Dante and Virgil: The Light/Shadow Split [Shadow Work 101]


[Another Pagan entry. Feel free to skip this one.]

[This is a very rough starting point for this concept, and will be revisited and reworked in the future]

Part of why I’m writing these entries is that I get asked about this style of work all the time.

Part of this is hard for me. I didn’t choose the shadow life, the shadow life chose me. That’s…only sort of a joke. Most of my life has been spent staggering around falling into potholes, figuring out what I can take from it, getting out of the hole, and repeating the whole process over again.

I can honestly say though that I only spent about five minutes on a ‘light’ path. I found myself in gray and then into shadow pretty much as soon as I figured out what that meant-and from there fell into the direct healing aspects of shadow almost as quickly.

The main issue that people seem to have is where the difference between light and shadow begins and ends. And that makes a lot of sense because I don’t see them as a conflict or even as a dichotomy, I see them as a partnership-they don’t fight each other, they work side by side and often weave in and out of each other. You can be very light shadow and very shadowed light.

I see them as Dante and Virgil. As in, the Inferno.

Bear with me on this one.

So the thing with shadow and light work is that there’s three main points here. Maybe only one major point and a acouple observations.

1. I’ve had -a lot- of workers say things to me like ‘but I always thought I was a light worker but what you’re saying makes sense to me!’ Then you’re probably a light worker. Most shadow workers I know, knew light wasn’t a good fit for them from the start. If you’ve been using that label, keep using it.

Seriously. You can do healing work as a light worker, you can do grief work even as a light worker, you can do most everything a shadow worker does as light worker. A therapist and a dentist are both healers, they’re just going at different systems.

If you honestly feel like you might need to spend time with shadow, then do some readings, start talking with a worker, look into it. By all means, explore the paths a little. But don’t let yourself be forced out of your path because you read about a new term.

2. The main difference seems to lie in where you’re putting your push. Shadow says that your pain/aggression/anger/’dark’ emotion is a valid place to be as it is-just perhaps one you don’t want to set up shop in. Movement out is about hitting balance. Light on the other hand wants you out of there as fast as possible because basically pleasure is the end goal. I use that word deliberately here, because it’s not so much happiness that light seems to be going for, it’s about a lack of pain.

The idea that light is seeking pleasure isn’t a judgment statement, and with any luck I’ll be able to come up with a more sophisticated description at some point. However, this is a split that makes sense to me on an instinctive level-because shadow is most definitely -not- about pleasure seeking and life needs both healing/balance and pleasure to be worth living.

3. Shadow isn’t dark, dark is another path.

Shadow can certainly run very, very dark and hit on topics like death and destruction in a range of applications. But there are separate dark paths.

I’ve just never encountered anyone doing what I would call ‘true’ dark work. I have however come across some energies that have given me significant pause, and been banned from the playground, and I know those energies have people working with them, so yes at least in theory there’s dark workers in the world. I suppose that if for no other reason than true energetic balance they need to exist.

Note: I avoid using terms like black magic for a reason, because I feel like in a world where horror is a thing that exist it brings up images like rams’ skulls and black candles and hooded robes. It’s not the image that I’m going for-though maybe those things are what’s at play, I don’t know.

Okay, now we get to the fun part.

So Dante is a man who knows that he has to get through hell to get to his end desire. It’s literally impossible for him to do what he’s trying to do without doing it. He’s not necessarily looking forward to it, and this isn’t going to be a ‘fun’ afternoon activity. Dante is our light worker here, who just wants to get on with the whole thing.

However, he encounters Virgil-a wise man (literally, a wise man, the man who is wise enough that God and Satan both are allowing him to wander through hell with Dante) who will show Dante how to get out. However, one of the thing that Virgil is saying to Dante is that there are things that Dante must learn in hell, that will make him a better person-and more importantly, can only be learned through hell. At no point does Virgil tell Dante to speed up or take a short cut-he doesn’t even really tell Dante “I know you don’t feel good and I wish I could make it better for you.” Virgil knows that this journey will make Dante a better man-and even more importantly, he knows that it will end.

Virgil is the shadow worker here. It’s not a perfect fit, for either man. Dante is slightly more openly obsessed with his desired pleasure than most light workers I’ve come across, and most shadow workers don’t get the luxury of quite that level of wisdom or the ability to know exactly where the path ends. However the coupling also highlights the way that the two perspectives compliment each other-light sometimes needs shadow to guide it through hell [or whatever situation it’s being faced with], and shadow needs light to give it an end to work towards or it gets stuck in its obsession with balance above all else.

This is a really important point, and part of the reason that I find a lot of the back and forth over labeling tiresome-the two work together. At no point is it implied that Dante or Virgil is actually more important than the other. They are working together as teacher and student, but teacher and student in a way that suggests that they need each other. It’s not that shadow has more wisdom and light is more flighty-they’re just coming at the world from different angles. [It might look like this example is actually implying that Virgil is the smarter, more developed player-but remember that there’s two other books in the Divine Comedy and the closer Dante gets to Heaven the more important light becomes. Light is just not necessarily the best tool in a trip through Hell.]


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