Shadow Work

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Carl Jung

WHAT IS SHADOW WORK?

To understand shadow work, one should first be familiar with the shadow self. This idea was first conceived by 20th century psychologist, Carl Jung. In his field of Jungian psychology, the word ‘shadow’ refers to hidden parts of our being. The shadow self can be the parts that we hide or repress in order to avoid. It can be our fears, shame, flaws and weaknesses, and toxic traits.

Though shadow work has its roots in psychology and is still used in the field today (even if not always referred to as such), it is also an important spiritual practice. Shadow work is the practice in which one acknowledges the shadow self, takes notice of how it affects oneself, and works to accept that part of oneself in a healthy way. It is a way for us to work toward healing ourselves, understanding our authentic selves, and finding our full potential.

How Does The Shadow Self Manifest?

The shadow self can manifest in many ways that are often ultimately harmful to us, as well as to those around us. These may be unconscious to us when they present. They can include feelings of low self esteem, jealousy, anxiety, anger, and fear. The shadow self may cause one to lash out at others, be passive aggressive, lack boundaries, or find difficulty in standing up for oneself. It can lead to a struggle with addiction, as well as other self harming behaviors.

How To Practice Shadow Work?

The basis of shadow work is the acknowledgment of one’s shadow self. There are multiple ways in which one may do this. One way is practicing mindfulness: calmly focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, acknowledging and accepting one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Rather than attempting to push away anger, sadness, or any other emotion one may perceive as negative, we can allow ourselves to learn from it. Yes, this can be painful, but it is a necessary step in shadow work.

Other things we can do in shadow work include journaling an honest account of one’s thoughts and feelings, teaching oneself to respond rather than react, questioning why one feels certain emotions or what triggers them, and meditating on aspects of one’s shadow self to better understand it.

One more step that should not be neglected is self compassion and self soothing. Shadow work can bring up feelings of guilt, depression, and anxiety. Although these feelings need to be acknowledged, they need not lead one into a downward spiral. Learning these things is a crucial practice that will aid in getting through the process.

All of this said, due to the nature of shadow work, it is recommended that it be done with a safety plan in place. For some, particularly if they struggle with mental health issues, that may include having a licensed therapist or other trusted person available. It is generally not recommended that one practice shadow work while in a fragile mental state.

Deities and Shadow Work

As a polytheist Pagan, it would be remiss for me to leave out any mention of deity work within this topic. I have found that deities commonly considered “dark” are often highly effective in assisting with shadow work. This is not to say that they do the work for anyone. That is far from the case. As with anything, I believe that the gods expect us to put in the work for ourselves.
My own work with The Morrígan, Loki, and Fenrir (as well as others) has offered me insight that has helped to start me on the path toward acknowledgment and acceptance of my own shadow self. Through meditations on these deities, learning their stories, and UPG experiences, they have shown me that the shadow aspects within themselves as well as myself are not to be feared, but understood. Those who may not view the gods as literally as I do may still benefit from gaining such insight from their stories.

Thoughts on the Homeschool Community

I think, when many people think of homeschooling families, there are some common stereotypes. Much of that gets supported when one looks up websites, blogs, and groups by homeschoolers. There is so much Christian material out there marketed toward homeschools, it seems to speak for itself. Homeschooling parents are often religious, Christian, specifically. If one digs a little bit deeper, one will find that homeschool groups tend to be inundated with conservative, or right-leaning, parents. Even the “crunchy” moms among homeschoolers tend to veer to the right with anti-vaccination views and a distrust of modern science. For those of us who don’t fit into any of those groups, it’s quite off-putting.

For those who have already read my past blog posts, it’s likely clear where I stand on some things. I am a polytheist Pagan and Unitarian Universalist, for crying out loud. Even though I do believe in spiritual and herbal or folk remedies, I also believe that modern medicine has it’s place. I believe in science coexisting with spirituality. I believe that liberal and left-leaning policies would improve my country. Obviously, for someone like me, the stereotypical environment of homeschooling groups is going to be awkward at best.

That said, the homeschool community is more diverse than the stereotype presents. I suspect that in groups where conservative Christians are more vocal, those of us who don’t share those views either remain silent to keep the peace or we just leave to find better fitting ones. Sometimes, the information we get from groups where members run more conservative, even if we don’t, is invaluable. One group I’m in is like this. They share a wealth of information to help parents understand the laws and requirements for homeschooling in West Virginia, but… well, it’s West Virginia. There are a lot of conservative Christians up these hollers and in that group. For help with finding online learning resources, I stick to secular groups.

I find it somewhat funny that, despite the stereotype, most of my friends and acquaintances who homeschool their children are some flavor of Pagan and liberal. These are the people who have encouraged me the most to homeschool my child. These are the people who first helped me to realize that homeschooling is for people like us, too.

