Scapegoating: How the Shadow Hides in the Light

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The following essay was originally published on Awaken in the Dream


Wetiko is the Native American name for the evil that is playing out both in the world as well as within our own minds. A living part of the personality, “the shadow,” what Jung calls “our sublunary nature,” is at the root of wetiko disease. The psychological process of projecting the shadow (scapegoating)—which is the shadow projecting itself outside of itself so that it can remain hidden—is the core underlying dynamic that informs wetiko. Understanding the ins and outs of shadow projection therefore helps us to dispell wetiko.

What we don’t accept in ourselves, but rather, exclude from our self-image and push into the shadows of netherworld of the unconscious—thereby depriving it of light—becomes toxic. To quote Jung, “for a thing to become poisonous, you only need to repress it.”[1] These repressed shadowy contents build up a charge in the unconscious, and they approach us through the circuitous route of projection, which is to say that these shadow energies appear to us in the outside world in the form of an adversarial other. What we avoid, abandon, escape and turn away from in ourselves will turn against us – both inwardly and outwardly. We have to face our own darkness, Jung comments, “if we want to reach the fountain of life again.”[2]

Projecting the shadow outwards not only deprives us of the capacity to deal with evil, but ensures that we will unwittingly become an instrument of evil. In projecting the shadow outside of ourselves, we are standing in the way of our own light—and are thus “in the dark”—which guarantees that we will become our own evil spirit. This brings to mind the folk saying that the person without a shadow is the devil. Trying to destroy the evil in the world, we become possessed by the very evil we are trying to destroy.

Though the repository of all our inferior and regrettable qualities, the shadow is at the same time, according to Jung, “the prerequisite for higher consciousness,”[3] which is to say that when we project the shadow we unwittingly deprive ourselves of the possibility of truly expanding our consciousness. Jung emphasizes, “The shadow is the block which separates us most effectively from the divine Voice.”[4] Jung’s imagery suggests how the shadow blocks and mutes the sound of God’s voice within us, whose sole purpose is to expand our consciousness and wake us up.

To quote Jung, “By not being aware of having a shadow, you declare a part of your personality to be non-existent. Then it enters the kingdom of the non-existent, which swells up and takes on enormous proportions. When you don’t acknowledge that you have such qualities, you are simply feeding the devils…. The thing you have buried grows fat while you grow thin.”[5] In denying and projecting out our shadow, as if feeding a psychic tapeworm that lives in our body, we are simultaneously nourishing the evil within us while simultaneously starving our true—and potentially healthy—selves. 

Shadow projection relies on dehumanizing the recipient of the projection through seeing the worst in them, which justifies hatred, oppression, violence—even genocide—against those perceived as “the other.” This is an outer enactment of an intra-psychic process of self-hatred which only postpones the process of coming to terms with our own hated and rejected parts. Those upon whom the shadow is foisted are typically seen as carriers of infection and are likened to animals, vermin, parasites, microbes, germs, cancers, bacillus, etc., which attack the organism (the body politic) through their infestation so as to poison it, and hence, need to be destroyed.[6] Projecting evil outside of ourselves is the fast road to fascism; it should be remembered that Jung’s equivalent term for wetiko is “totalitarian psychosis.”

Although happening inside of an individual psyche, shadow projection can become collectively mobilized and acted out en masse, writ large on the world stage via various “witch hunts” (to use a politically popular term) against specific individuals or groups. Our leaders can—and often do—manipulate our unconscious propensity to project the shadow outside of ourselves to feed their dreams of power. Manipulating the shadow projections of the masses is one of the most powerful tools of collective mind control used by the power elite. Collective shadow projection is the unmediated acting out of the darkest aspects of the shadow in an expedient and politically correct form that reinforces one’s group identity in opposition to some other group that is vilified. War—be it between people, nations, or within our own psyche—is the result. Jungian analyst and scholar Erich Neumann writes, “No war can be waged unless the enemy can be converted into the carrier of a shadow projection.”[7]

