Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Shadow Within

An excellent list of criteria questions for a student who was considering studying with a new teacher appeared in my online group the other day. One question especially struck me: Has this person met and faced his/her own demons and Shadow somewhat? Or will s/he see them in every student who comes along?

Having been burned within the Wiccan community by unstable Priests and Priestesses, this question really hit close to home. Before I go on to address it, however, I want to define the shadow as described by Dr Carl Jung. He identified the Shadow is an universal archetype. Jung believed that the shadow is the unconscious, the repressed inner self , or that which is undeveloped and denied. The shadow may have both dark and light aspects, being the parts of self which we abhore, or that part of self which exists as potential; that is, the shadow self can be destructive or creative. Self awareness means confronting the shadow, which often becomes mirrored in the people we attract.

For me, the woundess of being an unwanted child, abandoned by my biologoical father and raised by my mentally ill mother, played out again and again in the people I choose to teach me the Craft (authority figures). My battered and damaged sexual self played out again and again in serially monogamous marriages and in my first teacher. Fortunately, the sexual aspect ended with my first teacher. His wife was ill with liver cancer and was dying. I completed all of the classes, challenged for initation, and when the ceremony was being planned, I told my teacher I could not initiate in his tradition. The teacher needed a priestess for his new coven, and I knew I was not ready. I also recognized his vulnerability with his wife's illness and did not want to sleep with him. Saying no to that coven, after training for an entire year, and beginning all over again somewhere else was hard.

During that time, I was in a relationship at that time with a man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with dissassociate episodes. He had been in seminary before I met him, and knew I was studying Wicca. About a year after we moved in together he expressed interest and went with me to meet Lady A and Lord A. Unfortunately, Lady A also was bipolar, unmedicated and was in a car accident that nearly took her life. Her reason and judgement never recovered from the trauma. My ex began "playing" her shadow side. Eventually he turned her against me. He went off his medication, with her approval, paid their bills (money is power) rather than ours, and eventually alienated everyone from me.

My next priestess also turned out to be bipolar. By th end of my relationship with her, she was so much like my mother it was spooky. I definately projected on her, and vice a versa. Following my first degree initation, that relationship turned into an incredibly spiritually abusive and damaging relationship as well. Following a spiritual crisis, that Priestess removed herself from the Wiccan community. My next priestess, though without an official diagnosis, had a similar spiritual crisis. She forgot she was to conduct my second degree intiation and just did not show up for circle or tell anyone.

Given this history, I have spent a great deal of time tearing apart the past, examining my responsibility for the things that happened, looking at my authority issues and complicitness when I did not heed my inner wisdom. When I read the question about the priest/priestess' projection on me, however, I stopped short. I've spent so much time taking responsibility for my own actions that I had not fully considered the projections of them onto me. It seems certain, upon reflection, that much of the damage I carry from previous priests and priestess comes from their failure to work through their shadow selves. In some way, I became a reflection for them of that which they refused to face. With the intervening years, I've come to see their woundedness and how I filled a need for them to play out their old issues. I can't help wondering if this question of the priest or priestess working out their shadow with me, if I might have found different teachers.


  1. Wow...good post! I think it is both...if everyone has this "shadow", and I think we do, then naturally those of us who are working out our shadow selves, or haven't as may be the case, are going to find that our shadows collide with others on our journeys. In the case of your first degree Priestess, she is working on hers...and the Second Degree Priestess who did not show up for your innitiation has done the same thing - she left Wicca all together. Also, keep in mind I think Geography plays a part in this too. We live in an area DOMINATED by Christianity in its most virilantly conservative form...conversely, the pagan community in this area is wounded, damaged and struggling under that scenario. What would your experience have been like out on the West coast, if say, you had found one of Starhawks Reclaiming groups with healthy stable teachers? They could have guided your journey in a much more stable positive fashion. In fact, if the Priestesses and Priest you mention had had stable mentorship, they might have been stable themselves when you came a long and dealt with their shadow selves sooner than they did, and not been so vulnerable to the dynamics that played out. The fates of some of the people you mentioned remain unknown...but at least two of them have grown and made healthy choices and change - as have you! That takes incredible courage. You are amazing to me, and I am very very proud of you! Very insightful post. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Or was it that you needed to be hit over the head with the oak branch about dealing with your own Shadows?

    As part of your current path to becoming a therapist, you've worked hard on dealing with your Shadows, but look what you've had to go through to get here.

    As we've discussed before, many times we see our own lessons reflected in the actions of those around us. I feel like you've chosen this lesson before but never quite gotten the whole lesson. I don't think your future self will have to do this one again.

    Love you Sweetie! You done good!