In this blog that goes along with podcast episode 33, we are tackling shadow work. This will be a mini-series spanning 3 podcast episodes since it is a quite big topic to cover. And I’ve created several tarot spreads and exercises for us to use along the way to help guide us through this self-discovery process. And in each episode, I’ll also share some tarot decks that are great for working in the dark while exploring our hidden shadow aspects. First let’s talk about what shadow work is in case you’re new to this term.
Shadow work was popularized by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung and involves getting in touch with parts of yourself that you deny and have repressed. Many call it tapping into their dark side. One of my favorite Jung quotes on the shadow is below.
This quote is a much better description of the work because working to bring illumination into the dark doesn’t have to be a scary process. It’s all in how you look at it. The process of shadow work entails exploring all parts of our psyche. And in shadow work a good deal of what has been repressed lives in the unconscious mind.
Let’s define the terms subconscious and unconscious right at the beginning because these terms are often confusing. In the field of psychology, the subconscious refers to that part of consciousness that we are unaware of. It is information that is knowable to the conscious mind but that we are not actively aware of in the moment, but that can influence us. This includes details occurring around us in our environment throughout the day that we aren’t focused on but that could be influencing our thoughts and behaviors without us realizing it. It could be a song playing on the radio or noises occurring outside our window that we don’t notice in the moment because we are focused on something else at the time. But when asked to recall this information later could be recalled because it lives in the subconscious. That information was absorbed at that level.
The unconscious mind is a part of the mind that cannot be known by the conscious mind. This includes socially unacceptable ideas, wishes and desires, traumatic memories and painful emotions that have been repressed. Often unconscious motives are uncovered in psychotherapy, and I find that tarot is a great way to bring unconscious material into conscious awareness.
In our everyday life, we work mostly from our conscious mind. This is the information we are focused on and are working with in the moment. We may think that our subconscious and unconscious mind aren’t very active because they exist outside of our immediate awareness, but that’s not true. Our unconscious mind CAN influence many of our actions, behaviors, and thoughts without our knowledge. It can seep into our daily life causing us to react emotionally to psychological triggers often leaving us confused by these behaviors and actions. It can feel like these emotional reactions come out of the blue, but that’s just because we don’t really know ourselves fully – at least not the part that we’ve kept hidden away in the dark recesses of our mind. If we shut that part away, its left to its own devices and can act up and cause all kinds of havoc in our lives, leaving us to clean up the mess and scratching our heads as to the cause of our over-reactions, meltdowns, angry outbursts, and jealous tirades.
It can be unnerving to be caught so unaware of our own motivations and behaviors. This is why shadow work is so important. It may feel daunting, but it’s worth your time and effort to explore all parts of your psyche to raise your self-awareness so that we reduce the frequency of these emotional reactions. Understanding what lies in our unconscious mind helps us catch these moments of unprocessed emotions before we lash out uncontrollably when faced with an emotional trigger.
The Moon from The Light Seers Tarot
Shadow work is the act of diving under the surface into the unconscious mind, which consists of the things that we repress and hide from ourselves, such as traumas, personality tendencies, memories, and insecurities. Your shadow is activated when you're triggered in your life. This could be through your relationships, in certain unsettling situations, or when certain hot button topics are brought up. These are clues that these issues need to be further explored so that you can process them fully once and for all. Then this shadow self won’t continue to pop up and create havoc in your life.
We typically only show our light aspects to the world, hiding our shadow aspects even from ourselves. The shadow contains our fears, aspects of ourselves we can’t face or want others to see, and wounds we wish to forget and bury. Pulling all of this into the light can elevate our healing to a whole other level. We all have a shadow self, so if you feel shame about this side of yourself, you are not alone. Just know there’s absolutely no reason to feel shame about this. It is what makes us human. It’s something we should all embrace instead of fear.