Neumann felt that shadow projection is “in fact one of the gravest perils confronting mankind.”[8] When we, as a nation, collectively project the shadow onto another nation or group, “it becomes,” to quote Jung, “a sacred duty to have the biggest guns and the most poisonous gas.”[9] It should be noted that the accumulation of arms is itself an evocation and call to war. Due to the mixture of personal and archetypal contents that inform our projections, the recipients of our shadow projections are seen as an amalgam of subhuman and superhuman qualities, the devil incarnate in human form. “The devil,” as Jung reminds us, “embodies the evil powers of the unconscious.”[10]

“Evil,” to quote Marie Louise von Franz, Jung’s closest colleague, “starts with lying, that is, with the projection of the shadow.”[11] Jung himself simply calls projecting the shadow “the lie.”[12] “The devil,” to quote Christ, “is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). Projecting the shadow outside of ourselves is the primordial lie—the father of all lies—in action. Shadow projection (also known as “demonization”) is the prime, most essential action of the devil within each one of us. The devil is the sponsor of lies, which is to say that the devil—the personification of the forces of darkness—is the inspiration for the process of shadow projecting. Every time someone projects their shadow, the devil has claimed another victim. Ironically, instead of freeing ourselves from our own evil, shadow projection binds us even more to it.

French American philosopher and cultural anthropologist Rene Girard, author of the classic book The Scapegoat, is of the opinion that the origin of human culture is to be discovered in what he calls “the founding murder,” which is none other than the psychological process of scapegoating/shadow projecting. Interestingly, Christ—who is the archetypal innocent scapegoat (“the lamb of God” who bears the sins of the world)—refers to the devil as “a murderer from the beginning.” This founding murder, what Girard calls “the secret of Satan,” must be concealed at all costs, i.e., remain unconscious. This founding murder iswetiko. This murder is ahistorical and atemporal, in that it regenerates itself always and everywhere—informing human culture (or lack thereof)—until seen through.

This founding murder, and the lie that covers it, imprisons humanity in a never-ending, self-replicating feedback loop in which humanity must kill, and continue to kill, in order to not know that we are killing. To quote Girard, “This lie is a double homicide, since its consequence is always another new homicide to cover up the old one.”[13] The result is a heart anesthetized—numb—to feeling, which enables us to be party to atrocities that we would normally never countenance or even be able to imagine. Speaking about the founding murder, Girard says, “It is an inexhaustible fund; a transcendent source of falsehood that infiltrates every domain and structures everything in its own image, with such success that the truth cannot get in.”[14] To the extent we are asleep to this deeper process, we become, in Jung’s words, “an unconscious instrument of the wholesale murderer in man.”[15] When we are unconscious of the evil within us, it will insinuate itself into the surroundings, where it will work its black magic.

Scapegoating/shadow projecting is itself a violent act of self-mutilation. The origin of scapegoating involves a severing and disowning of a darker part of ourselves, which we then—in a second act of (energetic) violence—project outside of ourselves onto an “other.” We react violently when we encounter an embodied reflection of our shadow in the outer world, wanting to destroy it, as it reminds us of something dark within ourselves that we want nothing to do with. This act of external violence is a dramatization of the original inner act of “splitting” (which is itself a violent affair) off from our own darkness. In other words, our inner process of violence towards our own darkness (which is itself inspired by the very darkness we are dissociating from) is being dreamed up and acted out on the canvas of the external world with real world consequences.

A question naturally arises: is otherness more threatening in its difference (in its alien quality) or is it more menacing in its sameness (that its reflecting something back within ourselves)?

Girard felt that humanity was in slavery to violence. He was of the opinion that the scapegoat mechanism has a hold on humanity and is society’s best collective defense against coming to terms with its own violence. To quote Girard, “The old pattern of each against another gives way to the unified antagonism of all against one.”[16] Girard felt that human culture is based on the deeper archetypal process of conjuring away the pent-up psychological violence intrinsic to humanity’s shadow by endlessly projecting it onto new victims, which is to say that human culture is organized around a violent—and thus disingenuous—disavowal of human violence.

