Saturday, 30 August 2008

Persona and Shadow


Over the past day or two I have been reading John Fowles' documentary book The Enigma of Stonehenge. I got it because I was interested in John Fowles and not because I was particularly interested in Stonehenge, but it is a fascinating story. The familiar ring of giant stones was built by my ancestors in several phases over about 1300 years from 2800bc onwards. No one is quite sure what it was used for, but its construction was made possible when one neolithic group conquered and enslaved another, and stole their technologies and some of the big boulders they had put centuries of work into assembling at Avebury. It seems likely that amongst the uses to which Stonehenge was put was human sacrifice, a practice my relatives were apparently quite keen on back when they were painting themselves blue. So there in my ancestry is murder and warfare, enslavement, and the sacrifice of children. I've got to assume that the people who did this were not too dissimilar from me in their genetic makeup and that if I had been born a couple of hundred generations or so earlier I would have been an enthusiastic participant. So what stops me from indulging in my ancestors' unpleasant behaviours now? A different growing environment, that's all.

Some people vaunt "natural behaviour" in humans and decry the "repression of our natural instincts" as something harmful. My ancestors show, however, that amongst my natural inclinations are some fairly nasty tendencies. If I am to live as part of a society where we don't habitually murder people because we fancy their croplands or wish to offer them as a gift to the Earth Goddess in return for better lambing averages, some of my natural tendencies have to be rigorously and ruthlessly suppressed. This process of learning to hide the behaviours not suitable for our culture is part of the work of childhood. We learn what is socially acceptable behaviour and form all of our desirable traits into a sort of mask, our persona, which is the self we use to deal with the world. Our less desirable traits are pushed down and out of sight, into the darkness of our subconscious; any time they pop their nasty little heads up we push them back until they are so far down we don't notice them any more. They are not all gone though. They live down there in the dark, forming a sort of anti-personality, a counterpoint to the persona, which Jung calls the shadow. For the most part it is good that the shadow is repressed; we could have no sort of civilisation if it were not so. But on the other hand, our choices about what is repressed are sometimes a bit arbitrary.

So when I am four, my father says to me, "Kelvin, don't fart before your mother" and I reply "sorry, I didn't realise it was her turn." Then, in the next 25 seconds, I painfully learn the social undesirability of flatulence and of making smart replies to my parents. These two get pushed into the shadow, but so too, perhaps, does mental and verbal dexterity, and inventiveness, and self assertion. It is of course more complex than this. As well as the process of repression, the shadow is formed by the variable rates of development of our most important personality preferences: our tendencies to choose the inner processes of intuition, sensing, thinking and feeling. A good introduction to this process is found in Naomi Quenk's excellent book Beside Ourselves. What is important for spiritual development is to realise a number of things about our shadows

They are always there, and can emerge, often in times of stress or tiredness, to influence or even take charge of our personality by temporarily displacing our persona.
We will never but never get rid of our shadow or ever be fully conscious of it.
Nevertheless, growth requires increasing understanding of the structure and makeup of the shadow, and the integration of these things into our complete personality - or at least the partial integration of them.
In the final analysis, our persona is a temporary structure, one that we, and those closest to us have formed for culturally defined purposes. So is the shadow a temporary structure. One day we shall grow above and beyond both.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kelvin,
Your ancestors did strange things at Stonehenge, a few centuries ago mine crossed the North Sea and ruined your monestaries at Waremouth and Jarrow. As you point out, little doubt our genetic makeup has not changed much in the meantime; 1200 years ago I would have been in a longboat with the best of them.

So in the atonement what of mine, and yours, is forgiven? I cannot 'own up' to what my ancestors did -- and thereby receive forgiveness. But I want God's forgiveness to extend beyond the cerebral here and now into the shadow. I want forgiveness to go beyond, "Please forgive me for taking the parking space Kelvin had his eye on."

How far into the shadow does the atonement extend?
Bill Schroeder

VenDr said...

How far down does atonement go? Let me answer another question. I think redemption goes all the way down. That's the whole point of the process of individuation as Jung outlines it: those bits of us which are likely to cause us serious social trouble are repressed and form the shadow; but gradually they are brought out, not in order to be done away with, but in order to be dusted off, re-examined, seen for what they really are ad incorporated into our whole selves. CS Lewis says the devil never created anything. God alone made who and what we are. When we look closely at the impulses which are rightly hidden, the energies which lie behind them are not evil but godly. - the drives to explore, protect, test limits, establish individuality, investigate meaning, enjoy sensuality, reproduce,enjoy physical strength and movement and test it against another - all these can result in rape and pillage (or boy racer behaviour or stock market bucaneering or...) but they don't have to. They can be redeemed, used for whole and holy purposes. It requires the grace and strength to acknowledge them without judgement and accept.

In the Great Divorce CS Lewis gives a wonderful metaphor - a man's twisted sexuality sitting on his shoulder in the form of a lizard perpetually slavering and whispering in his ear. An angel, after a long argument with the man, obtains permission to kill the lizard. The Angel flings the lizard at the ground wherupon it dies and is resurrected as a huge, powerful and noble horse upon which the man can ride Eastward further into God.

Tillerman said...

I really really like the photo. The orange of the bricks, the shadows and the green diagonal that breaks the frame creates interest - excellent.

It is interesting to see how the sun has swept the mortar of the bricks on a daily basis. The sunlit mortar is clean, but in the shadows there is much that is growing - rich, fertile, fecund, ripe and ready. If the mortar was alive with a strong Persona, it would do well to look in the shadows.

Anonymous said...

Joanna said:
Shadows...Here is my own softspot - Amy Grant on the subject:
"There are two of me,
One does the right thing, One cannot see.
Standing back to back, Who is the strong one In the last act?
Every path I take, Roads I go down,
Choices I make, Take me right between patches of light and darkness in me.

Oh, we have to keep a watch on our shadows-
Every move they secretly make.
We try to be so close to heaven,
But then our shadows, they run away.
They pull away.

And the shadows prove,
Falling behind, tracing each move,
When I do some wrong,
There is no hiding; shadows are long.
So we have to keep a watch on our shadows-
-Every move they secretly make…etc

oh no, gotta keep our watch.
Keepin’ it under my shadow……"

PS, Tillerman, I think you'll find the clean mortar in Kelvin's photo owes more to recent re-pointing on that particular side of the building, rather than the antiseptic power of the sun....

Tillerman said...

Joanna - That is an interesting poem about shadows.

There are a vast multitude of books on Jungian Psychology. One useful little book which outlines most of Jung’s ideas very succinctly is one by Calvin S. Hall and Vernon J. Nordby. It was published in 1973 but is still relevant and available at Amazon Dot Com the last time I looked.

It has a section on the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious of which the Shadow is one. There are four archetypes that play an important role in everyones personality - The Persona, The Anima and the Animus, the Self and the Shadow.

This compact little book (130 pages) is quite a good introduction to Jungs ideas.