Welcome back to Magickal Musings, the blog series in which we toss around ideas about popular witchy topics! I mention Shadow Work all the time in my blog and social media posts, in my Tarot readings to clients, and in personal conversations with friends. It is a core practice in my life, and I base most of my personal development around this concept… But a surprising number of people I talk to have no idea what it is! They’re sometimes even taken aback by it, because the word “shadow” can sound menacing, especially to those outside the magickal community who know I’m a ‘witch.’ But, trust me, shadow work is one of the MOST expansive and healthy practices you can do to walk your highest path!
If you read blogs like mine frequently, you probably already have an idea of what Shadow Work is, and might even already use it in your practice. If so, this article will be a fun little briefing on what Shadow Work means from my perspective, and will provide some fresh ideas on how to incorporate it into your life. But if you’ve been directed to this article after hearing the term “Shadow Work” for the first time, it is my wish that this post will help you to understand what people mean when they mention Shadow Work, and will hopefully spark your interest in this highly beneficial (like, crucial) personal development practice!
This is MY PERSONAL definition of Shadow Work. It is a very deep and vast subject, and it is rooted in psychological and spiritual schools of thought that I have gathered throughout my journey. I did not invent this term, and am by no means the ultimate authority on this subject. If this topic interests you, I highly recommend doing your own research. Some of my favorite sources for information about this subject are Teal Swan and Kelly-Ann Maddox on Youtube! Are you ready to jump down this rabbit hole? Okay, lets get into it!
What Is Shadow Work?
In a nutshell, shadow work is the practice of consciously taking a look at the parts of our own psyche that do not make us happy… When defined in that way, it doesn’t really sound like fun, so why are so many of us obsessed with it?
Well, in the witchy/new age/spiritual/self-development seeker community, we are well aware that our subconscious mind runs the show behind the scenes of our life. Regardless of whether or not we are actively creating an open dialogue with our subconscious mind, it is directly effecting our ability to manifest every experience we will attract. The idea is that the nature of our reality is to reflect back to us a “fun house mirror” effect of what is going on inside us.
We may think we know ourselves pretty well on a conscious level, but often we find ourselves surprised by the way we respond to unexpected situations in life. These are the times when we learn the most about who we really are at any given phase in our development. Every experience we face is an opportunity to prove our “core values” on the playing field. We can use that information to decide if we’re on track with our ideals, or if something needs to be healed within us… So when we react to a situation in a way that we are not proud of, that is a dead ringer that there is a “Shadow Aspect” at play in our subconscious mind.
Let me begin by saying this: It is okay to have Shadow Aspects! Everyone has them, and everyone will always have some sort of Shadow Aspect at any given point along their life path. That is the nature of the dualistic reality we live in. The laws of our reality are such that we can only experience the presence of something through exposure to its opposite. Our minds are conditioned to sort concepts and experiences into “good” and “bad” categories, and store them away as lessons to help us navigate the unpredictable terrain of the future. This is perfectly normal, and will always be part of our development to some extent, no matter how “enlightened” we become. The key is to learn how to separate our consciousness from our “ego” identity enough to see outside of this “good” vs. “bad” dynamic. And why would we want to do that?
Well, we learn the subconscious habit of sorting experiences into categories starting the moment we’re born (or maybe even before)! When we are very young, we cannot see the big picture of what we’re experiencing, so our perspective is limited. We often form a pattern of sorting similar types of experiences or concepts into a particular category without fully understanding why we’re seeing things that way. This can create a grand chain of events in our life that we are so deeply rooted in, that we can’t even see outside of it, like asking a fish to explain what water is. Lets use a very simple example to paint a picture of what this can look like:
Is you may know, I absolutely love animals, and even though I prefer cats, I also adore dogs, and am not afraid of them at all… But when I was VERY little and first learning how to crawl and walk, my aunt had a Doberman who was much bigger than me. According to my older family members, this dog was extremely lovable, and would not hurt a fly… But he was very excitable and (like all dogs) could not resist food. Therefore, some of my very first memories of dogs were of being knocked down by this “mean” dog, and always having my food snatched away from me! I felt that he was a mean, overbearing and terrible creature, and even have a very early memory of telling my mother that I hated and feared dogs! Fortunately, there were always dogs in my family, and I had the opportunity to learn for myself that dogs were not bad, and I came to love them as soon as I could defend my ice cream cone from their thievery…
But what if things had gone down a little differently? Suppose that rather than my mother teaching me that the dog didn’t mean any harm, and allowing me to form healthy relationships with dogs, she instead kept me away from dogs and promoted my view of them being “bad”? I probably would have grown up to hate and fear all dogs, and might even have formed a phobia about them. I might have developed into one of those people who has an irrational fear of even the most docile dogs! The Dog would have become a “shadow totem” in my life, and I would be left with the choice of either living my whole life terrified every time a dog passed me in the street, or eventually facing my fear and giving myself the opportunity to be freed from it through Shadow Work.
With that story as an example, imagine the possibilities of how dark our lives would be if no one ever looked at and responsibly re-evaluated their shadow aspects! What if it hadn’t been an animal in the story, but a person of a particular skin color, for example …I mean, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that perhaps what we’re seeing in the world right now is the result of entire groups of people letting their subconscious shadow aspects run the show! It’s clearly not a pretty picture when that happens. It is my honest opinion that it is everyone’s personal responsibility to look at our shadow aspects and do the best we possibly can to heal ourselves of those fears and misunderstandings from the inside out. That is how we can save the world, one journal entry at a time!
