The collective Shadow in religious literature and Netflix
It is the end of May, I submitted my last assignment for the year and I wonder what am I going to do until September. Don’t get me wrong! I have plenty to do as a full-time mom. But I ask what should I feed my head while waiting for the new semester. The answer came to me easily while I was skimming in my notebook where I found the following quote along with the note collective shadow in religious literature and Netflix
”study fairy tales and you study the anatomy of the man”Carl Jung
It was a call to action so I purchased the book ”Shadow and Evil in fairy tales” by Marie-Luise von Franz and I was hooked on it from the first page, as was expected. I haven’t finished the book yet, but every page creates images and ideas about the collective Shadow and how it appears in literature and movies. As an aspiring psychoanalyst, I needed to break the information down to get a better understanding of the Shadow in Jungian Psychoanalysis. Apart from reading, I am flinging myself into watching all my favourite shows that I can’t catch up on during the studying period. So, I managed to finish ”Midnight Mass” and this coupled very well with my reading about the ”Shadow and Evil in fairy tales”. In the last bit of this article, I trace the symbol of the collective Shadow to a part of the story from ”Midnight Mass”.
Jung argued that the Shadow represents the whole unconscious mind. Of course, it is impossible to bring light to the unconscious as a whole so we interpret aspects of it by reading the signs it gives us through dreams and imagination while at the same time taking into account the experiences the person is living at the specific moment as well as the level in which the Self is aware of itself. That is why a person can not analyse themselves but needs a psychoanalyst to act as a mirror.
Every person has a Shadow which sends signals to the conscious mind through dreams or imagination. The Shadow appears to the conscious mind as an archetypical figure that represents suppressed emotions and feelings that have been avoided. That comes to the surface every time a person needs to change something in their life as an indicator of that urge for change. The person has to understand that calling and act on it to live the new experience. If they miss that chance they remain in the same stale situation until the next signal. It is not just the individual who has a Shadow, but also the group or the community that has its own collective Shadow and it acts almost in the same way as the individual’s Shadow, although it is much harder to notice its signals let alone to act on them as a union. It is so difficult to act on the Shadow’s signals because we have built systems of social norms and ethics, like organised religion, that tell us to suppress natural aspects of ourselves and demonise them. So when the unconscious suggests that we need to do something contrary to these norms the ego reacts aggressively and rejects the suggestion as something out of the Self. Let’s talk about it through a parable.
The collective Shadow in the Prodigal Son
The prodigal son is a very nice example of the Christian tradition. I will not go into the details of the story as it is a very popular biblical parable that can be found anywhere on the internet. The meaning of the story is that God’s love is unconditional. This message presents the non-humanity of God. Forgiveness and unconditional love are not human aspects. Man is not able to love unconditionally and as such creates a superior divine being that is capable of these virtues. The prodigal son is the Shadow of the family. In a parable or a story, even the most complex one, the hero is not a whole person. Every character in a story acts as an aspect of a whole person. They might have various features attributed to them, but mainly presents one aspect of the self or exists to help other characters realise themselves and help the plot to move forward.
In reality, a person like the prodigal son has a self and an ego and has their own Shadow. They are owing their archetypes and act or not act regardless of the needs of their community. They will affect the group, but this is not their purpose. In the parable, he contradicts the other members of the family with his arrogance and recklessness. He is everything that has been repressed and has been forbidden. The aspect that co-exists in the dark side of the self and is not allowed to be brought to the light because that will mean disaster. The prodigal son ignores the rules and acts on his urges and that is why the group rejects him as he threatens the stability of the family and the familiar ways of doing things. He is the extrovert that seems to take everything lightly. He does not live up to his family’s expectations and shames them.
Now, if the group has very concrete ideas they will close the door and would not accept the prodigal son back unless he repents for his sins as happened in the case of the parable. The rebel has been suppressed and the group has not learned anything from this peripeteia. The collective did not act on the need for change and so was condemned to its oblivion unless it finally acts on a future signal.
In the case where the group is lucky enough to notice and understand the signs for change and act on them, then the rebirth of a new community will happen that will live new experiences for some time until the next rebel will shake the waters again to start anew. But the community must act on the signs to be vital. Otherwise, things remain the same, nothing new ever happens, and eventually, the community extinct. This circle corresponds perfectly to the existence, birth, and rebirth of the self of an individual. However in a group, it is much harder to interpret the causality of the existence of the rebel, so it takes longer if ever for changes to happen.
The collective Shadow on Netflix( SPOILER ALERT)
Midnight mass is a popular Netflix horror mini-series. If you intend to watch it please stop reading now and come back here after you do. One of the main characters of the show is Riley Flynn, a very successful young man who comes from a tiny fishing village. He caused the death of a young woman while driving under the influence of alcohol and after his jail time he returns to his hometown, a very conservative Christian community to live with his family and his friends. His family welcomes him back but his father demands to attend Sunday services. Riley is not religious no more, at least in the Christian tradition way, but he complies with his father’s wishes. I don’t want to get into the details of the whole story as they are not going to serve in any way my comments here, but I will just say that the village lives under the shadow of a big secret and Riley is the one who brings the dangerous secret to light.
Riley acts not just as his family’s Shadow but as the collective Shadow of his community. He is considered the last wheel of the wagon after his actions. He is been accepted back but very few people trust him. He is the one that discovers the dangerous secret and reveals it to the public a few hours before his death. This is a typical story where the collective Shadow reveals the problem and suggests that something should be changed for the community to be saved. First, his father and then the community reject Riley’s revelation as invalid and probably delusional. The community sees the secret as a great gift at first and fails to interpret the signals for change. The community is in danger to lose its humanity and morality in one night.
However, some of Riley’s friends, who believed him, acted toward change. Although the whole village was set on fire some young pupils managed to escape and in this way, the creators of the show represented very literary the renewal and continuation of life. I argue that in ”Midnight mass” the community managed to get the signals and got in line with its collective Shadow to make the change and avoid extinction. The archetypical figures and the complexities that take place in this horror mini-series have no end. It is a vampire story which is one of my favourite concepts in literature and movies. It is a grotesque show with rich and colourful pictures placed in the contemporary world and I hope to find the time to talk about it further in future articles.
Finally, while writing about the collective Shadow I wonder how it appears in reality. Is it always one person that acts as the collective Shadow or does the person change according to circumstances? A question to be explored on another occasion. If you liked my article and agreed or disagreed or you’d like to discuss it please leave a comment below. All comments are welcome and every critique is fruitful!