Why are we so afraid of the dark? Why do we avoid investigating our shadow nature? Why do we deny the parts of ourselves that we think unacceptable to speak of in polite company? Why do we shove down our dark emotional pain and refuse to deal with it?
The shadow, as described by psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown ‘‘dark side’’ of our personality –- dark because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive or negative human emotions and impulses like anger or rage, lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed and envy. These emotions can see us engage in behaviours such as promiscuous sex, illicit drug taking, alcohol abuse, lies, eating disorders, bad parenting, despair, codependency, crime, depression, shame or even madness and due to the unenlightened nature of these behaviours can be completely obscured from our awareness. Whatever we deem evil, inferior or unacceptable and deny in ourselves becomes part of the shadow and oftentimes because of our inability to identify it, we disown and project it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in ourselves.
Modern western society with its Christianised version of God has no dark or shadow side to deity. God is all good, all healing, all light. God will save you, God will cleanse you, God will forgive you your sins and offer you a place in heaven – but only if you are good and repent all that is not of the light. This indoctrination of good as the only acceptable default position has taught us that sin is an unacceptable state and we must be ashamed of any behaviour that would be deemed sinful. And so we hide our lurking shadows, afraid of the judgment of others, knowing anything that is not of the light will be punished and condemned to the fires of hell. Not a terribly healthy state that denies half of the human psyche.
The Goddess on the other hand, as well as many other polytheistic religions acknowledge the shadow aspects of deity which in turn mirror the many archetypes of human nature. We are both shadow and light, moving seamlessly between awareness of our actions and the watery depths of the unknown. Just as nature herself embraces the polarities of night and day, the cycles of the moon and the changing seasons, we too vacillate between shadow and light as this is our natural state of being.
So who are the dark goddesses and what purpose do they serve?
The dark goddesses come to us from ancient goddess worshipping societies, who recognized that death and darkness are just as valid as life and light. When we seek the counsel of the dark goddess, we seek transformation – death to the old by honouring its existence and then entering a period of rest, stillness and healing (or gestation) before passing through the gateway (birthing canal) and being reborn to the new.
Which goddess do you seek to journey with as you turn to face your unacknowledged pain?
Kali is the venerated Hindu triple mother goddess of creation, preservation and destruction first appearing about 400 C.E. Kali wears a garland of skulls and a skirt of dismembered arms because the ego arises out of identification with the body. She holds a sword and a freshly severed head dripping blood. Her black skin represents the womb of the yet unmanifest from which all of creation arises and into which all of creation will eventually dissolve.
Kali is the “terrible mother” who gives life as well as takes it away. She is the hungry sow who devours her young. She is connected with women’s menstrual cycles, nature at its most raw and fundamental cyclic best, demonstrating creation and destruction, light and dark.
Kali’s destructive side clearly speaks to mothers whose roller coaster emotions and frustrations involved with child rearing, mean that in order to mould a child in their early years, some aspects of the child’s nature must be killed in the process. The mother who is afraid for her child’s safety will curtail her or his adventurous spirit. The mother who is worried about her own image and that of her family will try to mould her child into a person whose behaviour is acceptable. With our own bad memories of mothers whose behaviour we said we would never emulate, we often sadly find ourselves repeating just those same errors.
Lilith is the dark goddess of the Hebrew faith, who we are told was the first wife of Adam. She was created equally by God, not from a rib of Adam, as was Eve. Seeing that they were both equal, she refused to lie beneath Adam during intercourse and became angry and fled the Garden of Eden. She was condemned by God to copulate with men in their sleep in “unbridled promiscuity”, a succubus thriving off their sexual energy, bearing over a hundred demon children a day.
The Kabbalah describes her as a seductress. In the Sumerian culture, she was Inanna’s handmaiden, bringing men from the streets to the temple prostitutes. Today, she represents the archetype of female sexual power, the seductress, and the wild woman who has freedom, independence and refuses to be subordinate to men. She is often depicted with owl wings and talons and is known as the “screech owl”.
Lilith speaks to women seeking to become more independent and not afraid of their freedom or sexuality. She represents what the patriarchal religions sought to suppress in women: strong open emotions, lusty sexual desires, fearlessness in standing up for their rights. She shows that women’s bodies are not dark places of temptation or dirtiness and disgust and cannot be owned by anyone. Seek out Lilith when healing issues surrounding sexual abuse and suppression.
