In my Spirit Animal Awareness deck, each spirit animal card lists a number of attributes or meanings of that animal. It’s interesting to watch people’s reactions when pulling a single card for them. They love the positive attributes, but then they get to the “shadow animal” attributes…and sometimes it throws them for a loop. `      

What is important to realize about working with spirit animals (or indeed archetypes in general) is that an archetype is always going to represent an energy along a vibrational spectrum. In other words, every archetype has a shadow, which resonates at its opposite polarity. For example, yin and yang: two polarities of the creative life force.

The Pearl - Raven Spirit Animal Painting
“The Pearl,” 28″x22″ mixed watermedia by Ona Christie Martin. Print available at

Some archetypes, such as most of the archangels and figures like Jesus Christ, are completely polarized. Their shadows typically show up outside of them – either as energies their presence flushes up or as “opposition” embodiments (the Antichrist/Satan, etc.)  Other archetypes contain the “shadow” within them – which is why you’ll hear me talk about the “shadow side” of a spirit animal.

So is the “shadow side” or “dark side” bad? Something to avoid, banish, slay?

That’s one way to look at it. Evil does exist in the world. We do need to be aware of it and take steps as needed to disallow it from our field.

On the other hand, I always look to Nature as the ultimate authority on how to live authentically in the world. And everything you associate with evil does exist in nature. Explore the animal world for any length of time and you will find instances of trickery, vampirism, cold-blooded killing, cannibalism of the young, all of it. Even rape.

Nature doesn’t judge. Evil exists. And somehow, the world, in all its divine glory, contains it, absorbs it, and transcends it.

The beauty of creation casts a shadow. But as any artist can tell you, shadows only serve to enhance the light. It’s important to remember that every aspect of an animal – even the parts that aren’t so pretty – is there to help it – or its species – stay alive and thrive.

Here is how I see the “dark side”: I see it as an ally, but not one I ally myself with. It is a given, something that has been given to me to assist in guiding me along my journey. My job is to avoid getting entangled in it; or, once entangled, to disentangle myself from it and/or neutralize it.

The “dark side” is a master teacher, allowing me to make my own decisions and learn from them, exercising my power of choice.

It shows me the boundaries, the edges of the path, where it’s not my place to go, thus helping me to stay true to myself and stay centered on the path that is right for me.

To work successfully with the dark requires me to cultivate discernment and awareness, because it does not tolerate ignorance. It also requires me to refrain from engaging with it, teaching me to develop restraint and inner peace. Through my encounters with dark forces both within and outside of myself, I am learning to be loving and compassionate to myself as well as to others. And I am learning to set boundaries and stand up for myself and others when that is called for, as well.

Therefore I acknowledge and thank the presence of darkness in my life as a reminder and trigger to stay focused on the Light.