Late summer, 1966, age 14
I lugged the clothes in two overstuffed duffle bags out of the launderette and up the street. We had no washing machine at home; it was my turn to sit with the rumbling tumble-dryers, nursing my mortification, fearful of being seen. On the walk home I was on edge: What if I meet someone from school? What do I say?
At our front door, I yelled through the letterbox for someone to open up. I had no key and the doorbell was broken. Instead of Dilly muttering irritably, the door jerked open and my brother John stood smiling up at me, a mop of blond hair hanging over one eye, his short compact body radiating impatience.
“Great! You’re back.” He took me by the arm, dragging me inside. “Come upstairs—let me tell you what’s happened!”
“Hold on, John. Help me with the laundry.” Irritated by his impulsive energy, I was still glad to see him.
He grabbed both bags and swept me upstairs to the front bedroom. The laundry was thrown into a corner as he sat on the bed and gabbled on about Ireland, peppering his stories with odd Irish words. I gathered he’d been expelled from St Augustine’s friary in Dungarvan and Mummy had shipped him over on the ferry. He wasn’t going back.
John had that familiar devilish grin as he told of his exploits. “One of the friars, Father Aidan—he was a really shite teacher. I gave him a hard time, you know, taunting him.. He had a nervous breakdown, and they sent him off to a home for nutty priests. The other boys thought it was gas, but I got into deep doodoo.”
“And then me and my friends—we broke out and hitched to a hop in Cappoquin. What a night! We got so drunk we missed our lift back and they caught us sneaking in for breakfast.”
He turned almost serious. “The Principal said he didn’t want me back. I’m glad to be out of it.” He gave another chuckle. That was John’s life: wild escapades and perpetual disasters.
I was younger than John by exactly two years minus one day. My birthday was the 10th and his was the 11th of October. Born so close together, we should have shared some qualities in common but we were night-and-day opposites. We didn’t even look related. John was short and blond, a bundle of intense energy with the hooked Bowen nose like Dad and Granny. Gregarious and outspoken with loads of pals, he was constantly in trouble at school and elsewhere. I was taller, dark, bland-faced and shy with only one school friend; school was boring but easy.
In the last few summers, John had come and gone between Wales and Ireland. Living with us for a few weeks, suddenly he was absent and we wouldn’t see him again for another year. Like an overcharged speedboat, John left a massive wake behind him—turbulent, tremulous and unsettling.
Memories of our shared childhood evoked an uneasy mix of enjoyment and alarm. At age three, I’d watched in horror as he cut the eyestalks off a snail with a pair of scissors. A few years later he set the big ash tree in the back yard on fire, cracked Jeffie’s front tooth in half with a thrown brick and dropped a handful of wriggling white maggots down the front of Veronica’s blouse. The sheer ingenuity of his exploits was impressive—he never ran out of mischief. By time I was five, he tormented me most days, chasing me around the house, wringing my neck and sitting on me so I couldn’t breathe.
After a lifetime of torment (he was ten and I was eight), I lost it. John had badgered me all morning and I was holding back tears of frustration. In the kitchen, from the opposite side of the table, he taunted me with a singsong: “Moey is a sissy, Moey is a crybaby.”
A blood-red curtain of rage swept over my eyes. I grabbed a carving knife from the sink and went after him screaming, “I’m going to kill you.”
Around the table, through the front room and out into the garden, I chased him with murderous intent. Initially, he dodged with a mocking laugh but soon he was running hard. I stayed silent and determined, gripping the knife hard in my right hand. My longer legs should have outrun his shorter ones, but my feet felt leaden. I hated him, had to hurt him—but a part of me held back—and he got away.
As I stopped running a wave of horror crashed over me: What if I’d caught him? What if I’d stabbed and killed him? The thought was chilling, unimaginable. In that moment I resolved never to let rage grip me again—it was too dangerous.
Whenever I got upset, I told myself: People who lose their temper are stupid. I’ll be calm and in control; that makes me stronger and better than they are. When provoked, my stomach tightened, my face set and the anger dissipated. Soon enough, icy restraint was automatic.
