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Why Shadow Work with our Beliefs is Vital

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

How the esoteric can support us in this task

How the esoteric can help support us with shadow work with our belief system
credit alyssa cheyenne on tumblr

“The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.” - William James

In The Tarot, card five, the Hierophant, is ruled by Taurus and invites us to look at and work with our belief systems. It is also connected to belonging, and it is worth noting that this is also where most of our beliefs come from – the need to fit in to a group, community and culture. The connection between Taurus, the sign that rules over our possessions, and the beliefs we hold can seem vague at first, until we realize that our beliefs are possessions, just of a non-material matter. We hold them, we keep them, but rarely do we move with our beliefs as if they are alive, allowing them to change and grow overtime. Often we have to let go completely of outdated beliefs, because there is something fixed about them by nature. Like our things, when they no longer work for us we need to clean house and throw them away. We often confuse our beliefs with who we are, but how does that change if we view them as possessions that we are currently keeping?

The trouble with beliefs is that they feel like truths. They walk with us so intimately that they begin to fade into the background, becoming intertwined with the way we see ourselves and how we see the world. Rarely do we view our beliefs as something we have picked up and are choosing to carry.

Not all beliefs are bad or need to go, of course. Some are incredibly supportive and nurturing. Either way, regardless of if our beliefs are helpful or not, they have a major impact on our reality. In tarot readings, the Hierophant comes up often when we are trying to create something into existence that is just not working or keeps slipping by us. The meaning of this card is that some subconscious belief is existing in opposition to our conscious desire, meaning that every time we get close to getting what we want, a subconscious part of us acts out to sabotage it. That is why this work is not about judging our beliefs, or the beliefs of others, but is about having the conscious awareness of the beliefs we ourselves carry so that we can make a wise, informed and heart-guided decision about what is true for us, what is working with what we want out of life for ourselves and others, and what is no longer useful, relevant or authentic. No matter what we do, as human beings we are always creating. This is both a curse and a blessing to the world. Therefore, it is vital that we take it seriously, recognizing that no matter how unconscious we are, we are always creating with whatever programming we are running. There is no way to opt out, and paradoxically, the only way “out” is to consciously opt in.

If we are not willing to constantly re-evaluate our beliefs we will continue to operate with old and harmful programming. Here’s the big issue and here is why this really matters, especially right now: we are a product of our environment, culture and society. All of us hold harmful, problematic and oppressive beliefs because that is the reflection of our society. If we are not doing the inner janitorial work we subconsciously continue to operate from this place of systemic, colonial oppression, from the smallest of ways to the biggest. This is how culture gets perpetuated and it is the way in which the system supports itself and feeds itself. If we want a change in the system – if we want to build systems of humanitarianism, support and equality – we must remove the societal beliefs within us that are in opposition.

The witch's way is built on a fundamental belief and understanding of As Above So Below. In the same way, our external environment, ie. our culture and society, and the inner structures of our psyche reflect one another. They exist as a figure eight in which the collective is one tear-drop shaped point and the individual is the other. They are separate, but intertwined so that change and growth in one results in a response of change in the other. Tug on one, the other follows. To effectively dismantle systems of oppression we must fight the war on both fronts – externally, advocating and organizing for collective change, and internally, deconditioning and purging the seeds of the system that live within us.

There’s a reason why this work is so difficult, and why people are unwilling to engage in it. When we identify with anything, really, we are putting ourselves in a position in which change, progress and evolution threaten the very nature of who we think we are. When we come to identify with our beliefs we feel the need to defend them, reinforce them, and validate them. This means that if we encounter information or opinions that put our beliefs in question, even if the information is solid and factual, we can be unwilling to even hear it because our ego goes into flight or flight mode in response to a threat on its “life.” I’m not sure who first said it, but the quote “a new life will always cost you this one” comes to mind. That can be a hard pill to swallow for the version of us that knows it will have to die.

If we question our beliefs and allow our beliefs to be questioned, we then get the opportunity to decide – to choose consciously of our own free will – what feels true to us. When we do this, oftentimes we realize that some of our beliefs are not truthful to who we actually are (maybe these beliefs have been around for a long time and supported previous versions of ourselves for a particular time in our lives.) It reminds me a little of getting that message on your phone about needing a software update. When we are confronted with our beliefs that is usually when we become aware of said beliefs for the first time. We usually don't realize we need updating until we are hit with that message from the Universe in any variety of ways. When we get that message we can choose to update the program we are running on, or we can hit remind me later. We can hit that reminder button our whole lives if we want, and we all know that some people do. The thing, I believe, that stops people from “updating” is the ego’s awareness of its own destruction. When we change our belief systems, and if we have identified with those beliefs (as we always come to do), we will experience a type of ego death. That version of ourselves that is being supported by that system of beliefs is starved out and it will die. They will cease to exist as they were and a new us will take their place.

This can be terrifying, especially for those who have not ever experienced anything like this before. For many of us on a spiritual path, we have had experiences with ego death in some way, which is part of the gift we are given through utilizing the benevolent assistance of our own spirit. We can root into our spirituality to support us as we allow ourselves to go through a death/rebirth process. When we root into the constant within us – the Soul, the Spirit, the Higher Self, however you call it – we can trust that we will in fact not be destroyed. Even if this version of how we have come to identify will dissolve, we can be unafraid of the change with the knowing that we are actually eternal. The identity, this human outfit we wear, is fluid and ever evolving. There is nothing static about human-kind and it is only when we act as if we were that we run into serious problems. We want some sense of security, but we will never find it in this world full of movement. We can, however, tap into that security and be held by it through the spiritual reality. In this way we can act as a bridge – both human and spirit, constant, eternal yet ever changing, ever growing, never the same from one moment to the next. We are the both/and of it all. Knowing that can free us from the fear that holds us back from doing the necessary work of changing our inner world and the outer world we live in.

We are at a point where the belief systems we have been operating with as a culture are being exposed for what they are: systems of oppression, consumerism, colonialism, exploitation and dehumanization. If we are so committed to our beliefs that they stop us from having conversations and engaging in dialogue with fellow community members on this planet earth, we are operating from a program that seeks to separate. When we hold our beliefs in the same way we hold our cash, with a vibrational fear of scarcity, we are operating from a system that runs off of lack and the promise that we can be filled with identities to latch onto. When we advocate for punitive treatment of those we disagree with, we are operating from a system as ancient as Hammurabi’s law of an eye of an eye. If we are to build a world that comes together through the shared community of earth, in which the principles of harmony, humanity, love and care are foundations, we must be willing to be as the Tao says: “loose, like ice about to melt.”

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