Shadow: the archetypal enemy


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Anthony Storr, in his book Human Aggression (1968) says: ‘The sombre fact is that we are the cruellest and most ruthless species that has ever walked this earth; and that, although we may recoil in horror when we read in a newspaper or a history book of the atrocities committed by man upon man, we know in our hearts that each one of us harbours within himself those same savage impulses which lead to murder, to torture and to war.’

The fact that we as human beings are blamed for our ‘animal nature’ for perpetuating such heinous crimes is a misplaced statement, for animals would not in their wildest moments conceive of the crimes we humans have committed and continue to commit. Consider the 15,000 Bulgarian captives whom Basil II had blinded in 1014; boiling Turkish children alive as did the 12th century Greeks; sending six million Jews to the gas chambers during the Nazi regime; burning train bogies; killing, looting and burning a minority community, all recent events – all unpardonable.

The propensity for perpetuating such horrendous acts is dormant in every one of us. It is the Ego that controls and keeps the ‘animal’ in us locked away in what the psychologist Jung termed the ‘Shadow’. Most of us wear an innocent face, a persona for the world outside, hoping that no one will discover what lurks inside. We go about our lives taking comfort in the fact that the evil exists out there in the ‘corrupt’ society and that is what holds us in chains.

Good and evil are characteristics of the human condition. To pretend that we only possess the good and are devoid of the other quality is a sign of hubris, which can lead to public disorder. A monotheistic ‘mind order’ begins to impose the only truth onto the world outside. It is the awareness of the capacity for action between good and evil that enables us to make ethical choices between the two.



What exactly is the meaning of the word Shadow? In psychology we recognise it in dreams as the ‘shady dark character; the inferior creature.’ The subversive, criminal, untrustworthy and violent traits that are projected onto the shadow personality in the dream state – the kind of person I can never acknowledge being. Integration of the Shadow, acknowledging the demon within and coming to terms with ones own evil is the first and most important stage of conscious evolution.

Can we acknowledge the fact that we are all, to some extent, aggressive, territorial, xenophobic, hierarchical and sexual beings? Aggression is an unavoidable fact of human life. Territorial rights demand the use of aggression. Territorial rules seem to be an unwritten law. Animals too mark their territory.He who occupies the territory first seems to be the accepted order that is followed. Holding on to territory demands the use of aggression, boundary markers and fencing. The need for security leads to the formation of social groupings; surrounded by ones ‘socially accepted group’ one feels more secure. Thus groups within groups form a ranking order, which seems to follow as a natural succession.



Like aggression, xenophobia too is an instinctual innate propensity. A child does not dare to go into the arms of the unfamiliar person; it is reluctant to venture out of its ‘known’ territory. The existence of territorially linked social groups is the essential condition for warfare. Sir Arthur Keith in his book, Essays on Human Evolution (1946) says that ‘the conditions that give rise to war – the separation of animals into social groups, the "right" of each group to its area, and the evolution of an enmity complex to defend such areas – were on earth long before man made his appearance.’

Andreski in ‘The Origins of War’ (1964) advances the theory that evolutional advance disturbs ecological balance. Populations rise and so does the competition for resources – that is the beginning of mutual killings. Wars between humans have usually been about territories, resources and succession, but also about ideologies – religious or otherwise. Ideological warfare makes man proprietorial about ideals and history shows that these turn out to be the most bitter and protracted of all conflicts. Durbin and Bowlby in their article ‘Personal Aggressiveness and War’ (1938) argue that ‘men will die like flies for theories and exterminate each other with every instrument of destruction for abstractions.’

The sinister truth is that for groups to thrive we need the enemy just as much as we need friends. Why is this so? It is widely accepted that an external threat to a group eradicates interpersonal in-house differences and bonds the group against the external enemy. It provides the glue for a community to hold together. When there is no external enemy tribes are know to turn against each other. The countries most prone to internal rioting are those that are least inclined to international territorial gains: Africa, Latin America, Indonesia and the Indian sub-continent. On the other hand if we look at the more peace loving communities like the Tibetans for instance, they were either forced to migrate or had little choice but to follow the strategy of collective submission to their more aggressive neighbours. History has proven this time and again for their survival.