I grew taller and could match John physically. He stopped trying to bully me in the face of my silent distain. Instead, he wielded powers of persuasion and I became his accomplice on adventures and daring deeds: exploring the haunted house up the road, digging for treasure in an empty lot, scrumping apples from the neighbor’s orchard, sneaking a cigarette from mummy’s bag.
John knew how to bend me to his will. His magnetic personality and wacky sense of adventure won out against my passivity. Even though his nefarious plans mostly ended in disaster, I followed where he led. When we got into trouble, john took the blame. I was just the sidekick—Tonto to his Lone Ranger. On one occasion, however, his influence caused me to commit an unforgivable crime.
That was a time when we shared bunk beds in a tiny bedroom of the Lodge at Ffrwdgrech (frude-grech). Ffrwd was my grandparent’s stately home and domain that stretched for miles all the way to the Brecon Beacons, purple heather-covered mountains far in the distance. The estate encompassed over 6000 acres.
Elegantly laid out grounds with a bubbling brook, rustic bridges, a crumbling summerhouse, massive scarlet and pink rhododendrons, exotic gunneras and groves of bamboo surrounded the expansive lawns mowed in perfect parallel stripes. Commanding the center of the estate sat the Big House of Ffrwd, not graceful but certainly imposing. A rambling mansion of 35 rooms, the Big House was where Granny and Grampa lived with their servants and two sausage dogs, the dachshunds Grechen and Gretta.
In contrast, our family lived in the cramped lodge house next to the main entrance gate. In our childish minds, the estate extended endlessly; we could walk all day knowing we were still on Evans land. John the explorer dragged me off on hikes through the woods and up into the mountains to collect spent rifle bullets from the Army Firing Range. Once, we carted home two unexploded mortar bombs, long canisters with metal fins at one end. Dad told us they were signal mortars and probably not dangerous.
That summer, I was ten and John was twelve. John decided we should go camping up on the Brecon Beacons. Dad seemed happy to get us out of the house and helped pack a tent and supplies into a rucksack. We set off up the narrow lane, past Ffrwdgrech waterfalls into the mountains. In a grove of trees at the edge of a meadow surrounded by bracken, we pitched the tent and went in search of adventure.
Toody and I often played at Robin Hood or Red Indians and Dad had helped us make bows out of curved yew branches. I practiced daily, shooting at targets with arrows made of peeled willow wands, their points sharpened and hardened in a fire. John had grown out of make-believe games but I carried my bow and arrows with me everywhere.
Looking around for something exciting to do and pointing at my bow, John said in an offhand manner, “I bet you couldn’t shoot one of those sheep.”
A small flock of white-faced mountain sheep grazed peacefully at the far end of the meadow, minding their own business.
“Bet you I could. I’ve got really good.” John had a way of forcing me to prove myself.
“Well go on then. See if you can hit that one over there. Looks like she’s on her last legs anyway.”
He gave a laugh and pointed to an old ewe with long scrawny neck, bloated belly and ragged fleece hanging off her back.
“Nah, I don’t want to. I can hit that grass tump, if you like.”
“Go on. Don’t be a coward. I’ll go drive them to you and you shoot as they pass—just pretend they’re buffalo and you’re an Indian.”
He set off at a lope around the edge of the meadow. A few of the flock scattered in wild panic but three of them, including the old one, galloped towards me. I picked up my bow and fitted an arrow to the string. With only three arrows there was little chance of hitting a moving target. Two of the sheep sped past while the old ewe hobble along in the rear.
I pulled and fired without thought. I heard a thump as the arrow struck. It pierced the sheep’s bloated side, stuck there for a few moments and dropped to the ground. To my horror, the sheep keeled over panting frantically, legs cycling in the air, eyes rolling in fear. John and I ran up to it and stood over the animal, stunned. Then it struck me: John had never believed I’d do it. The whole thing was one of his mind games.
Standing side by side, John looked as sickened as I felt. “We can’t just leave it. We have to put it out of its misery.” His voice was high and tight. “Shoot it in the heart.”
“No, that won’t work.” I hated the way those eyes kept rolling, the sides heaving up and down.
John left my side and in a moment appeared with the hatchet we used to chop wood. “Here, hit it on the head and kill it.”
“No way. It was your idea. You do it.”
