Friday, January 6, 2017

[Guest Article: Emily] The Witch's Shadow: A Reflection of Shadow Work

At the beginning of the year, I asked the circle I coordinate, Circle of Fountains, if they'd each like to do a guest article based on a topic that I might not be able to cover. This is a great effort by my amazing circle to give you information that you might not otherwise encounter here at Witchy Words. The following article is written not by me but another member of Circle of Fountains, with credit and notes about its author below. Enjoy!


Note from Witchy Words: This article covers a reflection of shadow work in witchcraft.  I felt it was particularly relevant not only after my Samhain ritual but also as we start a new year.  Enjoy!

“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees; but… who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks of roses under my cypresses.”  Friedrich Neitzsche

“From the great above, she opened her ear to the great below” Innana descends into the underworld. She goes down to see her sister Erishkigal, who is mourning the death of her husband. As Innana descends, at each gate, she is stripped of a symbol of her power. By the time she reaches her sister, she enters the Underworld “naked, and bowed low."  Here, she dies, and is hung on the wall. (read the myth in full here)

This descent into the underworld is a theme seen in many myths and stories throughout the world. Orpheus went to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, which is mentioned with other examples in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. It happens in the Odyssey, the Aeneid, in Christian mythology, Norse, Egyptian, nearly every mythology has some type of story of this descent, known as Katabasis. This is a journey into the underworld (or a gradual journey down, “underworld” may not always be exactly what is used), where the one making the journey usually does so to gain something, or for a purpose. We can probably find many examples in modern literature, movies, and tv shows as well. It is everywhere, and it is worth understanding and finding, but for our purposes, we will focus on Innana, and the stripping of her symbols of power as she makes her descent.

Every one of us, whether you acknowledge it or not, has what Carl Jung referred to as the shadow self. Your shadow is the unconscious aspects of yourself that your conscious self either denies or is ignorant of. It usually consists of traits deemed undesirable by either you or your society, though not all of these are necessarily “negative” traits. The Jungian shadow is everything you are not conscious of, both positive and negative. All of us, at some point in our lives, will come face to face with at least a part of that shadow, whether by choice or by chance. How we deal with that, is what makes the difference.

As witches, we need to, at some point, encounter and work through our shadow selves. We need to do this to gain a fuller understanding of ourselves so we can gain a fuller understanding of our world and universe and make our magic stronger and more effective. In other words, it makes us better witches. Sometimes, it may take us a while to be able to truly dive into working through our shadow, but once we do, we need to recognize what we are doing and do it with purpose and intent to make ourselves better. It is also important to note that this is never a one time thing. It may happen multiple times, it may be kind of an ongoing state of balance, but it will need to be done again and again.

If you search online, you will find all kinds of articles on how to encounter and illuminate your shadow self. They will talk about creative endeavors, meditation, projection, journaling, all more than valid and wonderful ways to learn what is in your shadow and you can find a combination that works the best for you. The first step will always be illumination, knowing what is there. For some things, that may be all that’s needed, but for most things, there is more work involved.

When you dig in to work through your shadow, you go through the kind of katabasis Innana goes through. You are descending into your own darkness. Some will think of it as battling demons, some will think of it as removing masks, but as you descend, for each battle you encounter, you lose a mask, you lose something you have been holding on to as a safety, a crutch, you are stripped of all those things that symbolize who you thought you were and who you presented yourself to be. You are stripped of those things because when you meet your shadow, you do so as just you. You do so naked and bowed low, without all the trappings of power or persona or the character of yourself you put forth into the world. You meet your shadow as the most raw, real you possible. When you do so, you will be able to see what is in your shadow and begin to integrate those aspects of unconsciousness back into your consciousness.

You will find those positive traits you didn’t know you had, you will see in yourself things you admire in others and you may even find a new font of creativity. You will face fears, and you will find feelings you dislike in others. The key is not to repress them further. Know them, accept them, and see if you can find a way to utilize those things in a more positive way. For example, if you find callousness, what purpose could that serve? Why would humans need any sort of callousness? Maybe it was used as a way to distance yourself when you needed to cause pain to others, whether in battle or killing an animal to eat, that callousness was a way to be able to do what is necessary to live life. Consider times you might need to use something like this in your own life and find a way to accept that part of your shadow and be able to utilize it in those ways when needed. Same with any aspect you come across. Not all of them will be useful, and not all of them can be defeated. Some may have to stay buried for next time, but acknowledging and accepting these traits is how you illuminate your shadow and continue your journey through your darkness. It is the spark of life you find in the deepest, darkest parts of yourself that causes you to grow.

