Monday, August 10, 2009

Shadow Work

I read a rant this morning on shadow work, something that I consider one of the deepest, most honest, and sometimes scariest practices a witch can engage in. My favorite quote from Thorn Coyle, quoting Victor Anderson is “Anything worthwhile is dangerous.” She goes on to explain that when something really matters to you, there is risk involved. Risk that you might fail, risk that you might change and in that, bear the death of the parts of your old self and old paradigms.

I think quite often as things go into the public or popular realm they are watered down, misunderstood, and misused. To me, shadow work isn't about positive and negative pieces of ourselves and dealing with parts of ourselves that we don't like. It is about learning to understand where are reactions and predilections come from. Its understanding our fears. Its understanding our coping mechanisms. It is unburying our power that we hid from ourselves in our subconscious through suppression.

For example, in my family growing up, sex was considered bad, bad, taboo, and unspeakable... For a long while I tried to be a good Christian and subvert earthly desire. Later, when I grew up and decided that was an unhealthy attitude toward sex, it took years of working through guilt to be able to be comfortable with a very natural process. As I have gained more comfort and acceptance of my sex drive and sexual expression and identification I have become healthier, happier, braver, and sexier. Through setting something free that had been trapped in guilt and suppression I found personal power.

Shadow work was not always called shadow work, but it is much older than Wicca. All strains of the Western Magickal tradition use shadow work on some level. It is also what was refered to in the late 1800's as dark or black magick because it was hidden. The themes are there before the pop-psychology terms were overlaid on them. Even in the goetia, the magician is told to know all parts of himself so that he knows his weaknesses and can better protect himself against spirits that would seek to use those weaknesses against him.

It is a commonly held idea that power is kept in the shadow or the underworld. Dark of the moon. That which is hidden, that which isn’t obvious and in the light of day. Have you ever had your vision taken from you for a while and thrown into complete darkness? After a while, you will start to have visions. Very interesting that when we cannot see light, we start to see within. You tap into the otherworlds and the worlds within your being.

This year I have my Pluto conjunct my sun. Is this sounding familiar? My normal front-face personality (my sun) is walking in the realm underneath, the Underworld, the places normally void of light. My underworld is splayed open for all to see above the surface in the walking, waking, shining world. Yowzah! Yet, this has been a tool for change for me this year. I have become more actively aware of automatic decisions I make that I formed in childhood that may serve no purpose for me as an adult. Such defense mechanisms were useful to me as a child when I couldn’t understand the pains in life and needed to move on, yet they have become limits to me now, limiting factors that tell me what is possible in my life and what I will not allow myself to do and to grow and make change in my world.

The more we become aware of our psychology, the more we are able to decide consciously the decisions we make. I for one enjoy when I am able to control my interactions, my reactions and my emotions for my usage rather than be a victim and controlled by the tides of my emotions, unawares and at its mercy. The stronger we are able to harness our emotions, the greater control of energy, power, and magick we will gain.

Why is all of this so scary? If you have to deal with personal truths that you hold self-evident than are in fact, faulty and harmfull, it is traumatic! It hurts to have to remember traumas of the past and reinterpret them, embrace them, and learn from them in a new way while not falling into your old comfortable patterns. Isn’t it easier to just try to make everything okay and just try to be happy all the time? I find that when I try this, it is at my weak moments that I fall into depression. It is when the lights are out, it is cold, and I am alone that suddenly, I don’t know where to turn. The sun within, hidden, yet always shining must be strong. In order to have a stable and strong handle on yourself, you have to work with all of your pieces in order to understand them, in this case, especially the pieces that aren’t so pretty and fun.

I’ve been having trouble remembering my dreams since my initiation. My initiation dredged up some stuff that I had been unaware of and at first, really resisted dealing with. This weekend, I relaxed enough and gave myself permission to do some dream work. Saturday afternoon, I opened up my my healer friend, she gave me a reading and started the energy work process to release some of the old energetic bodies I am holding within me. Sunday morning, I had quite the nightmare. In a way, it was upsetting, but not a nightmare at all. The Mother was with me in the dream, lovely pointing out to me that which I would rather keep forgotten. The next few months are going to be a lot of hard work. In some ways I am aware of the process. In other ways, I won’t know what the destination is until I get there. There is no way for me to control the destination and I have to have faith in the process.


  1. Very brave post, Maggi. I hope your dreams remain the guideposts to you they have always been, but hopefully without the nightmare bits. I know it's important to face the darkness as well as the light, but I prefer to have myself grounded firmly in conscious reality when I do so. -) Maybe that's something I have to learn to let go of - great post.

  2. Wow, was that a one-eyed smiley on purpose? I have several people torturing me with those.

    Conscious reality is an illusion ;-)