The Shadow Archetype


Mikhail Vrubel, The Demon

Where there is light, there must be shadow, and where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow. Karl Jung said this about ‘the Shadow’ in one of his books: ‘It is as evil as we are positive… the more desperately we try to be good and wonderful and perfect, the more the Shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive… The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends to hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.
Haruki Murakami, 1q84

I came across this quote yesterday, while reading Haruki Murakami’s novel, which is excellent by the way but very long (1000 pages) taking forever to finish. Still, I am savouring it and taking so much in. Jung’s quote that the Japanese author uses here comes from the book Visions: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1930-1934 by C.G. Jung.

In the Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, edited by Andrew Samuels and others, we can read that the shadow is all that a person does not want to be. It is a primitive worthless and inferior part of our nature. As an archetype the shadow is autonomous, potent and inextricable from the Psyche. It has to be consciously acknowledged and integrated because otherwise it will haunt us and we will always see it outside as a projection.

With all due respect, I find Samuel’s definition lacking because he seems to value the shadow very negatively and he emphasizes its destructive force too much. My understanding of the shadow is that it is a part of the personality which is incompatible with what we believe ourselves to be, with the chosen attitude towards ourselves. Here is what Jung wrote about the shadow in Aion:

If it has been believed hitherto that the human shadow was the source of all evil, it can now be ascertained on closer investigation that the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.

And this is why I like returning to the source and reading Jung himself instead of Jungians or other commentators. This last quote made me think of Anthony Soprano, played by the magnificent James Gandolfini, who passed away a few days ago. His conscious attitude was that of a gangster and as a gangster he was expected to be ruthless and evil. But his shadow was a gentle giant, a kind-hearted and warm being. What drew me to that TV series was precisely this duality, this inner split within this character. The dreams that he tells his therapist often reveal his need to achieve wholeness by integrating the softer, feminine side of his nature, which he does not acknowledge consciously because he is compelled to play a strong Italian macho mobster. He cherishes and feed ducks that visit his swimming pool and once he has a dream about them:

I had a dream last night. My belly-button was a phillips head screw, and I’m workin’ unscrewin’ it, and when I get it unscrewed, my penis falls off.
You know, I pick it up. And I’m holdin’ it and I’m runnin’ around lookin’ for the guy who used to work on my lincoln, when I drove lincolns, so he can put it back on. And, I’m holdin’ it up, and this bird swoops down and grabs it in its beak and flies off with it.

You can watch a 2-minute clip on youtube, where he tells the dream:

I believe the dream shows his fear that if he opens up to his emotions (the belly) he will lose his masculinity (the penis).

What The Sopranos series showed to me was that we all walk a very fine line between good and evil, between the light and the shadow parts of our nature. I think if any redemption were possible it would have to do with trying to be more accepting of ourselves and of the truth that we are all fallible, imperfect beings striving towards light.

As another memorable quote from 1q84 goes:

In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil,” the man said. “Good and evil are not fixed, stable entities, but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov. The most important thing is to maintain the balance between the constantly moving good and evil. If you lean too much in either direction, it becomes difficult to maintain actual morals. Indeed, balance itself is the good.


Charles-Paul Landon, Daedalus and Icarus

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48 Responses to The Shadow Archetype

  1. My mind is a swirl with thoughts from this and your last couple of posts. I’ll be back when it stops swirling and comment can be cogent. Much gratitude, Monika.


  2. A beautiful description of the Shadow. I always think of Faust’s Mephistopheles. You’ll probably really like the Borgias, Monika, if you haven’t caught it already. I’ve never felt so on the fence about a character — Tony Soprano included.


    • Mephistopheles is spot on – the one that wants evil but does good.
      I have not seen the Borgias but it looks great. I will check it out definitely.


    • The Tony Soprano character was far too human at both ‘poles’. Both so individually electric, that when self reflective humanity met ‘lustful’ conquering and interpersonal control, he would ignite. A great example of type 8, in stark relief, for us Enneagrammers.


      • Fascinating. I would also associate him with number eight, but I am thinking numerologically. He definitely had raw power and charisma and was so complex and often also repulsive.


      • raw…heck yes. well said Monika.


      • I don’t know as much about Enneagrams. But it looks as though I may get analyzed live on YouTube using the Step II MBTI analysis. I’m scared! I’m an introvert. Imagine my blood and guts all over the screen. Hahaha…


      • Kelsey, hopefully this person will have your grace. The MBTI, I believe, deals with more benign, or value-free personality traits, while the enneagram highlights defenses and unconscious motivation. I am aware through Monika of your Summer project, and have been pondering participating, if zero tarot background is acceptable.


      • Thank you, Running Son! I quite like the lack of pathologizing of MBTI, which is why I’m so strongly considering it. The secondary test seems to go pretty deep into the Unconscious, which is another reason that I’m piqued. And a wee bit frightened. Haha.
        You would be most welcome to participate in the Summer project. Zero Tarot experience is zero trouble. Indeed, you’re entitled to your history and knowledge set, whatever it may be — that’s the point! 🙂


      • For an introvert you certainly work that camera well. I hope to get a link to your MBTI analysis;-)


      • Oh, you will! 😉 Thanks, Monika.


  3. RIP. Glad to read a dream interpretation from you, even if it’s from fiction.


  4. Thanks Monika for showcasing James Gandolfini aka Tony Soprano today. I want to weigh in on one point. While it is true that a sociopath can mimic insight, I do not believe this character was a true sociopath. While the therapist did becoome enmeshed,- probably by countertransference, that was not on the client. Tony did feel guilt and remorse, and was a victim of child abuse. He was beautifully complicated and expertly portrayed by the remarkable JG.