All of that said, there are other stereotypes that need addressed. That is to say, the idea that homeschool parents don’t know what’s best for our children, are uneducated, or otherwise don’t do as good of a job as public or private schools. It’s quite offensive. The local Board of Education for my county recently had a meeting wherein they spoke disrespectfully of homeschooling parents, all the while showing that they had little to no knowledge on the laws for homeschooling in West Virginia. Some of the views presented by members of the board were not only generally arrogant, but also classist.

Given the problems with the public educational system, many parents choose to homeschool because we want better for our children. Public school classrooms are far too large; teachers are underpaid, required to teach for standardized tests, and not given enough resources to sufficiently help all students. Children still get left behind, too often simply moved on to the next grade without the knowledge they need. Not only that, but bullying runs rampant in schools and often gets overlooked. In many schools, a decidedly conservative Christian and white supremacist bias is held by teachers and staff, which causes LGBTQIA+ students, non-Christian students, BIPOC students, and others to suffer in a toxic environment and to be undereducated based on these harmful biases.

With homeschooling, parents are free to individualize our children’s educations. Instead of teaching to a strict curriculum or with a single method, we can utilize what actually works best to keep our children engaged in learning. We can better ensure that the education we give our children is inclusive, rather than a white-washed curriculum common to public schools that mostly ignores BIPOC history, LGBTQIA+ issues, and non-Christian viewpoints. We can also better provide the socialization our children need in a safe and healthy environment without peer pressure or bullying.

While there is some truth to the stereotypes about homeschooling, it is only a partial truth that ignores the diversity of families who choose this route. It is often that the negative stereotypes are simply louder than the more positive ones.

Exploring School

This past school year has taught me more about my comfort zone as a parent than I imagined it would. With public schools switching to distance learning, the experience of having my child learn at home was eye opening. I can’t speak for what options other states had, but West Virginia had 3 options for public school students to choose from.

There was the self paced virtual program. That’s what we tried during the first semester. There was no set schedule, no required video conferences, and the student had until the end of their semester to complete all assignments. It started out well. My child did some assignments while I was away at work during the day, then I helped with some after I got home. That slowly tapered, as my child became more overwhelmed as the semester went on and we realized that the teachers (from out of state, mind you) didn’t actually teach anything. They provided the materials and graded the assignments, but that is not enough. I had been going over the materials with my child in the afternoons and my days off in an attempt to teach, often while multitasking with other things that needed done. We both got burned out due to the amount of time it took to go through everything each day.

Thus, when the second semester approached, we switched to the e-learning option with Schoology. This time, my child had teachers from their local school with a strict schedule consisting of conferences and due dates. In the first week, I was hopeful that it would simply be a matter of getting used to. By the end of the second week, I realized that this method was not going to work for my child. They were already so far behind and the Schoology option doesn’t account for students who need more help. My child had quickly lost interest and became unresponsive yet again to their educational demands.

At this point, schools in my state have begun in person instruction again for those who opted in for it. I was beginning to almost consider choosing this option. The biggest thing holding me back from that is the problem of a still active pandemic and knowing how overcrowded classrooms are. It worried me more that I got a notification that our local school has recently had a positive case reported. That aside, our child doesn’t want to return to in person learning, anyway. Before schools were forced to switch to distance learning, my child had already been struggling with going to school. Academically, they were doing as well as ever. Still an Honor student. Emotionally, they constantly complained of being tired or having an upset stomach to avoid going. It had become a battle to get my child to go to school in the mornings. My child had asked me repeatedly to switch to homeschool. With that in mind, I had to come to a new decision: To homeschool or to go back to in person?

I have several friends who homeschool their children and have been encouraging me to do, as well. What held me back is the worry that I wouldn’t have the time, or that it would be too much for me to handle. I’m not a stay at home parent, although I have gone down to working part time. Perhaps I was making excuses out of fear of not being enough. It is thanks to these friends that I realized, maybe I can do this. With my child’s education in my hands, maybe I can find a way to ensure they learn what they need to without the unnecessary struggle. We can find a curriculum that actually works for us.

The decision was made. I am officially becoming a homeschool parent. Worst case scenario, we’ll realize it’s not for us and we do end up switching back to in person schooling. Best case scenario? My child thrives. I am hopeful that we will figure this out. The prospect of being more hands on in finding the best way for my child to learn is exciting. One option that was recommended we start with is “deschooling”, to give my child a break from traditional schoolwork and allow us to figure out the learning style that works best for my child.

In my state, all that’s required to start homeschool is that I send in a Notice of Intent to our county board of education and to teach reading, language arts, math, science, and social studies. Of course, I plan to incorporate art, music, and physical education into my child’s education, as well. Those will be eased into our curriculum as we adjust. My child already uses Duolingo for Spanish, although on an admittedly inconsistant basis for now. After the Notice of Intent is mailed in, homeschoolers in West Virginia are required to have a portfolio review and/or testing done by June 30th. Because we are starting this month, I am a bit nervous about having a review done this year, but am also relieved to have heard that such reviews only take the actual time of being a homeschooler into account. Being reviewed for the few months that we will have had more control over is less scary than the entire year that was spent mostly with public school.

