Knowing Your Connection is Real
As we go into the dark part of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, many Pagans “go inward” and do internal work with Self and Gods. We get ready to honor our Ancestors at Samhain (if we are Wiccan or “Wiccish”) and to pay attention to the inner landscapes that are ours to explore. Whether one is a Traditional Wiccan or a solitary Pagan, Wiccish or not, this is the time to examine connections and even to begin contracts with infernal or “dark” Gods and Goddesses. Those with any experience as a Neo-Pagan will know that in most Pagan Traditions, “dark” is not “evil” and “light” is not necessarily good, either. Darkness and light are in balance, and we MUST embrace darkness as well as light in order to work a Pagan path in a Pagan universe. Whether or not you work with any infernal or “dark” Deities, all Pagan Deities can and will deliver hard lessons. Some are gentler than others. Some believe in “tough love” as a way of teaching Their adherents. Most, if not all, will only allow you so much self-delusion and pity partying before they slap you out of your chair and into the sort of self-searching that is required if one will be a truly mature spiritual practitioner.
One thing that is a danger for all people on individual spiritual paths (and all Pagan paths are individual regardless of Traditional affiliation) is to mistake OUR will and OUR desires for “the voice of God/dess.” I have seen this regularly, and have disinvited people from my coven because of it, frankly. If “your” God and/or Goddess ALWAYS see things your way, always tell you you’re right, you aren’t connected, my friend. You’re projecting your own ideas onto the idea of a Deity in order to get your own way. Now, that isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing to do, but it’s not helping you advance, is it? Real Divine connections will occasionally result in the Holy Two by Four connecting painfully with your tender skin. Unless and until you have received a hard lesson from the Divine, you cannot really know that your connection is solid and that you’re not, to be blunt, making all this shit up.
Why Infernal Deities Can Teach Us
As a new Pagan, I often said, “I will NEVER work with any Dark Gods!” Uh huh. Well, that’s an OK stage to be in and all, but there are damn good reasons to work with either Infernal or “Dark” Gods and Goddesses, or Gods and Goddesses with dark sides (Pro Tip: They all have dark sides). Acknowledging that you are working with Shadow is a sign of leaving spiritual adolescence as a Pagan. If you refuse to dance with Shadow, you are refusing to grow. WHY? Because your Shadow holds that which is part of you, but which you do not want to see. And looking at things you do not want to see is the real work of spiritual growth. Infernal Deities and Beings (think Hecate, Set, Anubis, Hades, Persephone, Kali Ma, the Warrior Aspect of Aphrodite, the Morrigan, Loki, Hel, et al.) can show us the dark lessons that will assist us to understand WHY pain is necessary and how to transmute that pain and confusion into understanding and power (not “POWWWAHHH!” Power. Within yourself and on your Path). These Deities and Higher Beings are NOT “evil” but Their lessons, to those unready, can APPEAR “evil” to those unprepared to encounter Them. Tough love from Infernal Deities sucks, my friends. But it’s still love. And Paganism is NOT for people who want to coast along in life being less than responsible for their own bullshit. We have a name for that, and it’s not a nice one. Don’t be a Fluffy Bunny. Don’t be a White Lighter. Don’t just seek the fun side of being Pagan. Do the work. Grow.
Why should we proactively engage Shadow Work? Simple. If we don’t, it’s going to happen anyway, and it’s going to sting. If you avoid it for too long, Life will give you the lessons you need. Do “bad things” keep happening to you? Do you not understand why you are always miserable and things never work out for you? That’s a clue you’re ignoring your Shadow Work.
Now, that said, this is NOT an admonishment to rush into working with Shadow and Darkness. This is a thing that must be done when READY to do the work. There is NO SHAME in not being ready yet. As a matter of fact, it is grossly foolish and irresponsible to attempt to work with Shadow before one is ready. WHY? Because if you’re not ready, you’re going to take very unnecessary beatings and not understand why you are receiving them. And who wants to do that? Not I. Let’s back track a bit.
Knowing When You’re Ready to Dance with Shadow
OK, first, a caveat. This is ONE High Priestess’ list of knowing whether one is ready to work with Shadow. It is not THE list. YOU decide when you are ready. But know this…going into that dark forest unprepared is not going to be pleasant. It’s not pleasant even IF prepared, but if you aren’t prepared, well…I won’t stick around to watch. Let’s just put it that way.
