Shadow Aspects & Tarot
Part II – The Shadow
This is the continuation of a 3-part series detailing my approach to shadow aspect work using the tarot. The first part in this series may be found here.
Choosing your Shadow Aspect:
Although you can leave which shadow aspect you will be working with up your cards to decide, I prefer to take a more hands-on and focused approach, choosing which shadow aspect I will be working with for myself. It’s really as simple as looking at which part of your life is holding you back, causing you discomfort, or preventing you from living in a manner which feels truly authentic. The tarot will then be employed to more fully understand this chosen shadow aspect, as well as offer guidance as to how we can harmonize and work with it.
For the purpose of this series, we are going to look at my own recent shadow aspect work, which was focused on understanding the self-doubt I was experiencing in terms of my creative work.
Looking from the outside in, it really didn’t make sense that I was harbouring self-doubt in terms of my career – for all intents and purposes, I am quantifiably successful in my trade. Yet the truth is that I was acting as my own worst enemy – I was full of doubt, and harboured irrational fear concerning sharing my creative work, which I simply chalked up to laziness. This sort of dichotomy sums up a shadow aspect perfectly – it’s a self-belief or narrative that doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation.
Setting up a Timeline & Goals:
Shadow aspect work as outlined here takes some concentrated energy – you will want to set aside space to attend to it undisturbed. My process involves an initial 5-card tarot spread addressing a chosen shadow aspect, after which each card is then the focus of a pathway meditation. I meditate with each card twice, so if you plan to do the same, you will need 11 days total at a bare minimum to do the spread and the 5×2 pathway meditations. My advice is to pad this schedule out by an extra 5 days, as the demands of everyday life or situational changes may mean you don’t have time or feel up to the work on a particular day.
For those of us who practice Witchy Ways, a 15 day timeline allows us to work with the phases of the moon. Pulling the spread on the Full Moon and then working with our shadow aspects as the moon wanes will assist in the goal of reducing the negative effect this shadow aspect is having on our lives.
Whether choosing to work with the moon over the full 15 days, arranging your schedule to meditate daily so that it only takes 11 days, or opting to meditate with the cards only once so as to compress the process into 6 days, the important thing is to see the work through to it’s end – to just pull the spread and not participate in the meditations is unlikely to give as profound results as seeing the process through to it’s completion.
It is equally important to have a clear idea of the goal you are looking to achieve, and to state that goal precisely – in my case, it was understanding and thereby diminishing a lack of confidence in relation to my creative work. That little bit at the end of “in relation to my creative work” makes all the difference to my goal statement – make sure you are aiming your energy exactly where its effect is desired!
Ready to get all comfy-cozy with your neglected shadow aspects of self? Make sure that you can CLEARLY state your goal, get your cards, do whatever it is you do to get into the right space for working with them, and then pull the cards as positioned in the following spread:
Reading the Spread as a Whole
To illustrate this spread in-action, I am going to share my own personal reading from my recent shadow aspect work regarding having self-doubt in relation to my creative work:
Card 1: What is the nature of this shadow aspect?
Two of Stones – Challenge: The shadow aspect of self-doubt is the single most greatest challenge that I face in terms of my artwork. The very nature of having a lack of confidence in terms of my creative work is something that I consistently struggle with and fight against.
Card 2: What is my current relationship to this shadow aspect?
Nine of Bows – Respect: A lack of self-respect, and a fear of not being respected for my work. Fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of not garnering a positive response – I am reading this card as fear in general, as this is the only card in the deck which intimidates me. Respect is a complex concept, it must start from within before it can manifest externally. How many times have I been told not to undervalue my work, and yet that is a consistent theme that I battle with. Interesting to note that fear is another word for respect, as in “fearing the lord” used in a religious context.
Card 3: What is the work that must be done to release this shadow aspect?
Seven of Bows – Clearance: The need to clear that which no longer serves me. Harbouring a worn out and broken narrative that serves no good purpose. It’s time for clear cutting, for mowing and turning over the fields, and burning the deadwood so as to create fertile ground for new growth.
Card 4: What is the quality I need to embody in order to release this shadow aspect?
