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The Shadow

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      Since the Coronavirus has such a profound grip on people’s lives right now this might be a good time to explore some of Joseph’s thoughts on Carl Jung’s idea of the Shadow. In the clip below from the foundation collection he explains what the Shadow represents in relation to the rest of the Psyche; and from there he also explains what dreams are and their relationship to the rest of this system:



        Here is another clip where he address the Shadow and Projection:



        Thank you for posting these videos of Campbell on the Shadow. I have in the past few days found myself obsessed by the Shadow of this corona virus as several of my friends or friends of friends are hospitalized now with corona and a family member is very sick in bed and had a test yesterday and will find out within 3-7 days. I also found out today that a friend commited suicide, and I don’t know why yet, and I wonder if he had corona or found this world too hard to live in anymore. My heart is aching and I have had a hard time focussing on much of anything these past few days.

        Wishing you and everyone here in this forum blessings,

        Mary Ann


          Mary; I just sent you a short PM on Facebook; and will send along another later. I am so very sorry about your losses; and yes; I think many of us are going through some very difficult times with this virus pandemic. The Shadow of course adds even more pressure; and for some can bring clarity about certain life issues along with deep pain that trauma so often adds as well.

          For any of us who have experienced tragedy such as suicide or other forms of deep loss the shock as well as the emotional devastation can bring heartache to an already anxious emotional environment such as this virus pandemic surely underlines. And as any of us who have been through something like this talking with someone or writing about it can help; (that is if one feels up to it). Sometimes the words come; and sometimes one feels at a loss to express them.

          These are heady times for many right now; and unfortunately there may be more to follow. But friends and family can make it more bearable; and sometimes being there for someone else can help in one’s healing process as well.

          For me these days have brought a deep feeling of uncertainty. I see this playing out on the news and within social media posts constantly. It’s forms may be revealed in angry comments or rants about politics or the economy on social media; or maybe just sharing empathy with others about their particular circumstances; but it’s unmistakably there. I know for myself an occasional small rant may feel rather liberating; I just have to remember I have to live with what I write. But having others of like mind around can certainly help to add a bit of security and comfort to an uncertain world one sees all around them; and might even add a sense of control. (Yes control; that thing we all began to lose sight of when this pandemic first began to emerge.) But soldier on we must; at least as best we can until the effects and conditions of this virus are made more manageable. However the word “normal” may not be in our vocabulary for awhile.

          Wishing you much comfort and blessings.


          I want to add an addendum which I think is an important one on why I created this thread in the first place. “Shadow projection” is a major dynamic at play both in private as well as public life these days; especially concerning the coronavirus pandemic that is affecting so many people. I’ll come back later and add more of my thoughts on this but in the meantime if anyone has something they want to share on this or any other aspect of the Shadow please feel free to do so.


          Mary – just over a month has passed since your post here; I hope some of those shadow energies you were dealing with have dissipated over that time (not that the Shadow ever completely goes away).

          And thank you, James, for posting these clips, which seem especially relevant in these Shadow-driven times.

          I love Campbell’s description in the first clip above of the Shadow as a blind spot for ego (ego being essentially ” I,” “me,” how I experience/perceive myself – the face of one’s waking consciousness, so to speak.). As Joe succinctly points out in the second video snippet,

          “The Shadow is the rejected, frightening aspect of your experience of life which then gets projected on to people –  the ‘you’ that you are refusing to admit. It has terrifying, threatening qualities, but also encloses values, positive goals – values that you have not allowed to come into your life.”

          That final clause is so important. “Shadow” does not  equal “evil,” though whether its contents be positive or negative, it’s generally perceived, at least initially, as threatening to one’s conscious ego. Thanks to Joseph Campbell (and even more so, Carl Jung), I have learned to embrace my shadow, and that has made all the difference in the world, deeply enriching my experience of life.

          Of course, Shadow is indeed that blind spot, a part of me I do not see that drives my behavior when ignored (sometimes, in extremes, almost to the point of possession).

          My ego tends to think it is in charge – king of my psyche, so to speak, making only conscious, rational objective choices – so it’s particularly threatening and disruptive to my sense of myself to think some other entity might be making decisions for me (not realizing that this “other” is actually part of me).