Shadow work can seem scary to some, but I think that is due to the way it is presented. It doesn’t have to be so dark and grim. There is a great deal of healing that occurs when we do this inner work. It’s not comfortable but most healing isn’t. It’s similar to my psychological work in my private practice. When clients come in to be assessed, they are often anxious about what condition they will be diagnosed with. Some worry about the disorders with negative connotations in society. Some clients associate traumatic experiences with their childhood and to their parent’s mental illness. So, there is a sense of dread when we are completing the psychological evaluation. But most of the time after we have narrowed down the issue that needs to be addressed and start working on a treatment plan, there is a great relief that comes with having uncovered the cause of their distress.
Once they start to improve with therapy, they often express gratitude for the therapeutic experience even though it can be a hard, uncomfortable road. Having an answer brings relief. Discovering your own strength throughout the process of self-discovery and inner work is incredibly empowering. Often in therapy, we are delving into the shadow and finding a way back into the light with an integrated self that feels much more whole, authentic, and healthy. Having said all that. Let’s talk about what frame of mind you need to be in to start this shadow work journey.
I suggest that you start when you are in a stable place in your life - this includes work, home life and mental health. I know many of us may be feeling vulnerable still during this ongoing global pandemic that has now gone into a third year. So, that is something to consider as well. Assess how vulnerable you feel before starting. I happen to think this down time can be a great time for self-reflection and shadow work since many of us are isolating more than we ever have before and that gives us plenty of time to devote to deep, meaningful inner work.
You can undertake shadow work yourself in most cases. However, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a mental health professional if you have a history of severe trauma. That way you have a built-in support system through the process, and your therapist can guide you safely through the toughest parts of the work. So, if you feel stable and in a good place mentally, let’s talk about how to know if you need shadow work.
Prepare to encounter resistance as you start. Have you ever noticed how hard we work as humans to avoid facing ourselves? We hide behind constant distractions and stay so busy that we don’t have to look past what’s at the surface. And this is a shame because there is so much healing that is possible if we face the full extent of ourselves. Healing of all kinds would be possible – emotional, physical, and deep spiritual healing. Resistance is one of the first things you will encounter when you even think about starting shadow work. The problem is most people don’t want to experience any pain or discomfort, so they retreat as soon as resistance rears up. But the rewards are so worth it if you can push through it. When we operate blindly without knowledge of our shadow, we tend to project all those aspects of ourselves that we deny and repress. The beauty of shadow work is that if we approach it from a perspective of observation, curiosity, discovery, and healing, then we have the opportunity to integrate these hidden shadow aspects into a more integrated whole self. This brings us to a healthier mindset and to a place of peace and stability.
There’s so much more to us than what we are conscious of. Unfortunately, humans have been working from a limited angle where we only accept and observe the aspects we deem as positive. We fear what makes us uncomfortable. If we can suspend the moral judgments and labeling of these aspects of ourselves, we can approach this process from a position that doesn’t feel as scary or daunting. We just need to accept that each of us have aspects within us that span a wide continuum. No one is all good or all bad (if you use those terms.) We are everything! That’s the point. Instead of backing away when resistance pops up, let’s challenge ourselves to dive under the surface and use our triggers as teachers. See what they represent and do the work needed to break the cycle that this trigger kicks off.
That’s why I started this podcast – to take this healing thru tarot journey with you. So, I’m doing the work too. Some of it, I’ve already done, and some of it I continue to do because it’s an ongoing process. But I don’t ask you to do anything I don’t do. We are in this together. Let’s all just breathe through it and hold space for each other to do this important healing work. Another reason resistance occurs, is that shadow work reveals our core beliefs about ourselves and our relationships, our family dynamics, our childhood trauma or wounds, conditioning and programming from early on, traits that we don’t want to accept, and behaviors we don’t want to take accountability for. No one wants to take on more accountability these days.
In case you aren’t sure if you should undertake this shadow work journey at this time, I created a spread to help give you some insight into your mindset currently and some clues about what you might find on this journey. I would love to see the photo of your spreads. Please tag me on Instagram @healingthrutarot and please use #healingthrutarotshoulditackleshadowworkspread
Here are the 7 prompts for this spread that I titled Should I Tackle Shadow Work Spread.