“You shot it. You have to finish it off.” His voice was firm as he handed me the hatchet. “Do it quickly. Get it over with.”
I felt panicked but even so I knew not to use the blade of the hatchet—that would splash blood everywhere. I turned the hatchet over and hit the sheep’s head with the hammer-like back of the blade. The skull crunched and indented; the sheep jerked but the eyes still rolled. I hit once more, hard enough to make the skull cave in. The eyes startled wide then went blank. I stood, hatchet dangling from my hand, knowing I’d done something unforgivable. I’d killed a defenseless animal for no reason and it could never be undone.
Immediately, John went into scheming mode. “We can’t leave the body here; the farmer will find it. Here help me. We’ll push it over the bank so it looks like an accident.”
I nodded in assent, feeling a kind of numb dread but knowing it had to be done.
He took a front leg and I took a back leg. With all our strength, we dragged the heavy body across the grass to the edge of the drop and rolled it over. It landed with a wool-muffled thump. We looked down at the white shape below, then silently made our way back to the campsite, packed our stuff and went home.
No one ever knew. John and I never spoke of it. I should have heeded the gnawing guilt that ate at my innards and avoided John—but I didn’t.
As each of us children got old enough, we were taught to hunt using Mummy’s elegant 28-bore double-barrel shotgun. A prized possession, it had been custom-made for her as a young woman: polished walnut stock, blued barrel and finely crafted hammers. Light, with a minimal kick and perfect balance, even a ten-year-old could carry it all day. The barrel size was unusual so cartridges were expensive and by law, we could only buy a few at a time.
That afternoon, John was showing off to his three school friends from town. They were a rowdy lot, working class, not like us. Toody and I as the younger members, hung around the fringe while John held center stage carrying Mummy’s gun, telling tall stories, acting as if he owned the whole Evans estate. With the chatter and noise, no animals dared appear so John hadn’t had a chance to show his prowess with the gun.
The gang walked past an empty farmhouse set back from the road, square with gray slate roof and faded pink wash. Some of the ground floor windows were broken and one of the boys wandered over, picked up a stone and idly tossed it at the smashed glass. It tinkled as it fell. Soon all of us, including Toody were pelting the broken windows with small rocks—very satisfying.
From behind us John’s voice called out, commanding: “Hold on, you lot. Come back here. Watch that top window in the middle.”
John raised the gun while we watched in hushed suspense. He clicked the two hammers into firing position, aimed and let go with both barrels. There was an almighty boom and the whole of the top window exploded into smithereens. After a moment shocked silence, we looked at each other in alarm and took off running.
A few days later, two policemen arrived at the front door of the Big House. They were looking for the Evans boys. We were interrogated and sent up before the magistrate in a dark-paneled room, quivering in our shoes. Toody wept silently while I stood sick and still. We pleaded guilty and had to pay a hefty fine for vandalism. To make it worse, Toody and I were fined the same amount as John. By family agreement, no one mentioned the gun. I felt enraged at the injustice; all the money in my Post Office account was gone.
It got worse after Grampa died. The whole of Ffrwdgrech estate—farms, land, house and contents—was left to Uncle David and Aunt Perenna. Granny moved into the cottage next door so the Big House stood empty, month after month, a vast rambling assortment of rooms and treasures, uncared for, just sitting there. It seemed so unjust; they got everything and we got nothing. Dad explained in his calm way: the house had been ‘entailed’ by Grampa via David to David’s eldest son in order to keep the estate together. The younger offspring including my father would not get anything.
Maybe it was the injustice, maybe it was because we all hated Uncle David and horse-faced Perenna, but John had to go and do it. After casing the joint, he slipped the catch on a tiny lavatory window and climbed inside the Big House. The household keys lay waiting in Grampa’s desk and the whole place—35 rooms, cellar, gunroom and safe—everything was at John’s mercy.
Bursting with excitement and triumph, John convinced me to join him on a scouting expedition. We weren’t going to mess with anything, we were just going to look—or so he said. The next evening, I stood by the side door while John climbed through the window. The door opened and he ushered me over the threshold into the gloom. Inside, the house felt silent and neglected, stuffy with stale air; I wondered if the ghosts were watching.
