What is a Shadow Teacher?
The shadow teacher, guide or teacher is an animal that challenges us somehow.
We fear it, or we dislike it. We experience an irrational feeling of distaste or revulsion towards it. It is an animal that we might kill, or avoid, or turn off when we see it on television, and it is an animal that can feature in our nightmares or that may even have attacked us in the past.
It is thought that we fear these animals because they teach us the lessons that we don’t want to learn, because we fear what we might lose in the process and even what we may gain. We may fear what the animal may tell us about ourselves, often it forces us to confront harsh truths about ourselves. What we dislike most about the animal, may be what we dislike most in ourselves, or it might represent something that happened to us, or is happening to us, that feels or is harmful and unpleasant. In extreme cases, we can develop phobias of these animals. Or worse, we may begin to kill them en masse if we get the opportunity.
These animals can be shadow teachers, because like many aspects of ourselves that we don’t like, it is often marginalised and ignored. Even spiritual people have a tough time confronting and working with shadow teacher. I still get the heebie jeebies when I see a huntsman spider in the house, even though they’re harmless and I respect them.
It is possible to have more than one shadow teacher, and it is possible for them to change over time. Almost everyone has them. In some cases it’s easier to know which animals we have problems with than others, because they might be animals we confront regularly like spiders or fleas. Sometimes it’s more difficult, it’s an animal that’s easy to avoid because it might only be at the zoo, or in books. I struggle with Killer Whales, for example, but I’ve also never encountered one.
Some common shadow energies:
– Raven / Crow
There are of course a lot of others! You might think of fears and dislikes your friends have had in the past, or fears and dislikes you have had.
Ask yourself the question:
If you fear ‘spiders’, you need to be very exact. Do you fear ALL spiders? Or the poisonous ones? Or the fast ones? Or the big tarantula ones? Do you fear all wasps? Even the ones you’ve never seen? Why? What about cuckoos? Do you hate them because they push eggs out of the nest? Or because you think they’re ugly?
Ask yourself the relevant questions, WHY do you fear or dislike the animal. Start simple. Write down some answers to these questions and you can start to narrow down the nature of your fear:
What kind of ‘animal’ is it?
What does it look like?
How does it act?
How does it move?
Can it hurt me?
Do I fear / hate it as much as other animals that can hurt me more or in the same way?
Needless to say, one of the most powerful exercises we can do, is confront our shadow aspects and work with them consciously and subconsciously to create a working relationship with them. This can be a spiritual process, often initiated through meditation and visualisation of the animal itself, and can force us to light a candle to the shadows in ourselves that we deny, or suppress, or ignore.
Shadow teachers have powerful lessons, if we imagine that we are trying to always improve ourselves and get closer to the spirit and wholeness, the shadow teacher can give us very direct paths to this. Shadow teachers are not always gentle, they do not coddle us, and sometimes working with them can involve tears, terror, and even pain if the animal has attacked us in the past, but they do show us very direct paths to the spirit, and to home truths that once confronted, often show that the animal itself is not half as fearful as we thought it was! Some people even develop positive, gentle, healing relationships with animals they once feared or disliked.
For example, venomous animals often force us to confront that we too are capable of brutal, poisonous acts to get what we want. There’s no point denying it. Spiders and snakes (and other venomous animals) tell us that we need to not only confront this truth, but embrace it, and eventually learn how to love and understand it. Through this love and understanding, we reach a new respect of ourselves and the animal through spiritual work.
Sometimes shadow teachers will even become your primary guide, or one of your more significant animal teachers. If you are open and honest with the animal and with yourself, you may even develop a powerful ally who can help you in otherworlds, ritual and spellwork. You will also become well-equipped to help others face their own fears and dislikes of the same animal, because you will often know what you had to go through to get to a place of understanding.
Take your time.
Some people like fast results in their spirituality, the idea of a long and protracted journey of hard work with little results can be frustrating to say the least. But with shadow teachers it is important to understand that reconciling your shadow self, even aspects of your shadow self, with your conscious self can be a difficult and ongoing process.
Of course the process might also be very fast! You might have a lightning bolt of realisation and suddenly go ‘yes! I do hate that about myself, and I fear this, and I’m going to do this to fix it, why did I never figure that out before?’ But most of the time this process is slow and ongoing, and entirely worth it and rewarding in the end.
Don’t force the process, sometimes you will not be ready at all, and you will know when it happens. Be patient with yourself. Respect and understand yourself and your spiritual journey as you are learning to respect and understand your shadow energies.
NOTE: It is important to respect your boundaries. Sometimes if your body is telling you to avoid an animal teacher, or an animal, do so! You might not be ready for its lessons yet, or even ever. That’s okay, there are no end of animal teachers in the world. There is a difference between pushing beyond your comfort zone, and actively triggering or harming yourself. Only you can determine this line, but in cases like this, it’s better to be safe rather than sorry.
If your fear of an animal is crushing and debilitating, and is making it so you can’t live your life properly, it may be time to see professional support and assistance. There’s no shame in it, and it can be life-changing to have someone help you on matters like this.