          Usually my first hint of shadow-driven behavior comes when my wife brings up something I do that she finds annoying, or a friend makes a joke (“that’s just like Steve”) that is at odds with the self-image in my head – observations that sting. (At least now, when I find myself getting a mite defensive, thanks to Jung I eventually realize that’s a clue to something I’m ignoring about myself – and once I stop ignoring it, the sting goes away.)

          But where it really kicks in is with the nightmare.

          These dreams tend to follow a general pattern: I’m in a house, apartment, or other setting where ruffians, gangbangers, thugs, criminals, zombies, or some such fearsome folk, individually or in a group, are trying to break into where I am – and the “Dream Me” is running around in a fever pitch, frantically trying to close windows and lock doors before they come in (often the locks don’t function, or the doors are rickety and none too secure even when I do manage to close everything in time). These dream personifications generally signify memories, traits, inclinations, and tendencies that I have stuffed, repressed, or hidden away (usually unconscious, on my part), but are surfacing, emerging from the unconscious, because they are relevant to my current circumstances.

          Whether good, ill, or a mix of both, these are particularly disturbing to my ego, so I do my best to keep them from coming up – but these dream images are so frightening and terrifying to the waking me that they chase me back up out of the unconscious and I wake in an agitated state.

          Through years of recording and working with my dreams, I am much better than I used to be at staying within the dream and opening the door to these threatening figures (though sometimes it takes two or three nights of this recurring pattern before I stop trying to shut them out or flee). Lo and behold, once I do open the door and face what had been frightening to me, these figures change (e.g. a threatening Doberman morphs into a playful golden retriever, or the gangbanger I feared turns out to be a gentle friend who offers me a beverage), the nightmarish quality evaporates and my memory of the dream on waking is suffused with a warm glow.

          Of course, that doesn’t happen because I consciously will a change within the dream; rather, I’ve generally noticed the shadow threatening me in the dreams I record, which clue me in that there’s something I’m burying – so I start working with that, journaling about it, working with and “talking to” that scary image, asking it questions, which gives me a sense of what I am ignoring. As what had been unconscious becomes clearer, breaking through into waking consciousness in the day world, that change is reflected in my dreams.

          But confronting and embracing the shadow can be frightening and traumatic – and even more so when we don’t recognize our shadow as shadow, but project those negative qualities out onto others.

          There’s a lot of that going around at the moment in the larger world (major understatement, I know). Shadow is all over the news right now, permeating social media (as reflected, for example, in the behavior of so many “Karens” toward those who are different), and so much more. So many racial incidents the past few years, culminating in the George Floyd murder, are bringing our collective national shadow into consciousness as we come to terms with a seamy underbelly to American society that we have long ignored. It’s not easy confronting the Shadow, individually or collectively, much less embracing it, which is why there is so much turbulence and turmoil loose on the land.

          Also wrapped up in our collective shadow is the rejection of science and reliance on magical thinking, whether in regards to the coronavirus crisis, or climate change and global warming, not to mention all the bizarre, paranoid elements of QAnon conspiracy theories infecting so many otherwise previously normal folks. There are significant segments of society, starting at the very top with the individual carrying our collective ego (if there is such a thing) in the Oval Office, which would be horrified to admit that our collective shadow even exists (“all lives matter”) , much less be willing to confront and embrace it, so there are very active, determined, persistent efforts to stuff, repress, and deny the very shadow behaviors that have brought us to where we are today.

          As I process what’s going on outside my door, I am trying my best to step outside the paradigm of good and evil (have to admit it ain’t easy!), and frame the social dynamic more as a tension between consciousness and the unconscious collective shadow.

          I have been impressed with the expansion of conscious awareness during the protests in late May and June – so many people I know have had a striking satori of sorts, tumbling at long last to an awareness of the real world experience of those born with brown skin in America, and so many have as a result changed their attitudes and behaviors for the better. That’s why we need to be aware not just of the negative consequences of our collective shadow, but also be looking for those “positive goals, positive values” contained in Shadow. They really are there, if we look in the right places.

