The Shadow King


There were no demands from the outside, so it must have been something within each woman responsible for this loss of herself.

Something was operating unconsciously, in the shadows.

The air felt almost liquid as everyone leaned forward, riveted by the tale that Lucille was telling. The women's group had been meeting for over an hour and the sharing of life experiences had gradually gotten deeper and deeper. It was as though each woman brought forth photos of particularly meaningful milestones in her life and then told about them, free to talk about these particular experiences because there were only women present. There was seriousness, but there was much laughter as well.

The women spoke about birth, life, and death. The sense of awe deepened. Now Lucille was describing an abortion that had begun as an ordinary impersonal hospital procedure but had ended with her lying in a bed in a pool of blood with the aborted fetus. It seemed as though the staff had deliberately left her alone; nobody responded to her calls for assistance. Everyone in the group sat in stunned silence, supporting Lucille and empathizing with her pain, isolation and terror. Each woman had her own story of past abortions, each pictured herself in Lucille's situation.

The group felt like a single organism, breathing in unison. The women began to talk again. this time in hushed and reverent tones. It felt almost holy. Suddenly, off in another part of the building, there were sounds of shouts and laughter. The men's group was obviously disbanding. The response of the women was astounding. In an instant, they dropped what they had been doing as though it was totally meaningless. What had been a single organism was now a group of individual women, each one listening for the sound of her own man's voice. The sense of awe had vanished and their power was completely gone.

What had happened to them? Who had so totally distracted them from themselves? There were no demands from the outside, so it must have been something within each woman responsible for this loss of herself. Something, or someone, was operating unconsciously, ruling from the shadows. I had no name for who that was or what had happened, but the experience stayed with me. I knew that I had caught a glimpse of something important, but I did not know what it was. So I waited and I watched, wondering if something similar would occur, and it did.

Several months later, I was in Holland. As I sat in a group of women, I began to feel uncomfortable. They were, for the most part, women that I knew, but as I looked around at them I felt as though I was surrounded by a group of judgmental, humorless male strangers, a group of patriarchs who had no use for women or women's groups. I realized that whatever was happening was related to the sudden loss of self that I had witnessed in the past. I asked about this and, sure enough, the women were thinking that a group of women could never do anything important and that they would prefer to be with the men. Fortunately, I had thought a great deal about this issue and I did not take their rejection of me personally. Since I was truly curious and this was a Voice Dialogue workshop, I asked if I might speak to the self that felt this way about women. A number of women volunteered.

A young, talented, and very intelligent Dutch woman named Mara volunteered to let me talk to the part of her, the self, that thought so little of women. It was an amazing experience for both of us! Mara was beautiful, charming and very feminine. Mara's Inner Patriarch was not. He was masculine, extremely powerful, humorless, and judgmental. He was her Shadow King, the Inner Patriarch who operated in the shadows of her unconscious and determined much of her behavior. My search was over; this was the mysterious voice I had been looking for.

When Mara's Inner Patriarch spoke he was stern and compelling; you could almost see his long flowing biblical robes. His authority commanded respect. It would be impossible to ignore him. His views were his views, and there was no way to change him, to placate him, or reason with him. He was absolutely sure that he knew exactly what the world was like and how it should be run. This meant that it should be run by men and that women should accept their naturally inferior status.

This Inner Patriarch was different from the Inner Critic, a self that I had met many times before. I feel that it is important for you to see the distinction between these two selves. The Inner Critic is the critical voice within each of us that comments constantly upon who we are and what we do. However, the Inner Critic does not care whether you are a man or a woman. It just likes to criticize; that is its job in life. The Inner Critic is a much more individualized and personal voice than the Inner Patriarch and it, too, has great impact upon our lives. *

In contrast to the Inner Critic, this Inner Patriarch cared very much about Mara's gender. He had totally different expectations, opinions, and standards for men and for women. These were independent of Mara and his specific feelings about her. In general, the Inner Patriarch expected nothing good from Mara or, for that matter, from any other woman just because they were women. His basic attitude was women were inferior to men and nothing they might do could change that immutable fact.

