The Shadow

Dec 28, 2018 | | Say something

The world is in balance. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.
~ Ursula Le Guin

In the study of ethics, a system of morality – discerning between good or bad – is established. This system must be objective and universal for it to be of any practical use. Objective because it must apply to everyone equally; and universal becomes it must apply at all times and in all places.

For example, we can say that murder is wrong is a moral truth because no one wants to be murdered. Regardless of where and when, this holds up to be true (perhaps with a few bizarre exceptions). Even if I should wish to murder someone else, the fact that I would not wish to be murdered tells us that the only satisfactory outcome for all parties is for there to be no murder.

Through understanding ethics, we can become confident in making positive assertions about morality and how people should behave in order to live long and prosperous lives. It should be noted however that since morality, as a conceptual system, is derived from observations of nature (no one wants to be murdered) – to then apply morality back at nature, in spite of the LOGIC of such action, might not stand up to REASON.

The usual course of action is for people to righteously impose their idealized moral codes (objective or otherwise) on reality as law. What actually happens in real life is killing, and not necessarily murder. And there are three types of killing: a) killing that is definitely murder, b) killing that is definitely NOT murder, and c) killing that falls in the grey area in the middle. In the latter case, the logic that holds together the moral law of do not murder is unusable. The situation requires that people behave reasonably when deciding whether to engage self defense, and not to preemptively kill a potential aggressor unnecessarily.

Logic is an absolute function – like the TRUE/FALSE logic gate in a classic flow chart. In the material world there is no such ‘thing’ as logic; what we see are trends. Within any relatively successful community, people will tend to avoid murder, and will tend to protect themselves as necessary. This is a function of human reason, not logic.

Likewise in the material world there is no such ‘thing’ as morality. Morality exists because humans developed sufficient reason to infer objective morality as a self-sustaining logical system. Morality exists beyond time, but humans developing their reason exist in time. What we see in the real world is that over time humans converge toward morality without actually being completely moral. The conceptual one is digital (good vs bad) while the actual one is analogue (with varying degrees between both extremes).

Clearly there is a correspondence between logic and reason; between concept and real life. But this correspondence is not a mirror image, and one is not the cause of the other. To take morality as absolute law by which one must live will create its own set of problems. If we take the example of self defense, there will always be cases where it is unclear what the perpetrators intentions were, even though preemptive force might have seemed justified.

This grey area might quite aptly be called the shadow. If moral law is absolute, then the shadow is the relative aspect of moral law. Just as your shadow will follow you everywhere you go, the relative is never far from the absolute!

If we examine the qualities of the Sun and Moon, as all esoteric traditions do, we can see that the latter exhibits phases that change over time, but the former does not. The Sun is the unwavering absolute principle in that respect, and the Moon is the relative principle. The variable shadow seen on the moon is cast by the sun. The sun itself moves between day and night, on and off, in a binary type display.

There is also the Earth aspect to consider, in that only the midday sun does not cast a shadow. The hanging sun has the most inspiring qualities to it, as the longer shadows that it casts augment the light through the contrast it creates.

The artist will thus use dark and light strokes on the canvas of his painting to add quality to his work. And quality is something that humans are hardwired to recognize as causa sui – or cause of itself. By combining both the absolute and relative together the quality is complete.

The same can be applied to morality. Moral absolutism plus moral relativism equals total morality. One without the other is inadequate. And in this total morality the very idea of morality itself disappears as a positive assertion. The positive assertion of morality is the absolute solar principle that casts a shadow that is the relative lunar principle. When we debate morality and ethics as a means of righteous living, we enter dangerous territory. For the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

An example of the above might be applicable to police. While a police state is definitely bad (absolute aspect), a policeman might commit good or bad acts (relative aspect). A correspondence to the sun vs moon polarity might be seen via the fact that once a month the moon is in phase with the sun (full moon) and once a month it is out of phase (new moon) – and on other days there are varying degrees between these two extremes.

The dubious separation of moral absolutism and moral relativism can be extended to how we go about dealing with truth and lies. The metaphor of the sun worshipper might apply to someone who follows the code of absolute truth; whether that is in science, philosophy or religion. Modern science is concerned with distilling information into an uncontaminated body of theory and truth; the rest it discards. In that respect atheists and religious believers are bound to each other with their respect for the absolute.

The metaphor of the moon worshipper is interesting, as these types tend to remain on the fringes of society; they live in the shadows – quite appropriately. Those who dabble in the relative (such as fiction) tend to be artists and occultists. And while the latter get a bad rap for their craft, the former get away scot free. Actors live a life of pretense, and moreover it is the shady characters that are the most sought after by actors AND the most entertaining for the audience.

Storytelling is the art of revealing the shadow, and a terrible enemy is key to any story. In the Vedic myths, the asuras are the bad guys given actual demigod status; they are in service to godhead. And in the western tradition, it is the Titans (like the child devouring Kronos). Humor exists to safely expose social taboos – of vital importance for the well being of any collective.

The sorcerer is the one who works with shadows and daemons, the latter being unreal but nevertheless independent and intelligent entities – of which the term demon came to be ‘demonized’ in the early days of the (sun-worshipping) Church.


The positive attitude divides and brings about duality. The conflict then begins between this attitude and others. But the negation of all values, of all morality, of all beliefs, having no frontiers, cannot be in opposition to anything.

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti 


Posted in: Esoteric, Favorite, Philosophy

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