Using the Shadow

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A few months back, I wrote about a workshop that I teach using archetypes as journal prompts for self-exploration. I posted this in response to some of my students wishing to have access, and also for any reader that might find it interesting or helpful.

Since then, I have had other students request additional aspects of the class, so without further ado, here is the Shadow portion of the journaling class.


Week Two – The Shadow

Terminology and Names

Archetype: Universal, primordial images

C.G. Jung: Born July 26, 1875, Jung was a Swiss psychologist who founded analytical psychologist, as well as coined the terms “archetype,” “collective unconscious,” and “extroversion and introversion.”

Collective Unconsciousness: A shared unconsciousness, different than a personal unconsciousness

Projection: A process of placing a shadow trait on someone else, or something else

Shadow: Archetype that embodies the dark or negative

Scarecrow: Shadow archetype, self-sacrificing

Trickster: Shadow archetype, found in all mythologies

*Weekly Archetype*

In his book on primitive mythology, Joseph Campbell explains that “a polarity of light and dark, above and below, guidance and loss of bearings, confidence and fears (a polarity that we all know from our own traditions of thought and feeling and can find matched in many parts of the world) must be reckoned as inevitable in the way of a structuring principle of human thought” (57-58). Jung, much more succinctly, says that man “ought never to forget that the world exists only because opposing forces are held in equilibrium” (Jung, Four, 28).

There is light and there is dark. There is God and there is the Devil; such is a duality of nature. In his Red Book, Jung says that it was only by recognizing his shadow (which he calls the serpent), uniting himself with it as a man would with a woman, does he negate the influence the shadow has on his person.

“Thus I built a firm structure. Through this I myself gained stability and duration and could withstand the fluctuations of the personal. Therefore the immortal in me is saed. Through drawing the darkness from my beyond over into the day, I emptied my beyond” (Jung, Red Book, 433).

The Shadow

“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is” (Jung, Essential, 88).

The Shadow is one of the hardest archetypes to confront, as the very definition of the shadow archetype are those things that remain hidden in the darkness. Our shadow consists of things that we do not like in other people; the slips of the tongue that cause embarrassment; the flashes of darkness that every one of us experiences at some point in our lives.

“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges that whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it, therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance” (Jung, Essential, 91).

Jung speaks specifically of the idea of projection; the process of projecting on others and the world an illusionary reality.


The Trickster, The Devil, The Scarecrow

One of the most universally recognizable shadow archetypes is the Trickster; also called the devil, the poltergeist, the jester, among other various names. Jung believed that the trickster is the oldest, most archaic shadow archetype known, as it has informed mythologies since the very beginning of written history and before.

Jung says that the trickster is “a personification of traits of character which are sometimes worse and sometimes better than the ego-personality possess. A collective personification like the trickster is the product of an aggregate of individuals and is welcomed by each individual as something known to him, which would not be the case if it were just an individual outgrowth” (Jung, Four, 141-142).

He explains that the trickster, even in forms that we associate with evil like the devil, is not inherently evil. We, as the subject, have assigned evil-typology to the archetype; in a sense creating the devil out of our own shadow projections.

The scarecrow is the other form the shadow sometimes takes; the self-sacrificing individual, putting the good of the “crops” before the health of their own selves.


Historical Outtake

Historically, the shadow has enjoyed a more centralized, non-negative role in society, often associated with entertainment, albeit at times crude and pushing the boundaries of “appropriateness.” In the days when the Church and earthly-religions were more closely associated, aspects of both God and Devil were celebrated, people understanding the inherent connection between light and dark (ie ying/yang). Moving this archetype into the shadows has caused a buildup of a negative association with traditional terms like trickster or the devil, but, as all archetypes will do, suppression only causes the archetypes to take on other, more acceptable, faces. For instance:

    • Halloween (trick or treat), horror movies, very popular television shows like The Walking Dead or American Horror Story.
    • We assign meaning to archetypes, so it is through our own actions that the shadow has moved from a devil and trickster association to zombies and vampires; or even in the form of popularized Norse mythological figures like Loki, a “bad” guy, but one with redeeming qualities.



“The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment since instead of a real relation to it there is now only an illusory one… the more projections are thrust in between the subject and the environment, the harder it is for the go to see through its illusion” (Jung, Essential, 92).

  • This week’s exercise might be nerve-wracking because we are digging out the aspects of ourselves that we do not want to acknowledge; however, this process is, ultimately, freeing. The first exercise is to list traits that you dislike in others. Be picky. Think of all those little things that your partner does, or your best friend, or your family, or your worst enemy. List those traits out.
  • The hard part comes next. Look at the list. Sit with it. Do not judge the list. Remember these traits are not inherently negative, but rather these are traits that society has assigned a negative meaning too. As all archetypes, the shadow is without meaning until we assign meaning to it. Try to remove yourself from the stigma that the traits may have.
  • Once you have done this to your greatest ability, see if you can find traits on the list that you may also embody. Be honest. This list will never be shared. You can burn it after you have finished if you find that cleansing. But being aware of the shadow is a huge step in wholeness and understanding.
  • Another exercise that is not quite so daunting is to think about books, movies, or television shows that hold an edge of darkness. Why do you like these? Freewrite, let the words come and do not pay attention to the rules. This is all about exploration.

Shadow work is perhaps the trickiest of paths to walk (pun entirely intended). When moving into the darker corner of your subconscious and conscious, the best advice is to hold yourself in kindness and with gentleness. As always, there is no wrong or right, there simply is.



Jung, C.G. The Essential Jung, Selected Writings. Ed. Anthony Storr. Princeton: Princeton UP. 1983. Print

—. Four Archetypes. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton UP. 2010. Print.

—. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffe. Trans. Richard Winston, Clara Winston. New York: Random House. 1989. Print.

—. The Red Book, Liber Novus: A Reader’s Edition. Ed. Sonu Shamdasani. Trans. Mark Kyburz, John Peck, Sonu Shamdasani. London: Philemon series. 2009. Print.

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