The Inner Critic, in contrast, usually gives the impression that we are personally responsible for whatever is "wrong" with us and that if we were to work hard enough, even if we are women, success just might be possible. For example, Shelly has just written a long report for her department. Her Inner Critic picks it apart, showing her all the ways that it could be better. Even after she has corrected these, her Inner Critic lets her know that there is more to be done. Then it points out that her report is not as good as Alicia's. Shelly continues her revisions until she can do no more. Actually, the report is quite good. But her Inner Critic tells her that although now it is better than Alicia's, it is not as good as the first set of reports Shelly, herself, had written earlier in her career, the ones that won her the promotion to department chief. Her Inner Critic is never satisfied, but keeps urging her on with the implicit assumption that she can succeed if only she tries harder. In contrast, her Inner Patriarch looks at the report and lets her know that it is good enough for a woman. In his eyes, nothing she can do will ever make Shelly's work as good or important as a man's.

The Subversion of Women's Power
As I listened to Mara's Inner Patriarch, I could hear that he was the inner spokesman for the outer patriarchy. I realized that he had a great impact upon the way we women viewed ourselves and our role in the world. He divided humankind into women and men and saw these two groups as basically different. Each group had its own territory or arena of power and its own gifts to bring to the world. The gifts of the men were important and the gifts of the women were secondary. Traditionally male power was supported and traditionally female power was subverted.

I could see that this had two practical consequences. First, the Inner Patriarch defines us as women, telling us what real woman are like and defining our capabilities and limitations. Secondly, he trivializes whatever it is that women are and what they do. Thus, he undervalues the portions of the world that belong to the traditionally feminine. These are undervalued in men as well as women. We, as human beings, learn that half of the gifts that we bring into this world, i.e., the gifts that have traditionally been associated with the feminine, are not important or really valuable. Since this has great cultural impact, let us think about these gifts.

The Gifts
I dream that I must appear before a judge. He looks dependable, responsible, and authoritative. I am carrying a wrapped package. which contains something both precious and powerful; it feels as though it is the gift of my deepest female nature. I have worked hard to package this gift properly. I have left an air space around the contents so that they will not get crushed and I must guard the entire package carefully so that it will not collapse. I also am carrying a very carefully polished brass candlestick with a candle in it.

My dilemma is as follows: Am I going to deliver my package and allow someone else to open it and to use the contents, or am I going to light my candle and sing my own song? I would feel safe turning over the unopened package to this judge because this way I would not be responsible for its contents. But if I do this, he will be in charge of the contents and I will forfeit the right to light my own candle and to sing my own song.

That judge is my Inner Patriarch, and this dream gives a clear picture of my dilemma as a woman. If I give my package to my Inner Patriarch, then he will judge its contents and take charge of my life. I will be considered inferior to men, but I will be safe, blameless, and protected. If I follow his orders, I will not get into trouble. If I keep my own package, then I keep my power and my individuality, but these gifts will be my responsibility.

What are the specifically female gifts and the basic sources of power that are in this package? I have considered this question as a woman, a daughter, a mother of daughters, and a psychologist. I see these gifts as the power of a woman's sexuality, her ability to attract others, the intensity of her need for relationship, her capacity to support and to care for others, and, of course, her childbearing capability. But the voice within each of us, the Inner Patriarch that has its roots deep within the patriarchal culture that has nourished and protected us, deprives us of the right to enjoy these gifts. At best, it trivializes them; at worst, it shames us for possessing them.

We are not taught how to honor and develop these traditionally feminine gifts as true sources of power, they are devalued. We are also not shown how to include the aspects of ourselves that are more traditionally masculine in nature in our overall development. As girls growing into womanhood, we have had few, if any, popular myths or mature heroines to guide us. We have almost no examples of women who have developed both their feminine nature and their power. In our culture there is a split between what is female and what is powerful. When we see a woman who is beautiful, loving and sensual, we automatically assume that she does not have great wisdom or power. The opposite is also true; we rarely think of a woman of wisdom and power as loving and sensual (even if she should happen to be).

There also seems to be a separation between motherhood and power. There is not a similar split between fatherhood and power. There are many tales of wise, benevolent, handsome, and powerful kings, or even gods, who are also fathers, but never a story of a mature woman, a benevolent, wise, sensual, beautiful and powerful queen, who is also a mother. Queens, particularly those who are mothers, are more often obstructions or problems than great leaders. The "evil queen" is almost as common an image as the "good king."

This is not true everywhere on our planet. In some older indigenous cultures, there is respect for the natural power of women. She can be a true woman and still have power. Carolyn Conger, one of our American wise women, told me of her contacts with the Maoris, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. When she visited there, a group of leading Maori healers was brought together to meet her as a respected member of the international healing community.

