It is one of the oldest human pilgrimages. Pilgrimage to the Shadow transcends mere journeys through time and space; although it may comprehend both of these qualities, such a pilgrimage is neither bound by, nor bounded by, duration or distance. Pilgrimage to the Shadow may require many years and thousands of miles, or only an instant while one sits quietly in a room. Pilgrimage to the Shadow is different for each of us: there are at least as many different pilgrimages as there are living people, and perhaps even more. But the Shadow, though it has many faces, is always the same.
Lao tzu made the pilgrimage to the Shadow, and came back with the Tao, the unknowable essence of the Shadow. Dante’s pilgrimage, which he made while lost in mid-life and in the midst of a dark wood of sin and confusion, led him in a vision from Hell through Purgatory to Heaven, by which journey he felt his soul purified and brought closer to God. Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychiatrist-archivist of archetypes, made a pilgrimage to the Shadow, and returned with … the concept of the Shadow.
For Jung, the Shadow was, among other things, a vast reservoir of attributes not consciously known or understood by human beings, or even rejected by them: their desires, instincts, emotions, and flaws. The Jungian Shadow is also a reservoir and source for creativity and inspiration, and by being properly integrated into the conscious self, may allow one to live healthily and productively.
The path to the Shadow has many pitfalls. Some find it so unbearable to know of their own flaws and shortcomings that they refuse to accept them; the Shadow assists them by projecting those unwanted traits upon others. Hatred of the self becomes hatred of the Other, which leads at first to violence and crime, and later to genocide and war. For thousands of years, projection of the Shadow in the name of religion, politics, or economics has justified exploitation and mass murder.
Sometimes the encounter with one’s Shadow causes despair or the desire to annihilate the self. Only by courage, perseverance, and awareness can one complete the pilgrimage, emerging at last with the Shadow assimilated into the self. In truth, the Shadow is nothing less than a cast-off, alienated part of the soul: in the healing of the self, the Shadow is purged of evil, accepted, and given purpose by furthering a creative life.