I am being asked, at an ever increasing rate on my social media pages, about the purpose of shadow work and where to start. Rather than continue to give 'long story short' answers to each of these questions I thought it best to go into a little more detail by way of a blog, that I could then direct people to. There are many forms and methods of shadow work but I will break my own practice down for you below, along with a short description of what shadow work is and why we do it.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is essentially a form of emotional therapy. When we experience trauma in our lives it inevitably leaves behind emotional scars. It is then commonplace for us to attempt to suppress these emotions as they make us uncomfortable, panicked and anxious.
As a form of emotional self defence we push these feelings to the back of our mind each time they are triggered. The problem with this coping mechanism is that we are not healing from our trauma by locking it away, it simmers inside us and will eventually manifest itself physically. This can appear in a multitude of ways including physical illness, anxiety, panic attacks, mental disorders and self harm.
The aim of shadow work is to confront these emotions head on and bring them to the surface in order to begin the emotional healing process. Shadow work is time consuming and emotionally draining but the benefits vastly outweigh the discomfort that comes with the process.
How long will it take?
Shadow work can take weeks at a time to complete, so be ready to be in it for the long haul! Emotional scars don't appear overnight so this isn't a process that will be completed or healed overnight.
Where do I begin?
As I mentioned earlier, this is my form of shadow work, so magick is incorporated but if you are hoping for a quick fix spell to do the dirty work for you, you will be disappointed. Shadow work is meant to hurt, it is meant to be difficult and there is no magickal way to avoid this discomfort as it is necessary that we face and feel these emotions.
Before each Shadow Work session ensure that you have a quiet, peaceful place to work where you won't be disturbed. I always begin by casting a circle. If you're new to circle casting I do have a blog (you may have to scroll through my blog posts a little to find it) that gives step by step instructions on how to go about this. I cast a circle for a number of reasons, the first being that it is the place I feel safest and protected from harm at my most vulnerable. The second being that the circle, once cast, creates a cone of power. All energy raised in circle is contained at the top of this cone of power, to be released at the end of your session. The release of our emotions raises this energy and if there is no place for it to go, we have no choice but to sit with it and face it.
Once your circle is cast, sit quietly and meditate on events in your life that have caused you emotional distress and consider occurrences in your daily life that trigger these emotions to resurface. It is just as important to acknowledge these triggers as it is to acknowledge the trauma attached to them. Oftentimes we will discover trauma within ourselves that weren't consciously aware of but by examine these triggers and in what situations they arise, we can begin to connect the dots. Are there situations or behaviours of others in your life that instantly trigger a disproportionate emotional response from you? If so, it is often triggered by a trauma from your past, one that may be buried deep ion your psyche. Look at all aspects of your life and any negative or harmful behaviour in each of the areas: relationships (romantic, family, friendships), things that you may frequently struggle with, things that you may judge others for or may feel envious of.
Acknowledge these behaviours and bring all of the emotions attached to them to the surface, do not attempt to suppress anything.
Now, take a notepad, or a book of shadows dedicated to shadow work (I have one as it makes for a useful tool of reference each time I repeat my shadow work). Begin to write down the emotions you are feeling, the triggers that give rise to them and the known traumas that you feel have caused them. Really examine your feelings, ask yourself if what you are feeling reminds you of something from your past? Ask yourself what belief you have attached to these feelings (I'm not good enough/ I will never find happiness/ I am damaged because of this).
Write absolutely everything down, including passing thoughts, and allow your emotions to flow whilst doing so.
Once you feel you have really put pen to paper and been completely honest with yourself, sit and read through everything you have just recorded.
This is the point whereby I go back to meditation and really sit with these feelings. Beforehand I will incorporate manifestation frequencies, specifically for emotional healing and letting go of past trauma. There are some wonderful manifestation frequency playlists on Spotify ( I will make my own public and update at the bottom of the page once I've done so). These frequencies help to calm and soothe my soul as I go through the difficult process of shadow work. So, with the meditation frequencies playing softly in the background I go back to meditation, only this is a little different to your usual 'push aside all thoughts and feelings' meditations, this time we are acknowledging these feelings, we are sitting with them and we are meeting our shadow selves face to face. This is often the most uncomfortable part of shadow work.