The guilt-feelings that co-arise with the very existence of the shadow are discharged in the same way by the individual and the collective – via the mechanism of shadow projection. In an endless self-generating feedback loop, the process of projecting our shadow outside of ourselves—due to its disingenuousness—feeds into our unconscious feelings of guilt, which results in more shadow projection to assuage our guilt, and so the endless cycle continues, feeding on itself. We continually attempt—unsuccessfully—to wash our hands of our guilt and return to innocence by repeating the very thing we feel guilty about. The whole thing is madness. 

Having someone to project the shadow onto is helpful in a perverse sort of way, as it temporarily shields us from having to look at our own evil or consciously feel our own guilt. Jung writes, “Having an enemy upon whom one can foist off everything evil is an enormous relief to one’s conscious. You can then say at least, without hesitation, who the devil is.”[17] In an uncertain world you then have a certainty that the cause of your troubles is outside of, rather than within, yourself. To quote Neumann, “In the economy of the psyche, the outcast role of the alien is immensely important as an object for the projection of the shadow.”[18] Those who carry our evil are seen as alien, just as the (illegal) alien is experienced as evil. Once we demonize others, this self-righteously justifies their destruction without any feelings of conscious guilt or remorse emerging within us. We see our actions as laudable rather than sinful, which simply ensures more shadow projection as the destructive cycle continues, ad infinitum.

Like a narcotic, shadow projection produces only an apparent and temporary relief, however, invariably demanding more projection of the shadow—more lying and violence—to keep itself in business. The only way to prevent a return of the content of our projections is through their continued projection, a circular process which endlessly loops back and feeds on itself. To quote Neumann, “Repression will have to be continually on the defensive against a dawning apperception of the shadow side.”[19]

One of the main ways shadow projection keeps itself alive is through—as if a contagious disease—the known infectious quality of hate. Heterophobia, hatred of the other, feeds into all kinds of fear, racism and endless projection of the shadow onto those seen as different from ourselves. Considered one of the most fundamental poisons by the Buddha, hatred is the high-octane fuel that powers the very process of shadow projection. Hatred inspires a wish to injure, kill and destroy, an impulse which can develop an autonomy—and a seeming mind—all its own. In Christian theology, the essence of the devil is his hatred of anything wholesome and holy.

“Projections,” to quote Jung, “change the world into a replica of one’s own unknown face.”[20] In projecting our own evil outside of ourselves, we transform the outer world into an embodied reflection of the unknown face of our own evil. The mirror is the holder of the shadow, after all. Jung talks about “the primitive tendency in us to shut our eyes to evil and drive it over some frontier or other, like the Old Testament scapegoat.”[21] Scapegoating is truly a “primitive tendency” that is still active within our psyche that Jung rightfully connects with shutting our eyes (becoming blind) to evil. Jung writes, “The resultant projection creates a dangerous situation in that the disturbing effects are now attributed to a wicked will outside ourselves, which is naturally not to be found anywhere but with our neighbor de l’autre cote de la riviere [on the other side of the river]. This leads to collective delusions, ‘incidents,’ revolutions, war—in a word, to destructive mass psychoses.”[22] Wetiko is just such a mass psychosis.

Due to our proclivity to project the shadow outside of ourselves, Jung felt that “Western man is in danger of losing his shadow altogether.”[23] Losing—disassociating from—our shadow would be catastrophic, for not only does our shadow add substance to who we are and make us truly human, but in losing our shadow we are ensuring that our shadow will confront us in projected form through and as the outside world. Jung writes, “the more consciousness insists on its own luminous nature and lays claim to moral authority, the more the self will appear as something dark and menacing.”[24]

Once collective shadow projection becomes the order of the day, it becomes “systematized,” and as Neumann writes, “the final result will be the paranoid reactions of individuals and whole nations, whose own repressed aggressive tendencies reappear in the shape of fear of persecution at the hands of other people and of the world at large.”[25] We then preemptively and insanely try to kill others out of fear of them attacking us first,[26] thus endlessly strengthening the spiral of fear, abuse and madness. 