          Nevertheless, there is a counter-reaction as well – so much  turmoil, anger, and active resistance to acknowledging that black lives really haven’t mattered much for so many of us born with the right skin color, along with resistance to the medical and scientific expertise on which our lives depend during the pandemic, and so much more. Ironically, many people I personally know who are among the most hostile, vocal, and vociferous in their responses are generally kind, well-intentioned, salt-of-the-earth people in most other areas of their lives. Most (but far from all) aren’t what I think of as evil in their interactions with friends, family, and neighbors in their day-to-day lives, but a great number could be described as, well, clueless to the unconscious dynamics driving their actions.

          Their statements and actions reveal more about them than they know themselves (just as others can observe clues to my shadow in my own opinions and actions).

          Is there a resolution in sight?

          Hard to tell – but I don’t think the answer is to battle these forces to the death. Conquest of “the enemy” is itself a function of our collective shadow; the answer is not to fight (and, with no little irony, repress) those who exhibit these behaviors – that only feeds and strengthens our collective shadow. Yes, we should vote, we should be as active in our civic participation as possible – but what ultimately succeeds is not conflict, but the expansion of consciousness: bringing the shadow into the light.

          I do wish I had a handy-dandy ten point program for doing that – but there is no quick, easy, and permanent fix. It takes commitment and compassion over the long haul to change that dynamic. And, though this, too, will pass  – we will get beyond the current crises – the Shadow will always be with us. Even if we come up with an effective vaccine and treatments for Covid, even if we “solve” racism and reverse the worst effects of the climate crisis, other issues will arise.

          However, I am grateful to Campbell and Jung and so many others for expanding my understanding of these unconscious processes in terms of my self, and the larger society as a whole.

          As Lamont Cranston from those old time radio shows would say, “The Shadow knows . . . “


            Stephen; there just are no words to express how much I like this post. You get to so much which lies at the heart of this issue. I think for many of us we try to start some sort of description and the words seem to fall short of what we are trying to get at; (at least in an accessible way).

            Your articulation of the unrecognized part of ourselves I think is spot on; and when we say we don’t want to look at it I think it also points to something operating behind this mask we may be unaware of; something that may even go farther back than we fully understand; something that drives us and may show more than just one face. For me part of this concern is learning what it is saying; what it’s asking; what it wants; and what it needs! Am I listening? Is it a voice from childhood demanding to be heard; does it spring from some insecurity that is afraid it will be discovered; or does this voice spring from some traumatic event that’s calling to be healed? And then there is the later life change of a symbol’s reference from achievement to that of meaning; from the flower’s bloom of youthful promise to it’s decent towards it’s final destination and being able to say a hearty “Yea” to it. Yes; the “Coronavirus” puts all of this and more front and center and takes away much of our control over our lives replacing it with uncertainty and unknowing where there was once solid ground to stand on.

            I particularly like the idea of ourselves as being comprised of both aspects of the Shadow; (both our negative side that needs help, and our positive side with the potential for new growth); for it gives me hope that if I can come to terms with my Shadow; (as in diplomacy); I may be able to emerge a better person while still maintaining at least some part of my former identity. (We are after all unique creatures and that’s what makes us special.) But it’s the “Alchemy” that’s the hard part; the Chrysalis transitions; (from the pain and the hurt of the Larva to the transcendence of the Butterfly); that we must undergo that transforms our pain into compassion; that turns our selfishness into selflessness so that we can become who we were truly meant to be; not frozen to where it’s safe; where life is what we say it is; instead of what’s needed to become more fully formed individuals that can help not only ourselves but others as well.

            There are so many messages one often hears that say: “it’s all about the achievement of one’s position, the things one has; not the person who lies behind the persona mask.  And as you so eloquently described; yes; the Shadow knows! (This is not a great description; but it will have to do for now since I am after weeks of intense commiserating: “still” working on a particular long overdue post reply from another thread we were working on.) I’m sure Mary will have a much better addition to add; but in the meantime thank you for this great response to what I think is an “extremely” relevant topic right now!

