The Holly Tree
In this lesson, we will be working with our Shadow Sisters and opening our hearts and souls to them. You may remember the introduction to your Shadow self from Year of the Yogi and you might remember this was a difficult introduction. Now is the time to revisit and mend your relationship with your Shadow Sister. Use your journeys this month to make peace with your Shadow self. Learn to accept and embrace her for your Light wouldn’t exist without your Darkness. And most importantly take your time and journey with compassion.
To support your journey, allow me to introduce the Holly tree. Holly embodies love the highest energy quality through which we all live — it is our greatest healing power. The desire for love is programmed into every cell of our being and when we are going with the stream of love we live in a state of grace. When love is denied the shadow often emerges in the form of envy, jealousy, distrust, spite, small mindedness, and rage.
Holly is a tree of heart healing, opening and of embracing. It is Holly’s ability to germinate without sunlight that gives it the sacred mark as a tree connected with the shadowy areas of life. The Gaelic name for Holly, 'Tinne', is related to the word 'tanist' which refers to ‘second in command’ and colloquially understood as 'dark twin'. Beautifully appropriate because in our journey work ‘dark twin’ represents the shadow sides of ourselves…”the second in command”. We must continually re-learn to embrace and love the light and the dark if we are to find true inner healing.
Holly is associated with the great cycle of life, death and rebirth. Under the bark, the wood is stark white and the veining of the wood are barely detectable to the naked eye — it reminds me of ivory or frozen snow. There are many types (species) of holly. English holly, Oregon holly, and American holly are used as ornamental Christmas greens. The leaves of other holly species (especially Ilex opaca, Ilex vomitoria, and Ilex aquifolium) are used to make medicine. The berries are very poisonous and should not be swallowed.
Historically, Ilex opaca fruit tea was used as a heart stimulant by American Indians. Ilex vomitoria was used to cause vomiting, and Yaupon tea (mixed leaves of Ilex cassine, Ilex vomitoria, and Ilex dahoon) was used as a ceremonial “cleanser” in South America.
There is an old pagan custom in which both the holly and the ivy are used to celebrate the divine masculine and the divine feminine. At Yule time, a young male was dressed in foliage of Holly, and a girl dressed in Ivy. Together they represented the god and goddess taking the evergreen quality of nature through the darkest time of year, encouraging the sun to bring new growth.
Edward Bach, the developer of Bach Flower Remedies (can be found at www.bachflower.org) wrote, "Holly protects us from everything that is not Universal Love. Holly opens the heart and unites us with Divine Love.The soul quality of Holly is that which we all desire - the ideal human state. In its positive state, individuals are able to live in inner harmony, taking pleasure in the achievements and successes of others, freely accepting and feeling love that flows toward them, and having a sense for the Divine scheme of things.”
More recently, preparations of holly leaf have been used for coughs, digestive disorders, water retention, and yellowed skin (jaundice). Ilex aquifolium leaves are used for treating fevers that come and go, joint pain (rheumatism), swelling, water retention, and chest congestion. Ilex opaca leaves are used to empty and cleanse the bowels, stimulate the heart, and increase urine flow. Other holly species are used for treating heart disease, dizziness, and high blood pressure.
If you anticipate difficulties working with or getting re-acquainted and comfortable with your Shadow Sister, gather a few small branches of Holly. Hold them in your hands…prickly leaves and all. Inhale deeply, drawn in love and as you exhale, send your breath across the branches. Do this three times to imbue the Holly with your personal vibration…your intentions, your fears, your misconceptions, and your willingness to love.
Place these in your alter or the space where you sit for journey work. Let their presence connect you to the vein of love that bridges your Highest Self with your Dark Sister. Let their presence remind you of the balance of the Winter Solstice and how that reflects time in the darkest hours of your life. Our greatest fears lie in what we do not yet know, so step into this work with your eyes/heart open. Trust that once you get to know your Dark Sister, you’ll see…she is not the monster you might have feared.
CAUTION: although we will not be ingesting the Holly branches or berries, be careful if you have pets in the home. You might consider instead a small bottle of the Bach Flower remedy. You might add a drop or two on a cotton swab or in a small bowl of water and place that in your alter before you settle into a journey to be helpful.
The Shadow is a psychological term first introduced by Carl G. Jung. The meaning of Shadow, in his words, is everything in the human psyche that is unconscious, repressed or underdeveloped and essentially denied.
These aspects of our being are most often unconscious. But we can also be aware of these aspects peripherally and purposefully choose not to look any deeper. When we look inward and see a glimpse of qualities like jealousy, greed, entitlement, envy, self absorption, and disproportional bouts of anger, we try to deny they are a natural part of our personality. Caroline Myss, author of Sacred Contracts, offers a bracing and yet eye-opening perspective. Settle in and listen to the 12 minute recording above. If there were to be one book for me to recommend to support you during this Journey, it would be Sacred Contracts.