- Have I engaged in guided support to look at unhealthy patterns in my life, such as seeing a professional therapist, going on path-appropriate vision quests, doing group therapy, or learning emotional control techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or SMART Recovery, or another system designed to assist me with having a responsible emotional landscape? If not engaging in professionally led programming, have I read self-help books and applied the techniques which seemed appropriate to my life? Have I created ANYTHING in my life that challenges my belief systems rather than just shoring up what I think I know?
- Have I dropped the whole “I’m enlightened now” crap? Because there’s a test for that. If you’re alive, you’re not.
- Do I have control over any mental health problem that may be a part of my life experience? If I have a diagnosis of Depression or Anxiety, for instance, is it controlled in a way that allows me to have a productive life? Note: It is beyond the scope of this Priestess’ training to address dancing with Shadow for those with diagnoses of Psychosis and Serious and Persistent Mental Illness, and I therefore respectfully suggest that the advice of a Pagan friendly Psychiatrist is in order for those individuals with Psychosis and SPMI, before engaging in Shadow work. I myself have controlled PTSD, and my Shadow work is well tolerated, but I cannot say this for all people with PTSD either. “Controlled” is the key word here.
- Am I old enough that my adult self is fully formed? The pre-frontal cortex is not fully formed until the mid-twenties in all human beings.
- Do I have a support system of people who are at least Pagan friendly, to whom I can talk when things get hard? Do I have someone to whom I can go when I feel out of control emotionally? Remember, this can be a therapist, a mature friend who is Pagan-supportive, a coven, etc.
- Have I been a Pagan for at least 3 solar cycles? Remember, one must understand and have one’s path fully formed before “using” that path. Build the path first, THEN use it. That means that if you are in an initiatory system, take initiation when ready, THEN do this work. If solitary, you should understand your path well before doing Shadow Work. Develop your own system and know how to use it well, first.
- Do I feel confident enough with Pagan Gods NOT to just blindly obey Them? Remember, we say, “May you raise your eyes and never bow your head” for a reason. Shadow work is NOT for people who will not stand up to the Gods when the time calls for it. Develop good boundaries with the Divine first, then do this work. If this confuses you, this is not the year to begin Shadow Work.
How to Begin
Suggestions for how to begin include these. These suggestions are NOT the only way to begin Shadow Work:
- Read some books on shadow work. There are plenty out there, some Pagan, some not.
- Create a contract with a Deity Who can assist you with Shadow Work, AFTER you have had conversations with the Deity in question. If you cannot communicate confidently with Deity, learn to do so FIRST before attempting Shadow Work.
- Create a ritual that invites Shadow to AS GENTLY AS POSSIBLE show you what you need to see. Please put that in there. Please.
- When you get instructions from the Divine, follow them, but question them fully and if you don’t want to do it the way you are told to do it, renegotiate with your Deity or Deities. Remember, YOU must create good boundaries.
- When you begin to see your Shadow and engage it, write everything down. Write down your dreams, your insights, your prayers, everything. This will serve you as you proceed.
- If you are in an initiatory system that engages the Shadow, such as 3 degree Traditional Wicca (2nd degree is ALL about Shadow Work), then use it. If you are told by teachers that you are not ready, follow their advice and GET ready. The system is there to be used.
- Be prepared to need to reflect on what you are shown. Be prepared to need to cry, to perhaps seek therapy, to perhaps take alone time to process emotions, etc. This is HARD WORK. No one has fun doing this.
- Be gentle with yourself. Seeing your hidden darkness is harsh, and self-judgment is not helpful beyond acknowledging that you must accept this part of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Accept that ALL humans have this side.
- Check in with others often. Do not isolate too much. If you start to have mental health issues, ACKNOWLEDGE them and get the support you need. If you have emotional outbursts, begin to use mood altering chemicals too much, begin to want to self-harm or have suicidal ideation, or have other mental health symptoms, GET HELP. There is NO SHAME in being off balance. These things can include sudden and severe insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, paranoia, eating disorders, addictions and compulsions, night terrors, etc. You can right yourself with proper support. These things can happen with Shadow Work, but they don’t have to become your reality necessarily. Reach out. Many will never have anything like this with Shadow Work, but if you do, do not despair. Just get help. Pagan friendly help if possible.
