Carl Jung’s Shadow on the Stairs

A couple of days ago, not long after breakfast, my oldest daughter, who is 8, was coming upstairs to ask me a question when I heard her give a little shriek of surprise. In my house, kids are shrieking and screaming and laughing all the time, so I didn’t think twice about it. But then she came up, all a-twitter, and told me she’d seen an apparition behind her on the stairs.

sixarguments4aShe’d had the feeling someone was behind her, following her — we all know that feeling — and she’d turned suddenly to look. It was about the same height as her, but utterly black, and just a step behind her. It had no face, she said; just a round black featureless head. It immediately disappeared.

It couldn’t have been a physical shadow. At that point on the stairs, light is coming up from the window in the front door. She was looking down towards the light source. Whatever she saw, it wasn’t “real”.

A few years ago, I would have dismissed this as another product of my daughter’s active imagination. It might have been that. But in light of what I’ve learned about fairies, spirits, and so forth, I have to wonder.

Some possibilities:

  • It was a ghost, demon, or other malevolent spirit. This is what first popped into my head. But I never heard of a malevolent spirit following people around in the middle of a bright sunny morning. There’s just too much positive energy around… Besides, my daughter was suprised but not afraid.
  • It could be a benevolent spirit of some sort. But why, then, was it completely black and featureless?
  • My wife suggested it might have been my daughter’s astral body — not what is usually called the “astral body” these days, i.e. your spirit form if you detach yourself from your physical body and go astrally travelling, but what Rudolf Steiner calls the “astral body”. This is one of several “bodies” which together comprise your complete self. The astral body, according to Steiner, begins to integrate fully with the self at around eight or nine years of age. A reasonably good overview of Steiner’s ideas can be found here; the gist is that the astral body is in charge of passions and desires. (While naturally small children have passions and desires as well, it is not until the age of eight or nine that these passions begin to really integrate with the rest of the personality, thus giving a person some measure of control over them.) If there is any truth to this, then perhaps my daughter saw her own astral body next to her own. Of course, Steiner describes the astral body as a “delicate cloud of light”, which doesn’t match my daughter’s description.
  • Yesterday I did a meditation on this topic, and spoke with my anima about it. She said it was my daughter’s Shadow, in Jungian terminology. This would be the part of my daughter’s psyche that is repressed, or unacknowledged.

It is certainly the case that in the past few months, my daughter has begun to exercise a lot more conscious control over her passions. She has gone so far as to deliberately delay gratification, refuse certain treats on the grounds that it wasn’t good for her, direct her own attention away from tempting activities towards those she knows she should be doing, etc. These facts square with both the “astral body” interpretation and the “shadow” interpretation.

Maybe my anima’s right, I don’t know. It’s dashed mysterious. It’s not a problem of any sort — unless it starts turning up frequently. But I’m curious. Does anyone out there have any other ideas?

14 responses to “Carl Jung’s Shadow on the Stairs”

  1. Did your daughter see the figure in her peripheral field of vision or straight on?


  2. My guess is that it would be best to not make a really big deal out of it around your daughter…ask her to tell you if she sees it again, and then ask her if she would describe it again at that point.

    It might be nothing…and even if it is something, there’s no way of telling at this point whether what she’s seeing is in its ‘actual’ form, or if the form is a result of her perceptions. Does that make sense? The next time you question her about it, my advice would be to focus more on the feelings your daughter experienced as a result of seeing the phantom, and also on what she may have been thinking and feeling right before the phantom appears…those, I think, might give you a better chance at identification.


  3. The exact same thing happened to me when I was 16. I too was not afraid, but my mother burst into the room and said I was screaming. The apparition was a man dressed all in black, and I couldn’t see his face so I asked him who he was. This was at night, and he was leaning over my bed with one arm on either side of my body.

    He has never returned. But since that time I’ve had no out-of-body experiences, and I had them before that time.

    I should add that I had a wonderful relationship with my father and in no way felt threatened by any of the males in my life.

    This is a great blog. I’m glad I found it.


  4. Sojourner: She says she saw it out of the corner of her eye. She instinctively looked away as soon as she’d glimpsed it, so she only saw the head and shoulders. She was quite sure, though, that its face was smooth and featureless.