Sun of Life: Shine a light! Bring that sad and broken part of my psyche out into the light where I can truly see it from all angles and then transmute if from fear to love. This is going to be heart-centered work, with the need to rise like a phoenix, reborn from the fires of clearance.
Card 5: What is the outcome of undertaking this work?
The Green Man: True domain and authority over one’s own self. Taking things in-hand and the empowerment that is a result of this work. A new world order for a stronger, more confident self.
A pretty straightforward read in so far as I understand these cards and how they apply to the positions in the spread. All-in-all, it’s informative and very apt given the subject matter (the Wildwood seldom fails to be quite literal in its advice!) and yet there is a whole other level of information from these cards that is only going to be accessible via the pathway meditations, which is the next stage in my method of working with shadow aspects using the tarot.
The Pathway Meditations
My advice is to allow the read from the spread to sink in for a day or two before undertaking these meditations. Once you feel that the information gleaned from the spread has been fully absorbed, it is time to work with each card individually.
The beauty of pathway meditations lies in the fact that no two people are going to experience the card the same way. Meditating with the cards as an immersive experience delivers a message that is exclusively attuned to the individual experiencing it. It is my suggestion that each card be meditated with twice in order to fully unlock these unique messages.
The basics of the pathway meditation are simple enough: place yourself in a quiet, comfortable space where you will not be disturbed. Candlelight or dim lighting is often suggested to assist with stepping away from the physical space we inhabit. Hold the card you are working with before you, and drink in all the visual details that are there on the card – when you can see the card clearly in your mind’s eye, close your eyes. You goal here is to bring this scene to life; to enter the scene as presented on the card. Ideally, you will see this world as three dimensional space, and observe different perspectives as you move about in the scene on the card. This skill does take some practice – if you find the visuals are not coming in clearly, focus again on the visual information as presented on the card, and then fully enter the scene and experience it as your reality. Feel the sun on your skin, or the breeze ruffling your hair. Listen for the sounds that would be present, try to smell the scents – the more real and immersive an experience you conjure up, the more you stand to gain from it.
If there is a character in the scene, feel free to interact with them. Approach them and engage them in conversation. Ask them a question, or simply allow them to speak to you of thier own accord. Observe what they are doing, how they fit into the environment they occupy, and how they react to your presence. Become aware of thier overall energy, and how that applies to the message of the card.
Rather than trying to direct the flow of this immersive experience, allow yourself to be swept away on a stream of consciousness. Do not feel pressure to log time in this space – some messages will become clear within minutes, while others may take repeated visits. When you break from the meditation, write out your experiences in that same free-flowing stream of consciousness to truly capture the essence of the meditation.
Pathway Meditations – a Personal Approach:
Applying the above techniques as a base, my personal approach to a pathway meditation involves a minimum of 2 meditation sessions with each card, allowing 24 hours of rest between each session. In the first, I enter the card as an observer. I interact with the scene and it’s inhabitants as my own self, and then allow that experience to rest with me before entering the card for a second time. On the second meditation, I enter the scene as the main figure on the card. I experience the sights, sounds, and surroundings as the embodiment of that character and thier particular energy. If the card has more than one figure, I rest for a day and then come back to experience the card while embodying the other character’s energy as well. Each immersive experience brings a new level of understanding, the results which can sometimes border on being shocking and/or emotionally charged.
As an example, I will share 2 of my pathway meditations here, one where the card has figures, and one where the card is scenic. Keep in mind that these cards were randomly drawn to address the shadow aspect of self-doubt, and the meditations focused on how the card related to the position it held in the spread. What is written here is stream of consciousness after emerging from the meditation:
1st meditation: I enter the card as an observer of the scene, rather than being an interactive participant in it. The two hares approach one another, and immediately begin battling for supremacy against one another. They are equally matched, and it quickly becomes apparent that there is no winner or loser in this battle. This causes me to reflect upon how this shadow aspect of self-doubt is as equally strong and tenacious as my desire to be free of it.
