The Shadow, Projection, and the Scapegoat

“Psychic projection can be undone only by conscious mental understanding.”

~ Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin.

by Scott Preston edited by O Society August 21, 2019

The psychic mechanism of “projection” concerned Jean Gebser enough to spill a fair amount of ink on the problem, and his discussion of this issue is often quite insightful. It is, indeed, a very serious problem today, so we should spend some time understanding it and what it contributes to our present chaos. It is also crucial in understanding what Marshall McLuhan means by media being “the extensions of man”. It is certainly also the meaning of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde story.

Dr Strange Astral Form

The Shadow manifests itself primarily through projection. The Shadow, as you may recall, is that complex of intense fears, pain, trauma, or potent irritants that the ego-consciousness cannot accept about itself or which contradict the self-image. These are subsequently repressed, and in extreme cases, the Shadow may become even a semi-autonomous entity in its own right that occasionally may erupt in outbursts of seemingly irrational rage or violence.

This is a particularly acute problem today which we recognise in terms of the so-called “New Normal” or the problem of “21st century schizoid man” or why the Pope thinks that “duplicity has become the currency of the day”. It is also the implied problem brought about by Nietzsche’s “death of God”, the “return of the repressed” and also Nietzsche’s forecast of “two centuries of nihilism”.

And, as we have already noted, the Sonnenrad or Black Sun symbol of the neo-reactionaries is the symbol of the Shadow and is very strongly affiliated with the thanatic forces, and made much more intense in that respect by what Becker calls The Denial of Death. Shadow Work thus begins by overcoming one’s own fear of personal mortality, and I know of no spiritual tradition that doesn’t begin with meditation on one’s own personal mortality. Making Friends With Death is even the title of an introductory book on Buddhism, and Christian practice is “to die to oneself daily”.


Confronting and mastering fear — one of the four enemies of the man of knowledge — is also the very first step in the path of becoming a “man of knowledge” as described in Castaneda’s books. And we have mentioned many times the significance of this number “four” for indigenous culture, but for the realised form of the “tetramorph” or fourfold vision, for these “four enemies” do have some connection also with William Blake’s “four Zoas” of “Albion divided fourfold” and with “The Guardians of the Four Directions” as we find these in many different representations in many different cultures.

So, Shadow Work begins by the practice of overcoming and mastering fear, and all fear has it roots in the fear of death. Mastering fear isn’t denying fear or a matter of false bravado. As Castaneda’s don Juan put it, the art of the warrior is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive, and Blake depicts his Albion reborn as also “dancing the dance of Eternal Death”.

The Shadow, then, is comprised of all that which a moralistic God deemed”evil”, and was thus cast into the outer darkness to fester as “the unconscious” or “the Shadow”. This is why very pious and self-righteous people are often also highly owned by the Shadow and are not actually as free as they merely think they are, and it results in some very strange examples of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy, or what Jesus called “the whited speculchres” — sparklingly pure on the outside, but full of decay and dead men’s bones on the inside. And this is a real problem today.

This is also very important for understanding Blake, too, since it is Urizen, his false god, that generates the Shadow, and that Shadow is all those “energies”, considered “evil”, that have been cast into the outer darkness by Urizen’s “Books” and Laws.

Now, many people today who practice meditation extensively sooner or later must confront the Shadow, and there are many many articles today written about the pitfalls of meditation, or of meditation leading to deep depression and anxiety. What is called “the dark night of the soul” is part of Shadow Work, and often requires expert guidance to get a student through it without committing suicide. It’s a danger, to be sure, but no one said it would be without hardship, not even Gebser.

Blake’s “Urizen” is actually fairly well represented as Freud’s “superego”, which is what Nietzsche calls “the conscience” and it is what generates the Shadow. And the Superego corresponds to what Castaneda’s don Juan calls “the foreign installation”. It is the voice or monologue inside your head tells you who you are and what your world is like from dawn to dusk, and it is not even your own voice, but the “voice of authority” — maybe God, or parents, or something called “society” and so on. Silencing that inner voice is an important part also of Shadow Work, and it’s probably inevitable that once you silence that inner voice, you’re going to have to meet with the Shadow. The formula “die before you die” is pretty much a matter of silencing that inner voice.

Astonishingly, some people who describe the superego as the “transcendental” self, which is totally false. It’s not the “Self” but the foreign installation.


OK. So we see how the Shadow comes to be. It’s the repository of all deemed unacceptable or irritable to the superego or the self-image, and usually irrupts as irritability and rage and lashing out or as Angst and a certain nervous irritability of the entire system. To seek relief from inner irritation, the system tries to cast it off into some external object, which is then attacked as “cause” of the irritation, or impurity or defilement, and this is often how projection works to affect the scapegoat.

The term “scapegoat” has its historical origins in a practice by which a community would ritually place their hands on a goat to be sacrificed. This laying on of hands would literally project the sins and guilt of the collective onto the poor goat, after which the goat would be brutally sacrificed or driven off into the desert to die. It is ritual still performed in many parts of the world, including the Modern world in one way or another.

The point here, though, is Jesus offered himself up as this scapegoat in a once-and-for-all-time event to “bear away the sins of the world” forever. So, those who practice ritual scapegoating, even in the name of Christ, are profaning their faith. The law of foregiveness is probably meant to help people to deal with the Shadow. “The law is made for man, not man for the law” is just that — and he demonstrated it himself by his disregard for much of the Law of Ten Commandments and the Lex Talionis.

This is what Blake means by “One law for the Lion & the Ox is oppression”. This also appears in Nietzsche as his parable of the Lion and the Camel and the “Three Metamorphoses” of the spirit.

Gebser is quite clear that part of what he calls “diaphaneity”, or “the transparency of the world”, is recognising the projections and “retracting” them through “mental understanding”. This is also a very important aspect of Nietzsche’s “free spirit” which, ironically, is Nietzsche’s way of understanding what Jesus means by “the truth that sets free”.


So, projection of the Shadow has become a quite serious problem today especially given the “return of the repressed” and all the muck and mire that is also associated with that, so that Shadow Work becomes absolutely necessary, or what we might describe as “separating the wheat from the chaff” because not everything associated with the Shadow is constitutionally “evil”.

This is one reason why Goethe, in Faust, has his Mephistopheles describe himself as “part of that power that would ever evil do, but always does the good”. That is to say, there is a “higher law” which governs and constrains even Mephistopheles, and the law is the law of enantiodromia. And, in many respects, the law is the meaning of the energy structure and pattern called the Strange Attractor (which actually and coincidentally resembles a butterfly):


And, as you may have noted, the Strange Attractor is also the shape of the Holling Adaptive Cycle in ecology


So, there are some signals amidst all the noise of our chaotic transition, which makes this the best and also the worst of times, as Dickens once put it.

The more strongly we divide the world into “good and evil”, the more intense the Shadow also becomes. We feed it through our good and evil dualism, and oftentimes we merely invert these and switch these around, so what is considered good in one context becomes evil in another (ironic reversal being the name for this phenomenon). The actual relationship between good and evil is much more nuanced.


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