What’s got your goat?
As I sit in bed, I watch my shadow, projected by a small bedside lamp onto the wall. It’s huge. My head alone must’ve grown four times the size as the one I watch with. Then again, doesn’t everybody’s?
“Projection,” writes Carl Jung in the Archaic Man, “is one of the commonest psychic phenomena… Everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor, and we treat him accordingly.” When I look at my shadow, it turns to face me. We can smile and greet one another as old friends.
I’ve long obsessed over a series of paintings done by Francisco Goya called the Black Paintings. Most people probably know these from the depiction of Chronos, mad in the eyes, eating his children. The paintings range from a Witches’ Sabbath to Two Old Men Eating Soup. Though they now rest in the Prado in Madrid, they were originally painted on the walls of Goya’s villa when he was going deaf. Unable to communicate with the world, Goya grew more and more misanthropic, letting out these dark, contorted figures.
One painting in particular reminds me of myself. The Witches’ Sabbath or The Great He-Goat depicts a robed goat headed figure, presumed to be the Devil preaching to a crowd of people. They all sit, rapt by his words, hanging on every point he appears to make. Only the crowd’s faces stand out; their satanic prophet hides in shadow as if to say I am here to elucidate the dark corners of your minds—not mine.
But who am I to preach to the crowd? Even if I were to elucidate their problems accurately, I could never speak without seeing each face as a mirror, reflecting my own issues back at me.
Perhaps that’s why Goya painted these for himself. Perhaps the Black Paintings were never meant to be unleashed on the world. Perhaps his misanthropy stems not from the people around him but from the very personal truths he discovered about his own evil nature.
Everyone has a shadow. Not everyone knows how to contain it. Beware, the scapegoat has become the preacher. Build a big house; preach on your walls.
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