As Without, So Within: The Autumn Equinox and our Shadow Selves

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

Can you feel it? That touch of crispness to the air, the sense of settling in mind and body, a quieting. At Autumn Equinox we stand on a balance point, our faces turned toward the inevitable transition to come, even as we celebrate the fullness of what is soon to pass. This is the soft, liminal time when day comes to stand in balance with night, for just a moment, then tips and gently surrenders to night’s embrace for the next cycle.

In the outer world, we are reaping the second harvest, celebrating the fruits of our labor and giving thanks – the Witch’s Thanksgiving. This is the time to get our homes and gardens in order, preparing for long winter months. A last good cleaning while it’s still warm enough for open windows, finishing up projects begun with the energy of summer, and preparing to mulch the garden and plant bulbs with the first frost, anticipating next year’s bounty come again.

On the other side of the mirror, the inner world, we see our activities of the outer world in reflection. The feast of the second harvest becomes a memory to cherish, a sensory promise that though we may wander through dark places on our inward journey through winter, light and warmth and bounty will come again; the wheel turns. So too our outward efforts to cleanse and prepare our homes and gardens for winter’s bite may find their reflection in mental and emotional preparation, as we clear our minds of thought patterns which no longer serve us, and our hearts of things left unsaid, mending any tears in our relationships as best we can rather than leaving them for a day that never comes.

As with outer world preparation, this inner world preparation serves the ultimate goal of ensuring that next year’s harvest will be more bountiful, or at least as bountiful, as this. It prepares the way for our deep work of winter, our shadow work. The harvest of this is our personal continued evolution, a stronger, brighter, more deeply connected soul.

Like Persephone, we are about to step through a door to dark places, a journey to the underworld, our inner world. This is the place our fears and prejudices reside, our self criticisms, deepest doubts and all that does not fit with the way we wish to see ourselves. In repressing these qualities from conscious awareness we create shadow selves, and it is these shadows we intentionally seek out as we turn to the dark time of the year.

Shadows are tricksters, they evade and hide and disguise themselves as rationally acceptable thoughts and actions, justifications and rationalizations- anything to ensure they are not seen and exposed. Very often if we see them we’d rather not acknowledge their existence. Very often much of our lives are dictated by our shadows without us ever knowing it. After all, how does one recognize a shadow in the dark?

To see many of your shadows you need look no further than the people around you and your reactions to the things they say and do. This requires cultivating a still awareness, a willingness to observe yourself. A quality you’ve denied in yourself is often a quality you are very aware of in others. Observe in your interactions with others when you have a strong, reactionary impulse to something they say or do. Reactionary, emotional responses often herald your own shadow.

As an example, I had begun to notice that whenever my partner would speak of his art and how he could make it viable as more than a hobby, I would have an immediate emotional reaction where a number of criticisms would pop into my head, all seemingly very rational. My impulse was to knock him down, for his own good. This is not easy to see, or admit to once seen, but having admitted it to myself I was able to drag it into the light and examine it. What I saw was my own shadow. My reaction had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with what I had been telling myself for years about my own art. I’ve spent half my life knocking myself down, “for my own good”.

Projection doesn’t only encompass negative qualities, and a shadow isn’t necessarily dark. Look to those you admire most, those who you may have placed on a pedestal. What is it about them you admire, what qualities are they reflecting back to you? In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes those who gravitate to and surround themselves with artists but deny being artists themselves as “shadow artists”. What qualities are you gravitating toward that you have denied in yourself? Why have you denied that quality? That denial is also a shadow, and its discovery can lead you toward greater personal fulfillment.

Once seen and named, the shadow loses power and you can begin to work with it, to transform and use it as an impetus for healing and growth.

One way to work this transformation is to give each shadow you expose a name. This is beautifully and hilariously portrayed in Harry Potter, when Professor Lupin teaches how to defend against a Boggart. I’m uncertain whether shouting, “Riddikulus!” on spotting one of your shadows will be very effective, but naming it is. Give it a ridiculous name, something that identifies its effect on you and simultaneously dis-empowers it. When it comes up in the future you’ll be more aware of it, and less directed by its effect on you. I’ve named my shadow from the previous example Statler.

Another effective method of dealing with your shadow is to mentally travel back in time and identify exactly when it made its first appearance. It may have arisen from a personal experience with a parent or teacher, some figure of authority. Perhaps it is less easily identifiable and more of a cultural construct. Since childhood we have been inundated with invisible scripts that we may have unknowingly allowed to direct the course of our lives, lurking in the backs of our minds, a growing shadow. Identifying the source helps you to put things in perspective and take back control of your life, write your own scripts.

Finally, own it. Wallowing in blame only creates another shadow. Ask yourself how you contributed to the growth of this shadow self, and decide what you want to do about it.

In doing this work we learn that what we believe to be our reality is entirely malleable. In doing this work together, as a seasonal ritual, we create a compound effect that has the power to affect the consensus reality.

Bring in your harvest, give thanks for what you already have, prepare your garden and clear out your house – within as well as without.

May the blessings of your harvest increase, year by year.


About Alicia Altair View all posts by Alicia Altair

6 responses to “As Without, So Within: The Autumn Equinox and our Shadow Selves

  • Jeanette

    Beautifully written as usual! It is so apropos to the season, and the steps I take right in this moment: cleaning house, mulching garden, and finishing projects left unfinished from the hustle and bustle of summer. So proud of you for diving in, taking risks, and showing your talents. Happy Autumn!

  • Jesse

    Thank you for posting, we are now at the turning of the seasons. We are looking inward and I’m also noticing the somethings you’re talking about. I’m so glad you shared this.

    • Alicia Altair

      Thanks Jesse, It’s wonderful how you have the opportunity to launch into that work at Twilight Covening, I would love to be there again!

  • Andrew

    Welcome to the blogosphere! This is a pretty solid piece here, and I’m impressed.

    I like how you use the concept of ingathering from the second harvest — and then turn to the subject of invisible scripts: what we’ve ingathered without knowing it. What a powerful indication of how we can entrain our minds to accept unspoken ideas without confirming their reality!

    • Alicia Altair

      If Mr. Watt is impressed it must be halfway decent! Thanks Andrew. And yes, every thought should ideally be followed by the question: “Where do you come from and is that really true for me?” It never ends, really!

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