Is it any wonder why prosperous nations need an enemy to project their shadow? Let us look at the mechanisms by which enmity is used to create divisions. The reasons are two fold: it creates patriotism, love for ones own land and people, and at the same time keeps the adrenaline flowing, channelling negative emotions onto the ‘enemy’, thereby allowing the war industry to prosper.

All nations need to have their ‘Shadow Brothers’. Shadow projection is a common phenomena used for racial and international prejudice. It is used as a mechanism to turn the ‘other’ community into the demon. It is the systematic use of indoctrination of the ‘them’ vs. ‘us’. The difficulty with this methodology is how to contain the polarity; the balance is precarious and it takes little for violence to break out. Social prejudices become politicised, they move from one impasse to another.

All human control comes to an end when the floodgates of violence break out. Individuals get caught in the archetypes; is like a latent volcano in times of peace, devouring anything that comes its way when violence erupts. Archetypes are highly contagious, they trigger our own patterns of being betrayed while we go on betraying; the ring of hate and revenge alternates. Man does to others what is done to him; he is forced to take sides. We can all remember the famous words of President Bush after 11 September 2001, when he warned the world: ‘you are either with us or against us.’



But before we go to how group psyche functions, let us identify the ideal conditions needed for the group phenomena to flourish. Looking back at history, the Nuremberg trials brought the Germans to their first awareness of what possessed them: there was a virtual collapse in the authority of the personal father. The psychologist Alexander Mitscherlich in his book Society Without the Father (1969) says that when there is a lack of the personal father, ‘it exposes us collectively to the ills of alienation, social and personal irresponsibility, neurotic anxiety and uncontrolled aggression. In the absence of direct paternal instruction, individuals orient themselves by reference to each other, thus giving the peer group its contemporary significance, with its concomitant infantilism of envy, rivalry and trendy "other-directedness".’

All communities have a share of their criminal and anti-social elements that initiate cycles of harassment and provocation. When the weak personal father is replaced by the weak ‘collective father figures’ – national leaders who abdicate their responsibility to punish undisciplined elements – anarchy rules. It perpetuates the recurrence of mob violence. Man then easily falls prey to the archetypes: civilisation has not managed to domesticate the fury of the slumbering primeval beast when awakened. As a matter of fact, leaders are well-known to use factionalism for their political games.

If one reads Hitler’s speeches it is not just the personal shadow that is projected onto the enemy, but the archetype of evil. This polarises the psyche, the good likewise is projected onto the ego ideal – ones own group leader, thus making Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin channels through which the shadow flows into blind destructiveness. Whatever the group leader decrees must be right.

Besides, they believe God is on their side and they have the right to establish his kingdom on earth, even if it involves exterminating the ‘vermin’. Such movements do not recognise inner psychic facts because consciously their only agenda is to spread their sociological theories. Their emotional life falls into the unconscious, contaminating the unconscious image of God. This results in the religious fanaticism that one finds in all such movements. It becomes the breeding ground of psychic contagion. Psychological jargon calls it ‘over identification with the archetype.’ The individuality of the personality is lost.



All archetypes have a pattern; caught in the grips of an archetype, the leader talks like the book, he is possessed by what he believes – it becomes the great truth and the only truth. For this reason it is impossible to talk to such people. They lose touch with their own personality and are possessed by the archetype. The psychologist Jung (CW Vol. 17, 1954) warns that all mass movements need to be treated with suspicion. For him the total psyche of a group is below the level of the individual psyche, as it inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology. A so-called collective experience, as member of a group, takes place at a lower level of consciousness than if one had the experience alone. In a crowd one becomes a victim of suggestibility. On the other hand, a mass can have positive effect if group energy is channelled in the right direction. It can encourage individuals into performing heroic tasks, human solidarity being a positive example.

