Shadow Work is a journey and I wish to guide you through the depths of a very difficult legacy. The following informal essay could be received as a critique to the methods, history and legacy of Jungian psychoanalysis. In no way it seeks to deny the necessary use of clinical support when considering mental health difficulties. Shadow Work is an holistic practice that can be complimentary and not substitute to Therapy, as it allows the individual to have complete control on the ways their share and experience their reality. In fact Shadow Work – when liberated- is part of the paradigm of Restorative action as self-accountability, agency interaction as part of a community.
Many might be familiar with the Jungian definition of Shadow as the “non recognised desires, the repressed self. The Shadow is the other in us, the unconscious personality, the reprehensible inferior, the ‘negative’ part of one’s personality” (C.G. Jung 1917 “On the Psychology of the Unconscious). While he was conceptualising the “Western struggle with stress, disillusion and repressed behaviours as a naturalised consequence of living in a civil society” (Jung 1917, OPU), Jung decided that, to understand shadow he had to go to the “Birthplace of Darkness and primitive psychology, the land of primordial being” (Jung 1977:272 , Memories, Dreams Reflections). If you are feeling already uncomfortable, you can probably sense where this story goes: Africa. Most especially the then Swahili Coast between 1924 and 1927. Jung might have been a “very wise man”, but nonetheless he was a white elitist European who deeply trusted and believed in eugenics and the intellectual superiority of white Europeans. His theories -especially those looking at the construction and deconstruction of self, were all based on the biological other, on racial evolutionary theory. On those notions he formed the psychological “other” for the “western, civilised man”, and truly his forced experiments on Black Americans forced in mental health institutions are just the surface of the rotten seld that Jung indulged himself into. After all, conditioning the USA was his way to give back to his teacher Freud, after the two part ways. In all his memoirs, his racism transpires especially in the fear of “going black”, the fear of becoming the repressed, oppressed, rejected Other, as to be Black for Jung and the society that he helped to form and shape, to be black is to be the “Shadow” of society. While on the Swahili Coast, and generally in his work in contact with Africans and African American people, Jung observed a spiritual and practical approach to social discomfort, grief, fear, anger etc. that native indigenous populations would have within their communities (Practices that we have now inherited as ancestors to restorative justice).
Lacking the cultural and social context to understand how the Self is constructed in a society different from his, what Jung would call pathology in the west, within native communities was seen as a formal part of life. From his memoirs, some chilling events transpire of Jung displaying unfortunate (read problematic and violent) behaviour, because incapable of communicating his discomfort of being excluded from the social and cultural practices taking place around him. Jung, a white supremacist used to construct reality, found himself for the first time in an environment that didn’t cater for his experience and his Shadow showed up.
The Jungian framework of identifying the shadow, as the unconscious consequence of childhood trauma (where trauma stand for the imposition of character by social norms), is then a consequence of his obsession and fetish with Africa and the African “primordial mind”. Let’s not forget that Jung founded his social categories on the theory called “Chain of Being” where the white man would be the enlighten individual on the spectrum. The further away one is physically, socially and economically from a white man, the further they are from “light” and closer they are to beasts, to shadow and the primordial being. To this day, the archetype he has created are still at the foundation of not just psychoanalysis but also marketing and state propaganda. He observed native individuals coping with grief and not displaying the “symptoms” he would have expected from HIS social norms, he threw that behaviour in the Shadow. He observed the relationship between an angry parent and their child, decided that it didn’t match what an “Austrian dynamic” would present and threw that in the Shadow. He watched folks communicating with their elders and ancestors, embody their skills and experience and called it “pathological”. He observed customs, religious behaviours, spirituals practices and more mundane experiences of Self and simply reported them as Shadow because he didn’t have -and didn’t want- cultural tools (or even language to communicate) to understand the Self outside of his cultural norms. Am I arguing that Jung’s shadow took over him? Yes I am.
It’s 2020 and his work sits at the foundation of the Euro American society, a society that now more than ever needs to engage with Shadow Work. If you BIPOC and born or reside in Western Europe or North America, then you might understand that this society is built and constructed on the complete exclusion of your identity. What happens to one’s mental health when the reality around them reproduces itself by reminding them that their existence is “everything negative that could exist”? What happens to their relationship and understanding of the self? Consider this when using a language like Astrology: granted that Jungian astrology is the most widespread type of astrology (Liz Greene, Sue Thompkins etc), if language is developed and perpetuated in a biased manner, how can it be truthful or inclusive? As my work is centred to Black individuals , each chart is a chance to co-create something that never existed before: taking advantage of our historical struggle and our marginality, we actively spend time to imagine ourselves beyond the existence of the current reality. How can we translate this to the present and to the chart? weaving thread of histories old and new, some that belongs to us and some that we actively use. And if you are white, then ask yourself: Who are you besides the historical decisions of few men?
Why I call myself a Shadow Worker? First, the absolute accommodation and validation of standardised “anything” makes me wonder how voluble our Euro American minds are. Is it all about finding a commodified answer to spirit? Is it about a quick answer? Or is it about maintaining the status quo? And must this answer be so quick that for almost years, an entire society avoided criticising and revising the work of just one -very influential- man? I am lucky because I was raised with a different understanding of the Self and the Shadow, finding myself studying Jung and psychoanalysis from a critical point of view, and not a purely formative one. In my personal and academic studies, I’ve notices that there seems to be some healing, transformative and restorative practices shared between many indigenous people between Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Benin etc. In this, the Self is composed of three main elements: the mind, the body and the spirit. Ideally one would be always aligned and whole: a Soul (Ori/Kra, etc).
The Soul doesn’t simply exist, the Soul is a process and a journey that as Humans we embark on constantly trying our best to find and maintain alignment. That’s why we work in community, we seek support. That’s why we work with our Ancestors, we seek guidance.
As humans, we are creatures of interaction and social life. Because of those interactions, at times our Self can take some blows or be forced to focus more on certain specific aspects rather than a whole, or maybe the focus drifts on the outside, neglecting our effort to stay aligned with ourselves. This creates Shadows. The Shadow usually is understood as a direct, and at times overwhelming, display of one (in some cases more) of the main elements. Therefore, one could manifest Shadows in the mind, body or spirit or a combination of. Note that pathology is not something that necessarily exist in our traditions, traditions as old as 12000years.
Most times a journey of Shadows would be treated in both “western” and traditional ways, because of our cultural understanding of the Self as a composed element. Our approach is historically holistic. You will then have shadow body workers for the body, shadow workers for the mind like me and shadow workers for the spirit like traditional Priesthood, like my Elders. Some individuals train in all aspects, some specialise, some other also engage with western paths. Personally, I am specialised in the Mind and will soon start my training in Spirit after initiating in my religious path (Lucumi). I therefore work in close contact with an incredible network of body workers, shadow and non, therapists and clinically trained experts that understands the importance of supplementing western approaches with the nourishing knowledge of the traditions.
Why Astrology? In Euro-American society Astrology is a widespread language that doesn’t need to conform to any sort of canon or strict interpretation. I do social (behavioural) astrology, therefore my interpretation of what a planet means or what an aspect reveals, will always be understood through the lens of sociology, anthropology & Black Radical & Critical Theory. From a relational point of view, to observe how specific cultural patterns translate on one’s chart (in Euro Americal society), the language of Astrology allows for more freedom of communication than what we think. To have a physical interpretation of feelings, events or possibilities, allows for mapping and individualisation. The first stage of Shadow Work.