What is Shadow Work?
And why is it so popular, right now?
I do not claim to be an expert on (nor own) Shadow Work. I am a human being confronting my own Shadows and using that practice to break generational cycles. In sharing my stories, I hope to teach you about Shadow Work and what it looks like for me.
Keep in mind that Shadow work is not just a buzzword. It is a real magickal practice that is probably as old as the Shadows themselves. Throughout history, there have been many great Shadow Workers and healers. One of them more famous than the rest (I’ll speak on them, later).
Most of them are nameless faces. Old women and men living in huts at the end of a holler; taking in the broken and the damned; eating their shadows and giving them back to the world more whole than they were before.AC Rodriguez
Women like my grandmother and my grandmother’s grandmother.
Those people are here in spirit as we do this work, and we honor them in doing so.
May we use the groundwork they have laid to heal their resting spirits and help us to create a more kind and complete society for the ones who come after us.
My Own Definitions and Experience
Throughout our lives, we break ourselves into little pieces. Most of the time, it happens in early childhood as we’re still developing our identities and figuring out the world around us.
Those little pieces often become whole personas themselves and as we experience the world through those identities, we are deciding which parts to keep in the light.
Shit, sounds a lot like that move Split, doesn’t it? I really hadn’t noticed that until now.
Anyway…some of us are more broken than others and so we have more of those pieces. Some of us just really like identity play and/or have no idea who we are and so they we have a lot more of those pieces, as well.
Whatever the case, these little pieces live inside of us all. Our goal is to put the pieces together and become a whole, complete and true person. We are working to get to our cores, find out who we are and figure out how those ALL of these pieces fit into our collective selves.
But, why is it called Shadow Work?
Now, the problem is that some of these pieces have become Shadows and so they’re hard to integrate back into ourselves. These pieces are hard to look at or are just completely unknown to us and so they lurk deep down inside, hiding in the nooks and crannies of the darkest places of our souls. They come out to play in our daily lives; sometimes wreaking havoc on our relationships, security, peace and serenity (okay, a lot of times that’s the case).
Shadows related to trauma, generational abuse/cycles, or really heavy experiences tend to be darker and pushed further within us. The longer we push a shadow down (repress it or ignore it), the darker it gets.
Remember, this is a journey to the core of ourselves. The longer you do shadow work, the deeper you’ll go into the abyss and that’s where you’ll meet your darkest shadows. This is where therapy comes in. More on that, here.
The actual hands-on practice of Shadow Work often includes the following:
- Identifying the shadow/shadows
- Pulling them into the light and looking at them
- Taking time to get to know the shadow and giving them what they want/need
Once we know our Shadows, we can begin the work of deconstructing, healing and integrating them. It sounds scary but it’s kind of cool, right? Shadow Work gives us control over our identities, our reactions and our lives.
Shadow Work also gives us the opportunity to break the chains that bind us and is the best tool that I know of for deconstructing our ancestry and breaking generational cycles.
That is why it’s a trending hashtag, right now. We’re in a time and space of rebirth and renewal. A Rennaissance, if you will. Before we can step into that, we have to do the collective work assigned to us.
We have to integrate our shadows and (unfortunately), the Shadows of our ancestors. I could go on and on and on about how this relates to what’s going on in our society right now but more on that, later.
How can I do the work?
That’s not an easy answer and it’s not a one size fits all practice. A lot of people need help. Whether you do the work with a Shadow Healer or a therapist (I suggest using both), give yourself grace to get it wrong at first. You will need to find what works for you.
I will expand upon my own work over time, but the basic gist is that I do the work by telling stories. Words have always been sacred and magickal to me. So, I find my shadows and put them on paper. Sometimes they become characters and their stories flow through me like the tide coming home to the shores of my soul.
Sometimes they are shy little things and I grasp at them line by line. These are my darkest shadows and the stories that take the longest to tell.
Obviously, that doesn’t work for everyone because not everyone is a writer or even a journaler (not a word but I like it so I’m keeping it). Some people don’t even resonate with words so why waste your time trying to do something that’s not going to work for you?
I’ve seen people draw pictures; giving their shadows faces. From there, they will be able to get to know them and deconstruct/integrate them.
I’ve seen the work through tarot and other divination tools; through just talking it out with another human being; meditative journeying and spirit quests. There are probably as many ways to do the work as there are stars in the sky, to be honest. Just work with someone and/or find something that works for you.
Do you provide Shadow Healing Services?
Meh. Kind of. Yes and no.
I know that’s not a straightforward answer, but I do it so naturally that I tend to unknowingly help people with their shadows. If you’ve had a deep enough conversation with me, we’ve probably discussed Shadows in one way or another.
What I don’t have is a formal practice or space to practice in, yet.
Right now, I’m strengthening my Automatic Writing skills and eventually want to start offering those type of services. Kind of a ‘show me your shadows and I’ll write their stories’ kind of deal.
I do know a whole network of great divinators, healers and practitioners of most kinds so if you want a bit of that, just reach out to me and I can hook you up!
Banishing the Shadows
You notice that I’m not talking about Banishing Shadows, here. That’s one thing we are not going to do! Once again, for the ones in the back:
It’s actually just the opposite. We’re bringing them into ourselves and in doing this, we claim their power. Trying to banish or block them only makes them stronger/darker and gives them more power over you.
A Little History and Science
Magick is science at its core. That’s not all it is but that is where the roots lie and most magickal pathways lead back to some scientific basis. ANYWAY….I thought we should break down the science behind the practice. I will admit that I have based my entire practice of Shadow Work thus far on feeling and knowing in an intuitive way (as I do most of my magick). So, diving into the history and science of it is a new journey for me.
I’m glad you’re here with me; along for that ride.
Our lord and Savior Carl Jung was one of the first known psychologists to start integrating the “shadow self” into therapeutic work. He is often credited to have created the term Shadow Work but actual trusted resources on the matter are sparce.
Here is the best quote I could (quickly) find from Jung about Shadow Work:
The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period.(From Aion: Phenomenology of the Self published in The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell, Penguin Books, 1976, p. 145.)
That sentiment kind of leads me into 12 Step Recovery Programs (also influenced by Jung) but I won’t get into that, here (and I may not ever, publicly).
Jung also did a lot of interesting work on archetypes and is the founder of analytical psychology. He’s a pretty rad guy, if you don’t know him yet.
The point is that there is a scientific basis to Shadow Work. It’s not some woo woo, made up nonesense.
Some Internet meme with an unknown author said it best.
Attachment based, Trauma Informed and Cognitive Behavior therapies are all examples of psychological practices that use certain aspects of Shadow Working principles.
Although it’s interesting and important to understand the correlation between the two, therapeutic settings can feel sterilized (because they’re very analytical). Working with a Spiritual Shadow Healer is a completely different experience.
I will say it now and probably a million times.
I recommend paring these approaches and working with both a Shadow Healer and a licensed, trained therapist at the same time.
Check back often as I will undoubtedly expand on this basic summary over time (here and in my posting).