But masses have a sinister side too. In a crowd one feels no responsibility, but also no fear. It works a change that does not last. Removed from the crowd one is unable to create the previous state of mind. It is because the mass is swayed by what is called ‘participation mystique’. There is no differentiation between subject and object. The mind cannot step away from the ego; it is merged with the collective reality. This is why mass movements are breeding grounds for psychic epidemics.



When ‘collective morality’ becomes the deciding factor, even if it means killing, the projection of the ‘archetype of evil’ justifies the act. Ego-defence mechanisms come into play when such crimes are committed. The emotional ‘feeling function’ is cut off by intellectualisation: ‘This had to be done for the greater common good against the potential enemy’. Loyalty to the group assures protection against criminal charges. Altruism to the kith and kin removes the guilt and the personal sense of responsibility is redefined concurrent with the morality of the group.

The ‘scapegoat’ syndrome within the country is another well-documented phenomenon. When the external enemy is equally equipped for the challenge – atomic warheads, strong allies, the feelings of one-upmanship, there is no outlet for the aggression to be channelled. The pent-up energy towards the ‘foreigner’ is then turned against the weaker ‘enemy within’ the country. Xenophobia is not fear of the ‘foreigner’ but fear of the stranger.

Is silence a crime, we may ask ourselves? Why was the majority of the German population silent while the Nazis exterminated six million Jews? It is not a question of morality that comes up at such times; it is the unconscious fear of survival that paralyses one into inaction. Fear of the oppressor: if the peer group is capable of committing such atrocities on a minority community, and if I am not part of the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ – and, if I am not on the side of majority and show my solidarity, then there is every possibility that the monster might turn against me?



It is idealistic to fantasise about the fact that man is ‘naturally good’, that ‘society’ makes him bad and that he destroys, pillages, rapes and slaughters only when he is unfairly treated. As long as the archetypal monster within us is not tamed, most people live within the constraints of the archetypal instinctive impulses. As long as we do not deal with our personal shadow we will get drawn into the collective shadow and displace or project it onto others. It is blindness to abdicate our moral sense and to conceive evil as always outside, the individual as well as the group.

We cannot hope to bring a resolution to the conflicts of our time by blaming the political opponent. If we are to deal with the collective evil, we must acknowledge our own complicity. We have voted in the present government just as we have voted in the governments of the past. Those in power were directly implicated for fomenting and implicating communal pogroms, we bear our share of evil – we cannot escape our share of collective guilt.

What are the solutions? Jung believed that reconciliation is possible when the two moral opposing poles are brought together. He called it the ‘transcendent function’ (CW Vol. 8, 1960). This knowledge didn’t come from the West but as he acknowledged from the East. By grappling with the paradoxes that we constantly face in life, the conflict between two opposing views become clearly defined. Torn and tormented by conflict man attempts to reconcile the opposites.



The ‘transcendent function’ cannot proceed though the well-known path of logic and reason. Reason leaves no space for ambiguity. But when there is space for self-reflection and when permitted to do so, the psyche transcends reason and the rules of logic, for it sees no problem in the simultaneous perception of incompatibilities. When strange is ‘thrown together’ with the familiar, then the bridge can connect the known and the unknown. When the enemy within is quelled there is no more an enemy to fight; the foe has been transformed into the friend.



A. Storr (1968), Human Aggression. Allen Lane, London.

Sir Arthur Keith (1946), Essays on Human Evolution. Watts, London.

S. Andreski (1964), ‘The Origins of War’, in J.D. Carthys and F.J. Ebling (eds.), The Natural History of Aggression. Academic Press, London.

E.F.M. Durbin and J. Bowlby (1938), ‘Personal Aggressiveness and War’, in E.F.M. Durbin and G. Catlin (eds.), War and Democracy. Kegan Paul, London.

A. Mitscherlich (1969), Society Without the Father: A Contribution to Social Psychology. Tavistock Publications, London.

C.G. Jung (1954), The Collected Works (Vol. 17), ‘The Development of Society’. Routledge and Henley, London.

C.G. Jung (1960), The Collected Works (Vol. 8), ‘The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche’. Routledge and Henley, London.