Reflections UNDER THE SHADOW
Text by Jazmina Barrera
The shadow is the reptilian tail that man still drags behind him. When carefully amputated, it turns into the healing serpent of mysteries. Only monkeys boast it.
—Carl Gustav Jung
Light creates shadow. We confirm the presence of this dark, silent and faithful double as he accompanies us every day. Our shadow unites us with the cosmos. Even at noon, the shadowless hour, we eclipse the planet just a bit, as we are perfectly aligned with the Sun and the earth. Because we are stuck to our shadow, a part of us is connected to it. That’s why Peter Pan has to sew it on to his body, so that he doesn’t lose it, which is funny considering that when you fly – and when you jump – is the only time you are physically separated from your shadow, and Peter Pan knows it. He even teaches it how to fly.
This “other one,” that looks like us but with no face, has the ability to expand, loose weight or grow, depending on light; it is the perfect metaphor for a manichaeistic culture that finds a “good” and a “bad” in almost everything, a side of light and another one of shadow; more recently, a conscious side and an unconscious side, the latter is usually associated with all that’s dark, mysterious and hidden in a human being. The novel The Country of Long Shadows owes its name to the Nordic terrains, the land of Eskimos, where the sun barely appears for months and Earth and people’s shadows are extremely long, as if they extended to infinity. Just as the earth is physically divided into day and night, us humans always have our side of light during the day and our shadow at night, except at noon:
“And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
Says T.S. Eliot of our morning shadow, which follows us like a lapdog and of our evening shadow, which threatens to outdo us.
And then there’s the night shadows. What happens with this side of us in darkness? Does it dissolve in its own element? In Salman Rushdie’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, there is a country so dark that shadows can move about freely, at their own will:
“Chupwalas live in the dark, you know, and in the dark a Shadow doesn’t have to be one single shape all the time…”
Thus, shadows have their own personality and can even fight with their owners, although they can’t be separated from them. Only the villain of the story has achieved such atrocity, becoming so increasingly dark, that he matches with his shadow, which moves freely as his double.
The word shadow comes from the Old English term sceadwian: “to protect as with covering wings.” In Spanish, the word asombro (awe) is one of the many derivatives of the word sombra (shadow). A-sombro means to be afraid of a shadow; both language definitions are beautifully portrayed in fragment XI of Wallace Steven’s poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:
“He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
In a way, the shadow personifies an intangible presence. In some communities for example, it is believed that when a person dies, he can leave his shadow, his spirit, in the place where he died. Hence the shadow creates a feeling of awe, like a premonition, an omen. However, we immediately ask ourselves about the current meaning of the word asombro, which describes the sudden feeling of something strange, something surprising; it’s not necessarily related to something harmful. To be in awe (asombro) is an ambiguous feeling produced by all that is mysterious, all that is wonderful and strange, be it positive of negative. Similar to a sublime feeling. That is why Jung acknowledges the shadow in this essay’s epigraph, and its chance to turn into “the healing serpent of mysteries.” Which is surely why the fictional stories have made a character out of the shadow, one that is not evil because it is mysterious and peculiar. The best stories are made of shadows.