), but let’s make sure we have one with us that knows how to navigate the Other realms. We need someone to help us have strength to face the House – they may have to kick our butts sometimes too. So let your ally be one who is immensely strong and also compassionate and wise. I favor “The Bulletproof Monk” for this task!
The goal of this purposeful search is to know ourselves, to love ourselves, to be fully ourselves. Blessings on our (dark, beautiful) journey!
Next Up: Calling in the Ally
All images in the public domain.