The first day of autumn is just around the corner, which signals the colder part of the year when the northern hemisphere is less active — as in further from the sun. Our days are shorter, and the growing season — for the most part — has come to a halt. During this time of year, our witchcraft practice tends to be a little different than during other seasons. For some of us, things get a little slower and dull. For others, things get a little more active as the so-called veil becomes thinner. Since this is the time of year that is darker, colder and spookier, then what better time than to dive into some shadow work? Between now and the first day of spring (2022) is approximately six months. How many of us could handle six months of shadow work during these “down” months?
Month One: Easing into it
Shadow work is one of those things that you might need to ease yourself into — especially if you’re really going to take six months of your life to do it. If you’ve never experimented with shadow work before, then you’re going to want to take your time preparing yourself for what may become a wild or even unpleasant ride. Gather a journal or notebook and pen that you intend on using only for this project. Set aside your own little “calm space” in your home for journaling quietly. This can be anywhere from your kitchen table after everyone else in your home as gone to bed, or really just anywhere else that you can have some private time to yourself. You can also set aside some personal items that resonate with you spiritually. These can be comfort items to better center yourself while easing into this sort of spiritual work. Crystals, candles, incense — even your favorite fuzzy blanket can be useful.
Once you’ve gathered any kind of materials you need or set aside your preferred spiritual space (if you didn’t already have one), it’s time to do whatever it is you do to bless, protect or cleanse the area. This, of course, is a purely optional activity, but if you’re going to be delving into shadow work, it’s at least comforting to set yourself up in a space that contributes to a more positive environment.
This is also the time to begin researching what shadow work actually is, and what it personally means to you. In general, shadow work is the spiritual process of examining your “dark side,” so to speak. We all have a dark side, and we all have faults and flaws. Dedicating part of your spiritual practice to shadow work forces you to examine all of these faults and flaws and how they affect you — as well as others around you. It pushes you to become fully acquainted with who you are — not just who you think you are, who you want to be or who your ego presents itself as. In other words, doing some shadow work pushes you to evolve on an emotional, intellectual and spiritual level.
Your shadow side is the side of you that you repress and keep hidden for the most part. In some of us, that dark side can become so repressed and hidden that we may no longer have control of when it surfaces. This is sometimes the reason why someone may come across as “stable” one moment, and then suddenly “unstable” in tense situations. For some people, it may even be difficult to identify what their dark side is. This is when your journal will be coming in handy.
Month Two: Identify your points of happiness and trauma
Make a two column list. One side of the list represents all of your happiest childhood memories. The other side of the list represents your most traumatic, sad memories. Over the course of this second month of your shadow work journey, record your memories as early back as you can remember. One way you can do this is to work in chronological order from your earliest remembered age, progressing until the here and now. This will certainly take some time — especially if you have any repressed traumas that affect your memory. Some of us live with traumas that make it difficult to remember entire years of our lives.
With all of the above said, it’s also an incredibly beneficial idea to arrange an appointment with a licensed therapist during this time. There are even therapists out there who can help you look deeper at your shadow self, to help you identify traits and behaviors necessary to facing your dark side. In the event of repressed traumatic memories, a therapist can help you try to recall and face them head-on in a healthy manner. Keep adding to your list even as you visit a therapist.
During this second month of your shadow work journey, use your list of happy and sad memories to identify your feelings from each event. For example, if you wrote down a happy memory about spending time with a family member, record your feelings associated with this and whether or not it affected something in your future. Do the same thing with your negative memories. Again, if necessary, go over this with a therapist who will guide you through any traumas or memories that bring you a difficult time.
Month Three: Explore your family traumas and compare them to your own
While you’re identifying your own traumas, and documenting your memories and feelings associated with them, you should use this third month to examine any possible contributing family traumas. For example, if you find that one of your most traumatic memories is a loved one’s drug addiction, identify that as your loved one’s trauma and examine why they may have taken on that trauma in the way that they did. You might find that familial traumas run deep in many cases — and some can reach many generations back in history.
While exploring family traumas, look at how each of your loved ones exhibited the tolls that were taken on them. How did they react under pressure? Did their reactions ring in any similarity to your own when put in similar situations? Use your journal to make any comparisons and record any similarities that you might notice between your own response to trauma and your loved ones’.
Remember that this is a deeply emotional process, and it’s totally okay to seek the help of a therapist during this time. When uncovering family trauma — especially trauma that impacted you and possibly shaped who you are now — the assistance of someone who is safe and compassionate is sometimes necessary.
Month Four: Owning up to your own faults and misdeeds
This might be the toughest part of the process for a lot of people, because it forces you to do more than simply writing down how you feel about various situations. This part of your shadow work journey compels you to examine all the wrong you’ve done that might have negatively impacted others — and how it also affected you. We are all guilty of hurting other people and we are all guilty of actions and behaviors that we shouldn’t be proud of. For most of us out there, there is at least one person in the world who can attribute their own personal traumas to our direct or indirect actions. This could be anything from cheating on a test or lying on a job application to cheating on someone who cared about you or even getting violent with someone.
Be brutally honest with yourself during this fourth month and write down in your journal a chronological things you’ve done without any other context whatsoever. Do not write down your reasons behind your actions and do not write down any excuses or summarizing that lightens the gravity of your actions. Simply write down the things you’ve done as facts and nothing more, from a totally clinical point-of-view.
