THE SHADOW KNOWS
by Evelyn Henry
All of our lives we are taught to fear the dark. From childhood
we are taught to stay out of dark places. We stereotype dark skinned people
as "bad". The bad guys wear black hats. Dark bars and night hangouts
are considered "seamy." The arch-fiend of Christianity is the
"Prince of Darkness," the opposite of all that is light and good.
We are taught this is what we should strive for -- always toward the light,
away from the darkness, which is bad.
But is it? If it is, why is darkness present in the world? Could it be that
the dark side represents something we need?
If you subscribe to the theory that nature provides what we need for wholeness,
would that not include the dark side? Observance of the polarity in nature
reveals that fact. Each day has a night. The moon has a light and a dark
side. The seasons change each year from long, light-filled summer days,
to long, dark winter nights. Night is the time to refuel our energies. Winter
is the time when the Earth retreats into herself to recoup her energies.
Animals take advantage of this time to do the same, retreating into dark
caves and underground burrows in hibernation.
In each of these instances, the dark side is present with a place and time
for rest and renewal. Does it not follow then that we, with our animal natures,
also need the darkness -- even the dark side of ourselves we sometimes call
our "shadow" selves?
Why, then, do we deny it -- shut it out of our lives?
The topic of our shadow selves seems to be getting more media attention.
The hit movie "The Shadow," was based on the old radio show of
the same name, which opened and closed with the line "Who knows what
evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows." In a grisly opening
murder scene, the movie vividly illustrated why the Shadow knew this --
because he had experienced his dark side. He had seen and done every conceivable
bad thing in his world, including murder, promiscuous sex, drugs. The Shadow's
experiences also opened up his telepathic ability; he was able to know and
see inside the heart of the criminal, to be able to head off the evil before
it harmed anyone else. Knowing and experiencing his dark side created in
him an understanding others did not have.
Books and articles on the "Dark Goddess" aspect of our lives have
also begun to appear more frequently. "Dancing in the Flames: The Dark
Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness by Marion Woodman and Elinor
Dickson, tells how "...the dark, earthy and immensely powerful dark
goddess has "...been a key force in world history.
Two other books: "The Dark Goddess: Dancing With the Shadow,"
by Marcia Starck and Gynne Stern, and "Mysteries of the Dark Moon"
by Demetra George, also talk about the shadow side of human nature. Personifications
of this darkness include myths of Lilith
, Innana, Sekhmet, Pele, and Medusa.
These goddesses represent aspects of human nature we are
often taught to repress. As a consequence, psychotherapy has become a booming
business over the years. Psychological studies have shown that repressed
emotions and feelings tend to surface, sooner or later. And often, like
pressure building under a volcano, they explode -- sometimes violently.
This is because we have been taught in our traditional Judeo-Christian society
to deny the dark side. We are to be all sweetness and light. We are not
to show anger, not demonstrate our sexuality, not show a broad range of
emotions, be calm, centered, always a good parent, and is, above all, we
must look good according to society's standards.
How can working with the "dark side" help here? Again I submit
that if you believe darkness is a given part of our nature, then denying
what is meant to be a part of our lives can leave us unbalanced, less than
whole. Everyone knows someone who has gone to extremes in their lifestyle
or belief system; the pendulum swing from angel to devil -- from atheist
to zealot. When all around us is evidence of polarity in the wholeness of
nature, denying our other half can be neurotic folly.
When we look deep into our souls, examine our innermost spirit, most of
us will readily admit that we are not all goodness and light. We all hide
things we would rather not recognize, much less let others see. Those are
the things society has told us are bad. They are bad because our society
has no way of integrating them into normal life. Therefore, we relegate
them to the dark. Anything dark is also associated with death, which is
the ultimate "bad" thing. However, in many societies death is
not considered bad. It's considered a gateway to life, a part of a cycle,
a circle that never stops. Taoism with its Yin and Yang symbol, representing
light within dark, is an example. Tarot, with it,s "Death card, which
stands for "Transformation, is another.
The dark goddesses are products of ancient societies that recognized death
and darkness as a part of the whole. "The Dark Goddess: Dancing with
the Shadow," begins with Lilith
, a goddess
first mentioned in 2400 B.C. who was Eve's predecessor. Lilith was Adam's
wife before Eve. She was strong, sensual, sexual, independent, with a mind
of her own.
The myth tells that Adam wanted her to lie beneath him in order to create
offspring. Lilith would hear none of it. Both she and Adam were created
from the same dust, and she saw no reason they should not be equal. She
became angry and flew away to the Red Sea where she engaged in "unbridled
promiscuity," bearing over a hundred demon children a day. The Kabbalah
describes her as a seductress. In the Sumerian culture, she was Inanna's
handmaiden, bringing men from the streets to the temple prostitutes.
