The Child and the Shadow

My notes from Ursula LeGuin’s essay about Hans Christian Andersen and Jung, from her book “The Language of the Night”, “The Child and the Shadow”

If the ego “is weak, or if it’s offered nothing better, what it does is identify with the “collective consciousness.” That is Jung’s term for a kind of lowest common denominator of all the little egos added together, the mass mind, which consists of such things as cults, crees, fads, fashions, status-seeking, conventions, received beliefs, advertising, pop cult, all the isms, all the ideologies, all the hollow forms of communication and “togetherness” that lack real communion or real sharing. The ego, accepting these empty forms, becomes a member of the “lonely crowd”. To avoid this, to attain real community, it must turn inward, away from the crowd, to the source: it must identify with its own deeper regions, the great unexplored regions of the Self. These regions of the psyche June calls the “collective unconscious,” and it is in them, where we all meet, that he sees the source of true community; of felt religion; of art, grace, spontaneity, and love.

That mass mind is “stuffed full of the one-sided, shadowless half-truths and conventional moralities”

Jung wrote;” Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” The less you look at it, in other words, the stronger it grows, until it can become a menace, an intolerable load, a threat within the soul. Unadmitted to consciousness, the shadow is projected outwards, onto others. There’s nothing wrong with me–it’s them. I’m not a monster, other people are monsters.

If the individual wants to live in the real world, he must withdraw his projections; he must admit that the hateful, the evil, exists within himself. This isn’t easy. It is very hard not to be able to blame anybody else.

If one were to deal with his own shadow, he has….grown toward true community, and self-knowledge, and creativity. For the shadow stands on the threshold. We can let it bar the way to the creative depths of the unconscious, or we can let it lead us to them. For the shadow is not simply evil. It is inferior, primitive, awkward, animallike, childlike; powerful, vital, spontaneous. It’s not weak and decent, like the learned young man from the North; it’s dark and hairy and unseemly; but, without it, the person is nothing.

2 thoughts on “The Child and the Shadow

  1. In 1989, shortly after the earthquake (or just before?), I wrote to tell her how much Dancing at the Edge of the World meant to me (new to the west coast, at home with three small children I adored, missing the outside bog). We were pen pals for awhile. She sent delightful cards- and encouragement that became world changing.

    Life is remarkable. So many small yet earth-shatteringly beautiful gifts.

    She gets it.

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