Shadow Symbolism

Are you interested in Shadow Symbolism? Then this guide is for you!

Shadows have many applications used as symbols. Their versatility ranges from uncertainty to suspense and dark magic.

They can also symbolize protection, energy, and relief. The most powerful shadow symbolism is that of the unknown and secrecy.

Shadows can be used to obscure our vision and hide things. For example, think about the cover of darkness.

A lot can happen in that black shadow that we call the night.

What’s the Spiritual Meaning of Shadows?

Since ancient times, shadows have been used as symbols. According to ancient Egyptians, shadows stand for a person’s soul.


A person’s shadow represents the person, always present as long as the person is alive.

When a person died, their shadow was shut in a box. The ancient Egyptians practiced the art of mummification to ensure that the shadow of the dead did not escape.

In some cultures, a person’s shadow was considered soulless. According to the ancient Aztecs and the Mayans, the shadows of the dead were considered holy.

As such, the dead were handled with care, and all due diligence was conducted in their burial.

In ancient China, the shadows of the dead were thought to ascend beyond physical existence. They were said to have been purified, and could thus exist in the spiritual realm.

Some Native American communities believed that a person had both an inner and an outer shadow. The Choctaw believed that the inner shadow of the dead would be transported to the world of ghosts.

The outer shadow would remain in the grave where it would scare people trying to defile the body or break societal norms.

The ancient Greeks believed that the deity Erebus took the form of a shadow. Erebus was believed to be in charge of darkness.

The Greeks also believed that things that did not cast shadows were soulless. It was believed that the walking dead and werewolves did not have shadows.

The ancient Romans referred to shadows as the umbra. After a person died, their shadows went to the land of the shades, which was also referred to as the Underworld.

When the shadows went to the Underworld, they became ghosts. Usually, this part of spiritual existence was reserved for non-heroes.

The shadow of heroes occupied a more exalted position in the world of the dead.

Hidden Messages Behind Shadows Symbolism

#1 – Illegality

The phrase living in the shadows refers to outlaws or criminals. These are people not content to live within the law.

They involve themselves in selling illegal things such as contraband.

A lot of illegal activities take place in the shadows. People go to dark corners to trade in illegal goods. By taking part in such illegal activities in the shadows, they believe they will not be caught.

#2 – Protection

Shadows have positive attributes, as well. We can use shadows to hide from danger. By moving in the shadows, we avoid the gaze of anyone that can harm us.

People use shadows to sneak from harm’s way. You may escape from a dungeon by avoiding well-lit spaces.

Combat soldiers use shadows to carry out surprise attacks on enemy troops.

One can also hide oneself in shadows to escape the harsh sunlight. In such situations, shadows can be said to be our friends as they protect us from being sunburnt.

#3 – Copying and Mirroring

Shadows mirror and copy our movement. As you walk in the sun, your shadow moves with you. A common idiomatic expression says that you can’t outrun your shadow.

This expression also means that a negative reputation will follow you around like your shadow.

#4 – Following and Stalking

A person that wants to harm you may hide in the shadows waiting to waylay you. This person may secretly follow you around hiding in the shadows so that you don’t discover them.

They may keep following you, hiding from one patch of dark shadows to the next, and waiting for the perfect chance to attack.

#5 – Shame

People hide in the shadows to escape their shame. For example, if you do anything embarrassing, you may feel ashamed to remain in the spotlight.

The shadows offer you the opportunity to escape until you are emotionally strong enough to make an appearance.

Shadows also enable us to hide things we’d like to keep away from the public limelight. For example, you may want to hide something under your bed or some other dark part of your house.

It’s also common for people to keep their dark secrets well hidden away. Such secrets are not discussed openly – and never with strangers.

#6 – Secrets

Secrets exist in darkness. While it is generally thought that light is a good idea, humans believe that darkness is a bad idea.

Some secrets can only be shared in the shadows. Shadows are places where people retreat to scheme, whisper, and plan.

Usually, the kind of information shared in the shadows is too sensitive to be shared openly. In works of literature and films, shadows are depicted as places where dark things go on.

In contrast, light is depicted as a space where good things happen. You would not expect, for example, to see ghosts in scenes that show light.

Ghosts are more likely to be in the shadows.

#7 – Uncertainty

Shadows hide what’s within a dark space. The darkness is a source of fear and uncertainty. We are not sure what we may find when we enter a dark place.

Generally, humans avoid anything that makes them fearful. We associate shadows with negative things.

Exposure to shadows leads to bad outcomes. We are not very sure what we’ll discover behind a dark shadow.

This creates a sense of mysticism and mystery.

#8 – Social Exclusion

Shadows create a sense of social exclusion, either forced or chosen. Some people are compelled to become social outcasts because of the activities they involve themselves in.

When this happens, they are said to be living in the shadows of society. Such people are likely to be involved in illegality.

Other people prefer to be in the shadows because they have something to hide from society.

#9 – Suspense and Foreboding

Shadows are used in literature and film to create suspense. Shadows have been employed heavily for this effect in horror movies.

In films, shadows may be accompanied by suspenseful music. Used in this way, shadows may make the hairs at the nape of your neck spike up.

Shadows may also be used to indicate the negative side of a dark character. In this case, the character moves in the shadows causing chaos and mayhem.

#10 – Treachery and Deceit

Shadows also can symbolize treachery and deceit. A person that wants to cause you harm will pull you into the shadows.

Once in the shadows, a lot can happen with little control on your part. This person could also lie behind your back.

While truth happens in the light of day, lies and sinister motives happen in the shadows, in the absence of light.

Shadows are associated with dishonesty and insincerity.

#11 – Sadness, Sorrow, and Grief

Darkness, sorrow, and grief go hand-in-hand. A sad person is likely to be engulfed in shadows of sorrow.

The loss of a loved one is likely to throw you into the shadows of pain and misery. A grieving person sees nothing good in life.

In works of art and literature, grieving people are cast in shadows. They are shown to be depressed and under a cloud of sorrow.

Sadness, sorrow, and grief make one live in a gloomy world. This world is darker and less desirable that being in the light.

#12 – Dark Magic

Sometimes, shadows are hard to understand. This is because we never really understand what goes on in the darkness.

We think of them as the work of dark magic.

There’s a common idea that monsters live in the darkness. In the same way, witches and warlocks operate best in the darkness, where they hide from humans.

The darkness of the forest or caves is closely associated with dark magic. This is probably because we don’t fully understand the animals that lurk in the shadows.

Sometimes humans get carried away by their rich imagination and see shadows as the work of evil genius.

This is clearly captured in works of literature, art, and films.

#13 – Sickness and Death

In some cultures, shadows signify sickness and death. It is believed that being exposed to darkness is an invitation for such conditions as mental and emotional challenges.

One of the worst punishments is to be locked up in a dark room. In most cases, this is guaranteed to cause mental anguish and depression.

Final Thoughts…

Shadows symbolize many things, both good and bad. They stand for secrets, dark magic, deceit, and uncertainty.

In some cultures, shadows represent the soul. In others, shadows stand for peace and an escape from reality.

It can also be used to escape the limelight and seek refuge. Depending on where you are and the prevailing culture, shadows can mean different things.

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