Shadow Healing is Self Healing
At the outset, the journey of shadow healing is like entering a dark cave, where nothing is familiar and you don’t know what you might encounter. But the deeper you venture into the darkness, the more familiar it all looks, because the cave is you.
Psychologist Carl Jung proposed that the shadow is either an unconscious aspect of self that the conscious ego does not recognize, or it is the entirety of an individual’s unconscious realm. In short, the shadow is the unknown personality. However, it exerts a considerable amount of control over our behaviors.
Soul Healing, Shadow Healing
When witches talk of being healers, we’re most often talking about emotional and psychological healing. At its core, this is shadow work. But shadow healing is self-healing, meaning the people we heal are actually healing themselves. Because of this, I believe we aren’t healers as much as we are facilitators for healing. It’s a fine distinction, I know, but I think an important one to understand.
With physical wounds, the best way to hasten healing is to clean the wound, apply antiseptic, and protect the area with a bandage, providing the best environment for healing, but it’s the body itslef that actually does the healing. When the soul or spirit is wounded, a healer creates the environment for self-healing. Namely, we do this by offering safety, compassion, sympathy and honesty and support. But the healer doesn’t have the power to manifest this type of healing on his or her own. Ultimately, that has to come from within the one who is wounded.
Inner healing takes great bravery, because you must travel through your own shadowland, and do so with great humility. This is because at some point in the journey you must acknowledge, as Jung proposed, that you have the power to direct your fate—not so much in what happened or happens to you, but how you choose to react to it.
If you aren’t familiar with shadow healing as self healing, I suggest reading The Key To Successful Shadow Work, by Jessical Ripley on Patheos. It explains the process of facing and dealing with personal wounds, and trauma. Also, it explores the response mechanisms we devise to protect ourselves. In addition, on Patheos, Gwyn, from Three Pagans and a Cat delves deeper into the process in Discovering Self Through Shadow Work.
Moreover, if you have any neurodivergent conditions or atypical thought patterns, shadow work can prove especially challenging. At the same time, this self-healing process can be deeply rewarding for the neurodivergent. For a deeper look into safely navigating the underworld as a neurodivergent witch, from somebody who has walked the path, read Nikki Zang Rosko’s A Neurodivergent Guide to the Shadow Self,
Finally, keep in mind, whether working with others or working to heal your own shadow, seek professional help when necessary. Mentoring, coaching and friendship are not substitutes for professional guidance or medical protocols.
Healing Self Before Others
I should note that I was facilitating shadow healing long before I became a practicing witch. At the time I was growing up, I was the family mediator, smoothing over ruffled feathers and negotiating harmony at home. In friendships I’ve always been a good listener—tell me your problems, share your lost dreams, show me your broken pieces and let me help you put them back together. When I was older, I easily transferred this skill to romantic relationships. I was the Dear Abby to all my friends.
Like many who identify as healers, I fell into believing I had a special quality that attracted wounded souls—as if I was some kind of magickal beacon. The truth is, I was just as drawn to the wounded as they were to me. Ultimately, I had to face my own shadow before I would understand that mutual attraction.
Sometimes, my efforts to help others went well. During those times, I could bask in my success; being a savior is heady stuff. Other times, it blew up in my face, with dramatic and traumatic endings that served only to compound the wounds of everybody involved. As a result, my own wounds multiplied and I was less able to help others. That said, rather ironically (or so I thought), I became even more drawn to offer healing to others.
Though I didn’t realize it twenty-some years ago, my desire to create healthy relationships in my life was perhaps the strongest driving force on my path to witchcraft. But wouldn’t you know it? As it turned out, I couldn’t just wave a magic wand to vanquish others’ pain, let alone my own.
Only after years of shining a light into my dark spaces and grappling with what I found there, did I realized there was no irony in my strong attraction to the walking wounded. I had been attempting to resolve in others, what I was burying in myself. Worse, I’d been stroking my own ego, feeding my need to feel appreciated and valued. By bolstering their worth, I was shoring up my own.
