* The Gift of Shadow *
by Christopher Penczak
Samhain is a celebration of death bringing new life. On this day, the veils between the worlds of the living and dead are thinnest. Traditionally, it's the time of the meat harvest, when the herd is slaughtered for food in the winter months. What better time of year to give yourself the gift of shadow. We each have a shadow, a dark side to the light. Part of us is hidden below the surface when the rest of us faces the world. We are all a synthesis of light and dark. Some deny it, and lock that part away completely. Others let it out sparingly, and have a difficult relationship with shadow. It may manifest as their repressed emotions. They don't understand the shadow's function and desire. Some embrace it and lose control, relinquishing their own judgment. The shadow may give voice to all the urges they've had but never dreamed of acting upon. The wise ones, in my opinion, make friends with the shadow self.
Darkness has gotten a bad rap, being equated and confused with evil. At times darkness can be cruel, but darkness is the touch of the star filled sky, the womb of Mother Earth, the healing water of the underworld, filled with regeneration for the weary soul. It is a natural part of the universe. Many benevolent goddesses and gods exist in the dark worlds. Macha, Dagda, Rhiannon, Pywll, Persephone, Hecate, Vulcan and Osiris bring great teaching, but at times the lessons can be difficult.
In your healing journey through the darkness, you release your fears of death and mortality, and of living life to the fullest. Life can often be the scarier alternative to death. The darkness forces you into the places where you hide from yourself. Walking through the gates of darkness opens all the unloved soul shards, filled with fear, anger and unhappiness. These unwanted emotions are sometimes necessary for the journey. Desiring not to experience them, many travelers equate these feelings with the darkness, and fail to see the potential for healing. Your shadow wants only to be loved and recognized as part of you.
Part of the shamanic initiation is coming to terms with the darkness to travel freely between the middle world, Earth, the lower world and the sky realms. Shamans often have journeys in the darkness where they die and are resurrected with new abilities and insights. We all have dark nights of the soul, private, personal initiations often having nothing overtly mystical about them. We may fall into the pits of despair and finally realize we are the only ones with the power to get out. But these experiences transform us as people. These initiations, mystical and mundane cannot be forced. They all happen when the time is right. You can, however, start the process by working with your shadow spirit and your light spirit together.
By acknowledging your shadow, you start building the friendship with it. Potential volatile situations become diffused because you are honoring your hidden side. You honor your anger and fear. They have a purpose. You have a right to feel it. But it does not have a right to control your life. If you acknowledge it, you honor it, and can let it pass, like other thoughts and feelings. If you ignore it or cram it away in the back of your mind, you hold on to it. The unwanted emotions held back fester and brood. They can manifest as unhappiness, the inability to change, spiritual sickness or actual physical illness.
Find a quiet place to meditate. Choose someplace you will not be disturbed. Leave all other concerns behind. This is time for you and only you, but you may want to have a friend on hand to guide you through this exercise and be there for support. Close your eyes and relax you mind, body and spirit. Count from thirteen to one backward. You are now in a meditative state. Ask that all you do be for your highest good. Imagine a sphere of protection around you made from multi-colored light. Ask for any guides or guardians in harmony with your intentions to join now.
Imagine a big mirror before you, the size of a door. The reflective surface could even be a pool of liquid or a windowpane of glass. The surface is all cloudy. No reflection is cast. The longer you look into it, the clearer it becomes. There is an image behind the mist. It is becoming more and more visible. Soon the mirror becomes perfectly clear, and in it is your shadow self, your dark reflection, looking back at you. Look carefully at it. It may be just a shadow, or it may be a fully formed being, similar to you. Greet your shadow. Tell it you wish to make friends. Do not feel fear, it cannot hurt you. If you are comfortable, invite the shadow out of the mirror and into your world. It will step through. Ask the shadow any questions you have. Ask it how it feels and how you can honor it better. I'm sure it will tell you something. Go with the first impressions you get from it. When you are finished with your shadow spirit, thank it. It will return to the mirror and the mirror will dissolve away. You may contact it in a similar manner anytime you like. Other rituals can help you integrate it Count up from your meditation.
When you have difficult emotions, feel them, honor them and let them go as they pass through you. You always have a right to feel the way you do. Your friend is there for support. Take it. And you can always ask the shadow how you may honor it. Take some time near the season of darkness to do this meditation. For the pagan new year, give yourself the gift of shadow.
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