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The Symbolism of Shadows (Top 10 Meanings)

The Symbolism of Shadows (Top 10 Meanings)

The shadow is an integral part of almost all cultures and belief systems around the world. From psychology literature and ancient texts, to folklore and mythology, you’ll find information about shadows everywhere.

When it comes to shadow symbolism, we can trace it back to ancient times. It symbolizes protection, secrets, treachery and deceit, sadness, and dark magic.

In this article, I’ll explain the symbolic meanings of the shadow, its symbolism in ancient cultures, and common shadow dreams and their possible interpretation. So, if you want to know more about shadow symbolism, continue reading.

Shadow Symbolism Meaning

Shadow symbolism is a common motif in literature, art, and psychology, and it represents various symbolic meanings, including the following.


Shadows serve as a metaphor for the unknown and the hidden. They symbolize the places where secrets are kept and information is protected from prying eyes and ears.

This idea of secrecy and concealment is why shadows are used in literature and films in a negative context, as a place of darkness and danger [1].

On the other hand, shadows can also be used to convey a sense of mystery, where hidden truths and untold stories are waiting to be uncovered. So, they can also be used in a positive context, representing the potential for discovery and the possibility of knowledge.

A woman walking with shadow behind her.
Photo by Martino Pietropoli on Unsplash

Treachery and Deceit

Treachery and deceit refer to acts of betrayal and dishonesty. Shadows are often used as symbols for these negative traits, as the absence of light creates a sense of uncertainty and mistrust.

When someone pulls you into the shadows, it makes you vulnerable, allowing for deceitful actions to occur.

Sadness and Sorrow

The shadow symbolizes a feeling of despair and hopelessness and is used to express what a person experiences in a state of grief.

Shadows in this context can also represent the absence of light and happiness, as well as a sense of being stuck in a dark place.

The idea is that sadness and sorrow can be so overwhelming that it feels like you’re living in a world of shadows, unable to find any joy or peace.

Dark Magic

Dark magic, in popular culture, refers to the use of supernatural powers for evil purposes, and it’s performed in darkness or shadows.

Halloween costume witch showing silence sign with a finger with the full moon and cloudy sky in background.

In fairy tales, legends, and folklore, dark magic is linked with witches and warlocks who use their powers to control the dark forces of the universe [2].

Some people might even believe in its existence and the powers of those who perform it, while others view it as a purely fictional concept.


Shadows provide a form of concealment and refuge from potential danger. They can serve as a protective barrier from outside forces, whether they be physical or psychological.

Additionally, shadows can offer a sense of privacy, allowing us to avoid unwanted attention or scrutiny. By staying in the shadows, we can avoid being seen by others and escape judgment.

In the context of sunlight, shadows also serve the practical purpose of protecting our skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays.

Shadow Symbolism in Ancient Cultures

Ancient tunnel system entrance.

In ancient cultures, shadows played an important role in shaping people’s belief systems. Here’s a list of popular ancient cultures in terms of shadow symbolism.

Ancient Egyptian

Ancient Egyptians considered the shadow a representation of a person’s soul, and it was referred to as the “shut” [3]. They believed that a person’s shadow is always present and represents them.

When pharaohs passed away in ancient Egypt, their shut was placed in a box to symbolize their death and everything they accomplished during their life.

Ancient Greek

Erebus, a primordial deity, was thought to symbolize darkness in ancient Greece. The name Erebus itself is derived from the word ‘shadow’. Anything that did not cast a shadow was considered soulless or undead, such as a vampire or werewolf.

In the Greek myth, King Lycaon of Arcadia served cooked human flesh to Zeus, angering the god who turned Lycaon into a werewolf. Those who worshiped Zeus in Arcadia were thought to lose their shadows when they entered the temple, meaning they had lost their soul.

Ancient Roman

In ancient Rome, the shadow was known as the ‘umbra’. When a person died, their shadow was believed to go into the Underworld to a place called the ‘Land of the Shades’.

This part of the underworld was reserved for people who were not heroes. They remained in that part of the underworld as ghosts or shadows.

Ancient Chinese

In ancient China, the shadows of the dead were believed to transcend physical existence. The shadows were thought to have been purified, allowing them to exist in the spiritual realm. This belief was based on the idea that the dead could continue on beyond physical life.

Dreams About Shadows and Their Meanings

The following are the most common dreams about shadows, along with their possible interpretations.

Bedhead with hand shadows.

Being Chased by a Shadow

This dream represents the feelings of guilt and regrets that you have over your past mistakes. The shadow in your dream symbolizes the burden of these secrets that are weighing on you and preventing you from focusing on happier things in life.

Being Trapped by Shadows

If you see shadows in your dream and feel paralyzed, it may indicate feelings of depression. It’s time to let go of fears and break free from limitations to live a happier life.

Dark Shadow

If you dream of a black shadow, it could represent negative people in your life who are trying to bring you down. The shadow symbolizes their toxic influence on your life, causing problems and making you feel like your luck is bad.

Devil Shadow

A shadow in the form of the devil can actually be a good sign in a dream. It symbolizes a sudden increase in self-confidence and the ability to express yourself freely. You may also find happiness in unexpected places and be successful in your future endeavors.

Fighting a Shadow

This dream may indicate a need for spiritual introspection. It may mean that you have compromised your beliefs and values, leading to a feeling of reservation and hesitation.

Final Words

Shadow symbolism varies greatly from culture to culture and has both positive and negative meanings. But regardless of how shadows are perceived, they continue to fascinate and intrigue people all over the world.

We hope this guide has helped you understand the different meanings of shadow symbolism, its significance in different cultures and possible interpretations of common shadow dreams.