Galadriel’s mirror

With water from the stream Galadriel filled the basin to the brim, and breathed on it, and when the water was still again she spoke. ‘Here is the Mirror of Galadriel,’ she said. ‘I have brought you here so that you may look in it, if you will.’ The air was very still, and the dell was dark, and the Elf-lady beside him was tall and pale. ‘What shall we look for, and what shall we see?’ asked Frodo, filled with awe. ‘Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal,’ she answered, ‘and to some I can show what they desire to see. But the Mirror will also show things unbidden, and those are often stranger and more profitable than things which we wish to behold. What you will see, if you leave the Mirror free to work, I cannot tell. For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be. But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell. Do you wish to look?’

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Many times I have wondered what I would see if I looked in Galadriel’s mirror. I think I would be reluctant at first, afraid, but eventually I would look. What I would see would necessarily be influenced by me, the subject who is looking, as I would probably project part of the content, if not all. And I have always been certain I would see my own shadow.

A couple of months ago, when I was finishing Jung’s Red Book, I came across a passage in which he eventually meets his shadow. As soon as I started reading, I could see that it was it, him, Jung’s shadow. I had been wondering for a while if he would address this part of himself in the book, which was not difficult to see from the outside, but probably hard to admit from the inside. He was very tough on himself, here is a short excerpt:

Your inordinate ambition is boundless. Your grounds are not focused on the good of the matter but on your vanity. You do not work for humanity but for your self-interest. You do not strive for the completion of the thing but for the general recognition and safeguarding of your own advantage. I want to honor you with a prickly crown of iron; it has teeth inside that bore themselves into your flesh.
[…] But you are shameless in everything where no one sees you. If another said that to you, you would be mortally offended, despite knowing that it is true. You want to reproach others for their failings? So that they better themselves? Yes, confess, have you bettered yourself? From where do you get the right to have opinions of others? What is your opinion about yourself? And what are the good grounds that support it? Your grounds are webs of lies covering a dirty corner. You judge others and charge them with what they should do. You do this because you have no order within yourself, because you are unclean.

Carl G. Jung, The Red Book

Little after I had read that chapter, I was writing and my own shadow appeared in my imagination. He stood there in front of me, out of nowhere, waving his hand with a stupid and guilty look in his face. Many times I had been searching for my own shadow, wondering what it would look like. I always imagined this encounter as something exciting, with a touch of epic. I imagined myself slaying the dragon, chopping off the hydra’s seven heads, overcoming a dreadful fear. But it wasn’t like that at all.

I didn’t feel any fear, either. What I felt was utter, sheer disgust. Hatred, rage and a touch of incredulity. For even if I knew too well what was hidden down in the basement, it was still hard to believe that that thing was part of me. With my keyword, I insulted it, spat at it, hit it, kicked it. Then I looked at it for a long time. In the end, I knew I only had one choice, so I lifted him, told him that it was fine and welcomed him on board.

This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people, for the meeting with ourselves belongs to the more unpleasant things that can be avoided so long as we can project everything negative into the environment. But if we are able to see our own shadow and can bear knowing about it, then a small part of the problem has already been solved: we have at least brought up the personal unconscious. The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness. This problem is exceedingly difficult, because it not only challenges the whole man, but reminds him at the same time of his helplessness and ineffectuality. Strong natures—or should one rather call them weak?—do not like to be reminded of this, but prefer to think of themselves as heroes who are beyond good and evil, and to cut the Gordian knot instead of untying it.

Carl G. Jung. Archetypes and the collective unconscious (CW9, part 1)

I always imagined my inner voyage a bit like the Odyssey, tough but exciting and rewarding. Meeting my shadow wasn’t exciting and didn’t feel rewarding; it felt like eating mud. I knew this was positive, but the taste in my mouth was bitter. I wasn’t filled with the thrill of an epic victory, but rather with the acceptance of failure. It didn’t bring joy, it just left a partial sense of accomplishment. Two months later, I cannot say it makes me any happier, prouder or wiser, but I’m glad I did it. I had no alternative, really.

I have some doubts that young people will be able to relate to this experience, but I still wrote about it because I thought they might in ten or twenty years’ time… if they’re lucky.