Recently I had a dream. A couple of weeks before Norway went into corona semi-lockdown. I was in a bedroom, getting ready for the night, looking at my reflection in a full-size mirror with a golden filigree frame.
Suddenly I saw another version of myself, fully clothed and with a greying ponytail, reclining in a dark yellow (nearly golden) velvet armchair, slowly grinning at me. In many ways like my own personal version of Twin Peaks’ Bob.
I swiftly turned around, but the armchair in the “real” world was empty, except for my clothes that I had thrown there. The way I had thrown them made it look like someone was sitting there watching me. Satisfied that it was all a trick of the mind, I turned back to the mirror. Enter Bob, grinning as before. I turned around a second time, and this time my crumpled clothes rose, animated in a way that made them look like a deflated invisible man. I instantly started to grapple with them, growling like a lion.
The struggle woke me up, still growling under my breath. I was half-awake, and my mind started to reflect on something my girlfriend had told me. Many nights I would wake up with a startled high-pitched whine or scream, presumably from some terrible nightmare. This had started increasing in frequency the last month or so.
The few times I was aware of waking up screaming, I was never able to fully remember the terror that scared me. Lying in my bed thinking this over, I suddenly knew that this is what had happened every time.
I had been fighting with myself.
Only this time, the fight hadn’t scared or paralyzed me. I had been fighting back. It further occured to me that the bedroom of the dream was situated in the house of my grandparents (who are both long dead). Even though no such bedroom existed in their real house, I still knew it to be true. My thoughts kept spinning.
I remembered the fact that 80% of my nightmares all took place in the basement level of that house. I used to sleep there as a little kid, and it terrified me so much that I was allowed to sleep upstairs. That basement represented my deepest fears. In my liminal state an insight struck me with the force of a lightning bolt. Something the waking me had all but forgotten.
In some of those dreams, the worst of those nightmares, there is a level UNDER the basement. A chthonic cavern leading down into primordial darkness. And sometimes, when my dream self dared to walk down into that space, there was someone, someone coming for me. Someone who lived down there, someone unimaginably evil, unconquerable and powerful. Like a lich or a vampire or something even worse, someone who could devour my very soul.
I never saw this entity up close, but I could sometimes feel his (for it was a he, somehow) presence or just catch a fuzzy glimpse of him in the distance. And believe me, that was enough. It was actually so terrifying that I had never remembered my dreams about this level or the being within in the waking state, even though I had been dreaming about him all my life.
That is, until now.
Still floating partly submerged in the sea of dream, I made a decision. It was time to confront this creature, whoever he might be. Because now I was not afraid. I had to use that fearlessness. I would return to dream, go back to the basement and descend into the dark.
So, I dove under. My conscious decision made the dream lucid somehow. I knew that I was dreaming, or, actually, I believed the dream to be real to such an extent that I could influence my actions with my will. Dream and reality were no longer polarities. They were one and the same.
The basement was as I remembered it. I walked into the laundry room with its raw, grey walls and its earthy smell. I walked into the small, dark corridor where the food stuffs were kept, past the huge chalk drawing of a grinning troll’s face that my grandfather had made on the wall. The drawing that had used to scare the living daylights out of my six-year old self. The end of this corridor was shrouded in blackness. I willed myself through.
And it was dark. A void. I fell without falling. I felt fear, but it rushed through me, it didn’t stick. I willed myself on. Through nothingness. And then, in the end, I saw something far below. A circle of lit space. As I came closer, I realised I was approaching a spot of ground, surrounded by darkness. Green and gold glittering sands. So beautiful I could cry. I landed.
And then, from the dark that was darker than dark, he came. Standing on the border between light and dark. And he looked….weird. I kind of assumed he would look like an undead ghoulish wizard or a bloated fanged demon, but this? My ideas of how he would look like were superimposed on top of the actual image for a moment, until I accepted that this was his form.
And then I could see him clearly. So, let me explain. Ah. His body, or form, consisted of two very slim, elongated pyramids. Now, the top pyramid was inverted and pitch black like ebony. It represented his head. The bottom pyramid pointed upwards and had a lighter colour, like bleached sandstone. It represented his body, and looked like a robe of some kind, especially since there was a black horizontal line in this pyramid’s center, looking like a symbolic representation of a belt. The “head” had a single eye, a bright tiny shining light, reminding me of a diode or a distant star. It was placed at the point of the head pyramid where the All-Seeing-Eye of the Illuminati Pyramid would be if it were shown upside down.
He was not terrifying in the slightest. I looked at him, and at this point I had the impression of both standing in the glittering sand circle and being on all fours in my bed looking at this being standing at the foot of my bed.
Filled with wonder, I asked him: “Who are you? My Nemesis?”
“My Death? The Death of All? The Apocalypse?”
“Wait, are you my Shadow?”
At this point, two shadow wings/arms erupted from his body with wispy pointed claw fingers, and he said:
It was an act that seemed to be designed to scare, but it was also so exaggerated that it became ridiculous, and somehow I felt that that was the point.
