A Little Book on the Human Shadow by Robert Bly

By Robert Bly

A paperback reissue from the bestselling writer of "Iron John." A "penetrating and magnificent little quantity that sheds new mild at the Shadow. . . . A clean and extreme language and symbols for describing the unrevealed."--Joan Halifax, former president, The Ojai beginning

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Example text

Puritanism by its insistence that the child is truly wicked prevented many seventeenth-century Americans from eating that part of their shadow, and some malnourishment is evident in their literature. The witch-burning craze, pushed along by ignorant monks who had forgottten how to think mythologically, caused immense suffering and injustice, and prevented 38 the men administering it from eating their own witch, and the church is still undernourished there. As a person grows older he or she becomes more wise about this stage.

Apparently what we’re hearing in “Iron John” is a narrative reminder of old initiation rituals in northern Europe. The older males would teach the younger males how to deal with shadow material in such a way that it doesn’t overwhelm the ego or the personality. They taught the encounter more as a kind of play than as a fight. When the shadow becomes absorbed the human being loses much of his darkness and becomes light and playful in a new way. The unabsorbed shadow can darken the air all around a human being.

He now feels that such expression results eventually in some humiliation of the ego, and the psyche as a result loses some of its interest in sexuality; it loses some of its eros. The culture has a longing for primitive modes of expression as an antidote to repression. Nazi youth groups emphasized a kind of back-to-nature primitivism. Obviously Nazism involved a state insanity, and not all back-to-nature movements involve insanity; most embody health. And yet we can understand through Kurtz’s experience in Heart of Darkness that the Western longing for the primitive is dangerous to the psyche.

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