Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Your Shadow Self

I often think about how very blind we are to the beauty, grace, and life that are pulsating, dancing, and shimmering with God’s presence, all around us.  We are like the stumbling oafs in Fairytales who walk though the enchanted forest never seeing the elves, never hearing the trees clap their hands, and oblivious to the treasures lying on the ground at their feet. Some of this blindness is due to not looking for it all and focusing only on what is wrong with creation, people, and life. Much of it, however, is due to a darkness in our souls: a shadow self that casts its spell across all of our senses.

In George MacDonald’s Phantastes*, not long after waking up in Fairyland, Anodos (“ascent” in Greek) comes across a hut in which, when he enters, is an old woman sitting on a chair reading an ancient book. As his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness of the room, he sees a door and is instantly curious as to what lies beyond it.  Without looking up from her book, she cautions him about going through the door. Ignoring her advice, he opens the door and walks inside. (In Fairytales, opening doors one has been advised to not open is Standard Operating Procedure.)

Upon entering, he discovers a great darkness with what he thinks might be stars off in the distance. As he stands there he becomes aware of a dark foreboding presence coming toward him. “All I could tell of its appearance was that it seemed to be a dark human figure.” Stepping back a bit to let this figure pass, he couldn’t see where it had gone.

“Where is he?” I said in some alarm, to the woman who still sat reading.

“There, on the floor, behind you.”

Anodos looks behind him and sees a black shadow the size of a man. Shaken, he asks the woman what it is.

“I told you”, said the woman, “you had better not look in that closet.”

“What is it?” I said, with a growing sense of horror.

“It is only your shadow that has found you.”

Before encountering his shadow, Anodos was able to see fairies and even communicate with them. Now, as he passes through the forest, his shadow casts a pall on everything, blinding him to the realities of Fairyland. Wherever he looks, where there had been magical beauty, there is nothing but emptiness laden with dreariness.

After a short while, Anodos decides that his shadow is not casting a pall on the world around him but is actually portraying the world as it is.

“The most dreadful thing of all was that I now began feeling something like satisfaction in the presence of my shadow. I began to be rather vain of my attendant, saying to myself, ‘In a land like this, with so many illusions everywhere, I need his aid to disenchant the things around me. He does away with all appearances, and shows me things in their true colour and form. And I am not one to be fooled with the vanities of the common crowd. I will not see beauty where there is none. I will dare to behold things as they are. And if I live in a waste instead of a paradise, I will live knowing where I live.’”

Rather than dealing with his shadow, Anodos chooses denial, calling reality an “illusion,” and the illusions created by his shadow, “reality.” While thinking he was no longer being fooled by the “vanities of the common crowd,” his shadow self was actually changing his perceptions of the world into a replica of itself.  

* George MacDonald, “Phantastes,” Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1964.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

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