When You Meet Your Shadow

Have you ever met someone who is perfectly nice, perfectly interesting, perfectly kind, and just fucking hate them? And you’re trying to figure out what it is you don’t like about them. You know it’s not that you feel unsafe or have a “bad feeling” about them, you know it’s not anything they’ve done like “coming on too strong”, or anything they’ve said that goes against your values. You know it’s not that you’re jealous of them or their qualities or their accomplishments. But you also have a strong urge to change your name, disappear from the internet, and move across the world to all but eliminate any possible chance of having to interact with them in any capacity?

I’ve heard from a lot of places that when you just Don’t Like someone for what seem to be Irrational reasons, it’s often because they’re showing you something about yourself that you don’t want to see. I try to consider that when thinking about why I don’t like someone, but so far I hadn’t really experienced it. Yeah, my dislike certainly could be compounded by some internalized whatever or something from my past or some unconscious bias, but nine times out of ten when I don’t like someone, I know exactly why, and I know how much of it is Me and how much of it is Them. And it’s usually because they just have shitty values, or there’s some aspects of our personalities or ways of being that are discordant, and that’s that. It’s no excuse to be a dick to the other person (when they haven’t actively done anything harmful), but it’s enough that I feel comfortable and justified in deciding “no thanks, I don’t really want to interact/become friends with this person”. It’s not always easy, but at least it usually makes sense, and it doesn’t seem like trying to dig deep to understand what they might be “showing” me about myself would be especially fruitful or necessary.

And a few months ago I met someone that changed that for me. After we met, I was reeling. I was annoyed, frustrated, hurt, disappointed, confused, and all of this was compounded because there was nothing I disliked about him. I got no bad feelings, no intuitive warning signs. It was really irritating me that I couldn’t figure this out! And then, lo and behold, I got it. I realized that this is the Shadow everyone was talking about. This is precisely the feeling people are trying to describe when they talk about meeting someone that’s showing you your Shadow self.

Okay, so there’s a lot more to go, but I want to put in this disclaimer real quick, because I really don’t want anyone to feel bad or feel like they’re the person everyone “secretly hates”. If you think I’m talking about you, I’m definitely not. And if you know I’m talking about you, I trust that you’ll know it’s not You, it’s Me. Alright, onward!

This guy was, in many ways, who I thought I wanted to be, and who I often criticized myself for not being. We met over tarot, to give some context to all this, and we were talking about our secular perspectives behind how the cards “worked”. He read graduate-level analyses of the history of occultism, peer-reviewed and written by (white, male) scholars. He was most focused on the historical, psychological and cultural aspects–basically, the reason tarot feels resonant to those of us in the western world is because the symbols and meanings are derived from western morality and storytelling, making it easy for us to connect the symbols to our experiences. And I don’t disagree, and in fact, a lot of the things he said, I already knew. But still, I left our conversation feeling really… well, stupid. Insignificant. Like I hadn’t argued my own points well enough, but also like we weren’t having a debate, so why did I feel like I had to argue anyway?

The first thing that came to mind was that I might have been uncomfortable because it felt like he was somehow testing me. I don’t know if that falls under the category of “mansplaining” or what, but it’s definitely like a white man thing where they talk to you as though you have to prove yourselves to them. Like he wanted to see if I knew how tarot “really” worked. But on reflection, it seemed more like he was curious, and he wanted to share his own theories, and I think he was genuinely trying to make it a conversation, not a debate or a graded performance.

The breakthrough moment was when I realized that I was uncomfortable because I still felt that I’d failed. I was the one who was seeing this as a graded performance, and I was disappointed with how I’d articulated my thoughts. I had shared some of the metaphysical philosophy I’d been exploring lately and what it would imply for tarot, but I hadn’t yet ironed out all the details or put it together into a philosophical “argument”. So when I was trying to explain my thoughts, there were of course a lot of questions that I didn’t have the answer to. And when I don’t have the answer to something, I get defensive.

I felt like the only reason I thought my ideas might “work” was because I didn’t understand my own theories and all the holes they must inevitably have, and at some point he would point out the fatal flaw, and then I’d be embarrassed that I’d even thought to consider something outside of the cultural norm of understanding.

I think it’s pretty clear that’s on me, not him. And I can see where I’m expecting myself to be perfect. But I’ve shared ideas I haven’t ironed out with other people, even other strangers, and I didn’t have this level of anxiety. It still felt like there was something about him in particular that brought that anxiety over being too wrong or too weird out of me.

And I know what it was. He had a solid theory based on psychology and history that he felt was substantial enough to explain everything about tarot–and frankly, he’s the person I’ve been striving to be. Someone who has it all figured out. But now that I’d actually met that person in real life, I was disgusted with myself. That is not who I want to be. I don’t want to have it all figured out, because I don’t want to be someone that makes people feel like they can’t be weird. I don’t want to be someone that doesn’t explore new things or new theories. I don’t want to be so attached to my current theories that I turn every conversation back to my own theories, or poking holes in others’ approaches, instead of adopting a new viewpoint (if only for the duration of the conversation).

I want stability and intellectual assurance, I want to be credible, I want to have sources and I want everything to meet my standards. I don’t want to engage in mysticism. But fuck, is that what it actually looks like?

I don’t know what the right balance is between mysticism and intellectualism, art and science, whatever other perceived dichotomies there are that separate me from my willingness to do witchcraft and astrology and tarot. But I do know that my current tendency, the one where I’m maneuvering myself into the position of intellectual authority (Capricorn rising?), is not taking me in the right direction. I guess I’m kinda glad for that interaction, being able to see my shadow in that person, because it’s helped me realign.

And for that person–I hope his approach to everything is working for him. I really, genuinely do!

Image from “A Sword was Seen in the Sky”: A True and Wonderful Narrative (1763). https://archive.org/details/truewonderfulnar00unse