If we want to become more enlightened with a healthy respect for ourselves and others, we must work at uniting our unconscious self with our conscious lives. The more aware we can be of our Shadow archetypes, the more control we have over them and the less they drive us. Truly, those who are afraid to confront and look into their shadow selves often end up projecting their own faults onto others.
It is undeniable that the shadow is composed of things that are often deemed dark, and sometimes seen as downright detestable - this is the very reason they are exiled to the unconscious part of our minds. We rarely recognize our own shadows; seeing that which we dislike in others, deeply embedded inside ourselves, is never a pretty sight. This is what makes this work so powerful and so darn hard! So I offer this…
Deep in the Shadows are “Shadow Gold”
While it is true that the shadow contains some less than desirable elements, not all that is in the shadow is actually undesirable. Carl Jung refers to these as 'shadow gold', which I love! Shadow gold refers to the aspects of our shadows that are wonderful and precious!
For example, a child with a large bright personality who would have loved the theatre or other extroverted activities may have parents who think that outgoing behavior is dangerous and unseemly, and so would try to dim their own inner light, and begin to feel that there is something wrong with themselves, thus relegating this aspect of themselves to the shadows.
Another example may be a gifted artist or musician who had a teacher abuse them, and therefore their gifts were sent to the shadows and the world never gets to experience their art. Digging up elements of our personal "shadow gold" helps us to not only recover our own personal power, but to quite literally transform our lives!
Dragons and Soul Parts
I like the idea that our shadow gold can be guarded by dragons! In folklore, the dragon is the protector of something precious and oftentimes vulnerable. One might say that the same is true of the golden shadow, or rather the parts of ourselves that we keep tucked away, to keep safe until we are ready to reclaim it.
The Shadow and the Archetype of the Wounded Child
One of the most common shadows that tends to arise in us stems from old woundings that we suffered as children. The tricky thing about the archetype of the wounded child shadow, is that it is a bit of a trickster. We often react to things around us from this aspect of ourselves without even realizing it. The wounded child rears her ugly head in just about any situation from a silly argument over who washed the dishes last to taking things personally.
When we are in our wounded child shadow, we forget our real age and we begin to act like like three year olds, or ten year olds or even teenagers, depending on when the wounding that we relegated to the shadows happened.
The tricky part of this archetype is that it does not necessarily mean that something traumatic happened when we were small. It could be as simple as we were one of a large family and often overlooked, so now as an adult when we feel that we are being overlooked, even accidentally, we react like we did when we were five and we felt that we did not have a voice.
The best way to deal with these kinds of shadows is to take a deep breath before reacting and see what age we are feeling; generally we are usually somewhere between 6 and 13 years old and acting form the space of the "wounded child" place. If we can take another deep breath and then react from our 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60-something selves, we are well on our way to tackling some of our shadows!
*Note* If you suspect you have a shadow that is hidden due to a traumatic event and the idea of working with it now feels too close to the bone or too deep for you to deal with right away, begin with something simpler. Sometimes diving in too deep right away can potentially be re-traumatizing and this sacred time is for healing. Some of our deeper shadows are probably there for a bigger reason then we realize. By beginning with the easier ones first, we become stronger and more prepared for the harder aspects to come.
Mirrors and Shadows
Another great way to begin working with your shadow elements is to pay attention to what irritates you in others actions. Then ask the simple question: "Is this irritation something I also do?" It may, or may not be. However, if you find that it is, this is a great place to begin — by looking directly into the mirror!
Example: Impatient drivers irritate me to no end. You know the kind, those who tailgate and are generally in a rush to get where they want to be, always need to be in front and have to close the gap between cars. Sigh…just typing about it raises my hair.
Well, one day while driving my daughter to a party, I was feeling irritated with all the slow drivers on the road. She commented that I was being impatient and pointed out that we were not in a rush and in fact, we would probably be early considering how fast I was driving!
As she spoke to me, I looked into my rearview mirror to see her and had one of those ah-ha moments. I realized that I was quite literally looking at myself in the mirror and seeing a reflection of my own impatience. No wonder I am so irritated by others, I myself can be completely impatient while driving! Once I noticed, now I’m better able to see each driver with compassion.
This is an example of a shadow piece that was pretty easy to work on, not too close to the bone, and a great way to ease into shadow work.
Inanna and Ereshkigal
These two sisters are the classic embodiment of the shadow sisters.
Inanna is the Goddess of Heaven and Earth, while her sister Ereshkegal is the Goddess of the Underworld.
Theirs is a story of deep initiation, love and hate, and they give us lessons on how to journey with integrity and the hard outcome of pushing our shadow sisters down.
The Story of Inanna
The story of Inanna was first discovered in Sumner, or what is now the southern half of Iraq. It was inscribed by ancient mythographers around 1750 B.C. and lay forgotten for over four thousand years. It was not until 1889 that the University of Pennsylvania came to excavate in the Near East, they recovered the tablets, and deciphered them.