Lilith represents several things women have long repressed -- freedom, independence,
and sexuality -- the "Wild Woman." Society has told us that these
traits are to be quashed if we're to be considered "good." Men,
on the other hand, have been given a level of freedom, independence where
their sexuality was not considered bad if expressed, even wildly ("Boys
will be boys, you know").
Women seeking to become more independent and not be afraid of their freedom
or their sexuality would do well to meditate on Lilith, who represents the
dark "other side of femininity - that of strong open emotions and desires,
and the fearlessness of displaying them. Woodman and Dickson,s take on this
is "The feminine leads us to the sharp edge of experience. There we
have to feel our feelings in our bodies; there our secrets become visible
in the darkened, unvisited corners of our psyches. Only then, when we start
to heal the split - to bring dark into the light and light into the dark,
can we begin the journey towards transformation to wholeness.
Transformation can be a frightening experience, especially when it comes
to motherhood. We are taught that when we become a mother, we are supposed
to be the rock solid foundation of our children's lives. The Good Mother
is an angel incarnate: supportive, kind, cheerful, good cook, neat dresser,
humble, sweet, and nurturing at all times.
Was your mother always like that? If you are a mother now, are you always
like that? It's a rare woman who is. Because of this unreal and distorted
mother image, many women (and men) are today choosing not to be parents
because they feel they cannot live up to this icon of rectitude. Women (and
men) who hold these idealistic beliefs about motherhood are often shaken
to the core the first time when they feel emotions other than perfect love
for their children. These intense feelings -- grief, anger, fear, despair
-- engendered by the everyday tasks of mothering, are rarely talked about;
but they are feelings that can shake women (and men) to the roots of their
being and cause them to doubt their parental abilities.
We have nothing in our society that recognizes or validates such feelings.
In contrast, Hindu societies venerate Kali
Mother-Goddess of creation, preservation and destruction. Kali appeared
on the scene about 400 A.D. Kali is the "hungry sow who devours her
young," the image of the "terrible mother," who gives life
as well as takes it away. She is connected with the cycles of the moon,
and womens' menstrual cycles, nature at her most fundamental cyclic best,
which regularly demonstrates creation and destruction, light and dark.
Kali's destructive side speaks to mothers clearly, not only about the roller
coaster emotions and frustrations involved with child rearing, but in knowing
that a mother has the power to mold a child in their early years in order
to make the child fit into society. This may mean that some part of the
child will be "killed" in the process.
Starck and Stern compare this to gardening by stating "The good gardener
weeds out extra seedlings; so must a good mother weed out unwanted traits
in her children. Often this 'weeding' kills some part of the child's creativity
or spontaneity. The mother who is afraid for her child's safety will curtail
her or his adventurous spirit; the mother who is worried about her own image
and that of her family will try to mold her child into a person whose behavior
is accepted by the community in which they live."
If this could be done painlessly, life would be easy, and none of us would
harbor any bad memories of our mothers. Instead, many of us remember swearing
"I'll never do this to my kids," after a fight with mom, yet find
ourselves doing just that thing as adults. Sadly, many of us also vividly
remember mothers who were vicious, cruel, perhaps alcoholic, who left deep
and lasting mental, emotional and maybe even physical scars.
It is just this type of mother image that Kali represents. Starck and Stern
say "Kali-Ma, the Dark Mother, holds the two edge sword; she has the
power to slay the demons as well as the ability to be compassionate. At
a certain point it becomes necessary to take Kali's sword and cut through
the illusions that protect us from seeing and acting on the truth."
Kali and Lilith are only two of the goddesses that represent the dark side
of nature. Pele, Hawaiian volcano goddess, teaches us to recognize and deal
Innana and her journey through the underworld can teach us that depression
and hard times can be cyclic (especially for women), and that there is enlightenment
and wholeness to be gained by coming through the darkness.
Medusa teaches us to accept our flaws, and to ignore society's obsession
for physical perfection.Meditation with Sekhmet can help us recognize the
validity of our feelings. Hecate can help us make choices and accept change.
One of the best examples of exploring the dark side comes from a classic
fantasy movie "The Wizard of Oz." Dorothy is the product of an
upright Christian family -- people who never speak harshly or think dark
thoughts about anyone. Dorothy is bored with her life, she wants more. She's
told she must not demonstrate her anger and hate for Miss Gulch, who confiscates
her beloved dog, Toto.
