Preliminary Thoughts on Shadow Work

Over the past few weeks, I have been seeing a lot of comments about shadow work in the tumblr Pagan community. From these glimpses, I had a very slight idea of what it was these people were talking about but I was interested in getting a better picture of what it was that people were doing – because I’m always interested in what other people are doing. (It stems from my massive love of tales and stories. Lives are stories that others lead and I love learning more.)

So I put the question out on tumblr asking what shadow work was and stepped away from my laptop to do a bit of laundry and take care of one or two small things. Came back to my laptop and saw that I already had a handful of replies and discussions were starting to crop up about what shadow work was and how people have done it. I was quite surprised by the fact that I had such a strong response right away; normally when I ask a question on tumblr, it takes a little bit for others to get around to it. This time, it was like it fell into my lap. (Enter clue one.)

Among the folks who answered my question was an offer to discuss shadow work with Jess, also known as GrumpyLokeanElder or HawksChild on tumblr. I have a lot of respect for Jess’s experience and knowledge, so I took him up on the offer and had a discussion with him over Skype about what shadow work is and how to do it.

Initially, I assumed that shadow work was akin to an emotional decluttering from a spiritual perspective. And while that’s not entirely wrong, it doesn’t really touch on the core of what shadow work really is. From our conversation over Skype, Jess said:

It takes the name from Jung’s concept of the shadow. Essentially, that the shadow is the pieces of ourself that we regard as broken, icky, or that we deeply dislike. We ignore it or try to kill it or cut it out of ourselves, but this is not a healthy solution. It leaves us weakened, or the shadow self festers or grows angry with the rest of us.

Shadow work is going down into the areas where you repress and hide things, facing it, and taking it by the hand to bring it up and incorporate it with the rest of you. Healing and strengthening, and accepting, and finding ways to make it work for you.

And I gotta tell you: I have a real love for Jungian archetypes.

After reading Devo‘s entries on shadow work, I began to get more of an idea of the experience of doing this. It will not be easy, this I am sure. Knowing myself as I do, I will likely take long breaks from it when it gets to be difficult and there is a strong chance that I won’t complete the Cycle, as Devo describes it. I am, however, hoping I prove myself wrong – I’m competitive enough to do so.

However, something stuck out at me while reading Devo’s posts about the Cycle and talking to Jess about the meditation that many folks do with shadow work. Their description of the Pit reminds me a lot of The Forest that I’ve described in other entries. Thinking on it, I see enough similarities to wonder if The Forest is my version of the Pit, but only time and much thought will tell.

So things were beginning to take shape in my mind as to what exactly shadow work is. I have a much better idea now and given my current emotional state(s) – for I have many – I think it would be good to start working on my own shadow work, especially since I get the feeling that I’ve been led to this over the past few years. But more details on that to come in future entries.

Further Reading

  1. The Cycle: The Pit
  2. The Cycle: The River
  3. The Cycle: Making the Halves Whole
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6 Responses to Preliminary Thoughts on Shadow Work

  1. Aubs Tea says:

    I have put off massive amounts of shadow work for years, on purpose. I didn’t have the perspective I do now to handle the pain that would have come of it. Even with all of the things I’ve worked with in regards to my ex-husband, there are still large parts that I am unable to bring up often because I’m not “over it,” so to speak. The upcoming entries I write about it should be the closing of that chapter.


    But I take massive breaks in between workings. It’s very much like working out excessively: you can do that and it’s fine for a bit, but eventually, you may kill yourself because of the overload.

    • Yeah, that sounds like a good analogy.

      Honestly though, knowing myself as I do, the best way I can put this is connect it to my experience with Kingdom Hearts: I played and played and played and then one part I couldn’t do, so I said fuck it and cast it aside for years. Then, one day, I decided “Let’s do this shit” and picked it up again, accomplished the task I had set myself, and beat the game.

      But I still haven’t beaten Kingdom Hearts II, for the same reason.

      And, actually, I’ve been seeing a lot of similarities between shadow work and Kingdom Hearts that I think I may go into in my next entry. It’s not as cheesy as it sounds, I swear.

  2. Eddie says:

    Part of my shadow work took place in a forest, fwiw. It was a distinctly morose forest and has significant implications within the place I journey and my religion, but – I think going to a forest would make sense. If I tried to do something in a pit or river I would probably go into serious shock both Over There and Here, and that would not be beneficial to the actual work.

    • I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences in your forest, if you’re willing to share. The Forest, for me, is where I ended up during the final low level of my spiritual depression a few years ago. Granted, I’m still there, but making progress. It’ll be interesting to see if this is my mind’s equivalent of the Pit that others mention. It’s a Working Place that may or may not be astral, but I’m unsure. I haven’t done a lot of active work there myself, it’s just a place I kind of fall into from time to time. I’ll have to work with it more and share my experiences here because it can be a little convoluted sometimes.

  3. Reblogged this on Studying Heathen Witch and commented:
    This is also something that I think Tiw wants me to work on, and I am terrified.

  4. Pingback: Shadow Work | The Crossroads Forest

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