Paganism: Accountability Matters

I recently shared a post to an online Pagan group, meant to get people thinking about their own practices. More specifically, it was a post written by a well known Pagan author that simply asked people to acknowledge historical accuracy and to examine whether certain beliefs they hold are privy to bioessentialism. The sharing of that post went, as should have been expected, a few different ways. I always hope for better from my community and yet continuously find myself disappointed by some. Thankfully, others can be counted on to make me proud again of the community. Because the group is private, I will not go into any details on the comments, but it got me thinking yet again about how toxic the Pagan community can be when left unchecked.

The Pagan community is rife with misinformation. Despite being made up of thousands of different religions, Paganism as a whole still gets painted over with Wiccan beliefs and ethics. All too common is the Wiccan Rede partially invoked and misused as an all-encompassing rule that must be followed. “Harm none”. This can feed into the problem of those who would use “intent” as an excuse to say or do anything they want, rather than holding themselves accountable for any harm they do end up causing. Because, (sarcasm ahead) there are no Pagan religions that are okay with cursing, have deities of war, etc. Nor do any place an importance on accountability. Not only are many Pagans of various religions actually cool with violence (although, as a general rule: most of us only condone it for things such as self defense), but the Wiccan Rede itself is meant to be advice rather than an actual law. It is also certainly not meant to excuse bad behavior. The erasure of the diversity of religions and traditions in favor of a single one invented in the 1950’s is just one example of misinformation that contributes to misinformation in the Pagan community.

Another common contributer is that many Pagans rely on outdated or outright incorrect information as fact. Archeological evidence changes what we know about ancient religions and cultures from time to time. Where information was once missing, new information has been brought to light. Where archeologists have historically held biases in favor of white, Christian men, more are becoming better aware. One such example is the existence of warrior women among the Scandinavian peoples (“Vikings”). Once held as myth due to lack of evidence and the biases of a patriarchal society, we now know that women did travel and fight alongside the men. This misinformation from the past has still contributed to the issue of toxic masculinity and misogyny that runs rampant in certain circles of modern Heathenry and Asatru.

In addition, authors haven’t always been truthful about the origins of the practices they write about. Authors have taken from Indigenous, African-diasporic, and other traditions originating with people of color without knowing the full context of the practices and beliefs they’re writing about; often making false claims that these practices were European or else making adaptations without distinguishing the original practice from the misappropriated one. (Note: While many practices and beliefs are similar across cultures, each will still have it’s own context that is equally important and should not be glossed over or changed by outsiders.) Not only have marginalized cultures been taken from in disrespectful ways, but misinformation pertaining to ancient European pagan religions has also been spread by authors looking to make a profit. A quick example of this is the attribution of the “Maiden, Mother, Crone” archetype to goddesses that it never historically applied to. This particular example, when used literally and harmfully toward others, has the added risk factor of leading to bioessentialism.

Much of this spread of misinformation has contributed to the issues of white supremacy, ableism, transphobia, misappropriation, and other issues within Paganism. It is unfortunate that many cling to ideas that end up causing harm to the wider community, rather than having a willingness to learn. It is a shame to Paganism as a whole, in my opinion, that so many are unwilling to strive for inclusivity and respect for others.

One of the common draws to Pagan religions is that we are free to make our own paths. We don’t have to ascribe to a single doctrine or practice how others tell us we should. “There is no wrong way to practice”. As a general rule, it’s a good one. It does, however, also act as a double edged sword. I have too often seen Pagans and witches abuse this “rule” by acting as if it means they are free from accountability when they do wrong. This can cycle back to Pagans making generalized claims that have no historical or otherwise factual basis, or that cause harm to marginalized people, then becoming upset when they are corrected. There is a clear difference between having a personal practice that involves UPG or otherwise modern beliefs, and having a dishonest practice that contributes to causing harm to the greater community. It is shocking to me that so many can fail to see that difference. The former is a sign of a healthily evolving practice, the latter is not. The misuse of our spiritual freedom as Pagans is a major contributor to many of the internal problems the community faces. We are free to do what we want, we should not be free from the consequences (such as being called out or corrected) when we contribute to misinformation or harmful ideas. There is no shame in being wrong as long as we are willing to learn from it.

Becoming – Chapter Two

Becoming

Chapter Two, Part One

Chapter Two, Part Two

I was having issues with Tumblr limiting my word count at the time of posting this chapter there, so it was split into two posts.

Don’t want to wait for the next chapter? Check my Tumblr or Ao3 to see if it’s already up there!

Tumblr Masterlist: https://balvinia.tumblr.com/masterlist

Ao3: https://archiveofourown.org/users/BAlvinia