Recently I saw a comment challenging the idea that shadow work and ancestral work are not the same. This person’s statement was also laced with their opinion that people (as a generalization) should be focused on ancestral work instead of shadow work. I get it. There is validity in both forms of healing. But the idea that one form of healing is more valid than another is an issue. After reading this person’s comment, I felt the need to address a seemingly limited view of shadow work.
The term shadow work was created by modern psychologist Carl Jung. Naturally, if you know shadow work from the Jungian lens, you will be under the impression that shadow work is strictly a psychological practice. Obviously, this will lead you to have a limited view of shadow work. When our paradigm of a particular modality is limited, we cannot assume a stable position of understanding. A red flag has been raised when someone with a limited understanding firmly insists they know the direction others should go on their healing journey. The stance is further complicated when they insist they are correct in their understanding of shadow work as a whole, even after contrary information and evidence are presented. As a Shadow Witch and active shadow practitioner, I can’t ignore this viewpoint. But before I get too far into a rant, let me clarify.
Why is shadow work necessary? Why do we care?
The Jungian style of shadow work is excellent for resolving limiting beliefs about yourself, your abilities, strengths and helping you realize your place in this world. It’s ideal for resolving childhood messages that influence our current adult behaviors. His archetypes create an easily relatable model we can reference. The psychological form of shadow work helps us better understand these behaviors and blockages. It helps us recognize our patterns seated in narcissism, cognitive dissonance, projecting, etc.
Psychology helps us resolve our trauma. It helps us balance and resolve our self-sabotaging attitudes and habits. We do all this to live a better life and to have better relationships. We do this work so we can be happier and healthier. Shadow Work is critical because it helps us release the things that hold us back. It helps us reclaim the strengths we were shamed into hiding and ignoring. It helps us recognize our destructive behaviors, mindsets, and habits. It helps us better employ our rage, anger, and fear, transforming these aspects into a utility. Think of it as fuel for our passion and authenticity. It helps us resolve the obvious (and not so obvious) damaging and hindering dialogue in our heads. It helps us re-program ourselves so we can live a more fulfilled life using our previously denied strengths. In my work and experience, shadow work empowers us as nothing else can.
A different take on Shadow Work
Okay, back to the original purpose of this article. Here is where I hope to broaden your paradigm. The shadow is an unconscious aspect of one’s personality the ego judges, fears, or rejects to the degree that the shadow becomes detached from one’s personality. This denied and rejected part of our personality and psyche is transformed into the shadow and becomes an enemy. It is working behind the scenes to disrupt and challenge our progress. Why? Well, because it was wrongfully jailed and placed in a dark closet to forever be ignored. This was all done without a trial or explanation. This would anger anyone, so you can imagine how your shadow feels right about now. It will also be helpful to view your shadow aspect and sentient beings. After all, your shadow aspects are pieces of you.
Shadow work implies a shift of consciousness or perception. It requires you to address the aspects of yourself that are in the darkness. Shadow work is about transforming the relationship between your ego and these disowned traits. The key is to remember that your shadow aspects are tainted by judgment and fear. They have lost trust in you. Your work is to regain their trust and repair this relationship. When people talk about doing shadow work, they mainly talk about gaining insight by noticing shadow behaviors. This work only identifies shadow aspects on a surface level. “But shadow behaviors are not the Shadow itself,” explains one of my teachers of Shadow Work, Christina Pratt. “ Often, the focus is on a symptom and not the source. This means the sincere work of transformation results largely in a spiritual bypass. This relieves the conscious ego, which will not need to change after all, and leaves the Shadow Self largely intact, to undermine our conscious efforts and layout a seductive path of self-destruction yet again.”
Shadow Work is much older than Jung and his theories. Jung did the world of psychology a significant benefit with his shadow work theories, archetypes, and practices. I am grateful for the added insight Jung brings. He brought shadow work to the surface and gave it a name, allowing us to resolve the blockages that hold us back in life. But… (yes, of course, you saw the but coming.) His methods and theologies have become a clinical perspective, which doesn’t factor in the benefits of our ancestral work in the shadow. This explains our friend’s perspective when insisting that everyone should practice ancestral work instead of shadow work. Once we have a broader understanding of the shadow and shadow work, we can better understand the versatility of this work.
Shadow work can be used for psychological healing as well as ancestral healing. Our ancestors viewed the practice of shadow work from a non-clinical or linear lens. Shadow work was used by mystics, shamans, seers, and sages to deal with ancestral wounds, heal the mother line, resolve generational curses, and deal with the aspects of self that tend to get locked away due to social and cultural conditioning. Ancient shadow work involved working with spirits, deities, and guides to help navigate the shadow realm. Of course, they did not call it shadow work. They might have called it cleansing, journeying, or by another name familiar to the locale or tribe. Their work was to help heal the individual, allowing them to fully realize and utilize their unique strengths and abilities.
As a modern practitioner of shadow work, I see the value of both types. In my work, I take the mystical and shamanic forms of shadow work and meld them with the Jungian forms of shadow work. I work with ancestors, guides, guardians, crazy logic, and even deities to help repair relationships with the ego-self and shadow self. This alleviates the wound spiritual bypassing, and the overly clinical focus can create. Actual shadow work expects you to look deeply into yourself, your traumas, your ego, and your own tendency towards narcissism. It’s challenging work. It’s work that cannot be done alone. It is work that requires support within a safe space for self-reflection, emotional cleansing, and personal revelation.
When stepping into this deep inner work, we will use the tools that best suit our needs. We use tools that speak clearly to our higher selves and support that our healing process. This can mean we use journals, meditation, crystals, herbs, forest bathing, physical activity, the elements, lucid dreaming, journeying, or drumming. This work goes far beyond sitting in a therapist’s chair, spilling your guts about how you are the victim. Instead, we sit in the warrior’s flame to feel all that come up and allow the fire to burn away the blockages preventing us from healing our relationship with our shadow selves.
Our shadow is everywhere. It is in every resistance, prejudice, judgment, and victimhood we harbor. When we trap ourselves as the forever victim, our shadow is revealed. After all, within victimhood, the shadow has made a home. One of the challenges in shadow work is acknowledging our limitations and asking for help to climb out of our hole. The other is realizing that the hole we have been digging for ourselves was not ours to own.
There is an enormous benefit to discovering the key to finally resolving your blockages. There is enormous freedom in dissolving your counterproductive habits and behaviors. To heal using shadow work, the process must come from a holistic foundation. The bottom line is that shadow work is not done in the head. To be fully effective, it must engage the mind, body, spirit, emotions, and yes, the Otherworld.