I now recite my shadow work spell/mantra (for as many times as I feel necessary) before focusing solely on my emotions:
"I acknowledge and confront all trauma within me
from this mental prison I set it free
I bring to the surface all that I conceal
I bring it forwards so that I may heal"
Now sit, relax and meditate on how you are feeling. Pick apart every thought and emotion, don't push it to the background, really feel it! Speak out loud to yourself if you wish to (I often do). Allow your emotions to flow freely. If you want to cry, cry. Let it all out, shout, scream and allow your body to release that pent up emotion and trauma. You may feel like a lunatic but this is your shadow work, nobody is watching or judging you and yes, its uncomfortable but you are in the process of healing your soul and this is something to be proud of. All the while, you will also be raising potent energy within your circle, energy that you will have no choice but to feel and acknowledge, this alone should give rise to a powerful emotional response within you so don't be ashamed to react accordingly and let yourself go.
Once these emotions have subsided and you are feeling lighter (this may take some time) begin to journal your experience again. Record feelings, physical and emotional reactions along with any thoughts attached to them.
Now it is time to end your circle ( the instructions for which are on my circle casting blog if you need them). Once I have successfully released my circle, I visualise the energy raised as a bright blue light ( but it can be a colour of your choosing) and I focus on releasing and directing it to Hecate, whilst asking that she guides me through my shadow work and bestows on me the emotional and behavioural transformation I am seeking. You may work with a different Goddess/ God that you wish to direct this energy to or you may simply wish to release your energy to the universe.
Once you feel you have effectively directed the raised energy settle back down and do some meditative breathing. Close your eyes, feel the ground beneath you and visualise rotes growing from your base, deep into the ground, rooting you to the earth. Now breath in slowly and deeply through your nose, to the count of 9. With each inhalation you are breathing in positive energy and inner peace. Now slowly breath out through the mouth, again to the count of 9. With each exhalation feel yourself releasing all negative energy from within yourself. Repeat these breaths as many times as you feel necessary.
During your period of shadow work it is a good idea to take your journal/ note pad to bed with you. Our brain makes sense of what we have dealt with during the day through dreams. Especially during shadow work, these dreams can contain some important messages and past events that we may have buried. These will be important tools in the coming days/weeks of our shadow work so take note of everything you can remember. We often forget our dreams within a short amount of time after waking so taking your journal to bed will give you the best chance of recording your dreams in as much detail as possible.
When will I know my shadow work is finished?
After a certain period of time, you will begin to feel more tranquil in general and will begin noticing negative traits, harmful behaviours and reactions. Being able to readily identify these behaviours allows you to work towards combatting and changing them over time.
The added benefit of being a witch allows me to feel the energy shifts, especially within circle. At first, the energy will be potent and for me, has a huge emotional effect. As the days/weeks go by I can feel it subsiding and the circle begins to feel more tranquil, with a light and positive, rather than a heavy and somewhat negative energy. As witches, we avoid negative energy like the plague but in this case, we are releasing that negative energy from within ourselves, a self smudging of sorts. I'd much rather the negative energy be in a contained sacred circle for a short period of time, than lingering in my soul for any length of time.
Will I have to perform shadow work again?
It is my belief that shadow work should be a commonplace practice in everyones life, not just the life of a witch. Shadow work, in fact, is not a magical practice at its roots and is essentially a form of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), whereby we acknowledge our traumas, the beliefs we have attached to them and work to accept and release them. I went through CBT with a psychiatrist, after my brain stem haemorrhage in my early 20's. It's a very similar teqnique to shadow work, only you are your own therapist.
The release of these suppressed feelings, thoughts and emotion serves to mentally and spiritually heal us and saves us from the possibility of related illnesses and disorders. There will always be upsetting and traumatic occurrences in our lives from time to time, such is life. Dealing with these occurrences as and when they arise, rather than attempting to lock them away is the healthiest way to deal with them.
Something to keep in mind
You may catch yourself actively suppressing emotions, thoughts and feelings from time to time. It is much easier to notice once we have begun the process of shadow work. When I catch myself doing so I recite my shadow work spell to remind myself that it's ok to feel what I'm feeling. It's a bit like snapping a rubbing band on your wrist and jogs you into a healthier mental behaviour. If you feel this will help you too, write it down and pop it in your purse or wallet so it's always at hand. It can be hard to memorise things when we are in a heightened or panicked emotional state.
Blessed Be Sisters & Brothers