Sekhmet is the Egyptian Goddess of war and destruction. She is usually portrayed as a woman with the head of a lioness, bearing the solar disc or ureas and serpent upon her head. She is a fierce goddess of war, the destroyer of the enemies of Ra and Osiris. In the myth, Sekhmet’s anger became so uncontrollable, she poured out from herself a blazing fire which scorched and consumed her enemies. She destroyed men and drank their blood, night after night, her rage so great that she became drunk on human blood. She was unstoppable.
Sekhmet is also known for potent unleashing of powerful sexual passions and the rising of kundalini energy. She is likewise known as the compassionate protector and mother goddess. Like the lioness she fiercely protects that which she loves and for which she is responsible. Her power to destroy is relegated to righteous ends and correcting moral wrongs.
Sekhmet can represent personal power and boundaries in our lives. Are we able to stand up for and protect that which needs our nurturing and love? When we are asked to over-extend our time, our money, our emotions, do we have the clear ability to say NO. Do we allow ourselves to be pushed and pulled and scatter our energies until we are so distraught and incapable of functioning that something in us breaks? It is at that point that we either respond in fits of rage, lashing out at those we love, creating chaos all around us, or on the other hand dissolving into fits of tears, depression and inability to act at all. Sekhmet is not a wrathful Goddess, she reminds us to draw on our strengths, set boundaries and effectively manage our lives in all aspects.
Inanna is the Sumerian Goddess of Heaven and Earth whose ancient myth of descent into the Underworld, provides the perfect metaphor for the journey that each dark goddess offers when we decide to turn and face our own shadow and undergo the transformational journey of death and rebirth.
Inanna goes willingly to meet her sister Ereshkigal, who is Queen of the underworld. It is Inanna’s own choice to travel into the realms of the Dark Goddess and it seems that she largely expects to be held as an equal down there, although she does make provisions for rescue in case she does not return. Inanna is required to pass through seven individual gateways (which represent the dissolution of the ego), at each of which she is stripped of her Queenly attire.
As Inanna passed through the first gate her crown is removed. Then her lapis beads, at the third her sparkling stones; at the fourth her breastplate; at the fifth her gold ring; at the sixth her lapis sceptre, and at the seventh and final gate her royal robe.
Naked and disarmed, Inanna enters the throne room of her sister. Immediately she is surrounded by the judges of the underworld and Ereshkigal who rule against her. Inanna is slain and her corpse, now a rotting piece of meat, hung from a meat hook on the wall.
Inanna is saved however, reborn from the Underworld partly due to her prudence before she journeyed by leaving her faithful retainer Ninshubur to raise the alarm and beg help from the gods if she did not return. One of the gods responds to the appeal, and sends down two creatures, too tiny to be noticed, into Ereshkigal’s realm. These creatures manage to rescue the corpse of Inanna, which they then revive with the bread and water of life. By practising compassion and mirroring Ereshkigal’s suffering back to her, she is so grateful for the simple act of being heard, that she offers them any gift they name, and they ask for Inanna’s corpse. This compassion, this respect, this honouring of suffering and in particular of the suffering of the Dark Goddess herself is a pivotal point in the story.
What the myth of Inanna tells us is that while the journey to the underworld is ultimately about experiencing death, what it also explains is that when we surrender all of our ego, all our shadows, when we offer ourselves naked and exposed to the dark goddess, she offers healing, wisdom, salvation and ultimately rebirth. What Inanna returned with was compassion. Compassion for herself and for others.
The Crone, bone mother, death hag, represents the third and final aspect of the Goddess. The Crone has become, or been made the most feared aspect of the Goddess. This is mainly because of the Crone’s function, which is death. In primitive and ancient societies this function was called the mother’s curse, and became known as the Crone’s curse. This curse of destruction is the Destroyer aspect of the Goddess.
The fear of this aspect arises within people of modern societies because the aspect of the Destroyer has been misrepresented or guised as sinister. When we can sit comfortably with death, knowing that the act of dying and decay are part of the inevitable cycle that we all belong to, then rather than resist, we can release, let go and move quickly through the gateway that offers rebirth and renewal.
When we finally arrive at the point of surrender we find ourselves in a place of quiet solitude, in the emptiness of the void, where we are able to hand over the issue to the wisdom of the crone, the bone mother, the death hag. In this place of withdrawal, we are stripped to the bone, laying ourselves open and bare, willing to enter the dark stillness of the tomb, the underworld, where we have relinquished all control. Here we come face to face with our shadows, our pain, and death itself.
But it is a symbolic death – death to the old, death to the past, death to the pain. For within the quiet stillness of the tomb, the bone mother prepares us with her infinite wisdom for the stripping back and the reshaping of the new, making it possible to see the hidden potentials that lay within the shadow of our darkest self. For in this place of darkness we have forgotten the deep healing, the eternal wisdoms the sacred intelligence and personal intuition that is accessed from the depths of our psyches when we consciously give permission for healing to take place.
