Center for Sacred Psychology

Soul Food Archive: Psychospiritual Theory

Main Courses are offered on a frequently changing menu. Here are words and images to ingest and digest for inner nourishment. We hope these hearty meals invite you to taste and savor, to muse, reflect and remember, to journal, to create art...that is, to feast on food for the spirit.

Pascha #2, by Archimandrite Kiprian,
Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY*

Our current main course, below, is just one of several Soul Food offerings. Please visit, also, our buffet of Guest Caterer Specials and, for lighter fare, our Desserts & Snacks counter. And, to sample earlier menus, we hope you'll check out the Soul Food Archive. Like all who prepare foodstuffs, we hope to hear from those we serve! Space to leave comments, or read others' comments, on our cuisine follows each Soul Food offering.





We often hear and read about The Shadow, but this concept from Jung's analytical psychology isn't always understood well.  In fact, for those who grew up in the mid-20th century U.S., "The Shadow" often refers to a famous radio program (still being replayed on Old Time Radio stations around the world).*  Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man about town and secret crimefighter, has—listeners will remember—"the hypnotic power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him." Thus, he can prowl about invisibly, in pursuit of whatever "evil lurks in the hearts of men..." Silent film buffs may associate the term Shadows with the 1922 Lon Chaney movie.  These examples from the world of popular culture only suggest the Shadow of the Jungian world, which is our topic.  





In oversimplified language, the Shadow of psychology is like an alter-ego (or more than one) of which we're unaware—until it comes popping out unbidden.  Now, Lamont Cranston knows he can morph at will into "The Shadow"—but our Shadow appears autonomously, only to astonish us with behavior or words that are foreign to our ‘normal' self. Then, we find ourselves wondering, "Why did I say that?" or "How could I have done such a thing?—that isn't me." Or someone comments, "That's so unlike you.  I can't believe you did/said that."  But, it's not unlike us; it's exactly like some part of us we don't yet know...a part still in the shadows that insists upon making its presence known.  Because we're unaware of the Shadow, its implied presence in those Oops! moments can be confusing or even frightening.  We want to repress or run from it.


Here's a take on the Shadow from Harry Wilmer's Practical Jung:*

What Creates the Shadow?

Our Shadow is composed of qualities which reside in our unconscious—qualities that don't seem to fit with our conscious sense of who we are.  Another way to say this: we think of ourselves as having a certain Persona or way of meeting the world—and what doesn't fit with the Persona is repressed (which is an unconscious action, a defense mechanism).
A classic example: If I've been taught to be polite and helpful by my parents, and punished for being rude and uncooperative, my Shadow will contain a collection of not-so-polite and not-so-helpful qualities—an inner brat or bully, perhaps.  Conversely, if the values I learn and am rewarded for when young are those of a nasty kid, maybe even a violent thug, then my Shadow will most likely be a little guy longing for peace and harmony.  Jung presumed that the Shadow layer of our psyche or soul is as thick or thin as our Persona; the more energy we need to hold an outer image in place, the more alternative qualities we need to repress. 
That's why Dr. Wilmer's cartoons make sense.  Unknown, the Shadow can feel threatening.



Can We Befriend the Shadow?

Yes. And why would we want to do this? Is it just to keep from committing foot-in-mouth blunders? Is it so others will continue to think well of us? Well, yes, but more importantly, when we begin to make our Shadow conscious, we find qualities we need for fullness of self. For instance, maybe a very driven, hardworking man needs some of the balance of the inner playful kid in his life. Unknown and unbidden, the boyish qualities will pop out on their own, perhaps causing embarrassment and self-criticism—but if the man becomes conscious of the laid-back guy within himself, he can integrate it into his self-awareness, and call on that energy as needed (just as Lamont Cranston knows he can call on his caped crusader at will). He may have other Shadow figures as well, enough to get to know over a lifetime.


Does everyone have a Shadow?  Yes, this aspect of the psyche evolves as a natural aspect of our developmental process.  And, what's more, groups and institutions—medical staffs, schools, religious institutions, businesses, clubs, camps, and more—also have what are known as "collective shadows" (oh, great!—but that's another story).








And here's one more question: How Can We Get To Know the Shadow? 