An Example of a Recent Holy Two by Four, Delivered to Yours Truly
This is an example of a recent Shadow Lesson that I received from the Divine. It wasn’t fun. It was embarrassing and it hurt. But I received it with gratitude.
Conversation with the Goddess Hecate:
Me: Lady Hecate, I approach you as handmaid to one of Your Priestesses, because my psychic abilities are completely kicking my ass, and I see diabolical attachments on people where ever I go. It feels too heavy for me to bear. If I had one inkling that this was actually a form of psychosis, I would get medical help. But I happen to know that I’m really seeing this stuff, and I have even wished I were just crazy, but I’m not. I can’t take seeing this suffering. Please help me.
Hecate: Dear one, let me see if I have this straight…You have spent the last, oh, 17 years of your life cultivating the skills of the High Priestess, and you came into this incarnation having designed an astrological chart of your own birth that actually made a professional astrologer swoon and tell you that “you could be a world famous psychic!” Remember? The lady from Israel who did your chart and started treating you like a rock star, and you had to sever contact with her because she wouldn’t stop badgering you to “use your gift to help the world?” You designed this. You designed ALL of this, and at every turn, you have done nothing but whine. Is this the thing to which you refer?
Hecate: What has your personal suffering done for you?
Me: Well, it showed me how strong I was. It caused me to make decisions which made me more responsible for myself and others. It developed my spiritual muscles.
Hecate: And you are proud of this, yes?
Me: I guess I am.
Hecate: And you’re telling me that you find witnessing this process in others to be “too painful” for you, eh? You would begrudge them the very opportunities that have made you strong and proud of whom you are. Is that the tune you’re whistling?
Me: I…uh…didn’t see it that way….I….
Hecate: Human beings ALWAYS think they want things they don’t want. They always ask for things they understand not one iota, and when they get them, they complain. This realm which you inhabit EXISTS as a place to learn through suffering. You came here TO LEARN IN THIS MANNER. So did EVERYONE ELSE WHO IS THERE. Do you, for one second, think that if I offered to another person your gifts, they would not swoon with joy at first, and then complain? If I said to an average person, “Hey, how would you like to be so psychic that you would be able to read the thoughts and intentions of every person whom you meet, and you would know unknowable things, and you would see unseeable things,” that they would say, “that sounds so cool!”
Me: Well, they’d be an idiot…
Hecate: Holds silver mirror up to my face.
Me: I…I…Oh, shit.
Hecate: Congratulations. You’re human. Anything else I can help with?
Me: Thank you. I’m sorry I bothered you.
Hecate: Grow up and figure out how to see with the perspective that you need to have in order to deal with the gifts you requested, and which We delivered to your doorstep with a pink ribbon.
Me: Will do.
Now…had I been engaging in the Shadow Work that I clearly should have engaged, I would not have gotten this Holy Two by Four. I am grateful that I received it, but had I proactively engaged Deity in the correct conversations EARLIER, I would not have been told to “grow up,” and I could have learned the lesson less painfully. I could have developed a proper perspective on my “gift” instead of whining about “poor me” and how hard it was to be me. Lesson learned. Had I not chosen to even go to Deity with my problem, it would have manifested ever more seriously in my life. Maybe I’d have wound up in a mental ward for a time, for instance. That wouldn’t have killed me, but it’s a nice thing to avert. Don’t be the person who fails to work with Shadow and then wonders why everything blows up in their face constantly. That’s my advice to you….
When we engage Shadow, and even when on the receiving end of the Holy Two by Four, we grow in wonderful ways. When we do the work of, say, addressing being molested as a child, or dismantling our PTSD triggers, or searching for answers as to why we have certain compulsions, we release those things which hold us back and make us miserable. We reprogram our skill sets for the here and now. We learn that Shadow is our friend. For indeed, it truly is.
Dark Gifts can take our spiritual and emotional garbage and turn it into spiritual gold. It is the True Alchemy of the Divine, available to humans as a holy feast of love. Darkness is not just “evil,” my friends. It’s so much more than that. It is our spiritual majesty in potential form. Unwrap it cautiously, and with great preparation. But unwrap it, even if you dread to do so. Riches greater than gold await you. Release from pain and fear awaits you. May we all hail the Blessed Darkness.