It is the tendency of our culture to mistake what is dark within ourselves for what is wounded, rather than seeing darkness as its own kingdom, and carrying its own beauty.

It has been a long path for me to separate my rather dark tendencies from what was wounded within me. We tend to speak of dark as “bad”, and especially in modern spiritual communities the idea of transmuting anything that is not of the utmost purity into “light” is the predominant ideal.

This means that individuals who are naturally dark, who resonate with the earth, with death, who if they saw something slightly mischievous or simply not compassionate would be fine or even curious (to get along swimmingly with), who love their inner wildness, their bodies, their sexuality– all things that a perfectionist mind steeped in unconscious christianized patriarchal mythologies creates strict guidelines against in an effort to separate from– are often cast out of spiritual communities, or must find their way in “dark” communities often populated by individuals who are confusing darkness for adolescent angst or mental instability.

I have been sitting with this pattern for years, as what I have noticed is that those who are the “darkest” carry the most light. Generally many of the individuals steeped in “lightwork” are simply looking for escapism; many who believe that they are only working with what is “compassionate” are simply self-creating or may even be being fooled because of their lack of discernment when it comes to the spiritual realms. 

Mostly people end up blocking themselves because the spirit realms, and the natural realms, and our daily lives, do not fit into tidy transcendentalist paradigms.

We create light by making room for it. By digging in our own dirt, by going to our ocean floor. By healing, and healing is a messy job. Becoming conscious is a messy job. We cannot be light unless we have contended with our own darkness and integrated our own shadows.

Those who have traversed great pain, trauma, who are drawn to hospice and death work, nursing, firefighting, have had near death experiences (that they have integrated) and have gone through the shamanic katabasis process in which they have either died or stuck their hands in enough of their dirt to truly work with what is at the bottom of themselves have empathy for how others suffer because they have been there.

We can see others through by that process of being a wounded healer, of traversing our own depths, of seeing how what is monstery and dark underneath is simply what is unknown, not what is bad. That what is dark within us, and outside of us, does not need to transmute into light, that our inner anger and swamp monsters and mermaids that wish to drown us simply because they can, can be exactly who they are, except they can be integrated.

They can simply be an aspect of ourselves. They can be accepted and heard and seen so they do not have to get our attention or be enacted in harmful ways. Once integrated, such things are no longer feared or separated from– either internally or externally.

Our shadows, our darkness, can become again a vital aspect of our being, becoming transmuted not from “dark” to “light” but from disassociated and castigated to the fuel of creative energy, the creative impulse. We can regain our vitality by becoming fully who we are, and that includes our darkness. We are yin and yang, dark and light, and without our darkness we are half a being, living a half-lived life, if that.

If we look at much of modern spirituality, it is within the context of “solar”, or masculine. This does not mean “male” (although…) it means that the masculine principle is one of daylight, of knowing the edges of things, the conscious mind, of control and certainty.

Our feminine principle is one of darkness, of creativity, of our shadowy depths, of our subconscious and all that is unknown within us. The moon, oceans, and seas and the earth. Our dreams, death, spirit and the spirit realms. The formless void– the great mother we all emerge from and all return to.

It didn’t take me long on my own path to see something quite wrong with how spirituality was approached. To see that something ineffable, that truly could not be known, was claimed and oppressively seen as “known”, with neat edges and easily claimed principles regarding how spirits operate, what the spiritual realms are like; for years I thought that it was because people simply were looking for escapism, for easy answers, for control.

I still have a valid point with that, but if we look at the root of that force it is a masculine oppressive force– a force that has found its way through patriarchal religions and ways of being that tell us that nature is evil, that our bodies are sinful, that we require a middleman to tell us who and what the divine is, that we are separate or should be separate from our bodies, from the natural and supernatural realms.

Lately I have been researching seers and oracles from different traditions and what you will often find is women who had natural capacities being kidnapped or offered to varying temples or priests (insert other appropriate terms here) and who had the divine pour through them– often quite painfully. They were often young, upset by their gifts, upset by being apart from the lives they saw their family or others in their community lead, separated from that life to be kept “pure”.

They would be treated simply as vessels, and their messages, either scratched out, spoken, or related in symbols would then pass through the priests who would then relate them to the community. It was a life of isolation, often ending poorly for the women involved. If she was to become pregnant (thus not virginal and “pure”) or simply outlive her usefulness, she would then be relegated to a life separated from both her role as oracle and unable to be assimilated back into the community again.

If we consider the feminine, it is of kundalini, or of creative principle and consciousness. The female form has the unique capacity to create, and is integrally tied to kundalini, or the creative principle.

A kundalini awakening is then the emerging of that creative principle (consciousness) and its rising up the midline, taking us through the varying levels of consciousness until we are able to permanently reside with our divine, realized selves.

It is a meeting of that feminine creative principle with the male static principle (above the head) at which point they descend, bringing grace into the heart area, and the experience of divine pulsation, or experience of being in the dynamic stillness of embryonic pulsation, occurs. This is not our own embryonic experience, but that of the cosmos, of the great mother.

We deeply fear the feminine, what cannot be fully seen and known, what cannot be thrust into daylight. My experiences of the spiritual realms have always been of that formless void– of that realization that no matter how much I know, I could know more, I could be more, that no matter how much I know, I only know an infinitesimally small amount of what is around me or out there.

Such a thing can be seen as a thing of beauty. But it requires both stepping away from the masculine principle– the conscious mind that so desperately wants control, to announce dominance and authority– as well as our religious-cultural conditioning that teaches us that what is dark, and thus feminine about ourselves, is something to be feared or separated from.

It also requires coming to some hard and rather obvious truths about ourselves. To get less “spiritual” for a moment, I will say that our outer culture of the masculine impulse to destroy and dominate the feminine has led to quite a few misogynist emails to me over the years. Things that if someone had about a fiftieth of consciousness that such senders believe that they have (such as asking the question of I wonder if I would send this to a male spiritual teacher?) would lead to some wonderful internal questioning, and a much better world overall.

Or anyone out there who because of their implicit societo-religious conditioning has disassociated from their bodies (our “Earth”), their sexuality, and split from the natural world as well as the spirit realms because of a great fear that has been passed down that needs to be healed for anyone to really be whole. It certainly needs to be healed to not look at the spiritual realms through the masculine impulse to dominate, decimate, and claim authority over. To not see the spirit realms as black/white, knowable, controllable, its wildness tamed and brought into the daylight.

People are where they are, and will do what they do. But our darkness is a gift. Our wounded darkness is not. Neither is our wounded light. But in our darkness lies our creative energy, and in our unfathomed depths and our darkness lies our greatest light. It is by accepting all aspects of ourselves, by having compassion for every aspect of ourselves, that we awaken. That we become whole. That we can clearly have life-changing experiences of divinity, of spirit, that go beyond what we can see, know, and claim.


Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer, teacher, and author. You can find more information about healing trauma and imbalance in her books, including The Spiritual Awakening Guide