Animal Wisdom: Connecting People and Animals

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Working with Shadow Animals: terms: darkness and the Shadow Archetype

The term “shadow” has many connotations, depending on its use. When working with your “Shadow Animal,” you will probably want to explore what type of shadow the animal is. That will determine how you work with Them. I will define the terms: “darkness and light,” “the shadow archetype,” “nahualli,” “heyoka,” “trickster,” and “shaman’s death” in several blog postings. Finally, I will conclude with how to work your “Shadow Animals.”

Darkness and Light

In Christian thought, which permeates much of Western philosophy, is the concept of the duality of “light and dark.” Life is divided into two separate and distinct parts of light (good) and dark (evil). These two parts war with each other over the control of the universe. However neither will overcome the other, but instead remain in a dynamic balance, that shifts back and forth.

Outside of Christian philosophy, “darkness” generally means chaos. Without the chaos, order as “light” cannot occur. Whereas light is creation, darkness is destruction. In this duality, creation and decay become the natural processes of life. Together, these two ensure a perfect balance of opposites.

One way to regard “darkness and light” is to see it as “black and white,” in complementing the other. In the West, black represents death, mystery, and the underworld. Meanwhile, white represents purity, peace, and innocence. Considered sacred, white animals often act as guides leading people to their destinies. Also sacred, black animals usually are omens of coming death.

For example, in Scotland, the Cait Sith (Fairy Cat) prowls the moors spying on humans. This large black cat, with flattened ears and dark green eyes, is a being from the Otherworld. If someone should encounter a Cait Sith, he would hear Her offer him a prophecy. In the Timbavati Region of South Africa, a White Lion is expected to appear once a century. A gift from God, the White Lion represents the good in all creatures. Since both the Cait Sith and the White Lion are connected with the Otherworld, They complement each other.

Shadow Archetype:

First defined by Carl Jung, the term “Shadow” describes the repressed or denied part of ourselves. Our shadows are those parts that we have split off, repressed or denied, usually the parts that we are afraid to publically show.

Jung said that for a person to function, she had to be aware of her shadow. If that person denied her shadow, she often would project it onto other people. More than likely, this person would become a professional victim. Moreover, Jung believed that the cause for neurotic behavior was the continual repression of the Shadow. Since the Shadow was natural and life giving, a person who acknowledged it would have positive relations with everyone, including herself.

In his work, Jung grappled with how to define the Shadow Archetype. The Shadow for the individual was the “elements of the unconscious which were incompatible with the chosen conscious attitude.” For the collective, this was the Shadow Archetype – the unconscious that consists of the totality of individual Shadows.

To Jung, the Shadow represented wildness and chaos. In various myths, the Wild Man who lives alone in the forest is the Shadow Archetype. Usually mad, he has to be restored to sanity before rejoining society. The Wild Man included the human who lives with the beasts, believing that he is one of them. Once he comes in contact with people, he becomes civilized.

In my opinion, the Shadow Archetype for humanity could be Grey Wolf (Canis lupus). Humans and wolves have had a long and complex history together. Some traditions maintain that Grey Wolf civilized humankind. As a teacher, Grey Wolf showed people the proper way to live together. However, human fear of Grey Wolf has deep roots. First, wolves hunted people, and then competed with them for the same animals. Once people domesticated animals, wolves killed their livestock. Grey Wolf holds the mirror to humans of their repressed fears.

Another Shadow Archetype for humanity could be Bigfoot (and his relatives). This seemingly apelike humanoid could also be the Wild Man of myths, harking back to the primordial beginnings of humankind. No matter how much people have become civilized, Bigfoot reminds them of their animal origins. He also reminds people that they are animals as well, no higher and no lower than other mammals. Bigfoot places Mankind in their actual position in the universe. Because legends of Bigfoot (and his relatives) are world-wide, he probably exists. Whatever the case, acting as the Shadow, Bigfoot represents the feral darkness within humanity. He holds the unconscious parts of humankind.


The blog picture is of Bigfoot from "The Field Guide of Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates." (1965)

Other blogs in this series: Shadow Animals (Part 1): What is a Shadow Animal

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Virginia Carper, a Roman Polytheist, lives in the Washington D.C. area with her family. She navigates life with a traumatic brain injury which gives her a different view on life. An avid naturalist since childhood, she has a blog called “Nature’s Observations.” Having experienced the animals directly, she teaches on-line classes about the spiritual and natural aspect of animals. She has published articles on her brain injury, Roman polytheism, and working with extinct animals. In addition her writings on animals (including dragons and other mythic creatures) can be purchased her book site, Animal Teachers.  


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