Two ways, in particular, are most helpful:

1) From within, through our dreams (or feelings, fantasies and other offerings from the inner world).    Note: Dr.Wilmer reminds us that the Shadow can be positive: perhaps a busy homemaker, someone who is a slave to duty, has always wished to be more creative.  A Shadow figure (human or otherwise) may appear in her dreams, personifying artistic qualities she has yet to recognize. This is, indeed "pure gold"...IF the dreamer will befriend such a figure and make room for it in her conscious life.




2) From without, as we meet parts of ourselves in the outer world.  In this cartoon, Dr.Wilmer pictures a benign man and woman.  Behind each is his or her Shadow—and he had fun drawing the male's to resemble himself.  These Shadows live in each person's personal unconscious, the layer closest to consciousness.* And behind them lie the archetypal Shadows from deeper within—often, but not always, scary pockets of energy.  The man and the woman may, if they don't recognize their own Shadows (or other as-yet-unknown energies), project or transfer these onto others, all unknowingly.
But...projection is so valuable, a major source of clues about our nature.  "Why did I have such a powerful negative (or positive) reaction to the nice woman I met for five minutes in the grocery store?  It couldn't be just about her, for I don't even know her.  Might this be a clue about something within myself...?"  (Strong affect or feeling tells us projection may be underway.)
Sometimes we meet the Shadow through attraction (positive or negative) to someone in a film or, or in the news, or in a book, or as Dr.Wilmer writes, projection onto a thing, or an idea.  It happens all the time.

Ah, this all sounds so simple (even in this Shadow-lite description)!  Knowing the contents of our psyches is a life work—but it's do-able for everyone.  It's all about attention to what the psyche's trying to tell us, isn't it?*

And a final question: Would we not wish our world leaders to be paying attention to their Shadows?



We're interested in ways this Soul Food may have touched your life.

Click HERE to send us your comments...

Your Shadow page has more on it than I can grasp right now, but I'm saving it for future reference. One thing that really gets to me is the last line about how good it would be if world leaders--especially dictator-types--could know their own shadows. My guess is they might find a peace-loving kindly energy inside, and that could change the world. Just think of it. This feels like a prayer intention to me. Thanks again.
Mark T.
Houston, TX




* Credits for this page:

~ Pascha #2 by Archimandrite Kiprian, Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY
A family in old Russia welcomes visitors with special Pascha (Easter) treats. Gratefully used with permission from Holy Trinity Icon Studio, Jordanville, NY, 13361. This excellent website is the source for inexpensive traditional icon prints and mounted icons.

 ~The Shadow is alive and well on CD today, with twenty years of broadcasts from the mid-1930s through 1954, its final year, available from  The character of "The Shadow" first appeared in a pulp magazine dedicated to his exploits.  From 1931 on, Walter Gibson, writing as ‘Maxwell Grant,' penned over two hundred adventures of the invisible avenger with the sinister laugh.

 ~ Harry A. Wilmer, M.D.  Practical Jung: Nuts and Bolts of Jungian Psychotherapy.  Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 1987.  Many thanks to the publisher for permission to use Dr.Wilmer's charming—and educational—artwork.  See also his 1994 sequel, Understandable Jung: The Personal Side of Jungian Psychology, also from Chiron.

~ The chart of the layers of the psyche in our Soul Food Archive may be helpful.  See the first entry, Fall 2009.  For more details about projection, see (also in the Archive) "Desserts & Snacks" for Summer 2010: "A Mysterious Picture." 

~ Much has been written about the Shadow. The best starting point for those seeking more description may well be Jung's own work: before his death, he and several colleagues collaborated on Man and his Symbols  (London: Aldus Books, 1964), to present Jung's ideas to  the non-clinical reader.  Part 3, "The Process of Individuation" written by Marie-Louise von Franz, includes a valuable section on the Shadow.  [This is a classical Jungian statement; we're aware today that there are neo-Jungians and post-Jungians and others who have developed variations on Jung's basic definitions.]  Also very readable, as are all his works, are Robert A. Johnson's Owning Your Own Shadow (NY: HarperCollins, 1991), and Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection (Kihei, Hawaii: Koa Books, 2008).  See too, among many other titles,
Romancing the Shadow, Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, eds. (New York: Ballantine, 1997).