- Did you steal from your mother’s purse as a child or teenager (with or without getting caught)? Write that down.
- Did you ever say something unprovoked that was hurtful to a person or engage in any kind of bullying throughout your childhood or adulthood? Write that down.
- Did you ever do anything thoughtlessly that led to someone else getting hurt or into some kind of trouble? Write it down.
There are countless examples of misdeeds and faults — and every individual person has specific individual memories to explore. Some people have done things far worse than what’s mentioned in the above examples. Some people are murderers, rapists and any other combination of things that society deems abhorrent. Some people carry secrets of horrible mistakes they’ve made. No matter how small or how big and seemingly unforgivable the misdeed might be, write it down in your list of faults.
This exercise is a way of holding up a mirror to yourself and examining the things that you know you’ve done in relation to who you perceive yourself to be in the here and now. Without giving yourself any types of excuses, like we are all known to do when we make mistakes, simply own up to the actions themselves by acknowledging them as part of who you are. As recommended in the other sections of this article, seek out the help of a therapist if you’re finding it difficult to deal with any new emotions or thoughts that arise from facing your own demons in this manner.
Month Five: Absorbing and reflecting on everything
Over the past few months you’ve spent most of your time examining all of the good, the bad and the ugly that surrounds your life and existence. By this point you should have done plenty of self-searching and looking in the proverbial mirror. During this fifth month, you should revisit your earliest journal entries — and reflect on everything you’ve achieved in your shadow work journey.
Look at everything you’ve journaled about your happiest memories, your saddest memories, your traumas, your family traumas, your reactions to all of your traumas — everything. Look at all you have journaled from a “big picture” perspective. Do this as an exercise, daily, to drive home all you’ve recorded about yourself. Get to know yourself on paper without judgment and without shame. If necessary — or if you feel the need — add more to your earlier journal entries, such as feelings and memories that you may have remembered over the course of the past few months.
Write a final page in your journal
Sum up your most repressed or darkest attributes in a column list. Use as few words as possible to make it easier for you to focus on the most key parts of your shadow self. This might take some time and effort, but it is also another exercise in familiarizing yourself with all that you’ve acknowledged as your dark side or “shadow self.”
Month Six: Making peace and accepting your dark attributes
This marks the end of your six months of shadow work — and if you’ve made it this far without completely abandoning it, then pat yourself on the back. It’s tedious to stick to something for six months, especially something that can be potentially negative and emotionally draining as shadow work. Use each and every single day of this month to acknowledge your shadow side and how it has contributed to your life thus far. With each day that you acknowledge an aspect of your “darker side,” follow up with an affirmation of acceptance and healing.
Affirmations don’t have to come from books or online sources. In fact, they mean more when they come from you. Tell yourself that you accept every facet of who you are — the good and the bad. You can write down these affirmations if you want, but you really don’t have to. Saying these things to yourself at the close of your daily reflection is truly all that is necessary. With each day that passes of you doing it, you will start to feel the effects that your own words have on your psyche.
End your six months of shadow work with a closing ritual
This is when you will display absolute peace with yourself by “letting go” of the labor it took for you to come this far. You’ve achieved a great deal in the past six months of inner reflection and soul-searching, and your six month shadow journal is symbolic of a huge weight that you’ve worked off of your own shoulders by transferring it to paper. In your closing ritual, you will destroy the journal and dispel the weight of your spiritual labor into the smoke. For this ritual you will need the following:
- Cauldron, fireplace or other fire-safe receptacle
- Shadow journal
- Pillow or blanket for meditation
Sit or kneel on your pillow or blanket in a quiet, well-ventilated area. Preferably, you should be outdoors where any smoke can travel into the air and disperse.
Place your journal inside the receptacle you’ve chosen — whether it be a fireplace or cauldron of some sort. Do not remove any pages of this journal. Keep it intact, containing all you’ve written over the past several months.
Set fire to the journal. It’s just that simple.
Get comfortably seated (or keep kneeling if that’s what you prefer) as you watch the fire consume the journal. Use this time to meditate on all you’ve learned about yourself. While doing this, visualize your burning journal as a representation of the split between who you’ve seen yourself to be in the past, and your shadow self. As the flames burn away at the journal, turning it to ash, watch the smoke billow away as a symbolic release from that dividing split. In other words, the more the journal disappears into fire, smoke and ash the more your perceived self and your shadow self symbolically combine — becoming one. This is an act of becoming at peace with your once-repressed shadow, while letting go of all the pain and suffering that it took for you to come to acceptance of your full self.
Once the journal has been burned to nothing but fine ash, let it cool safely and then mix it with some potting or garden soil. With the six months coming to an end, the first day of spring should soon be here — which gives you the perfect opportunity to close your six months of shadow work with some positive green witchery. Grow a garden or plant a tree over the ashes of your shadow journal, and allow your plants to thrive in place of your trauma, pain and faults. Tend to your plants throughout the spring and summer seasons, and if they’re annuals replace them the following year in the same soil (just fertilize it to keep it nutrient-rich). If you plant a tree or perennial plants, maintain them as long as possible while remembering that these are the fruits of your shadow work — and that from all of that work came growth on multiple levels.
This is just my individual take on shadow work, but shadow work as a general topic in both witchcraft and psychology can entail many different things for every individual person. If you want to use this article as a basis for your own shadow work, then feel free to alter it and change it according to your own needs and particular spiritual style.