            (Addendum): There are of course different aspects of the Shadow; but we are basically trying to get a handle on recognizing it; (which Stephen zeros right in on). Joseph addresses at length elsewhere these different aspects of the Shadow; but I remembered this short clip that has some helpful insights labeled: The Night Sea Journey taken from one of Joseph’s lecture series that may be of interest concerning one area of Shadow integration in relation to what Joseph called: “the Abyss”; and talks specifically about one area of the assimilation/integration aspect and is listed in the foundation collections for sale as: (Modern Myths of Quest – Series II Audio: Lecture II.6.I – Mythic Ideas and Modern Culture – Vol 6)


            Just chased awake for the third time tonight by a series of what most folks would call nightmares; I tend to think of them more as dream noir – elaborate, compelling presentations of dark themes amid an aura of danger.

            Dreams the past week have been dark and luminous, fluid, electric, richly textured, colors deep and saturated, populated by figures known and unknown that form a network of complex, entangled relationships, offering passing flashes of potential futures.

            Gratitude to Morpheus, who nightly conducts us to the netherworld of dream and unfettered imagination, of which the day world is but a ripple …

            Curious to see what the next dream set brings.


              As Stephen pointed out there is hardly any aspect of human life the Shadow does not reach. And as this virus continues to unfold the affects it has on individuals; (which is definitely underlined in intensity if one is confined); encourages more than the usual engagement with it; (especially concerning one’s dreams). Why? Because there is no place to hide by outside activity. And the feeling of powerlessness; the loss of control; and the vulnerability to it’s negative dark side influences can conjure up all kinds of threatening and depressive dimensions of the personality from the landfill of the psyche. And because it’s so powerful as one of the most dominant of all the archetypes it’s influence on dreamlife is deep and far ranging. But as Joseph states: “it also encloses values, positive goals – that you have not allowed to come into your life.”

              As we were discussing earlier paying attention to it; trying to understand what it is saying so that as Stephen mentioned: we can expand it; bring it into the light; try to make the unconscious conscious; or in Jungian terms to integrate it. This “blind spot of the ego” is difficult to get a grip on because it is directly tied to our emotions; and emotions don’t always respond to reason because they are tied to experience and feeling; not thinking. But in connection to dreaming this is not a conscious relationship; so getting in touch with this aspect of the unconscious and trying to figure out what it’s saying means reading it another way. Images, symbols, and tone and the way they surface in a kind of dance performance may or may not make sense at first glance because they are metaphoric in nature; they point past the image to something else. And what that something else presents is for you to figure out within your own context. But there are other times when the Self is trying to get your attention; and may offer a more specific message with a more insistent tone.

              Stephen mentioned some of his latest: “dream noir” series and wonderfully elaborate descriptions.

              And one of the preferred methods of deciphering this very personal code is writing them down for later scrutiny.

              Sometimes there may be a series where a certain theme may connect their meaning. In my own case they may actually wake me up with a specific image of some sort that ties to another one. I’ve been having a series of synchronistic events; both waking and dreaming; where something will happened of coincidence that is tied to something else I have been directly dealing with of stronger and stronger intensity and insistence.

              I’ve been reading a lot of different material lately on Art, Jung, Campbell, and inner work; so much so that I would read, eat, and sleep; with a little timeout for internet breaks with Facebook and the JCF Forums; all in short 3 or 4 hour spurts for days and days at a time. This has been going on for months. Lately I have been having anxiety because of the news reports concerning the virus and our current lockdown situation. Sometimes I would have anxiety about posts I put up and would then take them down. But in my dreams there would be something a little different; the other night I was walking a path and a bright light appeared in the middle blocking my way but the tone was affirmative and supportive.

              So yesterday I came across a quote concerning the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas that was one Joseph referred to: “What you bring forth from within you will save you; and what you deny within you will destroy you.” I was stunned at it’s relevance to my situation. Then last night I had another dream that woke me up with one word; that’s all: “Invictus“. I had not read this poem since high school back almost 60 years ago. Like a message in a bottle from some distant shore; perhaps my Shadow is trying to tell me something?