Now, that being said, it is not always such a big, obvious, simple example as that story about the dog. Sometimes (often times) our shadow aspects are so complex, and so deeply rooted into our subconscious belief systems that we are almost completely unaware of them.
How to Identify a Shadow Memory: Time Travel Ritual
The way to dig deeper and begin healing the more complicated shadow aspects is to observe negative patterns in our lives or in our thoughts. Any time something triggers you into a negative place, take a moment to meditate on that feeling. Sit quietly, and allow yourself to observe how you feel in a patient, non-judgmental way. See if you can identify where the feeling is located in your body. Allow yourself to feel it freely… And then, when you feel ready, ask your Higher Self to take you back to the first time you can remember feeling this way.
Often times, it will be a very early childhood memory, but some times, your mind will go to something a little more recent. Either way, try to relive that memory, and then review it from the perspective of your present self as a third party. Having the wisdom that you have now, you will be able to see aspects of the memory that were not apparent to you when you were first going through it with the limited perspective of a younger, less experienced version of yourself. Allow yourself to forgive the people involved in the memory, and take responsibility for not letting yourself remain a victim of that pattern which was formed as an unconscious result of that experience.
Be A Guardian Angel to Your Younger Self
One method that really works well for me is to visit a younger version of myself as a sort of “Guardian Angel Future Self.” For example, if I were to do a meditation to heal myself in the above example of being bullied by a greedy dog, I would take some deep breaths and ask my mind to travel back to that memory. I would observe the dog knocking me down and stealing my ice cream cone, and see my toddler self crying angrily about it. I would then step into the scene and act as a guardian angel to my younger self.
I’d pick up the child version of me, hold her, tell her everything is okay, and explain to her that the dog did not mean to hurt her. I would tell her that dogs can’t communicate the same way humans do, and they do not know their own strength. I’d tell her that one day soon, she would learn how to outsmart the dog, and that she would go on to have a lot of fun with dogs as companions in the near future. One day, she would be very thankful to have dogs in her life. Once the child felt better, I would tell her goodbye, assuring her that I’d return next time she needed me. Then, I would allow my mind to fast forward through every experience in the chain of memories that resulted from that first memory, healing and empowering myself all the way back to the present moment. I would then emerge from the meditation no longer feeling like a victim, but ready to step forward and end the negative pattern as a responsible, empowered adult.
The Next Step: (you guessed it) JOURNALING.
I suggest journaling as the answer to LIFE all the time… And no, I will not shut up about it! JOURNAL, JOURNAL, JOURNAL!!! It really is the best way to Know Thyself. If possible, go right into a journal entry immediately after coming out of your Shadow Work meditation. Write down your thoughts, feelings, memories, and resolutions. Even if you don’t yet feel fully healed from the pattern. It is very common that you’ll be doing shadow work on a particular subject for months or years at a time, so don’t ever feel obligated to resolve everything in one fell swoop. Allow yourself to spill your guts about whatever you’re feeling. Even just allowing your mind to put it into words can be surprisingly healing!
Automatic Writing Ritual
Another really powerful practice you can do in your Shadow Work sessions is Automatic Writing. This is where you set a timer and command your subconscious mind to flow out onto the pages. Specify to your Self that this session is intended to give a voice to the part of yourself that feels like a victim to the shadow situation in question. The key here is NOT to allow your conscious mind to think and decide what to write. You must keep the pen moving the entire time, and write down exactly what pops into your mind, uncensored and unedited. When the timer is up, stop immediately. Now read over what came out of you during that session. You may be surprised what your subconscious has said! It will help you to understand what your subconscious is thinking and feeling as you’re going through the experiences that trigger this shadow aspect.
…So, you’ve done the meditation, you’ve done the journaling. Now, what do you do with that information?
Healing With Mantras
How to heal from shadow patterns is always an interesting question, and there are several ways to go about it. You might even come up with your very own method that works for you as you continue to master this practice. One method I like to use is to heal with a mantra. A mantra is a short script that you can repeat to yourself whenever you feel yourself potentially reverting back down the path of a negative pattern.
Take the key words that came up in your journal entry about how the victim version of yourself feels. Now choose words that are the positive opposite of those negative feelings. Form those words into 1-3 sentences that describe how you want to feel instead. For example, if my memory about the dog made me feel weak, powerless, and taken advantage of, I could focus on the words strong, powerful, and compassionate. I could come up with a mantra that says, “I have faith in my inner strength. I claim my own power to steer the direction of my life. I am compassionate toward others, and I am compassionate toward myself.“
Take deep, slow breaths and repeat your mantra in your head or aloud for as many times as you need to in order to begin feeling calm and empowered. I find that allowing the mantra to play in the background of my mind as I’m going about my tasks can help commit it to the subconscious mind. It doesn’t even have to be at the very forefront of my mind to work. It can become a sort of ambiance that helps me to relax or fall asleep, even.
As I’ve mentioned, mantras are just one of an endless amount of healing practices you can use. I know that not everyone feels genuine when they use mantras, so if this doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to look up other ideas, or come up with your own! What’s most important is that you begin to make decisions in life that steer you out of your negative pattern and into the empowered version of yourself who is driven by love rather than fear.
Thank you so much for reading! It is my wish that everyone in learns how to benefit from this practice so that we can all heal the world, starting with ourselves! Please do share in the comments below about your experience, methods, and definition of Shadow Work! We’d love to hear from you!