I grew up with the folk-rock group Fairport Convention. One of the traditional ballads they sang was Reynardine, the tale of how the crafty fox seduced a maiden and led her to her ruin, by flattering her and pretending to be a high lord. Later, Sheila Chandra covered the song under the title The Enchantment. Her version is beautifully haunting, making the experience of the enchantment almost visceral.
And seduction is a type of enchantment. A will-ó-wisp, drawing people further and further, until they fall to their ruin or drown in the swamp. There are many, many myths and fairytales based on this theme. And like most myths and fairytales, this story emerges from our collective unconscious. The legend of Faust, selling his soul to the devil for the promise of unlimited knowledge, wealth, and fame, is another example that has inspired many tales.
Who does not remember being seduced by someone or something? I certainly do remember many instances in my own life. We all know secret desires. We all are susceptible to the promise that these desires will be fulfilled.
The maiden in the tale of Reynard is totally innocent, unaware of her own susceptibility to the promise of romantic love and a wealthy prince. And Faust falls asleep, unaware of the fact that the little dog that has followed him home is actually Mephistopheles.
This is the essence, the part of the story we can learn from. In each of us lie hidden parts – desires and bits of personality that we are unaware of. In fact, we probably would say, “Oh no, that’s not me!” if this was pointed out to us. The term that Carl Jung coined for this is the Shadow. Sometimes we see our shadow projected onto other people and wonder why we react to them so strongly. The more we deny our shadow, the more susceptible we are to its enchantment. At some point it can surface and we do things we never dreamed of doing. This feels like our own ruin, we become filled with guilt and shame.
If we do become aware of a trait from our dark shadow (there is also a golden shadow, but I won’t go into that this time), we often try to get rid of it as something totally undesirable. This only leads to it going even further underground and emerging with demonic vengeance.
Robert A. Johnson, a Jungian analyst, points out that the secret to owning one’s shadow is to be able to live with the paradox. Seeing both sides of who you are, immersing yourself into the nature of both your light and your shadow side, eventually leads to a solution that honors both. The more we learn to acknowledge our shadows, the less susceptible we are to the types of enchantment and section that modern life in Western society provides: relationships that damage us, jobs that deaden our soul, and forms of addiction.