“The Devil” Tarot of the Northern Shadows by Sylvia Gainsford and Howard Rodaway

The image above is from my go-to Tarot deck. Yes it is the Devil card, but it is very much not a typical Devil card. The image actually depicts the Norse goddess Hel, but to me, when I read this card, it is about that journey of katabasis. It is about the journey of descent into darkness, stripping down everything you thought you were, and finding that spark of life in the darkest of dark places to grow from. That is a fantastic depiction of how you work with your shadow. Whether you went into that darkness by conscious choice, or were thrown into the pit by circumstances, how you deal with it makes all the difference. If you refuse to see it and simply crawl back out, you will have gained nothing, achieved nothing. If you work through it with intent, purposefully lose your masks and face yourself, you will grow.

Never be deceived that this is an easy journey to take. This is very difficult work to do, and it will take some time. How much is always dependent on you. You will need the support of those that love you, but you must realize that not everyone will be able to deal with your darkness. There will be some that can’t, and there will be some that very much can, and you will likely be surprised by some of them. If you already see a therapist, talk to them about your journey. If you don’t and think you might need one, it might be helpful. Yes, this is your journey, and your path that you must walk alone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell anyone about it. Having a support system will help you through.

Because this is a journey of descent into the underworld, the darkness, the unknown, and because you are stripped of all your baggage on the way down, eventually, this journey will begin to take you up again. I believe this can be referred to as “anabasis”, but I could not find a specific definition explaining it in this context. However, when you journey upwards again, when you begin to ascend from darkness, you do not pick up your masks along the way. You do not pick up the baggage you dropped on the way down. You no longer need any of that. You have your spark of life, your new understanding of yourself, and like a seed that begins life in the darkness underground, you will break free from that shell holding you in and begin to sprout into the sunlight. That spark of life you found within yourself is what will make you grow, and you will continue to grow and blossom until you need to explore that darkness again, until your shell becomes too small to contain your spark once again and you need to go back into darkness to break free.

In the myth of Innana, she is brought back to life, but before she ascends, she must find someone to take her place. She brings demons up with her to find a replacement. There is a great deal of detail in the story, but in the end her husband and his sister take turns with Innanas place in the underworld. I am not sure if this has as much direct correlation to shadow work, but when you leave, you still leave your shadow in the darkness. You know it now, and it is much smaller because you have integrated most of it into yourself, but it will grow again, and you will make this journey again, but you will have experience with you next time.

In the end, do the work, as difficult as it is. It is worth it and you will be a better witch, and a better person for it. I will leave you with a song I love for moving through these things. It is not an official video, and there is an explanation of Jungian concepts of Shadow in the video that may be useful as well (I am unsure of the chromosome number thing in there, that is something else entirely). Thank you, and learn to dance with your darkness.

"I used to be afraid of the dark because I thought the monsters would get me. Then one day I thought, maybe not all the monsters are bad.”   


Emily is a baker, witch and pagan going wherever her own unique winding path takes her for nearly 20 years. She works with deity, tarot, herbs and food, trying to bring magic into various creative endeavors. Emily hopes her efforts and involvement in the local pagan scene will help bring together various pieces of the community to grow and make a difference in our world.


  1. Ouch, right in the feels! Beautifully written, and the timing is spot-on. Thanks Emily! And thanks Marietta, as always, for being such a thorough, diverse, inclusive resource. <3

  2. Very nice, Emily. There is so much of ourselves we do leave in the shadows even after we've come to know them, I call it throwing it in the junk-drawer, because it is not something that is useful to me at the time, but I know where to find it if I do need it. On the other hand getting to know oneself on ever deeper levels, peeling the onion layers, looking at every line in the mirror, acknowledging what is actually there can be, as you said a process that is delved into more that one time. There are many good things, helpful things, we have yet to learn about ourselves, as well as those that can be unnerving. And to all who may read this and think "darkness" and/or "shadow" equates to evil or bad, it does not, it is simply the unknown, the room in the basement does not change at night when the light is off, it is just that there is more there that seems hidden. And if you have never gone down there in the daytime or with the light on, you have no idea what you might encounter, what you might find useful or unnecessary, startling or supportive, etc. I hope this is a first step in what becomes a bigger discussion, Em. Great topic, so much there...

    Linda Marie

    1. Exactly!! I was hoping to get some of that across for sure. I like the room in the basement analogy, that is a great way to think of it!! Especially since you don't always know what you put down there. When you start to clean it out, you can find treasures you had completely forgotten about. :)

      Thank you Linda!

    2. Well, Miss Linda, you are quite the writer yourself!! You need to write articles and such as well. Emily is so talented on so many levels and I love finding out the hidden talents and knowledge of those I count among my trusted circle!!! The article is beautifully written Emily!!!

  3. Good post, thank you. :) Will save it to refer to again.