According to Girard, the figure of Satan (one of whose inner meanings is “the shadow of the Lord”) is the name and the source of all the various forms of lying that take place in the human world. The violence inherent to scapegoating isn’t just “the work of Satan,” to quote from James G. Williams’ foreword to Girard’s book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, “it is Satan.”[27] Girard ties scapegoating to the true mystery of Satan, referring to it as “his most clever trick.” Girard calls scapegoating “the satanic principle,” considering it the source of Satan’s astonishing power. It is not for nothing that Satan, a personification of the archetype of the shadow, is known as “the accuser.”

Satan sponsors the project(ion) of the shadow onto the (innocent) recipient—creating a split in the community—and then, in a sleight of hand that goes unnoticed, inspires the victim to be condemned and expelled from the community to seemingly restore balance and harmony. In other words, Satan creates the problem by fomenting disorder, sowing scandals and then at the height of the crises that he himself provokes, offers the solution, which invariably just further feeds the lie which is the source of the problem in a self-generating cycle that poisons the community. This process continues forever until seen through. Collective scapegoating is a form of organized violence in the service of social tranquility, i.e., tranquilizing (putting to sleep) its adherents. Once the scapegoat—who is seen as the cause of the community’s problems—is exiled, a sense of peace is initially restored, which serves as evidence confirming the guilt of the scapegoat, further entrenching the apparent truth of the lie which underlies and foments the whole process.

Just like individuals have an ineradicable tendency to get rid of their own evil by foisting it upon someone else, it is the nature of political bodies to always see the evil in their adversary or the opposing party. When scapegoating happens collectively, the identity of the scapegoat is based on no other evidence than the unshakable unanimity of the collectivity’s own consensus. This collective collusion, a form of group-think, is based on the irrational illogic of the herd, what I refer to as “wetiko-logic.” To the extent that we are unaware of the scapegoat mechanism that covertly operates through our world, we are all complicit in collectively perpetuating it. We are then all murderers of Christ. All the while we imagine ourselves alien to—and innocent of—all violence.

This primordial self-division intrinsic to the scapegoating process is referred to in the Bible as “Satan driving out Satan.” Describing this very process, Jung writes, “the devil is cast out by Beelzebub.” In a project doomed to failure, darkness is trying to get rid of itself, which is the very act that generates, is generated by, and is an expression of the darkness in the first place. Here’s what I wrote in Dispelling Wetiko, “Projecting the shadow, while seeming to deliver us from the specter of evil haunting us within ourselves, is the primal act which generates the very evil that we are attempting to avoid in the first place.”[28]

In an interview with noted philosopher and historian of religion Mircea Eliade, Jung said, “But Satan represents evil, and how can evil be integrated? There is only one possibility: to assimilate it, that is to say, raise it to the level of consciousness.”[29] Integrating our darker unconscious aspects into the light of consciousness—i.e., becoming conscious—is the definition of individuation, the process of becoming whole. Becoming conscious of an unconscious content is, in Jung’s words, “a coniunctio Solis et Lunae,” i.e., a conjunction of Sun and Moon – symbolic of a coming together of the opposites.

Becoming conscious of evil necessarily means to withdraw our shadow projections, which involves recognizing and accepting “the other” in ourselves. Once we recognize and withdraw our projections, Jung writes that such a person:

“has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against…. Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. These problems are mostly so difficult because they are poisoned by mutual projections. How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and the darkness he unconsciously carries with him into all his dealings?”[30]

Becoming aware of and owning our own darkness is the best way of dealing with the darkness of other people and the evil in the world. We would then have to demand of ourselves, and of no one else, all the things we habitually demand of others.

We need to own our own shadow, while at the same time, however, not identify with it, which would be, in Jung’s words, to go “down the drain.” The shadow belongs to us – it is our responsibility, and yet, it is not who we are. If we identify with it, we can easily fall into the abyss of despair, depression and worthlessness, which can not only be dangerous, but potentially fatal. Discriminating between the shadow and who we are—our true nature that embraces our shadow—opens the doorway for the shadow, rather than obscuring our light, to flesh it out, distinguish and reveal it.

