I read Hecate’s excellent post on the dark moon and working with shadows last week, and while I had done a ritual to observe the dark/new moon, I thought to myself, “I wish I’d done that instead.” One of the things about being a Witch is that you learn to be careful what you wish for. Over the next few days, my body reminded me that while my personal monthly cycle is not always in sync with the moon, it does present me with an unenviable opportunity to face my shadows on a regular basis. Now, on the heels of that, we arrive at a day that in the US will be used for contemplations of several kinds, and I am thinking that we should bring the skills of shadow work to this conversation, too.
Each grief proceeds at its own pace, and for some people who grieve September 11th, it will never be far enough away to try to approach it again from the different angle of shadow work. I understand that; I honor that, and wish that I had other comfort to offer. I do not write primarily to those people.
I write because I have experienced the ways that facing one’s shadows, recognizing them, understanding them, and ultimately integrating them, leads to healing and to wholeness. In the absence of this process, we feed our shadows’ power. We see our (denied or unrecognized) shadows everywhere, and we project them even where they don’t belong. We act out their patterns when other behavior would be a better use of our time and energy.
We should talk about our national shadows because they are very real, just as real as our national psyche and self-perception. And because our ideas of what it means to be American are diverse and varied, so are our shadows – but the shadows have an extra power, because they are harder to discuss, harder to see clearly. This inherent power makes them potent political weapons.
For example, I believe that the response of conservative news media to last year’s attack on the US compound in Benghazi was nothing more nor less than a deliberate attempt to inflame a shadow of September 11th in order to reinforce their political attitudes, especially the idea that we desperately need a Strong (Republican) Leader.
Similarly, some Congress members recently distorted the facts of September 11th in order to invoke its shadow to drum up support for one side of the current conflict in Egypt. But if we’ve observed anything in Egypt, it is that the Arab Spring will not lead directly to some miraculous Summer of Democracy. As a country, we should be careful what we wish for, and who we arm.
As a result, the discussion of what action to take with respect to Syria is covered in shadows: One of the biggest might be called World’s Policeman. This shadow is cast by some heroic history, but it is a shadow, not the thing itself, and it is one we need to be wary of. It often interacts with Sole Superpower, a shadow with even uglier implications. There are also shadows related to actions taken or not taken in military, political, and diplomatic ways more recently and more specifically.
Just as with individual shadow problems, there is a wealth of history that informs the development of these shadows and should be addressed as part of understanding them. (Have you ever seen the photo of Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein?) I may yet write more about that. For now, I want to plant the idea of working with our national shadows as something we should do.
But when I write we, I mean the individuals of the country, out of whom the country and her psyche are made. Specifically those of us who do magic, who work with shadow as part of our practice, we should take the lead here. I don’t have a simple recommendation; I don’t think shadow work is ever simple. So I ask you: how would you do shadow work with the country?
For me, I will work with Columbia, engaging with her and with my own personal corner of what it means to be America. I will dialogue with her, and her shadows, and my shadows, the way I have dialogued with my own shadows in the past, and I will try to integrate just a fragment more, so that in the future, I will have the wisdom of honest history and the resulting courage of my convictions to take a stand.