Pay attention to how you feel when you pull the cards. This will help you determine if you are in a good place to take this task on. Aces are definitely a big yes as well as most of the major arcana. If you feel at any point that your gut is sending a signal to you, that could be a warning. Take that as a sign that this might not be the right time to do this work. But you can table this and come back to it when things are more stable. I would encourage you to still listen to the episodes in this shadow work series so that you are mentally prepared for this work when you decide to double back and take this on in the future. And if you decide to start this work and then decide to pause later on, that is perfectly fine. It’s always best to take care of yourself and protect yourself along the way.
Think of shadow work as just exploring the unconscious mind to understand and know the extent of yourself. Before plunging into the shadow, we don’t know the extent of ourselves – our strengths, weaknesses, insecurities, misbeliefs, hangups – the depths of our soul. It would be a shame to leave this life without fully knowing oneself. Shadow work can be extremely powerful and impactful. Some people who put in massive amounts of shadow work have amazing breakthroughs and are successful in breaking cycles of addiction, self-abuse, self-sabotage, and can finally heal childhood trauma. Part of breaking these patterns is observing, accepting those hidden aspects, and taking responsibility for our behaviors. When we hold ourselves accountable, we work to make more conscious, intentional decisions daily. Shadow work is a constant journey as there is so much to work through. I view it as an ongoing healing journey that can be enjoyable if you embrace it and enjoy working of self-growth. I find that it does get much easier once we work through the first few steps.
With my own experience with shadow work, I had massive breakthroughs when I explored why I was so driven to perfectionism and workaholism. Understanding where these issues were rooted and why, I was able to make powerful changes in my life and in my work schedule that helped improve my health and mental health. Being able to look at myself with empathy and compassion for the first time I was able to bring about radical change.
So, how can you prepare yourself for this shadow work journey? Prepare to encounter traits that are going to make you uncomfortable at first - narcissism, selfishness, greed, self-hatred, unworthiness, shame, rage, anger, possible guilt, unprocessed trauma or childhood issues, parental issues, insecurities, and flaws. You may also encounter regret over things you’ve done in the past - often due to acting out when your shadow aspect was present. In those cases, you acted out using a defense mechanism to protect yourself.
Shadow work helps to make all of this unconscious material conscious so that we don’t act out blindly anymore. We’ll be able to catch ourselves before we fall back into these unconscious behaviors. Something I see a lot of people encounter is greed or stinginess. And this could be due to growing up without much food or necessities, or past lives in poverty, or even generational trauma passed down in families, especially when their ancestors lived through the depression or wartime when food and resources were rationed for years. All of this can be present in the shadow. So, it’s not surprising to bump into fears of poverty or the need to hoard or hold on to money tightly in response to that scarcity mindset. This can often lead to shame for lightworkers who don’t want to acknowledge that this mindset exists within when so much of their conscious identity is focused on the collective and helping others. But there’s no reason to feel shame.
I encourage you to suspend judgment and critical analysis when working through your shadow. Just observe and process – don’t assign labels of positive or negative, light or dark, or good or evil. None of that matters. That’s where shame can enter. If you uncover something disturbing, observe it, journal about it, and definitely dig deeper to find the source - whether it is generational trauma or fears, childhood wounds, or deep-seated fears. Then work on accepting these aspects and put your focus on healing and integrating.
Prepare yourself mentally to encounter some or all of this. We all have shadow elements. We’ve all reacted unconsciously. We all struggle with this process. I’m hoping by drawing attention to this fact, it lowers your anxiety or dread about the process. It’s part of what sets humans apart from the animal kingdom. We have depths to our psyche that we must traverse in order to become whole again. There are some precautions we should take when starting this work to keep ourselves safe and supported. During this process, I suggest putting a support system in place of loved ones, friends, and even a mental health professional to help support you through the process. Even if you never need to lean on them along the way, it helps us to know at the start who we can talk with if we encounter disturbing revelations along the way.