Girard’s founding murder is repeated—reproduced again and again over, as and throughout history—oftentimes (if not always) taking as its victim the person who has revealed it, whose liberating message everyone refuses to understand. The one who is in essence simply holding up a mirror and reflecting back to us our own violence is typically silenced. The messenger is killed, so to speak, in what becomes a collectively sanctioned symbolic murder.

The intrusion of a mirror that reflects truth (mirrors, after all, show us our true face) can’t help but to shine light on the darkness. Being a reflector is an act which is seen by the collective as subversive, for it disturbs our comfortable, familiar illusions, which depend upon a lie. When someone points out the shadow in the field they are, ironically, typically viewed by people who aren’t seeing the shadow (and are hence unconsciously acting it out) as being blind. It is very dangerous to reflect back to people who are projecting their shadow that they themselves, rather than the recipient of their projection, are the ones who are possessed by and hence, embodying the shadow – we do so at the risk of being demonized ourselves. Violence can often be the result.

“The devil,” as it says in the Bible, “has always hated the truth.” Only those who are themselves living a lie get upset when someone speaks the truth. Ironically, the result is that the reflection of our underlying violence that the collective tries to stifle is confirmed as true. This is to say that the revelation is one and the same as—and is validated by—the violent opposition to the revelation. Seeing this equivalence between the revelation and our violent resistance to the revelation (which is evidence confirming the very revelation it is reacting against) is the doorway through which the revelation can actually take hold and blossom within our mind, thereby liberating us from the lie.

The most horrible acts of persecution are often committed in the name of the fight against persecution. The ones who are scapegoating believe they are self-righteously supporting the truth while in actuality they are living and propagating an egregious lie. Neumann writes, “True to the basic principle of the scapegoat psychology, the conscious mind believes itself to be identical with the higher values and commits the most appalling atrocities in the sublime self-assurance of an ‘absolutely clear conscience.’”[31] Scapegoating illustrates how the darkness uses people who are overly identified with the light as its secret outposts. The darkness literally hides in the light. Overly identifying with our light nature and projecting out our darkness are interrelated aspects of a deeper singular process.

Scapegoating only functions based on ignorance, blindness and a persecutory unconsciousness. In Christ’s words, those who scapegoat “know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Its power is dependent on a lie, which is why the lie must remain hidden at all costs. When the lie underlying the scapegoat mechanism is exposed the spiral of violence is broken and wetiko is dispelled – for good.


A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality (SelectBooks, May 2018), Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father (Awaken in the Dream Publishing, 2015), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (Authorhouse, 2006). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. He was the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center for over twenty years. Please visit Paul’s website You can contact Paul at [email protected]; he looks forward to your reflections.


[1] Jung, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, vol. 2, 1058.

[2] Jung, Children’s Dreams, 209.

[3] Jung, Aion, CW 9ii, para. 402.

[4] The Jung-White Letters, 285.

[5] Jung, Dream Analysis, 53.

[6] It should be noted that these are precisely the terms that the Nazi’s used to characterize the Jews. What the Nazi’s did to the Jews during World War II was scapegoating writ large—in industrial scale—acted out on the world stage.

[7] Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, 57.

[8] Ibid., 50.

[9] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, para. 463.

[10] Jung, Children’s Dreams, 426.

[11] Marie Louise von Franz, Projection and Recollection in Jungian Psychology, 120.

[12] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, 168.

[13] Rene Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, 161.

[14] Ibid., 162.

[15] Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, para. 86.

[16] Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 82.

[17] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, para. 518.

[18] Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, 52.

[19] Ibid., 56.

[20] Jung, Aion, CW 9ii, para. 17

[21] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, para. 572.

[22] Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW 13, para. 52.

[23] Ibid., 559.

[24] Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11, para. 716.

[25] Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, 56.

[26] This point is exemplified when Himmler declared that the Jews “want to destroy us.” This worldview allowed the Nazi’s to claim that in their attempted genocide they were acting out of self-defense against what was perceived as a threat of annihilation.

[27] Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall like Lightning, xii.

[28] Levy, Dispelling Wetiko, 88.

[29] William McGuire and R. F. C. Hill, eds., C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, 227.

[30] Jung, Psychology of Religion: West and East, CW 11, para. 140.

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