There’s been a lot of talk about shadow work in the various online tarot groups I am a part of. Having recently completed my own shadow aspect work, I figured I would share my methods here as a 3-part series, with the goal being to complete the series in-time for the Autumnal Equinox, which is prime-time for anyone looking to commence this work.
Shadow Aspects & Tarot
Part I – An Overview
In this entry, we are going to look at the overall process by which I approach my shadow aspect work. As always, Speak of Secrets looks to inspire – feel free to take these ideas and make them your own – the more you personalize your approach, the more you stand to gain from it.
What is shadow work?
Have you ever had a belief, pattern of behaviour, or self-narrative that could be described as “being one’s own worst enemy?” It’d be uncommon if you didn’t – human nature rarely lets any of us slip by in life unscathed by our experiences, boxed-in by narratives that we impose upon ourselves or projected upon others, or an identity that seems to go against who we consider our authentic selves to be. The human brain loves patterns, and the more we repeat an idea, belief, or behaviour, the more it becomes our truth – this repetition reinforces itself until we may find ourselves living in a manner which does not truly serve us. Shadow aspect work is about bringing those patterns to the surface and exposing them – even befriending them – so that we can live in a manner which is authentic, and serves our highest selves. More than anything, shadow aspect work is about empowerment.
What is a shadow aspect?
The concept of shadow aspects resulted from the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. In a nutshell, Jung put forward that shadow aspects are the parts of the unconscious that house the least desirable aspects of a personality. Since it is only natural to reject these parts of self, our shadow aspects generally exist as unknown entities, expressing themselves emotionally as discomfort, guilt, shame, fear, or jealousy. These shadow aspects contribute negatively to an individual’s self-esteem. In Jung’s own words, “everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” In working with shadow aspects using the tarot, we will be looking at bringing those shadow aspects into the light of consciousness, and transmuting them via self-analysis so that they may positively enhance our lives.
How does tarot play a part?
Tarot when applied from an analytic/psychological perspective is an excellent tool for self-reflection. Conveniently enough, Jung’s personality archetypes are modelled in the tarot’s major arcana, making tarot a perfect partner for undertaking this kind of work! Using the entire 78-card tarot deck, we will work through the nuances of our shadow aspect using two separate spreads that I have developed specifically for this purpose. These spreads have been designed to help us understand the nature of our shadow aspects, as well as how we can best work with them. Once we have established and read our tarot spreads, we will commence with a series of pathway mediations in order to better understand the messages of the cards as they pertain to our chosen shadow aspect. In order to truly benefit from this deeply transformational process, it is best to be comfortable with reading impartially for oneself before undertaking this work.
What is a pathway meditation?
More commonly known as pathworking, I’ve come to call my process a pathway meditation, simply because I’m a rebel like that. Pathway meditations are where we work closely with each individual card from our spread, essentially entering the card and experiencing it’s scene as actual living energy. I strongly suggest having practiced some visualization while in a meditative state, as it is the key to accessing the immersive experience of the pathway meditation.
Do I need a book of instructions?
Not at all – all the knowledge that is required to do this work is to understand the process, be comfortable with tarot, and have a willingness to be brutally honest with yourself. I can not stress that last point of being brutally honest with yourself enough – much like the Death card in tarot speaks of transformational work involving sacrifice and even pain, honest self-reflection may dredge up long buried memories, emotional scars, or purposefully forgotten experiences. Lacking a willingness to be honest, accountable, and objective with oneself renders this work as a moot point that isn’t even worth undertaking.
While not necessary for the work that we will do here, I do highly suggest exploring the work of Carl Jung for those who are curious to know more. Jung was a champion of combining science and spirit – my own personal understanding and approach to both tarot and shadow aspect work is heavily influenced from my studies of Jung’s work. There are numerous online resources available just a Google search away – check them out and see what resonates!
Do I need a special “dark” tarot deck?
This is a common misconception that I see perpetuated frequently. There is no need to use a special “dark” deck for this work, what matters most is that you use a deck that you feel a connection to, and whose language you find accessible. In terms of suitable decks, ensuring that your choice has an equilibrium between light and dark so that it can give balanced, honest reads is the most important quality. It likely won’t surprise anyone that I find the Wildwood Tarot to be well suited to shadow aspect work.
Timing is everything!
This old chestnut holds true, especially for those of us who follow Pagan and Witchy Ways! Those who work with the moon and the Wheel of the Year have likely already taken note that I’ve planned this series to wrap up in time for the Autumnal Equinox – the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox occupy the 2 days out of the entire year where light and dark are in perfect balance. This is an auspicious time in which to start shadow aspect work, and doubly so with the moon being in its waning phase at the 2016 equinox. Additionally, the Northern Hemisphere will be entering into the dark half of it’s year, and the Southern hemisphere into it’s light, both of which offer universal support to this work. Those who are less inclined to magickal workings should still take note of the time involved to complete this process – from drawing the first card to entering my last journal entry, I spent 1.5 months focused on this work. You may of course alter that to fit with your own lifestyle, but plan for 10 daily sessions of meditation with cards at the very least.
Last but certainly not least, feel free to take the ideas in this series and make them your own! Got an affinity for working with crystals or deities? Perhaps you enjoy combining tarot with other advisory modules such as rune stones, pendulums, or the I Ching. Throw ’em into the mix! The important thing here is that you feel supported and able to grasp the information that will be presented during this process of self-discovery. I also suggest that you have a place to journal your experiences, whether that is in a physical book, or online. The only hard and fast rule is that you enter this work with the willingness to honestly assess yourself – all the rest is there to support you on that journey.
NEXT WEEK – PART II – THE SHADOW