I recommend making a list of self-care activities to engage in regularly to keep yourself in a positive and healthy frame of mind throughout. Examples of self-care rituals include long, hot baths, crystal baths for cleansing your energy, sound baths using singing bowls, meditating, yoga, stretching, journaling, reading a good book each night, watching uplifting or funny videos, staying hydrated, and exercising out in nature. Showing yourself love and nurturance will help you feel safe while exploring these other selves. Once you begin the process, if you feel unsafe ever or if you have the urge to self-harm or worry about having dark thoughts, reach out to someone on your support system list. This will help you not feel so alone. You can always call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Now that you know what to expect, let’s begin!
We are starting off easy. Go through your deck collection and select a handful of tarot and oracle decks to use during our shadow work series. These could be decks that have darker color palettes, themes, or imagery.
Once you have your decks, pick one and flip through the entire tarot deck face up and pull out any images or cards that you find triggering. These could be specific cards or imagery in that particular deck or specific cards that trigger you in general no matter the deck like the Tower. These will be cards you have negative feelings towards, ones you wish you could take out of the deck, and those that you cringe over when they pop out of the deck or show up in a spread. Once you have your card selections, answer the following questions I have created about each card and journal on a few or all of the triggering cards.
Each of these prompts should give you answers that you could probe much further. Pick ones that cause the most reaction from you to explore further through journaling and automatic writing. For my trigger tarot cards, I chose the 5 of Pentacles, The Tower, 5 of Swords, and 7 of Swords. The Tower and 5 of Pentacles will always represent my health crisis of pancreatitis, so I’m always dreading those cards popping up. This means I still have more work to do with these cards, and that’s ok.
To dive further into our shadow work, here's the 6 card spread I created to help kick us off on our shadow work journey.
I would love to see the photo of your spreads. Please tag me on Instagram @healingthrutarot and please use #healingthrutarotdivingintotheshadowspread
In this shadow work series, I will review several decks that I find ideal for shadow work. In this episode I am reviewing The Deviant Moon Tarot because this has quickly become one of my favorite decks for shadow work. US Games sent me the Deviant Moon Tarot by Patrick Valenza for review in Fall of 2021 for my episode on my Favorite Halloween Decks. I briefly reviewed it in that episode because it is also great to read with around Halloween. But shadow work is where this deck really shines! One of the reasons this deck is so perfect for shadow work is how evocative it is. The artwork seems dark at first glance. Much of the imagery can be triggering and disturbing. I knew if I ever worked with this deck that it would be for shadow work.
When choosing decks for shadow work, you want imagery that will unearth the darker elements of ourselves – our shadow. Decks with confronting artwork evoke visceral reactions from us. This coaxes our inner darkness, shadow, and repressed trauma to the surface so we can explore it, process it, and integrate it into the rest of our psyche. This is such an important step in shadow work because issues and wounds that stay hidden and invisible in the depths of the unconscious mind are never dealt with and can remain hidden. This will continue to cause problems and can manifest as physical problems and larger psychological issues.
Patrick’s intriguing characters and moonlit dreamscapes instantly draw you into the luminescent world of Deviant Moon Tarot. The symbolism in the deck is so rich. Many of the figures in the cards have a double moon face symbolizing dual conscious and subconscious states. So, these residents of this world are half asleep, half awake. I love the duality in this imagery. The moon card in the tarot represents the shadow, the subconscious, hidden fears, repressed emotions, illusions and our intuition. If you pull the Moon card often, that could be a nudge toward shadow work. This deck revolves around the moon. So, this deviant moon world is the perfect environment to explore our shadow selves. Patrick’s evocative imagery is so effective at pushing readers to come face to face with deep inner shadows.
And I love how he uses the moon phases in the imagery to signal the awareness of the figures in the card and how the size of the moon signals the impact the moon has on the figures. This symbolism is so effective with this deep psychological work. So, pay close attention to where the moon is, where the moonlight lands, how large the moon is, how close to the figure the moon is, if the moonlight touches the figure or illuminates any part of them in the image.