    • Thank you, Linda, great insight! He was not a true sociopath like Richie Aprile, true. You mean he was abused by his mother? She was another remarkable figure.
      Still I have a feeling it is wrong to look for excuses for his criminal behaviour. He made certain choices himself and consciously.


      • I agree that he was responsible for his choices. I was trying to justify my position that he was not a sociiopath. And I was referring to his mother:)


      • Good that we are on the same page! I always take something valuable from your comments. I think our minds operate in harmony. I have obseved over the years that I tend to have good communication with watery Mercurys even if they form the so called inharmonious aspects to my Mercury in Gemini.


      • Maybe in our case it is the retrograde factor that we share. Perhaps in general, compatible house placements of mercury would support harmony of typical inharmonious aspects. I know that I have issues with those who possess mercury in the other fixed signs as a rule. 🙂


      • You’re right of course.


      • thanks Monika, but I am not always right, the more you learn, the more you realize you still don’t know…


  5. contoveros says:

    What one thinks as bad today may actually be a goof for tomorrow. Hell, if you’re going to do anything, just don’t do it half-way. Go all the way. Its the intent that matters, not so much the outcome.


  6. Mrs. Mystic says:

    There’s a lot of masculine energy flying around our house, more than I’ve ever had to deal with before. The more I feel it around me, the more I think about how much women are taught that we have to repress the things men express, even the good things: Don’t laugh too loudly, don’t be physically expressive, don’t strive too hard. There are still ugly names for women who do those things, aren’t there? The same holds true in reverse for men; they’re called unmasculine (and called names) for expressing even the best of “female” traits.

    It’s as if we’re forced to make the opposite gender into our own shadows.

    Ducks! Ducks everywhere! 🙂 I showed that clip to Kiltbomb; he’s still laughing. And another ingredient for the stew that makes up that dream (and that symbol): Ducks are considered a feminine-energy bird; water birds in general are, but ducks in particular.


    • You are absolutely right about everything. Glad Kiltbomb had a good laugh.
      I was quite amazed how the writers of The Sopranos managed to include all these symbols in such a perfect way.


  7. Wonderful explanation of the shadow self! It’s something I have been trying to wrap my mind around for quite some time now, but you really hit the nail on the head.


  8. L’homme n’est ni ange, ni bête, et le malheur veut que qui veut faire l’ange fait la bête.
    Man is neither angel nor beast is he, and it is unfortunate that striving to attain the former, he succumbs to the latter.
    Blaise Pascal (17th Century)

    Need a lot of courage and, principally,the right guide to work/play with the shadow, so powerful are the forces at play..


  9. Pingback: Streams and Forms | Blazing Light, Love's Song

  10. Just wondering. Could the animus be individual karma?


    • How do you mean? I think we as women definitely encounter the Animus through karmically charged circumstances.


      • I do not know what I mean yet. There is something about encountering the animus in dreams. It seems that it does have something to do with karma. But, I have no finished ideas on it. I do no even know if we are supposed to see our animi or shadows. Somehow it is clear yet vague at the same time. It will come to me, when karma allows for it. Namaste.


  11. MartsArts Poetrypictures says:

    Some overdue maintenance: of course I have still to react on your statements about darkness, my favourite subject as you know ;).
    I agree with you that the difference between what we describe as our ‘lighter’ and ‘darker’ sides is much more discerningly and interesting than the distinction between ‘good or bad’ or ‘right or wrong’.
    I think your interpretation that its the part of our personallity that is incompatible with our self-image is more in the direction of my point of view, but I do have some additional thoughts about it. I also dont agree with Jung in your Aion-qoute that the ‘shadow’ is the unconscious.

    In my definition our dark or shadow-sides are the thoughts, ideas, behaviors, drives and properties we prefere not to show openly to -certain- other people (on certain moments). And in a degree maybe also not to our conscious, moral parts of ourselves.
    But on other moments, alone or with other people we are quite open abouts this same dark aspects. We might even reframe them as the light itself, or at least don’t be so afraid to show them openly.
    I’m sure we very often -maybe even most of the times- have darker, unspoken thoughts and feelings at the same time we are showing very acceptable, normal and even ‘neat’ behaviour. (So thats why its accepted that I could have some shadowy thoughts about the beautiful breasts of a colleage this afternoon, in between speaking trustfull content and paying attention that my eyes don’t betray me).

    So I think we have continuous parallel dark processes in us competing for light at succesive moments and situations. And we might have some internal ized consciousnes about this, but we’re at times also very calculating about the advantages or disadvantages of showing this or that behaviour.

    Some questions to finish it off:
    Whats good or bad for ourselves, what for others? How far do we go in striving towards our own ‘individuation’? What is concern and compassion in this context?
    And, is it indeed all about ‘balance’ or more about experiment, learning and curiousity?

    I didn’t watch The Sopranos, but I like the policeseries ‘Dexter’ especially for this reason.

    Have fun with your shadows tonight!


    • Wow, Marts, some great thoughts here. I also think that we are oftentimes conscious of our dark thoughts, and I think Jung would agree with that. You seem to be a true expert on the subject, which comes with experience I guess. Thank you for all these thoughts again. Very inspiring.


  12. MartsArts Poetrypictures says:

    Thnx Monika. Sure a lot of projection here (:, but inspired by what I see, hear and feel around, trying to live life attentivily.


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