Robert A. Johnson’s book, He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, became a best-seller thirty years ago. Johnson’s clear and concise explanation of Carl Jung’s psychotherapeutic insights make him necessary reading for anyone interested in the esoteric traditions of Gnostic, Alchemical, and/or Analytical (Archetypal) psychology. Applying those insights to one’s own spiritual process can be a daunting task. Johnson suggests we begin the work by tackling the repressed contents of the unconscious.
Robert A. Johnson
He illustrates the basic concepts of Jungian psychology in his book (1991) Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. He begins with the mask we show to the outside world. “The persona is what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world. It is our psychological clothing and it mediates between our true selves and our environment just as our physical clothing presents an image to those we meet. The ego is what we are and know consciously. The Shadow is that part of us we fail to see or know (pp. 3-4).” In those three sentences we are presented with the persona, the ego, and the Shadow. In adapting to the needs of our culture, we learn to repress those God-given personality traits of which family, group, and religious tradition do not approve. These are culturally relative. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian environment might send our self-expressive, sensual abilities to dance into the shadow, while growing up in an East Indian Hindu environment these same traits might be encouraged.
All cultures require suppression of undesirable qualities. As Johnson put it, “This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own—the shadow life (p. 4).” And the unconscious shadow side can actually gain more and more energy by being denied by the ego. “If it accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts as an overpowering rage or some indiscretion that slips past us; or we have a depression or an accident that seems to have its own purpose. The shadow gone autonomous is a terrible monster in our psychic house (p.5).”
Now what does that word ‘autonomous’ mean? Its origin is Greek and it literally means a law (nomos) unto itself (auto). The gods and goddesses were autonomous, they created history and myth through their actions, just like the Hebrew God and the Muslim Allah. These ancient patterns, which our ancestors called Divine Beings, can overpower us, forcing us to do things our ego would not choose to do. Hera causes the Greek hero Hercules to go mad and kill his wife and children. No rational husband and father who loves his family would do such a thing, so obviously it wasn’t his doing, he was possessed by one of the gods. We have received this way of thinking through our Christian ancestors, who called it “being possessed by the Devil or an evil spirit”. In any case the force is irresistible. We cannot help ourselves when we are enthralled, when we are entranced by an archetypal, autonomous pattern. We might want to resist, to “just say no”, but anyone who has had these sorts of experiences knows how hard and often times, impossible, it is to resist the Unconscious force compelling us to sin.
Jung’s insight regarding the origins of the shadow was remarkable. He realized that both the ego and the shadow come from the same source and balance each other. Like it or not, as Johnson says, “to make light is to make shadow; one cannot exist without the other (p. 17).” So it behooves us to get to know our unconscious and enter into a dialogue with it. Jung called this the Transcendent Function, where the dream images, slips of the tongue, and other unconscious expressions can be observed by the analyst, who calls the ego’s attention to these things, the expressions of the shadow, and a relationship can be bridged between the unconscious and the conscious. This is the heart of Active Imagination, where the unconscious images can be given a voice, where the ego can hear and respond to the shadow and they can begin to work together to create a whole person, one who is more aware of him/herself.
This process was illustrated in German literature by Goethe’s Faust,
Faust and Mephistopheles
the tale about “the meeting of ego and shadow, is about a pale, dried-up professor who has come to the point of suicide because of the unlivable distance between his ego and his shadow. . . At this point Faust meets his equally impossible shadow, Mephistopheles, who apprears as his lordship, the devil. The explosion of energy at the meeting is extreme. Yet they persevere and their long, vivid story is our best instruction in the redemption of ego and shadow. Faust is saved from his lifelessness and becomes a red-blooded person capable of passion; Mephistopheles is saved from his amoral life and also discovers his capacity to love. Love is the one word in our Western tradition adequate to describe this synthesis of ego and shadow. Faust shows with great power that the redemption of ego is possible only as the redemption of the shadow parallels it. As the shadow is drawn up into consciousness, it becomes softer, more pliable, more gentle. Faust’s character is filled out by the addition of his shadow. He is made whole by his encounter with Mephistopheles, and the same is true in reverse. Better said, neither ego nor shadow can be redeemed unless its twin is transformed. (pp.40-41)”
Symbolically the Shadow bears the light from the darkness. He who bears or carries the light is called Lucifer, the left-hand of God. Balancing the light and the dark brings us to the core of our humanity, to the whole person. This task probably takes a life-time. Jung called it Individuation, becoming an individual, and it can only be done in relationship, to others and to our interior parts, and expecially to our shadow. That is what the alchemists called The Work, the Opus. And interestingly enough it is the Work of Illumination of the Dark Spirits which Padrinho Sebastiao Mota de Melo pioneered and his PhD. psychologist “scout”, Paulo Roberto, has developed within the Brazilian ayahuasca (Santo Daime) tradition.
Sebastiao Mota de Melo
If you want to see “shadow work” up front and personal, attend one of Padrinho Paulo’s Illumination Works. It is frightening, amazing, and transformative. The ancestral spirits, collectively called the Shadow, are invited to incorporate for the purpose of redemption and transition, or a spiritual return to the Source which created all of us. The technique is effective when you use it properly, and that effectiveness can only by determined by the extent to which one is transformed by the Work.
Pad. Paulo Roberto
If you have integrated the shadow as Johnson suggests, there is less fragmentation in one’s behavior, we can express ourselves in direct, forceful and less destructive ways. As the English say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; it doesn’t matter how good it looks on the outside, what counts is its taste and can you digest it? If it nurtures, and hence can be integrated into the whole person, then I would suggest it is a good pudding.
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