                Stephen mentioned the “Shadow’s” part within society’s: “Collective Unconscious”. Today is the anniversary of 9/11 here in the US; so I thought I would share some thoughts I offered in a seperate Facebook post:

                “This is a great topic to reflect on this country’s: “Collective Shadow”. By that I mean the Anniversary of this event always refers to “what” they did to us instead of asking “Why?” When 9/11 conjures up hatred of: “Us against Them” – are we asking: “Why did they hate us so much that they would even consider doing such a thing? The answer is we have become an “it” that to them represents all that is evil and must be attacked in an act of retribution but against: “What?” we might ask! So consider this: “are we asking the right questions from a point of view that offers only the perspective from one side?”

                In other words; no one asks the Native Americans how they felt when a bunch of Europeans came over and took their land away from them; who dispossessed them of their homeland and put them on reservations and have yet to acknowledge their guilt in this travesty they “still” must continue to endure! When white landowners built their fortunes on the backs of the African Slave Trade are we truly understanding why African Americans feel so bitter about: “Black Lives Matter”? And when Asian Americans think about inductions into Internment Camps during the Second World War do we ask how they feel about their national identity as citizens of the US?

                It would be far too easy to just blame: “all white people”; and say these events happened back then and that our society has now evolved and moved on when just last night one could watch a professional sporting event with both teams locking arms in protest of the current racism that is gripping this country and causing riots where people are getting killed.

                (Yes): we definitely have a: “collective shadow dark side” that has come roaring into the daylight from this nation’s “collective unconscious” demanding to be heard! And this virus pandemic is exacerbating the intensity of it’s vehemence!”


                (Btw; there is also the separate areas related to this topic such as: Conspiracy Theories; Fake News; and other types of “Shadow Projection” that might fit here; but for now the self-awareness of any society’s identity and how that is projected onto others is probably enough to suffice for the moment.)


                “The Shadow Knows . . .” – which is where I stop. The complete thought is uttered in mysterious tones during the opening sequence of  The Shadow (as alluded to in an earlier post, a radio show airing from 1937 to 1954, initially starring Orson Wells). “The Shadow” is the secret identity of Lamont Cranston, who learned, from a Yogi priest serving as the “Keeper of the Temple of the Cobras,” in Delhi, India, the power of how to cloud men’s mind so they cannot see him, in effect making himself invisible – a tool he wields each week to thwart the plans of evildoers.

                 “Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men? The Shadow knows!”

                Intriguing that Lamont Cranston, when using his powers, appears invisible to others; he doesn’t physically become invisible, but just can’t be seen, suggesting to me one’s Shadow is what one does not see. I also find it significant that in the popular radio show, which spawned a pulp comic, there is a distinction between Evil and Shadow – the twain are not the same. So two major take-aways for me from pop culture (which, as an expression of the collective psyche, is as valid a source as that of any of Jung’s observations, all arriving at the same place) are that Shadow is what is unknown (whether about oneself on the microcosmic scale, or society-at-large on a grander scale), and shadow is not the same as evil.

                Evil, though, often serves as a portal guardian, dissuading the fainthearted from crossing that threshold between Light and Dark, between the Known and the Unknown.

                With that in mind, I enjoyed your posts above, James – particularly the shadow nuggets you gleaned from the Gospel of Thomas and the dream treasure of “Invictus.” Mysterious indeed are the workings of the Unconscious, but we can know its workings when we experience its effects (in the same way we know the wind exists not because we can see it, but feel and see what it does).

                What problem I have with Shadow is because of the baggage it carries, relating it to Evil – just one term of a duality: Black/White, Light/Shadow,  Good/Evil.

                But I’m not a dualist; mine is more of a polytheistic perspective.

                Alan Watts says it best, in Om: Creative Meditations:

                So between
                Black and White
                There is the whole range of colors.

                Between a smashing fist on the face and
                Trying to touch the air
                There are all the textures of
                and light wind on the skin.

                Your world is all these elements
                Of life and sound
                Of taste, smell and touch
                Woven together in many dimensions on the
                Fabulous loom of your brain.”