In order for Dorothy to come to the conclusion she reaches at the end of
the movie, she must journey through the dark. This is represented several
times in the movie; the tornado, the dark haunted forest, the dark castle
atop the dark mountain, facing and overcoming her many fears to obtain the
witch's broom. Both light and dark mythical goddess figures are evident
in the movie from the beginning -- the Good Witch of the North (which represents
the good earth), and the Wicked Witch of the West (representing the setting
sun -- death). In the end, Dorothy realizes that her power lies within her,
she never needed to leave home to find it at all. Through her journey through
the dark, she became whole.
But none of these goddesses can help at all if we don't accept the fact
that the dark side, our "shadow selves" is a necessary part of
a whole and complete life. To do this, we must face the darkest innermost
hidden parts of ourselves. It's not easy. Everything we've been taught rebels
The first time you try it, your heart may pound. You may be experience fear
or revulsion. You may fail. However, you will have made an in-road for later
exploration, should you become stronger, to make another attempt.
How do you start?
Don't tackle everything at once. Choose one thing at a time. Make a list.
What, to you, represents your dark side? What do you not want the world
to know about yourself? Your list might include:
- I sometimes scream at my kids and want to hit or beat them.
- I want more sex than my husband can give me. That's not normal, is it?
- I hate my mother. She always tries to dominate me.
- I want to explore occult/New Age religions, but I'm afraid to.
- I hate my body. I'm afraid of becoming fat/old.
- I don't like my church/religion, but I'm afraid to leave it.
Then what? First of all, make this statement. Say "Yes! This darkness
is a part of me. These are my feelings. This is who I am -- a woman who
is not perfect. I am light. I am dark. Within myself, I am whole. I am the
Goddess' perfect child."
There are other things you can do. If you can, find some like-minded people
-- a support group. Finding others who have the same fears as you can give
you the courage to challenge those fears, and the support you need while
working through them. This is not as hard or impossible as it may sound.
It's a general rule of nature that once you begin putting energy in a certain
direction, what you need will manifest in time.
Give yourself time every day to think about the specific problem/challenge.
Set aside a certain time to write down your feelings about what you've chosen
to focus on. What does "darkness" mean to you? Free associate
-- don't hold anything back -- absolutely nothing. Don't let your "internal
editor" stop you for anything. Put it away for a while. Go back later
and analyze it. Internalize it. Then, write about how you feel about what
you've read. Is it as bad as you thought?
Construct a special space or altar that contains things that represent your
dark side. If you cannot find a statue of the dark goddess you have chosen,
perhaps a black or red candle, a dark stone, animal bones, a container of
dust and dirt, a snake icon, a picture of a spider, a globe to represent
the moon, use your imagination. Meditate on each object separately. What
do they represent to you? Are they inherently bad? Why are they considered
On my personal altar, I have a black goddess on the left in a very sensual
and sexual pose; a white pregnant goddess on the right in a kneeling and
subservient position; and a small statue of the proud Venus
in the middle. This arrangement, to me, best represents
the integration of my light and dark sides.
Finally, if you are free to do so, and you have the courage and temerity
to flaunt the rules, you may consider making an actual foray into your dark
side. If you can do so safely, in a detached manner, and consider it "research"
into a problem you're trying to solve, you may find it more beneficial to
undergo the actual experience of the thing you fear, rather than merely
intellectual cogitation. Throw caution to the wind and start a study of
magic or the Tarot. Take a class on sexuality to help understand this most
basic human, natural drive. Question your religious doctrine -- you may
find it is no longer helping you grow, or you may find a deeper study makes
you grow strong.I don't recommend this for everyone, only those mature and
objective enough to know how far to go into the experiment without harm
to body or psyche of anyone concerned.
My own experience with the dark goddesses has taken me down a path of several
goddess myths and stories. I have struggled with and overcome an inferiority
complex over body image (Medusa). Most recently, I have been working with
Lilith, trying to incorporate her (heretofore forbidden) drive for freedom
of expression and assertion of sexuality into my thinking and lifestyle.
I look forward to working with Hecate, the Crone of Wisdom, when the time
comes. I'm enjoying every minute of it; the feeling is like an opening flower.
Each instance brings new light into my life, as well as a greater feeling
Polarity is undeniably a part of this world. The dark side is all around
us, everywhere we look, in everything we experience. As the Christian Bible
says "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under
heaven." It follows by simple observation that all seasons are not
right for all things; some are to be put aside, hidden, taken from the light
into the dark for a time. Yet they remain a part of everything, a part of
the whole, resting until the time in the great cycle to appear again.
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