Like an enthusiastic custodian, John had to show me everything. “Let’s go down into the cellar. It’s full of wine and port—bottles and bottles of the stuff.”
The cellar had always been out of bounds. Now he unlocked the door and we scrambled down the narrow stone steps into an ancient world—flagstone floor coated with dust, arched cave-like alcoves and rough rock walls.
“Watch out for the giant spiders,” he whispered. The dim light illuminated the closer wine racks festooned with thick clingy spider webs. John snatched up a dusty bottle of wine and we hastily re-climbed the stairs. The watery evening light in the corridor was a relief.
“You can’t take that, John. It’s stealing.” I said in my best moral voice, pointing at the bottle. “Anyway, you don’t like wine.”
John grinned. “No one will miss it. I’ll give it to Mummy.” Our mother had appeared from Ireland a few weeks previously carrying her baggage of venom and chaos. She’d love to guzzle on stolen wine from Ffrwd.
Next on the guided tour was the gunroom, crowded with rods, fishing gear, rifles and shotguns. John opened a glass-fronted cabinet and took down a selection of guns. The walls of the Big House were lined with heads of animals—yak, deer, antelope and kudu. As a young man Grampa had slaughtered them on safari in Africa and Asia. Grandpa’s elephant rifle was almost too heavy for John and he got it back into the rack with some difficulty.
Under the cabinets were rows of drawers. One held a blue-steel army revolver from the First World War. Others were filled with bullets of all sizes: massive 12-bore elephant slugs, rifle and revolver rounds and delicate .22 shells.
Up in the far corner of the gunroom, built into the wall, was a safe, painted a creamy yellow to match the walls. John climbed up on a chair, fitted the key into the brass keyhole, turned the heavy handle with a clunk and swung open the thick metal door. One shelf was filled with boring papers, but on another lay the treasures: silver bracelets, christening cups, gold and silver coins and a dark leather case. John flipped opened the case. There, nestled in blue velvet, sparkled Granny’s diamond tiara. She’d worn it at her debutante ball when she was 16.
That was too much: “Put that back, John. You shouldn’t even be touching it.”
“Don’t worry—I just wanted to show you,” he said in a soothing voice. I wasn’t fooled. I saw the greedy glint in his eye.
I couldn’t catch my breath; the airless suffocating atmosphere closed in around me. I had to get out into the fresh air. There was no stopping John. He was going to do what he was going to do, but I couldn’t be involved.
In our bunk beds at night, John tried to peak my curiosity and draw me into his intrigues. I turned my back and repeated to myself, I don’t want to know. For a while it worked, but his crafty words eventually broke my resistance. He’d ‘borrowed’ the Webley army revolver and a .22 rifle and stashed them up in the woods. He had to show me. Next Saturday, we went to his hiding spot, a thicket half a mile from the house.
First he displayed the .22 rifle, a small gun obviously built for boys. To my disappointment, he’d used up all the bullets so I couldn’t have a go. Then, with a flourish, he pulled out the army revolver from a plastic bag under a log. The loaded handgun looked massive and I noticed rust spots had speckled the blued barrel—not a good idea. Too heavy to hold upright, John loaded a bullet, lodged the trigger guard in the fork of a tree and cocked the hammer. Using a stick, he pulled the trigger. With a staggering boom, the gun flew through the air to land a few yards behind us.
A shock went through my body. That was it! I had to get away and forget his madness.
As usual we got caught—not for the break-ins, not for the stolen bottles of wine or the silver trinkets John sold to a jeweler in Brecon, but for the petty crime of taking cigarettes from Granny’s cigarette box. Granny only smoked one or two cigarettes a day and she’d noticed her shrinking supply. Only us boys could be to blame.
Dad confronted me. Trapped in the spotlight of his anger, he looked bigger and scarier than I’d ever seen him: How could I treat Granny that way? She’d fed us, let us watch television, driven us into town, helped us with money. I’d betrayed her trust, committed a terrible crime.
I burst into tears and before I could stop myself, the story about the guns tumbled out. Dad’s face blanched white with fear and rage; his body tensed. Yelling for John to come into the room, he rolled up his sleeves, showing his hairy muscular arms.