    Bernulf:  That’s good advice.  This time, she was simply running upstairs to tell me something, and suddenly felt that something was behind her.  On this particular morning, we were all dashing around getting ready to drive to Boston to visit some friends, and the house was a whirlwind of children cleaning up and playing and parents trying to get things packed up; she was very excited and focused on immediate “real-world” concerns.  It’s not the kind of environment you’d expect an apparition to turn up in.  :-)  Afterwards, she only thought about it for a few minutes before jumping back into our preparations.  It didn’t (and doesn’t) seem to concern her much, which we’re thankful for.
    Anne: Thank you! You have a great blog, too! — I’ve heard it said that spirits and guides turn up in black pretty frequently, especially if they think you might be freaked out by their “true” appearance (or lack thereof…). I wonder if the man you saw was one of your guides, trying to keep you in your body for some reason?


  5. It sounds like a shadow being to me. I remember reading a long online discussion about people’s experiences with these and wish I could remember where so I could provide a link. The general consensus about shadow beings is that they are somewhat malevolent, if not outright malicious. A good banishing spell or smudging should take care of it.


  6. Angela, thanks for your insight. But remember this from the post:

    It was a ghost, demon, or other malevolent spirit. This is what first popped into my head. But I never heard of a malevolent spirit following people around in the middle of a bright sunny morning. There’s just too much positive energy around… Besides, my daughter was suprised but not afraid.

    Is this really how shadow beings act?


  7. Couldn’t it have been your daughter’s guardian angel? Children her age still have a heightened ability to see angels, fairies and nature spirits. Why assume it was malevolent? She was unafraid. Based on the thousands of letters of angel experiences I’ve read, I know that whenever children are in a risky situation, their angels pull closer. My sense was that her angel was hovering close as she descended the stairs to protect her and she sensed its presence.


  8. A good thought, Amy. I agree it almost certainly wasn’t malevolent. I don’t think she was in a risky situation (she was bounding upstairs at the time), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a guardian angel.

    I’m tending to believe my anima on this one — that it was my daughter’s Shadow — only because she’s been right so often in the past. But it’ll probably remain a minor mystery. 🙂


  9. I saw so much more of the spirit world when I was a child! It could be any of those things you mentioned. If you want a good way to ensure safety along those lines, hang a mirror above your front door so that whatever a creature brings to your home they receive in return… it tends to weed out the nasty spirits!

    Thank you for believing her – so many children are called crazy or hyperactive instead of being credited for what they see! 🙂


  10. Amber, what magnificent advice! My friend Slade has a meditation he does every morning, with a prayer that his heart will be surrounded by mirrors — for exactly that purpose. I had forgotten!

    A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed her. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to think differently. 🙂


  11. I think your Anima is right. From my experience with people’s visions, your daughter saw her shadow. If your daughter had felt any energy symptoms (like electricity), I would be even more convinced about it.

    If I were you, I would explain the situation to her, so that as she grows up and becomes a little more mature, she can come in terms with her shadow.

    BTW, the shadow is our guardian angel.


  12. I am a Christian and I have the gift explained in the Bible as the “discernment of spirits”. This gift is only operational as the Spirit of God wills and I am when the Spirit wills, able to see into the spiritual realm.

    This necessary when people are obsessed and oppressed by demonic spirits, i.e. an easy example would be a spirit of infirmity, i.e. sickness like cancer for instance, to pray for them and set them free.

    What you are explaining I have seen on a number of occasions and this is not a “friendly” figure, it is a demonic spirit from the kingdom of darkness, one of satan’s demons.

    This is not a gaurdian angel and the positive light/energy mumbo jumbo is a lot of nonsense, they are not affected by this and operate at anytime of the night or day, you are seeking the wrong things and inviting evil spirits into your home. You need Jesus my friend, not positive energy, you have no clue what you are playing with and satan and his demons have one purpose for humanity and one purpose only, to steal, kill and destroy.

    If you want to protect your family, you need the Blood of Jesus, the Name of Jesus and the Presence of Jesus…this is the only thing satan and his demons are afraid of and will submit to.


    1. Burn, thanks for your concern. This post was written six years ago, and I’m happy to say that my daughter has not needed the Blood, Name, or Presence of Jesus in all that time. We’re all doing just fine without him, thanks. 🙂
      Best wishes to you and yours during the Solstice season.


  13. […] a bit of a revelation. For almost 20 years now I’ve been thinking and meditating on archetypes, shadows, visualization, and all this other Jungian stuff, but it has been difficult to find a good, […]


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