Self-love in the Land of Shadows

by Kathleen MacKay

Is it too soon or too late to ask how the holidays were for you? How was your January? If you’re like my friends and loved ones, that’s a loaded question. Heavy times for so many of us, and astrologically significant. For forty days Venus was in retrograde, which means from our perspective as earthlings, Venus appeared to move backwards in the sky, tracing a course back through the constellation of Capricorn.
 
This affected not only the obvious Venusian areas of relationships, love, and sex, but this retrograde also included themes of debt, increases expenditures, and physical health. That seems to me, quite challenging in the face of self-love. How do we love ourselves when we’re in pain? When we’re heartbroken? When we feel financially precarious in this very expensive world? When the past won’t stay buried?
 
I’ve often heard of retrogrades connected with the mythic descent to the underworld that the hero must venture through to complete her task. But I don’t often feel like the hero. When I’m depressed, when the shadow world seems like a bottomless pit, it’s hard to imagine a heroic rebirth, returning from the underworld with the golden horn. It all seems like it’s for nothing, it all seems big/small and totally pointless.
 
What has been helpful to me is the deft way my astrologer puts it: retrograde is redoing. I like to think of this redo as not only nostalgia and the past resurfacing but remembering too that underworld element is prevalent. It’s the Bizarro version—everything comes back wonky, wrong, or creepy. Your ex-texts, but it’s from the Pet Cemetery. Shadows, demons, fear comes back. Old selves and old ways of being. Is it helpful to witness destructive patterns and the less-savory elements of self? Absolutely. But when we’re in hell, it’s an eternity and we don’t merely witness, we embody these shadow elements. Looking in the mirror turns into a game of Bloody Mary.
 
How did your shadow self sabotage you? How can you still love yourself?
 
It’s hard to love yourself when we stumble in rocky terrain, in the swamps and traps, in the underworld, in a hall of mirrors. In these spaces, we can delude ourselves into thinking we are only our shadow bits, or the weird shit we do because of our shadows is our undoing, is our destruction. It is and it isn’t. It is only a facet of the jewel of the psyche.
 
Since she’s stationed direct on the 29th of January, Venus must now cross back through sturdy, mountainous Capricorn again, where we’ll have to deal with the repercussions of our shadows. That means credit card bills are due from the last cycle—literally and figuratively. But what if this sobering debt collector doesn’t just dredge up shame and self-hate? What if it’s just the present moment: uncomfortable, but damn, we’ve already been to hell.
 
We cannot escape the past, and some elements of self and some situations, no matter how hard we try, are unchangeable. It can be systematic, something outside our control, or a tick, a blemish,  a burn that has altered us. I think a lesson from this retrograde is love in spite of tragedy. Love for our broken selves. Let’s love them all: your friends, family, lovers, and yourself, gnarly with scar tissue, and better for it.

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