“You two, get ready for a spanking,” he roared. “John, sit over there.” He gestured toward the sofa.
“Moey, come here. You’re first.” His voice was fierce as he sat down.
He caught me with hands of steel and threw me over his lap. Silently and methodically, he spanked me on the bottom with his calloused open hand. Every slap stung with excruciating pain, forcing floods of tears from my eyes. I lay still, taking the beating passively, waiting for it to end. Dad was so angry, so upset and disappointed. I knew he hated spanking me—and I knew I deserved to be spanked.
Finally, he stopped and he let me up. My bottom stung horribly, but to my surprise, what I felt most was relief. The thrashing had lifted a weight from my soul. I was absolved of guilt.
John’s turn was next but we wouldn’t submit. Dad had to pick him up bodily while John resisted with all his strength. Instead of lying still, he squirmed and turned, desperate to avoid every slap, moaning and complaining. Dad’s frustration turned brutal, the spanking got harder and longer while their mutual fury burned white hot.
Through my tears, I kept repeating to myself: Please stop fighting—please give in. You’re just making it worse!
That marked the turning point. John was sent off to Ireland to live with Mummy and we only saw him during the holidays. He and I became virtual strangers, no longer brothers in arms. By the time he moved back, John had been out of my life for four years. Now he was going to live with us in Whitchurch Road. Already he was filling my head with tall tales and the prospect of adventure. Our quiet, sedate life was going to change.
The Personal Shadow
We all have a dark side, parts of ourselves we don’t like to acknowledge: depraved desires, murderous intent, greed, cruelty and selfishness. When a nasty thought slips past our defenses, when we do something that we can’t face, our first impulse is to disown it, stuff it down into the darkness and forget it ever happened. ‘That’s not who I am! I’m a good person, really.’
The more we look towards the light, the darker grows the murk over our left shoulder. Robert Bly calls the shadow, The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us. That is a compelling image. One of my clients dreamt she was hauling a heavy bag over her shoulder over a bleak landscape. When she looked in the bag, there was her mother!
In our house, we had a cubbyhole under the stairs packed with junk. To me the shadow is a secret closet crammed with festering body stuff, mounds of undigested memories and a kind of dark oozing slime. Buried deep beneath the mess are a few neglected treasures.
Each time we reject some part of our experience it gets stuffed into the closet. That’s what happened to me as a result of John’s bullying. My murderous rage terrified me. What if I’d stabbed and killed him? The act would be unpardonable, would blight my life. I had to suppress those raging feelings—better to mutilate my own nature than commit a murder.
In that moment of dread, I made a life-binding decision: Never give in to anger again. Unlike adults, children can make powerful resolutions about their experiences, ones that last a lifetime. These decision are essentially a matter of survival: If I don’t do this, I will be rejected and forever outcast. I had no choice but to hide my wrath in the closet.
That decision, made as an eight-year-old, haunted me. My anger got sucked into a black hole and with it went other precious parts of my being. Consciously, I felt anxious and depressed while, under the surface, I was full of rage. We need the essence of anger, our inner force, to engage fully with life. Without it, we are powerless to counteract injustice, intrusions and iniquities. At its best, anger fuels our resilience and sense of self. Repressed, it seethes in smoldering irritation, erupts in aggression and drags us down into depression.
In order to become whole, we have to face the shadow and offer it space in our being. If not, the universe conspires to force us to look over our shoulder. It gives hints, a still small voice of unease. If we do not listen, it taps us on the shoulder—an insistent reminder that something needs attention. If we persist with denial, we get a whack over the head with a baseball bat. I often ask my clients: Why wait for the baseball bat?
Wherever there is light, the shadow lurks; we cannot escape its hidden power. I feared killing John in a fit of rage but I murdered a sheep accidentally on purpose. What we fear most, what we try to avoid, pursues us relentlessly.
The Family Shadow
C.G. Jung described an upstanding man who couldn’t imagine he had ever done anything wrong. His son became a thief and his daughter a prostitute. “Because the father would not take on his shadow, his share in the imperfection of human nature, his children were compelled to live out the dark side which he had ignored.”
The family unconscious is dynamic; it has power and presence. All too often the negative or shadow aspect of that power alights on a particular family member. It could be the parent who erupts in anger; it might be the child who is far too shy. Whoever it is, that individual is elected to be ‘the family problem.’