Inanna is the daughter of the Sky-God An. She is also known as the Goddess of Heaven and Earth. Other names for Inanna are Ishtar, Astarte and Enheduanna. She is the sister of the Underworld goddess Ereshkigal. She is the wife of Dumuzi, and the mother to two sons. Inanna is also known as the Goddess of Life and Death. She is shown as a woman with huge hips, which symbolize her fertility. She holds her breasts in her hands and has feet like an owl. She’s sometimes shown as an owl – the screech owl, who flew at night and hunted and inhabited the ‘wasteland’ and the wilds, containing the ability to see at night and to fly between the veils of the living and dead. Sometimes she is shown with wings, revealing her ability to fly up to the heavens. Inanna is often seen presiding over two lions and an owl.
There are three separate stories about Inanna. Each story is connected to the other and becomes the frame of Inanna’s life as she grows up. The first story is “Inanna and the Huluppu-Tree.” The second is “The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi” and the third is “The Decent of Inanna.” Read a summary of the Decent of Inanna here.
Inanna reminds us that we must be willing to venture into the dark underworld of our own psyches and meet those parts of ourselves that we fear the most. We must acknowledge those aspects of self that seem cruel and torturous, and even threatening to our very belief systems, and we must have compassion for ourselves here.
The tales of Inanna are harrowing and you might ask why Ereshkigal did this to Inanna. There are many ways to view this myth. But with regard to your Shadow work, consider that Ereshkigal did these things because she is also a part of Inanna. Ereshkigal can be seen as Inanna’s shadow self; she represents those darker parts of Inanna’s own psyche that she did not want to face and so was cast to the Underworld to forever reside over those powerful but hidden truths. They are Yin and Yang, Sun and Moon, Light and Dark. Two sides of the same coin.
Keep in mind there is no need to "do” anything with your shadow. She will be with you the rest of your life — she is your sister, she is you. The point is to "know" her and love her for who she is. Shine your light on her, give her a hug and let her know that if she is not going anywhere, she might as well come out and play!
Begin this journey in your sacred spot. Look for the entry to the lower realm. Journey through the entry into the lower realm and call to your Guide. Ask your Guide to lead you to the sacred grove where you might connect with the Holly tree.
Journey to the Holly Tree
Today, you will sit under the Holly. Once you’re situated in your journey you may proceed. Be very clear in your intent and ask the Holly Tree:
What aspects of my Shadow Sister should I get to know today?
As you sit, keep your heart open to whatever comes to you. Remember, the message may not necessarily be words. Your Guide may show you images or sing a song, or anything really.
Take note of everything you see, hear, feel or even smell, as it is “all important”. Jot down your feelings and muse in your journal around this journey. Give yourself a few days to process.
Over the next month, take a moment to research versions of The Decent of Inanna.
Once you’ve taken it in and considered your reactions to it, spend some time in deep self-reflection on your personal shadow aspects. Identify those you know right away and then try to be as open as possible to whatever shadows you have that may not show their faces so easily. You may notice more shadows then usual while doing this work and the trick is to not get too “down” or hard on yourself about it. Remember your “inner critic” is also a shadow!
And, we ALL have one that tells us all sorts of untrue things: “I have too much baggage and it’s damaged; I am not worthy of x, y, z.” That mean inner voice tells us we are “not good enough”, “too fat/too thin”, “too messy/too controlled” and a myriad of other mean spirited things, so watch out for her. She is the trickiest shadow of all!
I will leave you to your Journey with this quote by Byron Katie:
"A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It is not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years."
Journey for your Sacred Object
Your sacred object this month will represent your shadows in all of their various forms. HOWEVER, know that your shadow object is not placed in your medicine bundle as a reminder of all your woundings and shadows, but as a reminder of how far you have come in your healing journey. When we know EXACTLY what our shadows are, the places we are triggered and why, we are more able to move from a healthy and grounded place in the world, no longer reacting as a wounded woman, but as a solid, grounded priestess who can tackle a dark shadow any day of the week!
Journey with your Guide to sit near the Holly tree and ask that you be shown the sacred object that represents your Shadow Sister. Once this object is revealed to you. It’s time to retrieve it in the real world. This might take days, weeks, or even months to finally secure your sacred object. If you have not found your object but know what it is, select a ‘placeholder’ to work with until your true power object is secured.
Once you have your object in hand, ask your object ‘what ceremony can I do to consecrate you before you go into the bundle?’ Maybe a soak in water under moon light, maybe smudging with sage, or simply blow three clearing breathes over the object to clear it and bind it to you.
Journey with the object to ask for any additional information you need at this time regarding possible shadow areas you are not yet conscious of. Continue to journey with your object as much as you feel called to this month. Remember that you have the whole month to make a sacred bond with your object before it goes into your medicine bundle, so take that time and sit with it as much as possible.