Before she entered the gathering, Carolyn was asked never to step over a man's legs if he was sitting on the ground. The reason for this was that the power in her vagina was so intense that it would automatically suck the power out of the men. And all during the meetings their chief shaman could never look directly into her eyes. He was able to see the power that she carried and feared that she might take something away from him.

I am not advocating that we move into a position of having this kind of unequal power or that we adopt the belief systems of the Maoris, but I do think that there is something important for us to learn from them. Let us now consider the unique gifts that we as women have traditionally offered to our species, the gifts that at this moment are still subject to the evaluation and the control of our Inner Patriarchs.

The Gifts of Life, of Relationship and of Caring for Others
Fundamentally, women are responsible for the continuity of human life on this planet. They are needed to create life. They are also capable of destroying it. If women no longer chose to have children, if they chose not to nurture the children that they did have and allowed them to die, or if they actually killed their offspring, there would no longer be human life (as we know it) on this planet. This is a fact that has long been overlooked by the dominant patriarchal culture. It is also overlooked by the Inner Patriarch who sees women as basically helpless and without any natural power in the world.

In our awesome scientific zeal, we humans have moved far enough to make the creation of life possible without the presence of a live man. We can choose to breed the most genetically perfect beings should we care to do so. But we have not yet found a way to adequately replace a live woman in the pre-natal nourishment and development of a human fetus or a way to replace the nourishment provided by relationship and a parent's love after birth.

A loving, nurturing human contact is urgently needed after the birth of a child so that it will thrive and grow up whole. If this is not provided, we have damaged, unsocialized humans who, at best, are personally unhappy and, at worst, are a danger to others. This ability to nurture others, to care deeply for them and to put their emotional and physical needs before one's own has been seen as a basically feminine or female quality in our culture. Since the Inner Patriarch sees this as womanly and natural it is, of course, unimportant. He would never think of rewarding mothers for a job well done in the same way that he would think of rewarding someone who works in the marketplace. For him, the idea of a mother expecting a bonus because she has done a good job at home is unthinkable, but he would certainly give the same woman a bonus if she produced a new product or a new source of income for her company at work.

The complexities of running a household and truly attending to the needs of children are only now beginning to be appreciated by the outer world, but again the Inner Patriarch lags behind. My own Inner Patriarch was totally unimpressed by childrearing even when I became a mother and he could see what mothering entailed. He never did give me much credit for childrearing and always saw it as a bit of a vacation from "real life". He admitted that I was behaving like a good, responsible, thoughtful mother at home, but he truly admired me only during the hours I was professionally active.

It was a particular experience at work that caused me to separate from my Inner Patriarch and to question his values for the first time. I had become the executive director of a residential treatment center for adolescent girls, a very challenging position. I was responsible for a staff of about 35, the finances of the institution (both raising the necessary funds and spending them wisely), the building, the program, and the care of a group of acting out adolescent girls for whom we provided residence, an on-grounds school, 24 hour a day supervision, and therapy. I was often asked how I kept track of everything and my heartfelt response was: "This is a very demanding and exciting job, but it is much easier than staying at home full time and raising three children! Not only that, but here I have an excellent support staff to share the work, I get paid, and I get lots of recognition for what I do." I knew this from personal experience and my Inner Patriarch could not convince me otherwise.

Thus we can see some of the ways in which the Inner Patriarch echoes the values of the outer patriarchy and affects the way that we, as women, view our gifts. It has not always been this way. Before the destruction of the matrifocal societies and the development of our patriarchal system, things were different. In the ancient matrifocal, agrarian societies many, or most, of the deities were female and the Great Mother was worshipped as the Supreme Deity. There were priestesses as well as priests. Not only did the religion honor the female, but the legal system did as well. Both lineage and laws of inheritance were traced through the mother and there was at least equal, if not dominant, political, religious, and economic power held by women. Our patriarchal system reversed this situation approximately 6000 years ago. This change brought new gifts of its own, but it devalued what came before. Let us see what happened to change our perceptions of these gifts.

The Gift is Turned into a Curse
"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee."

So it is that we as women find our unique gifts cursed in the very first chapter of our Bible. The very gifts that we carry - the gifts of bringing forth life, cherishing and sustaining life, and the deep-seated longing for relationship - have been turned into a burden and have become the curse of the women who carry them. As we look at what has happened to these gifts, we enter the realm of the Shadow King.

