In today’s world, everyone wears a mask. This has been true for most of human existence. We present to others our best attributes and do whatever we can to hide our negative aspects. Instead of working on them, we repress them. This inevitably leads to identity confusion in one’s own persona. In some cases, you begin to hate yourself. You may become depressed or even suicidal. Why? Because we are denying essential parts of ourselves. We are blocking out that which makes us whole. There is no half-assing your psyche. It is with you always and if you ignore essential pieces of yourself, what do you expect? If you don’t maintain the machine, the machine breaks.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work was pioneered by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. While not associated exclusively with magick, integrating your shadow will make you magickal endeavors more potent. This type of work has been given many names by spiritual guides over the centuries. You can find evidence of this type of work in almost every religious practice with various shades of indoctrination attached to it. When the modern mage speaks of shadow work, it is without all the detrimental and biased cultural attachments. We work free of the cage and this allows us to go deeper into the rabbit hole where the mainstream fears to tread.
What is the Shadow?
The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality. It consists primarily of primitive, negative emotion and impulses like rage, envy, greed, desire, and the pursuit of power. Anything that you deny about yourself – those things you perceive as inferior or unacceptable – become part of the shadow. In fact, your mind works in such a way as it looks for these traits in others and then judges them on it, which can lead to rocky relationships or a general disengagement from the community of humanity itself. Any and all things incompatible with our view of “good” is relegated to the dark side.
The shadow is the “disowned self.” It even includes some inherently positive qualities. The unexamined or disowned parts stay with you. While you may deny them, they are still present, and they directly affect the way you carry on in your life. They remain buried, deep in your subconscious, battling for supremacy and twisting your own personality.
You cannot kill the shadow. It is your dark brother or sister, always waiting right behind you, under the mask you have created for everyone to publically consume. Trouble will always follow the more you deny your shadow.
The Birth of the Shadow
Form the very first day we are born, we learn basic emotion – kindness, love, generosity. However, we also instinctively exhibit traits which are vital to our survival at this young age – anger, selfishness, greed. These emotions are part of the shared human experience. These are physiological needs and a general desire to belong. These needs are biological and instinctive.
As we grow older, however, something happens. Traits associated with “good” are deemed acceptable while others that are “bad” are rejected out of hand. When a child expresses the “bad,” they receive negative cues from their environment. They are admonished for thinking creatively or acting outside the norm. This reinforces the moral compass of the consensus culture and forces you into a box which dictates who you are, how you act, and your station in life.
“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” – Carl Jung
This repression, this denial of your basic, individual needs, is detrimental to your development as a mage. You must seek to minimize or eliminate this at all costs. You must do everything you can to become whole.
Ignoring the Shadow is not an option
If you disown your shadow, you will quickly find that you become your own worst enemy. Have you ever had a circumstance in your life where you reacted completely out of character, engaging in activity that you know will cause complications in your life, and you have no idea why you’ve done it? That, my friend, is your shadow making itself known.
Keep in mind that we are talking about subconscious subtext. The shadow does not need your acceptance or permission to operate. It simply does. Remaining willfully ignorant of that fact is a peril I suggest against. It’s better to face those things we dislike about ourselves, accept them, and allow them to have space in our life. The important part is to not let it overwhelm.
A thing of note you should take into account: the very attributes you find abhorrent or annoying in others are qualities that you most likely deny in yourself. In psychology, this is called projection. So, what bothers you? Make note of it because you should probably recognize it in yourself.
The benefits of doing shadow work for the mage
As a mage, or whatever other labels you prefer, you have a distinctly unique outlook on life. You are willing to see the myth within our common conceits. You’re willing to entertain the belief that there are things we can’t explain but may be able to control nonetheless. In order to effectively do that it is important to practice what I call the “Whole Human Concept.”
1. See Clearly:
Once we drop the veil of society and truly examine ourselves and others, we find clarity. You see things as they are and not how you wish they were. You will practice greater compassion and understanding for others.
Accepting the shadow means becoming the true self. This allows you to not only assess others more fairly but to also turn the eye of judgment inward. From there, you become more self-aware, making more realistic assessments of yourself and your surroundings.
2. Becoming Whole:
It’s hard to find oneself when you’re denying essential parts of your psychological makeup. Unity of mind, body, and spirit cannot be achieved without diving inward and correcting your balance first. This inner quest and its completion are a major indicator of not only becoming a mature adult but integrating both the light and the dark within.
3. Enhanced Physicality:
All the negativity you may be harboring is draining your energy. Your mind is in a constant turmoil of supression and repression that will cause fatigue and lethargy which can plague the unexamined life. This can also lead to physical pain and disease of both the body and the mind.
Merging with the shadow allows you to liberate vast amounts of energy that you are normally reserving for these pursuits. Once integrated, you may find that you have a greater inner strength and a well of energy you didn’t know existed.
4. Better Relationships:
Once you face your shadow, you can become more grounded and whole. Consequentially, you will also find that how others act will affect you less. It’ll become easier to communicate and establish boundaries. This will allow you to cope with the mundane world and have more effective, communicative relationships with other.
5. Improved Creativity:
This, personally, is the most important benefit of shadow work in my eyes. Once you have accepted that other side of you, you find that creative pursuits become much easier. The ideas flow freely and quickly. Why? You’re balanced. No longer are you fighting yourself and your focus can be placed on other aspects of life. You’re no longer encumbered by the negativity that once determined your day and your mood. You have freed yourself and, now, you have the capability of freeing others.
In the end, the war is internal.
You can gather advice from many sources on how to accomplish shadow work and integrate your various masks but, in the end, you must do the work on your own. You will find that self-realization can be a somewhat difficult road to travel but, ultimately, a rewarding one.