                There is, in my experience, so much more to Shadow than just dark, or black, or evil. There is so much texture, so much depth, to what is Unseen.

                It’s a Rothko painting.

                Black on Grey Rothko painting

                The black field in the upper section of this Rothko work – Untitled (Black on Grey), 1969 – appears a solid color in a picture this size viewed over the internet. But in person, the blackness of a Rothko painting is an epiphany, displaying a range of textures, saturation, and depth. On the page, it’s just black – but in the flesh one can get lost in a Rothko

                . . . or in the Shadow.

                Not always a bad thing – appreciation, rather than fear.

                And, as Lamont Cranston tells us, tending to shadow can at times serve as a tool to thwart evildoers.


                  Stephen I’m working on an addition to this post but I want to leave a link about Social Media that I feel definitely relates to this topic. The Shadow responds to emotional stimulation and this interview has major concerns about social media’s impact on human behavior. I’ll be back to pick this up later but I thought you might want to view this first.



                  Thanks for sharing this compelling and troubling video discussion of the Social Dilemma! This Netflix event seems to have struck a chord for a number of people across the political spectrum. On Facebook one friend of mine, Jon (who I believe used to be active on the old version of COHO under the cyber moniker jonsjourney) who leans to the left, at least to the extent that he believes both parties support capitalism’s status quo, immediately posted that he was considering stepping away from Facebook.

                  The very next post in my newsfeed was from a lady in her early thirties whom I first met when she was a gifted student, back in my days  teaching junior high. She is pro-business and leans to the right, but her reaction wasn’t that different from Jon’s. She asked what friends had watched the Social Dilemma, what they  thought about it, and if they were willing to change their behavior and walk away from social media (sounded to me like she was wrestling with this issue herself). Ironically, she spent a few years as Sheryl Sandberg’s chief deputy at Facebook, right in the belly of the beast.

                  Of course, an added irony is that these discussions are unfolding on Facebook . . .

                  I have yet to view this program, but the lengthy interview you share does draw attention to the shadow side of the internet. We may think of the dark web as that shadow, the seamy underbelly where criminal deeds and deviancy take place out of sight – but shadow also refers to that which is unknown, what we are unconscious of that shapes one’s perception of reality and compels behavior (shadow contents can include what we are simply incapable of seeing, but also that which we would prefer not to see – how the sausage is made, so to speak).

                  The collective shadow, much like the personal shadow, exerts tremendous influence on a society. Often, it is projected out onto some Other, the way the collective shadow of the German people in the 1930s was projected onto the Jews, with disastrous consequences.

                  No surprise that the best way to depotentiate the shadow is with light: the expansion of consciousness, bringing unconscious motivations and pre-conceptions into awareness, which limits the ability of the unconscious to drive one’s behavior. (If we know Russia is creating faux Black Lives Matter and pro law enforcement groups on Facebook, scheduling clashing protests in the real world, and are aware these actions are organized not by grass roots activists but algorithms, then we are less likely to fall for the bait).

                  But though individuals may experience a wake-up call through viewing the Social Dilemma or other research in this area, I doubt that awareness will necessarily ripple out to the billion-plus in thrall to social media. I strongly suspect we are entering (or have entered, might be a more accurate way of phrasing it) a post-factual phase of society where magical thinking is primary. Since we’re all caught in the bubble, it’s not entirely clear what evolves from here . . .


                    Stephen; I just spent over 2 hours putting a post together on this thread in answer to yours and added this YouTube  clip from the foundation website and this same problem blocked it as before; this is a test to see if it happens again. (Okay; now I’m going to see if this stays up after an edit.) (First it blocks it; then it doesn’t; then it does it again.) I have no idea what is going on with “wordfence”. One more try.


                    Joe’s thoughts are cogent and informative, as usual. I am curious how you relate this to the discussion of the Shadow, above (or is the clip also part of a test post), unless you are drawing attention to Consciousness as distinct from the Shadow, which Jung equates to the personal unconscious?


                      Yes to both Stephen; and I’m going to offer another YouTube clip as an example to illustrate my point concerning symbol stimulation of the Archetype and it’s connection to Shadow through the vehicle of emotional connection.

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