Much is being said about shadow work these days. At times, the term is so overused to indicate anything edgy that, unfortunately, many have turned away from it and anything associated with it. Just as disappointing are those that turn towards anything relating to it, as they bolster their identities and wardrobes with grim associations rather than doing the work to spelunk the dark sincerely. Both responses are understandable, within the scope of our current contexts of denial about denial, yet unfortunate because we, the collective, are far from done with our shadow work.
Grief, Anger & Shame
Of the shadowy emotions, some few stand out as pillars of our design and portals into the deep. As terms, grief and anger primarily do an apt job of encapsulating an expansive, varied, and complexly woven web of emotions that otherwise are difficult to objectify with any finality. Indeed, even the seeming simplicity of the pair, grief and anger often betray clarity, as they can both hold the positions of causing and/or resulting from the other. Add to this mix the nebulous glamours of shame, which is called by many names as it shapeshifts to avoid revelation, and we have the ingredients of an alchemical psychic working that only a master ought to try their hand at.
Faced with such unfathomable adversity, inside and out, most opt to either avoid or indulge. Such polarizing stances within the collective make the mixture even more turbulent and unpredictable. It is a good thing that we are here to undertake to master such advanced alchemical operations. And as advanced students of such arts, we must strive to recall that our path to success is paved with the stones of failure. Our mistakes in the undertaking reveal the nature and scope of the work. It is by following the openings that mistakes reveal that we discover the wholeness of what it is we are trying to develop.
Anger Is A Tricky Beast
Of these all, grief, anger, and shame, it is perhaps the most difficult to work with anger. They all suck, to put it plainly. But anger, of them all, is the one that has the most potential to undo what progress has been made. Grief unravels us in a way that cleans us out and opens our roads to go beyond. Shame reveals the pervasive insidiousness of the predatory forces in the psyche and helps to root them out so that we can reclaim our sovereign realm of self. But anger is a tricky beast, a fire that brings more harm than good when either too controlled or too liberated.
Anger, at the heart of it, is a very healthy thing. Anger arises in us to signal something toxic in our environment. Of course, we have buried this pure expression of anger in layers of repression and culturally indoctrinated forms of expression that turn the fuel and purpose of anger into something misguided at best, monstrous more often. When anger arises untainted by dissociated alliances, it is in collaboration with nature to help bring balance back. It is the role of the destroyer to be in service of the preserver. We see this portrayed in ancient stories, most notably the Ramayana, where Hanuman (an incarnation of Shiva, the destroyer) is the devotee of Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver).
One mostly overlooked but richly elucidating place within the mythic mind where we can find the mysteries of anger being explored is in the Greek myths. While wrathful deeds abound in these tales, it is not any of the overt expressions of anger that I find most enticing to swim in. And swim I suggest we do, for the River Styx draws my dreaming awareness to unfold in its waters. Styx is most famous as the river (in some versions), which the dead cross to enter the underworld, but this pivotal role is just the beginning of her far more complex and potent role in the cosmic tapestry.
The name “Styx’ is most often said to mean “hatred.” The older translations do not dumb it down so much for today’s vanilla minds, instead saying it means something about the dark and terrible places of reality (as in “stygian”). As a psychic alchemist, I will take all of these ingredients into my cauldron. And then add that Styx is a river but also a goddess. As such, her name more accurately means “divine hatred.” She is also very special to Zeus (the Mythic Mind itself), for it is by her waters that the other gods swear their unbreakable oaths. There is far more to her than just these touchstones, but it is here, with her being the oath of the gods, that I will delve a bit more.
The Oath of the Preserver is to Destroy
Why do the gods swear their oaths on the river of divine hatred?! It is because they know that the worst thing that can occur is to be hated; the worst thing that can befall anyone is to be seen as what must be removed from the story. When healthy anger arises to signal toxicity in our environment, it is a form of this natural, protective hatred. Not the four-color comic book pathological hatred which has us so distracted in today’s reconciliation of our ancient oath-breaking to each other that lead us into a dark aion of division based on appearance. It is a simple hatred, anger, or dark divine destroyer impulse that arises when something harms the sustainability of the healthy whole.
So where do we go from here? Perhaps it is to remember that it was the River Styx into which the hero Achilles was bathed, which made him invulnerable. There is no one way to work with these energies, but they are all immersive and equally work to make us resilient. Find your ways, use and learn from them, and move on to better ones. But also see, and integrate into your knowing, into your approach to it all, that these are natural forces, that have important gifts to bring when clarified to their roots. Learn to see that these are ancient forces, and they have far more to do with creating us than we do in creating them. We are playing out, working out, attempting to digest a story so old we are fools to take it so personally. Unless taking it personally helps you harness the anger fuel to change the world for the better. If that is the case, please take it personally.
“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”