Our Light and Dark Sides
Our Shadow side, in our dreams and in our lives, is the counterpart or counterbalance to the Light. We need both to be whole. Shadow, a Jungian term, refers to those parts of ourselves that we wish to bury or disallow or not acknowledge. We unconsciously make invisible or dissociate from the parts that we are embarrassed of, of our hidden or forbidden desires, or even the strengths we have that we have not yet owned or lived up to. Jung tells us that, "People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." We need to honor and recognize both sides to be fully whole and learn to make our darkness both conscious and healed or befriended.
When parts of ourselves or our history are not allowed expression or are unresolved, they can show up in our dreams as a monster: as a dark or evil force, as something that is chasing us or endangering us. Those lurking dark figures, those creepy slithering beasts, those masked men or women—all can be a sign of our shadow. Literature and myth are full of these figures, from Medusa the snaky-haired Gorgon to Darth Vader (later challenged by his son, Luke Skywalker, using the Lightsaber as his weapon in a historic battle between good and evil.) There was an old radio show called "The Shadow," whose creepy weekly tagline was, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
The Three Faces of Shadow in our Lives
What has not been widely talked about are the three faces of our shadow in our dreams and in our lives. It is mostly thought of at the personal layer with our personal challenges, traumas, and demons. What are less widely known are the ancestral and world shadows that can also show up in our dreams. From the science of epigenetics, we are learning that more than eye color and height can be inherited: the vicissitudes of life that our parents, our grandparents and even our more distant ancestors lived through can show up and effect our lives and our dreams. What is occurring in the world around us, what Jung called our collective unconscious, can also seep into our dreamscapes and we can dream of worldwide events that are not part of our personal history.
At the first layer, the personal layer, our shadow consists of the unhealed or unacknowledged parts of ourselves. The old hurts or traumas, or our own greedy or envious or foot-dragging parts can be here. For example, my client Samantha had a woman in her dreams blocking her path who moved ever so slowly and kept stopping and keeping her from getting out of the hole she was stuck in. Her Shadow side was the "Slow Woman" who kept her stuck in indecision and prevented her from action in her life.
To understand the second layer, the ancestral layer, we need only look at the nature/nurture paradigm. Some parts of our selves are governed by our genetic overlay, and some by the environment in which we have grown up. I think this is a false dichotomy, however, as we are parented by caretakers who have their own histories, for better and for worse, as did their parents, and so on and so on. One client of mine, Helene, was told by her mother that it was dangerous to be beautiful or visible since that could attract violence against her. Helene had lived her life suppressing her feminine strengths because of this fear. In investigating her family history, she discovered that her grandmother had been sexually assaulted as a child and passed this fear on to her daughter, who in turn passed it on to Helene. Neither Helene nor her mother had personally been assaulted, yet they behaved in life as if they had and feared most men as dangerous. Once Helene realized that she was carrying a family story that was not her own, she was able to do the work of divesting herself of it and come more fully into her own power. (Mark Wolyn's book, It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, explains this concept in great detail.)
Finally, to understand how the world shadow may show up in our dreams, the most recent and common world dream shadow can be exemplified by the plethora of pandemic dreams we have been experiencing worldwide. As the Covid pandemic progresses and morphs, our dreams have shifted with it—themes of bugs, infections, being sequestered, and vaccine hopes. (Deidre Barret chronicaled this in her book Pandemic Dreams.) War, famine, refugee status, and climate change, to name a few, can also show up as world shadows in our personal dreams. We can dream for ourselves, we can dream for our family, and we can dream for our community and our land. Dreaming for the land can show up in our dreams in any form of a ravaged or endangered landscape, and many native and indigenous peoples have been urging us for centuries to dream these dreams forward with healing intentions, ceremonies, and actions to restore our lands. This can be part of our healing and redemption as well, for what we do at one level of action or consciousness affects all others.
Confronting the Vampire
For twenty years, my friend Jason had been followed around by a dark Shadow figure in his dreams that seemed to embody all three parts of this shadow. In the most recent of these dreams, a vampire figure showed up for him in a glass coffin, calling to him to join him on the dark side. Below we will look specifically at what this recurring dream had come to tell him and how it became resolved.
In working with his dream using the GAIA method of Guided Active Imagination Approach, along with hypnotherapy and journeying practices, he was able to identify and resolve all three faces of the shadow in his vampire-in-a-coffin dream mentioned above. Jason has been on a journey in his personal life to conquer addiction and his pull to the dark side of spirit, and to come into his own as a good and powerful man. At one level, the en-coffined vampire calling out to him was the face of his own personal history: needing to be watchful of and aware of his own dark side. Jason also related to me that his father had a history of alcoholism, so there was a family legacy piece as well. On the larger world spiritual and multiverse level, Jason was once told by a shamanic practitioner that there was a curse on his family, and that the men would be "Tragic Men" because of grave misdeeds in the past.
As we worked with his dream, his first inclination was to enter the room not only with the protection of the mentors and the bubble of light he had gathered up during Part 1 of the GAIA method (before entering the dreamscape to enhance safety and protection), but with guns blazing to do away with the vampire once and for all. I encouraged him to slow down and not demolish the vampire before finding out if there was a message or a gift for him hidden in the coffin or the dead-yet-alive man. This is important when we work with dark figures on our dreams: Don't just react to our gut instinct to kill them off; first find out, from a vantage point of safety, who they are and why they are there, and what their message is for you When Jason was able to do this, he could find within his safety net his own heart of compassion and get closer to the figure to really see who he was and what he wanted.
Then, when he peered into the glass coffin, low and behold he found an aspect of himself that needed further healing: both his current "me" and the long ancestral line of men who had come before him. He then climbed into the coffin with the vampire, held him close, and the terrifying vampire turned to ash in his arms. The final action step from this dream was to take some of the ash into his own heart, and then take the remainder and give it a proper burial. Later that day he created a ceremony whereby he wrote out the words Vampire and Dark Man on a piece of paper, burned it, and buried the ashes out in his yard in his pet cemetery. What a nice way to put an end to the old year and bring in the new, as we did this work the first day of the new year. The curse was broken.
To learn more about healing your Shadow and the GAIA method, you can read PTSDreams: Transforming your Nightmares from Trauma through Healing Dreamwork and Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul's Wisdom.
Barrett, Deidre, ed. Trauma and Dreams, Harvard University Press, 2001, 1986
_______________Pandemic Dreams, Oneiroi Press, 2020
Bosnak, Robert, Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming, Delacourte Press, 1996
Dannu, Ayala, Ancestral Dreaming and Why it Needs to be a Part of the Dream Studies Conversation, Dreamtime, Fall 2019
Dunlea, Marion, BodyDreaming in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma, Routledge, Press, 2019
Herman, Judith, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence-From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, Basic Books, 1992
Jesamine, "The Shadow: What You Do Behind Your Own Back," blogpost www.counselinginzurich.com
Perry, Christopher, "Shadow," www.webarchiveofthesocietyofanalyticalpsychology, 2020
Schiller, Linda, Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul's Wisdom, Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing, 2019
__________, PTSDreams: Transforming your Nightmares form Trauma through Healing Dreamwork, Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing, Sept. 2022
Wolynn, Mark, It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, Viking Random House Press, 2016