Until recently, relationship, marriage and childbearing were essentially a woman's only choice in our patriarchal society and the Shadow King still agrees with this point of view. This was a woman's job in the world, whether or not she liked it. But relationship was no longer viewed as a gift; it had been turned into an anxiety-filled curse. The average woman worried that she would not have a proper place in ordinary society if she did not have a proper husband. Most women, and their Inner Patriarchs as well, viewed marriage and childbearing as their prime goal in life. They devoted the greater part of their early lives to "catching" a good husband. For the women who valued their freedom and independence, this requirement to be married and to bear children, was not very attractive.

Times have changed and now we have moved over to the opposite point of view. In our current social and political climate, the woman who longs for a monogamous primary relationship - in the past, we called this "a marriage" - often feels uncomfortable. She wonders if she is lacking something within herself when she feels a need for someone else to share her life. This attitude as an indication that the Inner Patriarch is working in the shadows of the unconscious. There is a Catch-22, however. Although he still requires a "real" woman to be married, the Inner Patriarch basically sees the yearning for relationship as womanly and, therefore, an evidence of weakness. He has no idea that this need for relationship, the desire to be partnered, might be a gift.

I have spoken to many intelligent and competent women in their thirties and forties who feel ashamed and weak because they are actively seeking a husband. They are uncomfortable because their Inner Patriarchs judge this quest as a sign of inferiority, and the goal of marriage as a womanly pursuit rather than a manly one. These women are embarrassed to let others know that they want to get married and that they are looking for a husband. Their friends or families usually worry about them and see this search as a real problem or, at best, a serious challenge.

It is a rare woman who allows herself to see this search for a husband as a proper age-appropriate goal and goes forth to reach this goal in an organized businesslike fashion using all the resources at her command. Instead most women trust to luck and, at best, make sporadic, disorganized and unfocused attempts to meet someone. They certainly would not treat a professional or work related goal in this way!

Interesting enough, when a man in his thirties or forties decides that it is time to get married, the announcement that he is looking for a wife usually is greeted with joy as though he has made a mature decision and is now ready to settle down. His friends and family are delighted to help him and are usually confident that he sooner or later he will meet someone appropriate. There is an expectation that it will take some time and several attempts, but this is not a deterrent. Thus the same decision is seen as a sign of maturity and manliness in a man and as a sign of weakness and neediness in a woman. This discrepancy is always an indication of the Inner Patriarch at work.

Let us look how the traditionally feminine gift of caring for others has been turned into a curse, first by the outer patriarchy and now by the Inner Patriarch. On the one hand, this natural need for relationship in women has always been valued. Until very recently, women were encouraged to approach the world as loving and responsible caregivers. On the other hand, this same need to care for others was seen as a weakness and was often used as a means of manipulation, exploitation and domination. Women were expected to do this because this was their nature. Therefore, they should not require anything in return for the gift of love and nurturing that they bestowed upon others. The Inner Patriarch still carries these values and we can see the cultural result: women expect to be caregivers and they are often exploited as such.

In fulfilling this role of the caregiver and the protector of relationship and family, women have learned to move beyond their own needs in order to meet the needs of others. This has been creative and quite wonderful in many ways, but women have paid a high price. We have lost our ability to make choices, to know what it is that we want, and to think for ourselves. It feels as though, in the realm of the Shadow King, there is a law that says: "Others come first." Women can only do as they wish after everyone else has been cared for.

However, it is the women who have disobeyed this law, and have moved away from these distinctively female gifts of relating and caretaking, who are most likely to meet with outer success. They are more likely to receive recognition in the world and financial rewards than the women who have devoted their lives to family, lovers, and friends. Thus the women who have disowned the traditional roles that emphasize relationship and nurturing are more likely to be valued by the Inner Patriarch. They are the ones seen as having led productive, fulfilling and successful lives.

Success and productivity is not usually equated with what we might think of as the ultimate act of creativity - the bringing forth of new life. Instead, in the realm of the Shadow King, this ability to bring forth new life has been, until recent years, like a jail sentence that a woman was forced to complete whether or not she wished to do so. It was her duty to get pregnant, and then to finish the pregnancy. This is the belief of the Shadow King, even though the woman may not have desired a child in the first place and a new child might well create an unlivable situation.

To do otherwise, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, has been viewed as a sin, and has been written into our laws as illegal. In the interests of protecting the new life of the fetus, the woman's choice in this matter, her own needs, and her own life have been overlooked. It is my feeling that her awesome - yes, truly awesome - ability to create and destroy life is something that has felt dangerous and that the patriarchal society has needed to control. The knowledge that this is true power is something that the Inner Patriarch denies to women.