“So what am I supposed to do with you?” I asked, “Should I integrate you?”. I mean, that’s what everyone is talking about in spiritual circles these days.
Really? “So what, make peace with you?”
“No” He paused. Then:
“You have to fight me, Bitch!”
Well, okay then. At this point I was only aware of the me on the bed on all fours. I started to crawl towards him at the end of the bed, again snarling and feeling like a lion. But as I approached him, my power seemed to leak out of me. It felt like trying to cross the field of two magnets rejecting each other.
Then I saw a fan of black energy leaking out of my back at the level of my waist, sharply delineated, looking like three fifths of a discus or vinyl record surgically fused to the back of my hip bones. My Shadow spoke:
“This is your resignation, your despair, your hopelessness, your wish to escape the world. This is what’s holding you back. I am There. This is Me. This is what you must fight.”
The words were spoken with something akin to love, or at least a grain of care. They were not unkind. Then the image of my Shadow dissolved and I saw the tapestry of the wall behind him. The centerpiece was a cartoonish Disney-style depiction of a lion cub in the middle of a kung fu jump. Yellow inverted triangles were shooting out all around him. It felt glorious and powerful.
I lay down in bed, still growling with a sense of contentment. What will my girlfriend say about all these noises, I thought. She put her head on my chest. Wait a minute – that’s my ex! I realised I was still dreaming.
I woke up.
The Shadow Archetype
So what is the Shadow, exactly? Jung described it as one of humanity’s archetypes – the darker aspects of ourselves repressed and found unworthy by the conscious mind.
Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.
“Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
I have always been fascinated by the Shadow, even before I knew of the existence of the archetype. As a young man, I realised that if a war or a crisis of similar magnitude was to break out, I was just as likely as anyone else to become a monster, a murderer, a rapist. What happens in a war is that the normal norms are dissolved and the rules that keeps our unconscious darkness in check disappear. History is full of people seeing themselves as “good” turning to “evil” when flimsy concepts such as “society” and “civilization” collapse. The repressed Shadow that has been denied for so long is given free reign and takes over.
The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces.
Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.25
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
“The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335
Upon realising this, I made it my life path to make the “unconscious conscious”. I needed to face the darkness, understand it, embrace it. To become whole.
I read a parable once. A human being is like a piece of rope, it said. The top half is light, the bottom half is darkness. Imagine not wanting the darker aspects and cutting off the bottom half. You would be left with 50% of the original rope. But still, half of it would be light, half of it would be darkness. Imagine continuing this procedure over and over, continuously repressing and amputating the darker aspects. In the end, the entire range of your being would be no more than a tiny piece of string.
Another parable I have cherished speaks of a human being as a cup or grail. Starting out, the cup is extremely shallow, almost fully solid with the slightest dent up top. Then life brings grief. Grief, like water, erodes the cup, making it deeper and deeper. But the deeper the cup, the more joy it can hold. So grief and joy are playmates, necessary for one another.
The Collective Shadow
In my last article “Corona of Fear. Corona of Love” I wrote about different mythical frameworks to understand and make sense of this ongoing crisis. And how all of them could be interpreted either through a corona of fear or love. Here’s another thought.
It is one thing to confront and deal with your shadow as an individual. But when a situation occurs forcing humanity to deal with its collective shadow? That’s another ball game. We have been leading up to this for some time. The darkness we have repressed and tried to ignore, to hide, to obscure, to project onto other professions, classes, races, genders, sexualities, cultures, religions, whathaveyou for milennia, making Us “Good” and Them “Evil” is starting to seep out of the cracks. We want to be perfect and good and pure, but that’s impossible. Because the Universe is not perfect and good and pure. The Universe Is. It is Everything. It is good and evil intertwined. It is both Divine and Infernal. Simultaneously.
The classical “Problem of Evil” of religion is redundant. It is a product of dualism and a division between Mind and Body that has also led to the division of Nature and Culture, putting us in the mess we are in right now with regards to our exploitation of the Earth. Within this dichotomy, Nature became Evil and Civilization became Good. Our baser desires, the bottom half of our bodies, became Evil and the Rational mind became Good. We have created Good and Evil by polarizing ourselves and repressing half of what we are, because our minds, our Logos, see it as Chaos.
But we can’t do that anymore. Our Shadow is rising, like a black serpent from the depths of time. It will be our enemy as long as we don’t own it. As long as we call this “a foreign virus”, as long as we blame others for our mishaps, yes, even as long as we judge other people for buying a veritable treasure hoard of toilet paper, thereby making them “Bad” and us “Good”, we are refusing the Shadow’s Call within.
I judge. Every day. I act selfishly. I think badly of others. I have wounds within my soul that are yet to heal and which can make me rage and burn with anger and resentment if they are scrutinized too closely by others. I am not perfect. No one is.
This is a time for us all to own it. All of it. To face our Shadow, both individually and collectively, to spar with it until we see ourselves more clearly. To rest and see ourselves and everyone with Empathy instead of protecting our own idea of ourselves as “Good” by making them “Bad”.
We are. The world is. That’s it.
Happy Shadow Work, Bitches.