Friday, November 22, 2019

[Shadow Work Series] An Introduction to Shadow Work: A Brief Overview


Shadow work.

The mere name has that kitschy, creepy factor many witches adore, conjuring images of Hekate and demons, of the Wild Hunt and the Witch's Sabbath.  But what exactly is it?  How does shadow work help us grow?  And how can we incorporate it into our practice?

For years, I have talked about the dangers of the "love and light" movement.  Toxic positivity forces you into a corner where you must hide away or deny aspects of your personality that don't fit into a narrow box of perpetual happiness.  When you cram yourself into that box, you cannot grow beyond it.  Instead, you're confined to its small four walls, stuck only with the few superficial aspects of yourself that you and those around you may deem "fit for consumption."  Instead of healing, your wounds will only grow deeper and, eventually, you will have to tend to them by breaking free of that box.

Instead, I like to work with, not against, what hides away from the light - and I can do that through shadow work.


Shadow work is actually not unique to witchcraft.  The concept was adopted from the work of Carl Jung, whose psychology-meets-spiritualism includes the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the concepts of being extroverted or introverted.  As such, shadow work is a means of transformation through introspection and self-work.  This involves us turning inward and getting to know our not-so-pleasant aspects, coming to terms with the whole of who we are, and integrating them for further self-awareness.  Shadow work is akin to finding the missing pieces of a puzzle and arranging them with purpose and thought to create a fuller picture of who you truly are.

There's a reason many relate shadow work to facing your inner demons.  Shadow work is uncomfortable and difficult.  If it's not, you're not doing it right.  It can be terrifying to face the aspects of ourselves we'd prefer to deny, to turn into them rather than turning away.  Many of us find it much easier to see another's shadow than our own and will go to great lengths, subconsciously or consciously, to protect our self-image by denying our own faults.  This judgemental piece of ourselves that actively seeks out another's faults while ignoring our own is our unattended shadow possessing us.  When we learn to take control of it, we learn to be whole.

For some, the process of shadow work is a natural evolution as they mature throughout their life  People who enjoy working on themselves, journaling to better understand their inner voice, and those who have an appreciation for self-acceptance have likely already done some shadow work on their own.  Others are catapulted into shadow work through a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or home.  In these moments where we lack clarity in the outside world, we look at ourselves to see what needs to change, to find that clarity within.  Unfortunately, this type of forced shadow work is particularly difficult and can often backfire.

For those who are interested in shadow work, the best option may be to approach it on your own terms: During a time of safety, when you feel stable and strong enough, and when traumatic events aren't going to breach your sense of security.  If you are unsure, I would strongly advise checking in with a mental health professional before beginning your descent.


Throughout this series, we will explore the world of the shadow together.  First, we'll talk about Freud and Carl Jung's creation of the shadow - then, we'll dive right into exactly what that shadow is and what it does.  I'll discuss the purpose of shadow work so that you can envision an end-goal for each of your shadows.  Then we'll get to it with preparation, common ways of approaching shadow work, shadow work in witchcraft specifically, and self-care.  Finally, I'll talk about incorporating and working with your shadows.  Throughout this series, I  will offer small exercises, practices, and rituals along the way to help you in your journey.

In the end, the purpose of shadow work is to bring about an acute sense of self-awareness. This process will unmask many shadows we've created throughout our lives and will be a lifelong journey as we continue to create even more.  You will never "finish" with shadow work because self-reflection is never truly over.  That being said, when approached properly, lifelong shadow work leads to the kind of authenticity we so desire in our practices as witches.


Exercise One
Begin a shadow work journal!
Choose a journal in which you can begin your descent into the shadow realm. This can be anything from a spiral notebook to a store-bought hardbound journal to a plain 3-ring binder.  If you’re the crafty sort, you can decorate the cover with calming, happy, or empowering pictures, herbs, or scents.  On the very first page, make a list of things you’re grateful for – blessings in your life.  Revisit this page when needed as we go through the next exercises.



NEXT
The History of the Shadow: Carl Jung and the Psychologization of Religion (Dec 20)
What is the Shadow Self? Traits of Ignoring the Subconscious (Jan 10)
The Purpose of Shadow Work: 10 Benefits for the Witch (Mar 20)
Preparing to Meet Your Shadow Self: A Word of Warning (Apr 10)
Self-Care in Shadow Work: Managing the Difficulties of Discomfort (Jun 12)
Standard Approaches to Shadow Work: How the Rest of the World Does It (Aug 14)
Shadow Work and Witchcraft: Incorporating Shadow Work into Ritual and Practice (Sep 25)
Shadow Work: A Ritual of Self-Awareness and Transformation (Oct 23)
Individuation and Utilizing the Shadow: How to Move Forward (Dec 4, 2020)

6 comments:

  1. The timing of this couldn't be better; looking forward to this!

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  2. I've been delving into shadow work recently and it's just so good! So excited for this series! <3

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    1. Thank you! So am I! It's really evolved from what I originally thought it would be - from being less articles and more personal information to a heavily researched, informative, and interactive series. I'm pretty proud of it!

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  3. I've been hearing a lot about shadow work during the past year and I've been slowly trying to work on my mental health and self image for quite some time. Maybe this will be helpful!

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    1. Shadow work is such a common key phrase in witchcraft anymore because it's got that right witchy, edgy sound. It's involved but, given that you're at the right place mentally and emotionally, greatly helpful. I hope the series will prove useful as you move forward!

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