For me, the fear of this power over life and death is the underlying issue in the battle about abortion. Yes, abortion is killing an unborn child. The taking of life is a sin. It is an action to be considered very, very carefully. But most women are uncomfortable to say this aloud and to stand behind their actions when they do have an abortion. The carefully-considered decision of a woman to kill is too threatening, too evil in this realm of the Shadow King.

I find it interesting that this moral issue is never considered when, as a nation, we decide to go to war. There, too, lives are taken, many lives in fact. But I have never heard heated discussions over the rights of the people we are planning to kill when we go to war, only concern about our own projected casualties. And now with the automatic use of air power, we are not killing just the warriors who have chosen to go to war, we are killing innocent non-combatants as well. I am not talking about the outer world of policy makers or of men when I speak of this contrast in value judgments, but of our Inner Patriarchs as well. War, even in the Bible, is seen as an act of power if you do it for the right reason, but abortion, a woman's ultimate act of power (if we admit that it involves killing) is always seen as a sin.

Aphrodite's Gifts of Sexuality and Attraction
Aphrodite's gifts of sensual enjoyment, beauty, relationship, and the ability to attract and to connect with others are precious. There are few sights as totally seductive and charming as a little girl who is beginning to feel this power. She shamelessly flirts, she primps, she caresses others and she enjoys her power to attract. Others love to be with her. Mothers love to feel her combing their hair, fathers love to feel her cuddling up in their laps. She makes everyone around her feel good. Similarly, a grown woman's sensuality and her sexual nature can be breathtaking. Her ability to attract is immense.

In the realm of the Shadow King, these gifts are always associated with femininity and often viewed with distrust. Wouldn't it be interesting if our world were to value attraction more and if men, as well as women, were permitted to enjoy their Aphrodite nature? What if we, as Brianne Swimme suggests in The Universe is a Green Dragon, paid more attention to what attracts us? What if we valued attraction and what holds us together instead of concentrating upon our differences and what holds us apart? I would suggest that the world might be quite different. Gravity, or the law of attraction, seems to work pretty well in the physical world.

This reminds me of an apocryphal story about an area up here in Northern California. This part of the country was settled by Russian seal traders. That is why we have a Russian River and there are towns with names like Sebastopol. Well, there came a time when this began to be a problem. The Mexicans held territory as far north as San Francisco and they were not too happy with the Russians so very close by. Now, if everyone had concentrated upon differences, there would have been a war to settle matters. But, instead, Aphrodite came to the rescue. It seems as though the daughter of the governor of San Francisco and the commanding officer of Ft. Ross, the headquarters of the Russians, fell in love. This led to some very pleasant negotiations and matters were settled easily. The fort and the Russian holdings were sold to Mexico and all was peacefully settled.

In the realm of the Shadow King, however, attraction is to be used not enjoyed. Women have been taught to be ashamed of their Aphrodite nature. Sensuality has been equated with sexuality and both have been demeaned. A woman's sexuality has been turned into a commodity. It is used to sell products, movies, or even the women themselves. According to the laws of this kingdom in the shadows, sensuality and sexuality are to be controlled and ruled over by men and never to be enjoyed for their own sake by women. If a woman claims the right to this, she has gone against timeless rules and her Inner Patriarch will be mighty upset!

So we see that these traditionally feminine gifts have been turned sour. This has serious consequences for men as well as women. As these gifts have been trivialized, not only women, but men, too, have been discouraged from enjoying them. Thus, men have suffered this loss equally with women and many of the delights of being human have been denied to them as well. If they cared deeply about relationship, love, and sensuality, and if they wanted to participate in childrearing they would be admitting that they felt as women did, and this, according to the beliefs of the Shadow King, would be admitting their inferiority. Let us now meet the one who carries these beliefs, our Shadow King, the Inner Patriarch.

The Shadow King ©1997

* If you want to find out more about the Inner Critic read Embracing Your Inner Critic by Hal Stone and myself.

psychology of the selves

The Basic Elements of Voice Dialogue
Voice Dialogue IntroductionVoice Dialogue IntroductionVoice Dialogue Introduction
A Fireside Chat
Article by Sidra Stone

Search the Voice Dialogue website

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn   Bookmark and Share
Voice Dialogue International (formerly Delos Inc)
All rights reserved by copyright 2022©