5 Ways to do Shadow Work During SamhainOct 24, 2023
Mabon served as a final celebration of the life and prosperity that came with summer’s light. Traditionally, this was a time of dancing and feasting. However, warm apple pies and pears poached in wine carried the bitterness of tomorrow. While Mabon honored the abundance of summer, it also brought an acknowledgement of winter’s approach and the chill that comes with death. Samhain and the dark half of the year was afoot.
The dark half of the year is often met with resistance, unlike summer. We hide away in our heated homes or leave for someplace warm altogether. However, in our attempts to avoid the uncomfortable, we miss the wisdom and growth that the darkness has to offer. As within, so without. This is how many of us engage with our own darkness as well.
Aside from connecting with spirits beyond the veil, making offerings for our ancestors, and decorating our altars with photos of the deceased, Samhain provides us with wisdom and insight into how to dance with our ghosts more skillfully. This sabbat allows us to pierce beyond our own veils and access our shadows for transformation and healing.
Samhain and the Shadow
Halloween originated from Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival marking the beginning of winter and dark half of the year. Feasts were prepared, ritual bonfires were lit, and offerings were made to the gods to ensure survival during winter. It was believed that the veil between humans and spirits was at its thinnest during Samhain, enabling us to reunite with ancestors and departed loved ones. Costumes were worn and scary faces were carved into vegetables (mostly pumpkins and turnips) to ward off evil entities, later becoming Halloween traditions.
There are many parallels between Samhain and shadow, including misconceptions behind the two. A common one is that darkness and shadow are bad, scary, evil, or wrong. In actuality, it is us who create these perceptions from misunderstanding, as humans tend to fear what we cannot see. Shadow simply refers to the unseen and unconscious parts of ourselves - our own ghosts beyond the veils that WE create. It is us that give positive or negative meaning to these ghosts. From a neutral perspective, shadow simply contains the sides of us that we deny, reject, and disown because at some point along our journeys, we learned that our authentic expression wasn’t acceptable. In order to adapt and survive in our environment, we suppressed parts of ourselves to the basement of our psyche, never to be seen again. We then adopted traits that aren’t in alignment with our true nature for survival (the mask or persona).
Here’s how to work with our own ghosts during Samhain.
Build awareness around…
1. Emotional Reactions
I always tell my clients to notice positive and negative emotional charge as this often points to shadow. Your triggers carry VERY important information about the parts of you that are deemed unacceptable, bad, or wrong. For example, Sarah and Karen are sisters who dealt with their parent’s divorce very differently as children. In fear of repeating the same fate, Sarah is now a free-spirited person who lives a care-free life void of commitment. Therefore, the qualities that represent commitment are in Sarah’s shadow.
Sarah’s nature triggers her sister, Karen, who has a 9-5 job and a family. Karen over-identifies with her outward persona - a responsible, committed adult that ‘has it all together’. She unconsciously believes that staying in control allows her to escape her parent’s fate. Karen’s triggers and emotional reactions to Sarah point to her own internalized beliefs around what it means to be a free-spirit. Karen would never allow herself to be this way in fear of losing control, resulting in everything she built crashing down and feeling the same emotions produced by the divorce. Therefore, free-spiritedness lies within Karen’s shadow.
It’s important to OWN our triggers and get curious about our emotional charge so we can understand how shadow is at the wheel of our consciousness.
Projection means that we place our unacceptable, unwanted, or ‘negative’ traits and emotions onto others, seemingly without reason. To continue the example above, Karen may see Sarah as someone who is irresponsible and always leaves a mess for Karen to clean up. This is Karen’s own projection and points to her fears of being perceived as irresponsible. As a result, Karen constantly finds herself picking up after Sarah because this allows her to stay in control and maintain the persona of the ‘responsible one’. Karen’s ego will not allow her to take ownership for the role she is playing in this dynamic. It’s only when she moves beyond ego that the dynamic between her and her sister can shift.
Creating awareness around your projections looks like building consciousness around your perceptions of others and getting curious about if/how that weaves into your own fears.
Notice the qualities that you over-identify with and build awareness around the traits that earn you acceptance, validation, and love. Karen over-identifies as the responsible adult that has it all together. Her desire for control is at the wheel, but she also believes that maintaining this persona or mask will earn her love. Her parent’s divorce took up so much space that she rarely felt seen or paid attention to as a child. Karen learned that by achieving academic and career success, she could receive the attention she always longed for. Now, she over-identifies as a serious career driven woman and finds her worth in her achievements. However, this isn’t her true personality and it limits her ability to live life from a care-free perspective.
During Samhain, get curious about the masks you’ve created and how they’re limiting you from expressing your truth.
Have you ever found yourself repeating the same patterns over and over again? Perhaps you attract the same romantic partner in a different body. Or maybe you hop from one job to another, only to experience the same scenario all over again. Maybe it’s your boss who shares the same triggering traits as others in the past. Your patterns are revealing shadow to you. For example, Karen keeps attracting friends into her life that only call her when they need help but don’t engage with her otherwise. Their characteristics are very similar to that of her sister Sarah’s. Karen can’t understand why she keeps encountering people like this, but it’s because her shadow is attracting people into her life who mirror her fears.
Take time to reflect upon patterns that appear in your life and what they are revealing to you about yourself.
Dreams are gateways into our unconscious. They are packed with symbolism and reveal how we truly feel about ourselves, another person, or situation. For example, Karen dreamt that she went to a social event with her friends but no one in the room would talk to her. It’s as if Karen was totally invisible. The only person who would acknowledge her presence was a waiter who embodied traits she found to be unappealing. This dream mirrors how Karen feels in her current reality. She sees herself as invisible unless someone needs her help and the people who do want to connect with her are unappealing.
Dreams are great avenues for building awareness around our current perceptions, emotions, fears, and more.