The Three Shadows

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

When you do the work of the Witch, you take certain things for granted. If something wasn’t spelled out for you, you often didn’t spell it out to those around you, including students and peers. Such understandings can come in the silent knowing. But as we grow as a community, we need to be more skillful in transmitting the mystery techniques. Some things need a little more vocabulary and context, to be specifically spelled out, to be effective.

For me, it was the realization that “shadow work”—facing the repressed and unconscious—never ends. That’s right. Once again for those in the back, shadow work never ends, at least not while you are in a body. You can find greater peace and deeper levels of understanding. You can even reside in a non-dual awareness most of the time, but every now and then, the shadow rears its head, particularly if you go on to do teaching and community work.

Then why do people think it’s over and done? Or even if they give lip service to unending shadow work, personally ignore it? I think shadow work comes in many rounds, with three big areas.

The first round is the personal—childhood, familial. If we enter Witchcraft with no previous therapy or healing, this is both a new and (for most) monumental task. When it’s done, we can feel so free that we think nothing will be that monumental again.

But the patterns, now conscious, don’t disappear. They just stop operating unconsciously. In many ways, the first round compacts multiple issues into “the shadow,” and a wise Witch will dissect the whole into all the smaller patterns and issues for closer examination. Most Witches, however, do not.

Beyond the work of coagulating, separating, and again reuniting the shadow parts in magickal relationship on that personal, adult level, we have more levels to consider. Modern psychology often divides these realms into the personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal. The personal is the most obvious to us, but that doesn’t diminish the others. We can think of the personal as the underworld, often hidden from others; the interpersonal as the middle world, the day-to-day effects of the shadow; and the transpersonal as the larger picture from above that encompasses both the middle world and underworld and their respective shadow forces.

We have at least one round of interpersonal shadow work stemming from our more adult experiences. This can still have roots in the personal and childhood, but every experience since that time is a new layer of patterns. These are the dynamics created at work, in community, and in higher education, be it academic and/or metaphysical. This is a group dynamic, the collective shadow we contribute to in a group setting.

Here we have the shadow of community and coven, a difficult guardian for most of us. There are reasons why magickal communities, lodges, and covens implode over time. Many are working with these forces of shadow, but not through these forces of shadow. When you consciously or unconsciously think you are “done” and “fixed” or “enlightened” or “adept,” these attitudes can run rampant, magnifying the ego. Those who create community have to be able to be aware of the process, and hold the process well, while simultaneously doing their own personal work. No easy feat there. A good sign of those who are doing well, despite the difficulties, is the constant questioning: “how can I do better?”, “how can I serve?”, and “how can I be more skillful/compassionate/balanced in my response?” When you see someone in leadership blame, divide, gossip, deflect, and refuse to take responsibility, you have the shadow running amok in that leadership. While leaders in groups, workplaces, and community often have to take responsibility for things that they are not to blame for, the taking responsibility is the key to the leadership. As a friend says about much of this work, “While it’s not your fault it happened, it’s your responsibility now to address it.”

Lastly we have the transpersonal shadow which is somewhat of a misnomer as it’s still very personal. It partakes in what older occult traditions would call the folk souls, racial souls, national souls, and ultimately, the world soul. It deals in the collective shadow of the greater groups where you don’t know everyone personally, and there is a collective karmic history. You do not choose this shadow, but are instead born into the circumstances of your society and its shadow issues. They range from current events to the major issues of a people. The shadow work around issues such as racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, colonization, religious persecution, and ecocide is a part of the collective transpersonal shadow. While no one person can solve these problems, each individual has to face the consequences of these shadows. The true mystic faces these shadows directly and take both inner and outer world action.

Those working deeply on this level are still facing personal shadow work, but in this case, the work concerns how the personal shadow intersects with this collective. Those doing this work will often be involved in outer world activism or support, and they will be the dark mirror holding up these shadows to friends, family, and peers. If they are doing the personal work with it, they will hold that mirror impeccable and provide space for those to see. If they are confusing their outer world community work with their own personal work, they can become very reactive and therefore less skillful in holding that mirror, in getting the point across to others in a way that can create meaningful change.

So when walking the path and particularly when working in community, take stock on which of the three shadows you are working on and how that work is affecting you. If your answer is that you are completely unaffected, you probably shouldn’t be doing a lot of public work and should instead go deeper within to your own journey. Ritually you should repeat the shadow work practices, but consciously choose the focus of which level you are attending to, knowing each is still rooted in your personal behaviors and decisions.

Temple of Witchcraft