We all have a shadow. As individuals, and as a society we have aspects of ourselves that we have been taught to be ashamed of. We will go to any lengths to keep these aspects from the light of day. Exploring the shadow and coming to understand these aspects frees us and and gives us personal sovereignty. But who determines what is relegated to the shadows? The society we live in. As members of society we all enter into a non-verbal contract, and part of that contract is a clause that contains a list of things that have been deemed off-limits or taboo by that society. In exploring our own shadows, we also explore the greater shadow of society.
Witches, Pagans, Jews and Christians have all faced persecution. Societal taboos are used by those in power to dehumanize other groups of people in an effort to wipe them out. These are behaviors, beliefs or practices that go against the rules of a dominant group and are used to ostracize another group of people. Some of the acts that have identified us apart from “normal” society include: working with unseen forces, uncovering forbidden knowledge and trafficking with spirits. We have also been accused of cannibalism, infanticide and a whole litany of other “perversions.” The majority of these accusations are false and are the framework of the oppressor, used time and time again to turn mankind against one another. What we don’t understand forces us to face our own notions of reality, and this causes instinctual fear. It is this fear that these taboos play on. One thing is for certain, and that is the very visceral power they have over the human psyche. These are the things that have a natural “stomach-churning quality” about them. They connect us to some of our most primal aspects.
Many of these taboos center around the subject of sex and death. Two opposite ends of the spectrum, inextricably and intimately connected. So much so that taboos speak directly to the primal parts of our brain. Breaking them can often be a very powerful and cathartic experience, especially coming from a background of oppressive religious doctrine, like so many of us do. These rites of passage are known as “inversionary experiences.” When we behave in a way opposite to what we are told we are able to break the power these constructs hold over us. This is where much of the imagery of the Witch’s Pact comes from. Saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards, defiling the Eucharist and drinking blood are all powerfully symbolic and very taboos experiences that would have held intense cathartic power for the individuals performing them .
Using the shadow to work in our favor
By tapping into these emotionally evocative symbols we can utilize their power. In the book Of Blood and Bones: Working with Shadow Magick and the Dark Moon by Kate Freuler we delve into the darkness, and find all the power and potential there. Freuler introduces us to dark deities, the shadow self and the power of the dark moon. We are taken on a nocturnal journey, where we are introduced to spirits of death, destruction and rebirth. There are a variety of techniques for performing dark moon divination, working at the crossroads and invocations.
Blood is sexual. It is primal. It represents both life and death. Blood evokes many varied albeit powerful responses from people. It sustains our life force, and has been viewed as a powerfully magical substances by mankind throughout its history. When we think of blood magic, our minds go to some very gruesome and dramatic places. Blood, when used properly and safely can be a very potent substance to incorporate into one’s magical practice. Freuler discusses the ways that blood is a vessel for energy and how it can be used to form links. She discusses the safe practices of working with blood, and outlines its use in ritual.
Grave dust, skulls, animal remains and other relics of life maintain their connection to the spirits that once lived within. They continue to be vessels of spirit long after the flesh has rotted away. Bones connect us to the energies of death, and act as touchstones to their spirits. Feeding bones, displaying them on altars and providing them with regular offerings keeps the power within them alive. They can be used as vessels to houses familiar spirits, and connect us to the virtues of the beings they represent. Working with bones can be a very involved process from start to finish. Freuler provides useful practical information for those new to vulture culture.
In addition to using bones in spell work, the practice of osteomancy is also explored. Divination using bones based on their symbolic associations and their position when thrown. Reading the bones has a very prehistoric feel to it. The bone oracle becomes a spirit in and of itself. Freuler provides instruction for building a bone oracle, and keeping it fed so it continues to work.
Freuler has successfully reintroduced us to these valuable practices that have been left in the shadows. Working with the dark moon, the shadow self, and those ingredients that illicit a powerful emotional response are invaluable to our practice as witches. We should not cringe in the face of these practices, but look at them in the face. We must ask ourselves, what is it about blood and bones that has such a powerful hold over us. They are the makings of our physical bodies after all, and contain all of the power and potential that is the Shadow.
Kate Freuler has been practicing witchcraft for over twenty-five years. She has been a contributing writer for Llewellyn Worldwide, and own an operates White Moon Witchcraft, an online, Toronto based witchcraft supply store.