2nd meditation: I enter as the hare on the left hand side of the card, and slowly take in my surroundings. Hopping up on my stone, I am suddenly facing my opponent. The boxing begins, and I feel those powerful forepaws landing blows against the side of my face. I fight back valiantly, and with equal force. In the midst of striking one another, things turn to slow-motion, and I find myself looking deep into my opponent’s eyes – suddenly I realize that I am fighting myself! This is a sudden, unexpected, and surreal flash of insight – it reminds me very much of the sequence in “The Empire Strikes Back” where Yoda is training Luke, who is in engaged in a light saber battle with Darth Vader. When Luke vanquishes Darth Vader and Vader’s head rolls to the ground, it is revealed that it is Luke himself inside the helmet! You could have literally knocked me down with a feather when this insight hit home.
The nature of this shadow aspect is that it is a battle I wage against myself, and therefore one that can not be won or lost. I am my own worst enemy in keeping it fighting fit. This shadow aspect of self-doubt is not something that has been externally imposed, it is mine to own, and so long as I fight and rail against myself, it will remain as equally strong as I am.
1st meditation: Entering the card as an observer, I step over the broken bow, while taking into account the axe and the freshly hewn bows standing nearby. In the distance, the fire crackles. Walking up to the fire, I see it was made of roots and stumps pulled to clear the field for planting. It’s smoke swirls up into the sky, and I contemplate fire’s ability to cleanse and purify, its ability offer transformation. I look over at my shoulder back towards where I entered, with the tall ancient tree, and drink in the whole scene – the bows, the fire, the axe, and the broken bow – before walking back out.
2nd meditation: Entering the card, I bend down and pick up the old worn-out bow. I am suddenly aware that I will perform a ritual honouring and thanking this bow for it’s service. I explore it in my hands, feeling where it is weak and broken. Holding it flat in my upturned palms, I approach the fire. Standing over the fire, I reflect on the good service the bow has given during it’s lifetime. I thank it, and kneel down, gently placing it in the fire while speaking words of gratitude and release. I look up, and watch sparks fly up into the sky as the bow crackles into flames and finds it’s final release. Freed from its earthly service, the bow is transformed from its broken state by the fire. I turn back to the tree with the fresh hewn bows standing beside it. I place my hand on the tree and feel it’s rooted, solid presence. I run my hand down the bows, feeling thier fine craftsmanship. I heft the axe, feeling it’s balance and precision in my hand, and realize that I am capable of utilizing my tools, skills, and craftsmanship to create fine, serviceable goods.
The work that I need to do to release myself from self-doubt is akin to the ritual of respectfully releasing the bow – it is a process of understanding in which ways this shadow aspect has served me, rather than the obvious way in which it has been of diservice. This process will be both purifying and transformative if I can manage it with respect rather than simply trying to push it out the door. There is a need for me to take stock of my skills and accomplishments to set the stage for transmuting this fear into love, and to allow self-confidence to grow on this cleared ground, standing tall yet deeply rooted.
The above details just two of five 2-session pathway meditations I performed with each card from my Shadow Aspect Spread reading. As can be seen, the messages received from the cards while immersed in thier scenes can be surprising in thier depth, and emotionally moving. The old chestnut of “expecting the unexpected” certainly applies here, yet for those willing to hone thier skills of visualization and explore the journey that a pathway meditation can take one on, even expecting the unexpected may fall short!
A Ritual To Say Goodbye…
Having completed the shadow aspect spread and the pathway meditations, you will have come to a better understanding of the shadow aspect you have chosen to work with, as well as sorting out how you can transform that shadow aspect into a more positive trait from which you can benefit. Like the theme contained in the 7 of Bows pathway meditation above, respectfully parting ways can assist in finding closure to this process.
Not everyone reading this is going to walk a path of Witchy Ways, but for those of us who do, starting the process by laying the Shadow Aspect Spread out on the day of the Full Moon will bring this part of the work to a close in time for the Dark Moon, which is an ideal time to part ways with that which no longer serves us. How I chose to part ways with the shadow aspect of self-doubt will be a future blog posting here – in the meantime, I encourage you to get creative and work with a method that resonates with your own understanding and spiritual path.
NEXT WEEK – PART III – THE LIGHT