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The Shadow-side of Male Virtue

Knightly confrontation.
Click Picture to Enlarge.

There is a wild side to man's nature. Unpredictable. Savage. Easily frustrated and angered. We are taught from an early age to repress this part of us as something uncivilized and undesirable. Those of us who respect the law discipline ourselves to reject it. We go on with life ignoring what tendencies remain, channeling the overflow of aggression into "appropriate" conduits, such as ruthless competition in sports or business.
     But in truth, the dark side of masculinity is never really gone or completely subdued. It follows us like a "shadow" (which C.G. Jung labeled it), dark and indescribable. Like a real shadow, it projects and distorts who we are.
     This is our personal darkness, filled with savagery we try not to recognize.
     It haunts us when we least suspect it—an angry phantom from our primitive core, maligned by moral propaganda, marginalized by repression.
     This frustrated shadow can subvert our best intentions—not because it is evil, but because we continually thwart its existence. We deny its proper role in our lives, and view it as uncivilized, something "bad." In effect, we provoke its rebellious discontent by shaping it into a monster when it might have been shaped into something different.
     This shadow is part of who we are as men. Without it, the chivalry we embrace becomes salt that has lost its flavor, an empty shell of moral dictates devoid of essence.
     Our shadow provides male virtue with the tension of having one foot in heaven and the other not in hell but here on earth. Its wildness defines our core. Without it, our personal self-discipline is meaningless, our strength inauthentic, our connection to the earth, which is our Mother, broken. We become the disappointment of heaven's grand design, severed from our roots, sapped of our virility.
     The shadow is an essential element to our every thought and deed as men. As such, it either substantiates or perverts our best intentions, depending on how we relate to it. It is that unrefined edge that distinguishes us from women, no matter how refined we shape ourselves. It connects us to nature. Without it, we are limpid, emasculated, not really alive. To the other extreme, when we fail to give it its proper role, we become discontent, brazen, uncontrollable, perverting the virtues we are meant to honor.
     When we deny our shadow, we urge it to wreck havoc with our lives. We wrestle with it, try to subdue it, only to learn that the struggle never ends. In this respect, the shadow always wins, but only as a dark influence rather than something that completes us. We cannot suppress it without losing the very heart of who we are.
     Chivalry, despite its refining virtues, directs us to embrace the wild center of who we are, recognize its intrinsic value, honor it not as an aberration, but as a natural source of male energy which borders (as all things of nature do) on amorality. It is here where the ideal warrior is fashioned in our hearts.
     Chivalry cannot eliminate or tame this wild excess of spontaneity, and does not try. Instead, it channels it throughout every fiber of our being, melds it to everything we do—and in the processing of doing so makes us whole.
     The wildness is self-destructive only when we reject it or hold it at arm's length. By infusing it into our lives, it nourishes the soul like nothing else can. Our shadow is not a thing of evil and perversion— although untended, it can produce both. We need this shadow to be complete, and it needs us as well.
     It is imperative for us to find our shadows and integrate them into our lives. We might not be pleased what we find but remember, this is result of pure neglect.
     Embrace him. Rescue him. And he will rescue you.
     There are several ways to do this. The simplest is through ritual, whereby we recognize and honor the wild man as a valuable part of who we are. Jung tells us that ritual is enough to heal the rift—the turbulence of the unconscious mind really asks for nothing more. We can add this ritual to our embrace of chivalry.
     The following is a short ritual to illustrate what I mean. Although it involves a sword as a ritual object, which is meaningful to me, you can and should build your own ritual as it best applies to you.

Dialog with my Shadow

Dark Man of my soul,

It is you I honor, you from whom all the energy of manhood originates and resides. I value the honesty of your feelings, rooted in the earth and in battle and in the hunt. Your anger is profound. Your need for action true. I applaud your sense of outrage and need for justice. Without them, where would we be? The dragons of our existence thrive without you to combat them. You embolden me to walk free, and live by my own code. You are my father and brother and truest friend.

This sword symbolizes who you are—what you mean to me and to the world. Strength. Action. Defense. The ability to cut away illusion. It represents the history of men, blood spilt on the battlefield, which connects us all together.

Stay with me. Take your honored place in my soul and in my life. Strengthen me with your power, and guide me with your earthy wisdom.

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