A Witch in the Underworld: Shadow Work, Ancestral Healing, and Being of Service

Let’s explore the world of shadows and how a witch may approach these underworld dealings as a means of understanding more fully how to discern, integrate, heal, and communicate with the mosaic world of self, soul, and ancestor.

Types of Shadow

This post is going to cover two concepts related to shadows. First, shadow work, a concept regarding the unknown aspects of self from psychology. Then second, shadows as they may be viewed through the lens of witchcraft. For example, working with the spirit of a dead person or an entity that resides in the spirit realms of the underworld. 

The two concepts are not interchangeable, but they can feed into one another. We can approach psychological shadow work as a task a witch must do in order to move past the iron rod gates of our conditioning. By doing this we strive towards developing a heart of discernment that allows us clearer interactions with the denizens of the spirit realms. From there we are able to be of better service to our communities.

What is Shadow Work?

Let’s start by defining what shadow work is. This is a concept scooped from the field of Analytical Psychology around confronting parts of self that are experienced as socially and personally undesirable, unconscious, or unknown. 

Shadow work can be a part of a path of self-transformation and gnosis. However, the purpose of this process is not to feel complete just in and of oneself. As we live in an ecosystem of beings seen and unseen, our actions, even seemingly invisible or individual ones, such as emotional processing, can echo outside of the confines of material reality and into the spirit realms. Therefore, through our shadow work, we are creating spiritual waves that can reverberate across space and time. 

From this attunement with this interconnected web of creation and our place within it, shadow work can be viewed as a path of service to the larger collective. And what we glean from this process can be brought into our interactions, the work we do in the world, and so on.  

Shadow work means being mindful of and taking action to understand and prevent complexes and distortions in ourselves that can cause harm to ourselves as well as others. This will also involve becoming aware of broader shadows including systems of oppression and privilege along with being conscious of how these systems play out in our own psyches and material lives.

Cultivating a Heart of Discernment

Shadow work gives us clearer intuition so we can cultivate a heart of discernment. I feel discernment is one of the most important skills to employ when doing psychic mediumship and witchcraft.

Without discernment in regards to our personal shadows, our own projections and complexes can be plastered onto others. Our own misunderstandings can distort our meaning, even if we are setting out with the best of intentions. 

Discernment allows a practitioner to know when an experience they are having may be a function of anxiety versus a spirit coming to give a message. We can easily project our fears and fantasies onto spirits if we are not paying attention to what is present within us.

Of course, there are a number of ways we can go about developing discernment, and shadow work is not the only way. There are many cleansing, healing, and spiritual techniques that can be employed when working through shadowy themes, complexes, and the like. Cultivating discernment and doing shadow work is ongoing spiritual work with varying degrees of engagement at different times along our paths.

Shadows in the Context of My Witchcraft Practices

In my witchcraft, I practice communion with inner-earth entities, chthonic powers, liminal deities, sheydim (spirits), and the dead–all of which might be considered shadow-like beings with at least a part of their spirit residing within the spirit realms of Earth. 

Outside of material reality, space and time function differently. Therefore, the Underworld may be viewed as a construct that maps well with how the human mind can conceptualize it; a spirit of place for going downward and within, rather than upward and ascending or transcending. My spiritual work has brought me onto a path that beckons me into the Earth and into the roots of the Tree of Life.

Working in the Shadows

In my work with spirits that is ever-deepening, I am able to do different tasks related to my witchcraft when navigating through these underworlds. This can include:

  • Partnering with a particular energetic presence for a specific purpose
  • Receiving healing messages or information from the ancestors
  • Opening to oracular insights from the spirits of the Earth and the Divine
  • Joining with the spirits and elemental forces of the land for healing
  • Assisting a spirit or asking for assitance from a spirit  

We can also experience our own shadowy behaviors and complexes as external entities at times. These parts of our being are like lost parts of the soul that need a light shined on them for deeper understanding and integration. A shadow interaction of this kind can bring us more in tune with what is energetically unfolding in the backdrop web of our everyday, material realities.

Discernment prepares us to meet with spirits or parts of the soul as they want to appear to us and less likely how we presume or want them to appear to us. Some spirits are lost, some are teachers, some are powerful channels of power, and some don’t have what we would consider ‘good’ intentions. So developing healthy boundaries, cleansing techniques, and protection practices when doing spirit work is essential. Along with that, building strong relationships with particular spirits and having an open mind yet a firm grasp on personal beliefs is also important.

Conditioning and the Fabric of the Spirit Worlds

Understanding our personal beliefs and conditioning will have a huge bearing on how we ultimately interact with the spirit realms. Consider what you have been told about the underworld, demons, and the dead and what beliefs are established within you as a result. 

If we believe that the spirit world is a complex system of beings, all with their own (and sometimes collective) motivations, desires, and cyclical journeys, then we can more easily experience the consciousness that we are tapping into. 

From this space, we can then understand who we are sharing a reality with in order to channel, mediate, and–when called–direct the present spiritual flow or course. We can dip into the wells of chthonic forces that stir beneath the surface world churning the tides of dreams, life force, and destiny. We can more consciously participate in the weaving of the exquisite threads of vision that will eventually be birthed into our reality. 

I can’t say how everything is fabricated within the ultimate vision of creation or what may exist beyond or within the void from which all things are born. But we can still construct ideas for engaging with and understanding this ineffable mystery that we are a part of. One of the ways of learning more about the nature of the universe, and in turn ourselves, is by engaging with the beings that exist, in all their intricacy, in different states of being from our own.

Ancestral Healing and the Unwell Dead 

For me, being a psychic medium means being in touch with the spirits of the dead, including from my own lineages, as a point of reference and understanding. It also contributes to a recognition of the healing that we are doing as humans upon the earth and as a collective. There is a sharing and exchange of power taking place between worlds. 

Consider that the dead can be unwell and not fully ‘healed’. I first encountered this idea of the unwell dead on the podcast Bespoken Bones, where Dr. Daniel Foor was the guest. We can see the ancestral dead as still having their own connections to existence and evolution in their disembodied state. 

There is continuing spiritual work that can be done between the living and the dead as a part of mending the flow of life force between the worlds. This is work that witches can and often do engage in.

We can approach our ancestral practices with the thought that spirits are healed and healing on the other side, as time does not exist for them in the same way as it does for us. We can support this process for them and ourselves through ancestral veneration practices, uncovering ancestral stories, and learning our ancestral traditions.

We can also support this ancestral healing work by doing our own healing and shadow work by untangling intergenerational traumas or other complexes existing in our being and bodies that have been passed through our ancestral and societal lineages.

Why do this type of work?

This type of work has given me evolving pathways into the often tangled workings of my inner landscapes. Combing through these knotted brambles awakens me to the desire to see and know things as they really are so I can be a clearer vessel for the divine. A feeling of devotion continues to arise to be in alignment with a truth that moves beyond form and spirit towards one that is profound, magical, ecstatic, yet ultimately unknowable and mysterious.

Meeting with the underworld grants us communion with aspects of creation that can lead to our deepening awareness of the transformative, healing, and potential that exists through the life force. This gives us the heart to discern the intricate tendrils that make up the embodied and disembodied human spirit so we can do our part in co-creating medicine across space and time.

We have an opportunity to help hold, integrate, and deal with these energies as they manifest in the ways that they do in our reality. We can challenge ourselves to confront our own issues and in turn partner with spirits at the roots to be a source of service, healing, advocacy, and love.

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