That doesn’t mean the problems are imaginary: the parent does have anger issues; the child is anxious. There has to be a hook, a grain of truth for the family shadow to hitch on to. But something more is going on. In order for one part of the family to maintain its ‘goodness’, it gets rid of its ‘badness.’ That is the function of the problem person—to carry the family shit.
In our family, the shadow was obvious; it was my mother. She embodied all that was dark and disturbing, all that was intolerable and inexcusable. With so much darkness, she had to be ejected and forgotten, consigned to the closet under the stairs. In that way, she was a perfect excuse for the weakness and flaws of my father. It was so obvious: Mummy was bad and Dad was good. What could be simpler?
Gold in the Shadow
If Mummy was shadow, what about John? He had lived with Mummy, so he was also estranged. She was the heart of darkness; he occupied her penumbra of gloom. Plainly the problem child, he could hardly read, he tormented his siblings and he was always in trouble. Like Mummy, he was impossible!
The rule-breaker, the risk-taker—impulsive, bursting with enthusiasm and a kind of madcap courage—John’s tricky energy was a problem, but it was also a breath of fresh air. For our depressed and depleted family, he personified a kind of shadow-trickster energy—a dazzling, distorted, volatile reflection of our dreariness.
Polar opposites, John and I were magnetically drawn together: two sides of the Libra scales seeking balance. I needed John to be wicked and wily; he needed me to be stolid and introspective. If only we could absorb the positive shadow qualities from each other, we might find equilibrium and wholeness. His spontaneity and courage would have helped me loosen up and enjoy. My restraint could have helped him create less of a mess.
There are treasures in the shadow, those attributes and aspects we need in order to become whole. We find those aspects both attractive and repellent. Can I imagine being like that other person? Can I accept they have just the qualities I need?
The shadow is not simply disgusting dirt and grime. When properly processed it is compost germinating the seeds of awareness in our psyche. Like cosmic dark matter, it overflows with potential energy, energy that engenders enthusiasm and creativity. Hidden within the darkness is what Robert Johnson calls our inner gold. This is all our glorious unrealized capacity, all those experiences we need to become whole.
Projecting the Shadow
The darkest family shadow was projected onto our mother. John projected his un-integrated shadow onto me and I reciprocated. That is what we do with shadow energy: project it onto others.
Projection is powerful and devious. At its most benign, it is like a movie projector casting images onto the screen of other people. Unconscious assumptions and past experiences generate convincing pictures and expectations of others: we idolize celebrities, condemn criminals and hold strong opinions about people we don’t even know.
But what we project gets reflected back—both darkness and light. If we hate, we invite hatefulness; if we love we harvest love. Whatever we fear, whatever we try to avoid, is doubly reflected back at us. When we ignore our flaws and evil impulses, when we fail in compassion and self-awareness, our shadow projections becomes destructive, both to us and to other people.
Malevolent energy is sticky. Like thrown muck, it defiles everything in its path. The ‘bad’ child believes they are bad—so they act out of their badness. If criminals and opponents are treated as if they are inhuman, they will act from their inhumanity—and hurt us if they can. We all can sense the dark energy of a negative projection; it is yucky and strange. Even knowing the other person’s perceptions are imaginary and untrue, we still retaliate from a place of meanness. Shadow projections activate the worse aspects of our own shadow.
The shadow lurks in obscurity and we are blind to its malevolence and to its glory. To become whole, to become human, we have to turn inward and face our darkness. Looking down a deep ancient well, at only notice the clinging filth, repulsive insects and slimy mold. Gradually, as our eyes to adjust to the darkness, we sense the clear refreshing water far below. In that water is a dim reflection of our true Self.
 Robert Bly, A Little Book on the Human Shadow. (HarperOne, 1988)
 Robert A. Johnson, Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection (Chiron Publications, 2017)
 William McGuire and R.C.F. Hull, ed., C.G. Jung Speaking (London: Picador 1980), P.161.
 The Trickster is the archetypal energy that like the shadow upsets the balance of ego-dominated consciousness.
 Johnson, Inner Gold.
 Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994)