“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
In Jungian psychology, everyone’s shadow is that part of themselves which they do not want to acknowledge, usually due to shame or fear. The “shadow” can in fact be anything, including a “bright shadow”–gifts or strengths that a person disowns for one reason or another. Others before me have argued that much of the evil in the world may be due to our inability to own our shadows; that healing requires this ownership and self-management. Integration and self-correction then prevents truly harmful deeds from being acted out.
Shadow work is basically:
- Making the unconscious conscious:
Seeing and accepting all parts of ourselves fully, including the “bad bits”
- Taking responsibility for these traits, habits, wounds, and coping mechanisms (faulty as they may be), and
- Learning to manage or change them so as to minimise hurt and harm to self and others.
Arguably this may be the most important thing we do that counts as healing.
Or, in Jung’s own language: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” (Psychology and Religion, 1938)
One of the reasons I love astrology is that the shadow cannot hide in an astrology chart. This is a cause for celebration, even if many of us are uncomfortable with our areas of inferiority or lack. But, if we possess awareness and self-acceptance and remember that nobody is perfect, we’re better positioned to do shadow work, possibly with an astrologer who emphasizes empowerment over prediction.
The Malefic Planets
In astrology, shadow work is aided by looking at the “malefics”–traditionally, planets (usually Mars and Saturn) that are seen as negative influences or challenges. Everyone has these in their chart. (There is no escape!)
The word malefic, roughly meaning “bad maker”, comes from Greek and is still used in that meaning in traditional and Vedic astrology. With the more modern planets and asteroids (ie. the celestial bodies that we have found since the arrival of modern telescopes), the list of malefics can be expanded because transits of the following bodies tend to be challenging:
Not every astrologer looks at all these bodies in their readings. Not all tend to see this list as malefics either. (I’m taking liberties here.) But I do because the astrology of abuse, psychology, and healing holds my interest the most.
With all these bodies to look at, our solar system seems a busy place! On one level, a birth chart is a geocentric map of the sky at the moment of our birth, and that also captures our location on earth relative to the ecliptic. On another level, I see it as an “energy map” for a person’s psyche, illustrating their “pre-loaded” dynamics and themes to play out and manage in this lifetime.
With this perspective from astrology, no one, no matter what guru or enlightened being, is devoid of a shadow, because every birth chart includes malefics. Due to the continual motion of the celestial bodies, however, every chart will have different dynamics with the malefics. And due to individual free will, self-awareness, environment, and prior experience, there is plenty that a chart does not capture about its owner. The missing information can usually only be determined through interviews.
As I always try to emphasize: The chart is never destiny. Individuals always have control over their choices, including when they “expire” from this life, according to several esoteric schools of thought.
The Lens of Evolutionary Astrology
Even though I listed the “malefics” and their assigned energies above, Evolutionary Astrology presents another view of these bodies, that of power and opportunity. The self-aware individual who is determined to become fully conscious and responsible for their internal dynamics has the potential to gradually free oneself from societal and past-life conditioning, and become more self-individuated. EA also has room for understanding past-life karma and where someone may be on their spiritual evolution throughout their lifetimes beyond the current one.
(Anyway, if you don’t believe in rebirth, no worries. This is as deep as I’ll get into the details.)
A Different View
The important thing to know from EA is that every challenge has an opportunity. The “malefics” have lessons and can present in positive aspects:
With EA, astrology is transformed from being a mere prediction tool for maximising material benefit and reducing harm to one that unlocks:
- Different and empowering perspectives of one’s challenges and potential
- Different options to “flex” and grow from where one began in this life
It is due to this perspective that you may hear astrologers (particularly those of the EA stripe) talk about lower and higher “octaves” of planets, or “evolved” and “unevolved” signs and energies. Challenging charts, or birth charts with a lot of difficult aspects with the malefics, are usually looked at with trepidation–yet a lot of extraordinary and widely admired celebrities and talents have challenging charts. It’s also true of some of the most amazing people I’ve met.
But there are also people arguably with challenging charts who have not done “the work”, and may become, in a way, malefic or negative influences to the people around them. It makes sense if they have not owned their own darkness and persist in projecting their unowned shadows and wounds onto others. It does not help these individuals to seek astrology that is fear-based and oriented towards “protecting” or coddling them from harm or hard lessons, which may in fact come from the consequences of their own actions and avoidance.
Evolutionary astrology and shadow work takes tons of self-love and some massive cajones. Many around us are still stuck in the state of needing external validation from others, suppressing wounds, shame or trauma; and in doing so continue self-limiting habits and possibly harmful relationships that are more endemic of our childhood conditioning than of our true selves.
If our purpose is to grow, and the purpose of all souls is to learn and experience, we may owe it to ourselves to discover and reach our highest potential with the time and energy that is given to us.
Resources & Further Reading
- Carl Jung and the Shadow: Profound Quotes and Passages
- Breaking Free from Codependency