For the tomb then becomes the womb and from this place of stillness and death, the tiny seeds of new life are sown. The bone mother / crone who so frighteningly beckons you with her crooked finger to this place of death, holds the potential for conception to occur and counsels you that destruction and endings are required to initiate new beginnings. And so from this portal of death, new life springs forth and you emerge from the tomb through the birthing canal, once again restored and reborn.
Stepping into the Dark
We need to be the hero in our own lives and investigate the shadow for ourselves. Do not expect yourself to be perfect. It’s totally unrealistic. Own your imperfections and different shaped bodies and addictions and flaws and irrational behaviours and instead of hiding them away in the dark, honour the differences that makes us all human beings with both light and shadow sides. There is no shame in the shadow, only acknowledgement – for in healing the dysfunction, you’ll find that your life and the lives of those around you flow in greater harmony, ease and joy.
To face your shadow side for the first time can be a very frightening prospect. To deny its existence will not make it go away, for it will not be denied. To begin healing aspects of your shadow, you first need to identify them. Begin by making a list. What do you hide from your friends and family and would hate for them to ever know about you? Your list might include:
- I get so frustrated with my kids. Sometimes I scream and want to hit or beat them.
- I want more sex than my husband does. That’s not normal is it?
- I hate my mother. She always tries to control me.
- I want to explore occult, pagan, wiccan or new age religions. Won’t people judge me?
- I hate my body. I’m afraid of becoming fat, old and unattractive.
- I’m never any good at learning new things. I always stuff it up and feel so stupid.
- Often I find myself drinking a bottle of wine before lunch time just to cope with the stress. I’m so ashamed.
- I continually check my husband’s mobile and car, looking in his pockets trying to find something to prove he’s being unfaithful, but I never do. I can’t stop myself, I’m so insecure.
- I find myself taking hard drugs nearly every weekend. It’s the crowd I’m hanging with, but I find I can’t have fun without them.
Remember, you don’t have to tackle everything at once. Choose just one issue at a time. Then you need to acknowledge this to yourself. “Yes, this darkness is a part of me. This is the way that I feel. This is who I am – a person who is not perfect. I am light and I am dark. The more I acknowledge the parts I disown, the less power they have over me.”
What else? The archetypes of different goddesses can act as wayshowers on your journey. Just as the goddesses outlined above provide a template for shadow emotions, also find out more about the other dark goddesses and their stories – Hel, Medusa, Hecate, Cerridwen, Morrigan, Baba Yaga, Sheela-na-gig, Nuit, and Nyx. Perhaps create an altar to them, asking for their assistance. On this altar include things that represent your dark side. A black or red candle, a dark stone, animal bones, a snake skin or icon, picture of spider, whatever signifies the dark for you. Find time to light your candle, the dark of the moon is always an appropriate time and ask for the assistance of the dark goddess and she will begin to work with you. You must then be aware of the subtle influence she will begin to exhibit, or perhaps get ready to be thrown directly into the dark.
Make friends with the crone / bone mother and fully accept the cycle of death / renewal / rebirth and acknowledge the times when you need to retreat into quietness and solitude. Set aside time specifically to do just this. A time when you are bleeding is most powerful as the shedding of the blood is another of the potent mysteries of death and release that signal the creation of the new within your own body.
Above all, cut yourself some slack. By acknowledging that you are a combination of the light and dark, see your behaviours less as good and bad but more of how they do or do not serve you. Just by acknowledging that the shadow exists and becoming conscious of behaviours and beliefs that limit you, then you are on your way to nipping them in the bud when they surface. And by all means, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if it all becomes too overwhelming.
Give thanks always that the journey is both dark and light. We were not meant to be pure spiritual beings without sin living up to some ideal of holy perfection, that’s why we were given sensual, emotional bodies and called human beings. Light a candle, call in goddess and enjoy your journey of discovery.
participate in a shadow journey of your own
Come January 2016, I will be offering this one month online journey with the shadow goddesses. From one dark moon to the next, you will immerse yourselves in the shadow goddess of your choice and create a relationship with them, learning all their attributes and symbols. Then you will create an altar and in ritual space invoke them into your life as you work with their energy to investigate your shadow self. This is an opportunity to dive deep into your unconscious behaviours and beliefs and investigate what is truly limiting you.
Check out all the details and sign up at this link: https://goddessofsacredsex.com/workshops-events/
Find the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1669185596656008/