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Devil in the Dark
Realizing that Satan is not always found in the shadows
A few months ago, I was up late watching an endless stream of TikToks. This is not something that I typically spend a lot of time doing. I generally do not find it to be a satisfying way to spend my time. My “For You” page was rather lively this night, though. The live streams consisted of groups of African men dancing to music in the streets and the recorded videos that were interspersed centered primarily on religious and spiritual topics. The ads were much of the same.
One topic that kept popping up was “shadow work”. I had heard of it before this day, but it is not something that I had made an effort to look into. It seemed to me like it held a bit too much woo for my tastes.
To be fair, I have a friend who spent some time doing shadow work himself, and he experienced some rather dramatic results in his own personal life. And someone I follow on other social media did it and became a tarot reader and helps others do shadow work as well. So it was not anything I was opposed to.
And while I did not usually give shadow work much thought, on this night, the exposure to it was relentless. Every two to three videos was someone talking about The Shadow Work Journal by Keila Shaheen. They were reading excerpts and talking about how, while working through the prompts, they had come to realize they had been suppressing traumas from their childhoods that had changed their perceptions of themselves in ways that were holding them back from their full potential. Not every testimony talked about some dramatic change they had experienced, but they were all talking about how shadow work had become an integral part of their journey.
I turned TikTok off for a while and read a book and a couple of news stories, but I kept thinking about shadow work. So I got back on TikTok and watched some more niche comedy with an incessant stream of Shadow Work Journal ads in between. It was not long before I had enough and decided to purchase the journal from one of the pages. The person received commissions on it, and they were offering it for a much better price than the other videos were. (I also purchased The 369 Journal by the same author, but I have not picked that one up yet so that will be a discussion for another day).
One video during all of this bombardment stuck with me, though, and it is actually not one of them that was trying to sell the product. Rather, this person had used the right hashtags and played the trends to get their story of how Shadow Work is actually the work of the Devil into the feed. Their claim is that when you are confronting “shadows”, you are actually opening doors to allow demonic influence. That one is not actually overcoming or confronting these shadows, but instead connecting with and becoming influenced by literal demons.
But is this actually the case?
Shadow work, as we are using it here, refers to work done with regard to our personal “shadows”. In psychology, a shadow is a sort of emotional blind spot. We are unable to really see what is there, and so are somewhat clueless as to its influence on our true selves. It is an aspect of our id that is being repressed, preventing us from being able to fully integrate our inner self and be completely who we are.
I can understand how this could be interpreted as making an alliance with the demonic. If darkness is viewed as an entity in itself, then integrating that darkness into ourselves is literally allowing evil to be a part of us. This interpretation of the shadow likely stems from a literal, and out of context, reading of 2 Corinthians:
[W]hat fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?
I think this is a large part of why, for a long time, and in some sects to this day, there has been or is discomfort with psychology and therapy within Christianity. The last thing a Christian needs to do is integrate demons into their lives.
But that is not what is happening with this kind of shadow work. Instead, it is something else. Something vital.
When I was growing up in churches, we were encouraged and exhorted to have our daily “quiet time”. This meant sitting and praying and thinking about the Bible and coming to a better understanding of God. This improved understanding was reached by reading a passage of Scriptures and pausing to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Bible study was always about learning more about God, and it rarely had much practical application outside of Bible study. Even devotional guidebooks emphasized this over all else. The most literal and practical passages of Scripture were spiritualized and twisted in order to give them the most heavenly-focused interpretations imaginable.
When we would meet with other Christians, and we would talk about what God was “showing us”, it is fascinating that it almost always had to do with five or six broad theological concepts. And if someone’s time reading the Bible led them to live differently or break from even the least important of Evangelical social norms, some kind of rebuke was likely to follow.
Working with our shadows does something completely different.
While working through the journal, I have definitely had moments where a concept pushes itself to the forefront or I find myself contemplating the divine in some new-to-me way. But every time I sit down, there is something with real-life application. Something speaking to how I am living or a choice I need to make or an action that I do on habit that may not be what is in my own best interest.
It’s blatantly wholistic.
Our spiritualities could greatly benefit from stepping outside the esoteric and seeing how that plays a role in our everyday lives. If you believe that God is all-knowing, it is only partial knowledge unless you are also asking what impact that has on you. If God knows all, then it stands to reason that they already know what lurks in the darker recesses of your psyche. They already know what is holding you back or what is preventing you from being complete. But there is another step to that, and most of my upbringing was content to just let God know all. After all, he would sort it out for me.
The problem is, for all too many, God does not do the sorting. Rather, for most, just knowing that God knows is not enough to really change them for the better, or even at all. Speaking from experience, it never changed me much.
That next step is the hardest, though. It is often the most painful, and I think that is why so many are content with a dim and partial knowledge. We are content to look to the future for it all to be revealed to us, for us rather than do any of that troublesome work now. We take Paul’s words to heart, to our own detriment.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Shadow work puts you through the hard task of addressing those dark places that may be holding you back or preventing you from being whole or having a more complete knowledge. The more we come to learn about the world around us and how being a person works, the more important integrating that knowledge becomes, particularly for those who have spent generations making people feel content with not knowing.
Is it possible to encounter “demons” in your shadows? I think so. When seeking to be complete, you very well might find dark and evil things about yourself, some of which you may not have realized were even there. Obviously, you do not want to make those things a permanent staple of who you are as a person.
One thing about working with the way my stepdaughter’s expression of autism works is that she sees things as very literal. Very black and white. When telling her to pick something up, if you do not specify everything that needs to be done with it, she will literally just pick it up. She will not put it away where it goes or any of the other steps that someone who is neurotypical might infer need to happen from the statement. She has been told repeatedly growing up that it is okay to be herself. She has some bad habits and behaviors that indeed need to change, but she keeps doing them, and her excuse is that she shouldn’t have to change who she is to make other people happy. She knows that is not what is meant by being herself. And yet she has accepted those things that may be hard to change under the guise of “being herself”.
Much of our spirituality encourages the same or at least leads us to just accept those dark places as a part of who we are and pushes the belief on us that God will sort all of that out for us someday. Or they already have when they had Jesus killed on the cross. Shadow work says that is not true. Shadow work encourages us to embrace that the incompleteness exists and then take practical steps to change that in the here and now.
And there is absolutely nothing demonic about that at all. Often, it is in the shadows that we are most likely to find God.
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