For more insights on self worth and ego, read The Magick in Receiving by Lora Evans.
Are You Wearing Your Pain Like a Scarlet Letter?
The fact of the matter is that none of us asks for abuse or assault. Nor do we attract natural disasters, accidents, injuries or the loss of loved ones. We don’t wish for parents, partners, and families incapable of giving us the love we need. In effect, we don’t ask for any of this emotional pain and trauma, yet they are the seeds of our shadow self. To be clear, these things happen to us, but are not of us.
Shadow healing transforms into self healing when you acknowledge your trauma. Then, you can take the next step to accept that it is not a necessary part of you and release it. In fact, let’s banish it and ward it if we have to, we are witches after all!
That said, some choose instead to lug around a suitcase of grudges ready to unpack it at every crossroads. They excuse inappropriate behaviors on their part as defense mechanisms. Those who opt not to follow through with their shadow work—all the way to releasing or banishing it’s power, choose to be seen as their trauma.
We may as well slap a big, red V-for-victim on our chests. But understand hat the longer we water our shadow seeds, the stronger they grow. Similarly, the more we nurture our own pain instead of supporting our healing, the longer we are hiding from the truth that frees us.
Consider the losses and traumas your shadow has contributed to. Do failed relationships litter your life? Are there red flags you chose to ignore, choices you made when you knew better (or even when you didn’t)? For that matter, what about deliberate deceit, or purposeful harm that you caused to others? In that case, your letter might be G-for-guilt, or S-for-shame (maybe both).
The work here is the same. You are not your mistakes. Acknowledge that you have grown, make amends when possible. Forgive yourself. Finally, let that trauma go.
Maybe we don our shadow like the cloak of a superhero, hiding our true faces behind masks of confidence and bravado. Perhaps we rage against social injustices, loudly championing the underdog when we have no dog of our own in the fight, making allyship more about us than the cause at hand. Then we turn a deaf ear to criticism from any quarter.
Although we believe we are fighting the good fight and righting the wrongs of the world, we are neglecting something very important that must happen first, our own healing. How can anybody effectively heal another, before they recognize their own wounds, and are at least in the process of self healing?
It is important to realize that we all project a full spectrum of personal energy without even thinking about it. As an intuitive and insightful witch I see past your bluster to the little man behind the curtain pulling the levers, because what you say and how you say it speaks volumes more than the words you speak.
Furthermore, consider what you are saying when you don’t speak at all. Keep in mind how you present yourself—your dress, body language and interactions all contribute to creating the experience others have of you. Take note that this is not others opinion of you but rather their experience of you, the sum result of another receiving what you send. In short, there may be a great difference between who you think you are and whom others believe you to be.
The Way of Shadow Healing
You may not be asking for help, not in so many words. However, as a witch who heals, I know the signals. I can see an SOS coming from out of the darkness miles away, inviting me in to sit with your shadow self. When I do, the space we create is both a container and a portal, a journey through into your own, unfamiliar, shadowland.
Over the past twenty-some years of practicing witchcraft, I’ve gotten much better at discerning who is ready to confront their shadow and who is not. More so, I understand how to sit with the battle scarred without surrendering my own borders. As a result, I can hold a hand or point the way out of the darkness. But no witch or healer can lead another there, nor can we follow along. We are neither savior nor salvation.
Neither am I, in particular, your mother or grandmother. For the sake of my own boundaries, I don’t offer unconditional love. Moreover, I require due respect as a Crone. I won’t be the repository for your projected anger, the surrogate for your estranged mother, friend, or faithless lover. You can pummel your pillow or make a poppet for that. I’ll offer a box of tissues for your tears, but don’t expect me to dry them.
This is all because, ultimately, the healing has to come from within. I will see your signal and toss you a line. However, you have to be willing to let go of the shipwreck keeping you afloat and swim . through the dark waters of your shadowland, because shadow healing is self-healing.