If you pay attention to the presence and shape of the moon in the cards, you will notice how much impact this moon has in this deck. It’s named the Deviant Moon Tarot for a reason. Look to the moon in each card for clues about the interaction and relationship between the moon and the figures in the card. For example, in the Lover’s card, the moon casts a hypnotic spell upon the lovers influencing their thoughts and passions. In the moon card, the full moon manipulates the thoughts of the figures below like a puppeteer. We can even see the silvery strings representing the lunar energy that infiltrates their subconscious minds, distorting their reality. Due to this illusion, their shadow selves emerge, and we see their true desires while their inhibitions melt away.
In the Six of Swords, a refugee escaping the chaos that has descended upon the kingdom, flies high above the drama in a hot air balloon. The refugee faces severe turbulence in the air and is traveling against the wind. The deviant moon tries to deflate his ambitions with subliminal taunts and discouraging vibrations, but the traveler continues moving forward to smoother skies. In the 5 of Wands, the full moon lords over all the combatants and warps their common sense, further driving them into a frenzy. In the 3 of Wands, an expectant mother awaits the bloom of three young wands. The deviant moon imparts its energy and spirit upon the buds with its silver breath. The mother has brought them as far as she can, now the universe will complete the creation.
In the Ace of Cups, a majestic archangel cradles her chalice and turns the water into an elixir of kindness. She invites the deviant moon to sip of this essence as a generous offer of goodwill. In the card we see the moon drinking from this bountiful offering. And in the 8 of Swords, the hypnotic call of the deviant moon lures a young woman out of her sleep and pulls her toward an open window. The whispers of the moon confuse the woman as she struggles to regain her sense of reality. She feels powerless against this nocturnal trance and tries to scream for help, but no sound can escape her throat. Below her balcony stand 8 swords poised to pierce her body if she were to fall. For now, she prays for the sun to rise and banish the shadow and the moon’s mysterious influence over her thoughts. In each of these cards we can see how Patrick has used the moon in the images to convey the transformations taking place within characters, the struggle between their conscious and unconscious minds, and how they ultimately grow from their experiences with their shadow selves.
Patrick describes his own deck as a self-empowerment deck if you are willing to look within and face your fears. He encourages you to work through your aversion to certain cards and to confront any predisposed negative associations you have with certain imagery. He even states, “Know that you have the power to dissolve the shadows that haunt you whenever you choose.” There are so many golden nuggets of wisdom in his companion hardback book. This is very much a deck where you can explore the dark corners of your psyche. This allows us to have our own unique experience where our subconscious leads us on a journey to work through issues that we aren’t aware of yet. It’s very cathartic to work with imagery this visceral. It’s a true psychological tool for shadow work, empowerment, and self-growth. And make no mistake, there is no line or shape placed haphazardly here. This is one of the most thought out decks I’ve encountered. Every single detail has deep, profound meaning placed perfectly to grab our attention and nudge us toward psychological insights. I could look at these cards for hours and still not catch half of the symbols.
I highly recommend the hardback Deviant Moon Tarot companion book to better understand the elements he uses to convey the inner work taking place for the figures in each of the cards. Reading Patrick’s descriptions of the images helped me connect with the energy of this deck and the characters of this dreamy, moonlit world. I’ve found my work with the Deviant Moon Tarot to be quite transformative and enlightening. There is so much more to this deck than I first realized. It’s deep, meaningful, and psychologically minded. This deck stands out from any other deck I’ve worked with, and it is my top choice for a shadow work deck. I’ve provided links to this deck and the companion book below. A huge thanks to US Games for sending this deck over for me to work with and review.
I will be hosting a chakra-themed tarot challenge on Instagram during the month of April 2022. I created prompts for each of the 30 days in April and linked them to themes of each chakra. To follow the challenge, make sure to follow me on Instagram. I’m @healingthrutarot - the graphic is below. Use the #httchakraalignmenttarotchallenge to participate or follow along with the challenge. We will start on April 1st. Feel free to join in on the challenge. I enjoy seeing all the posts and interacting with everyone participating.
I’m excited to share my 3rd tarot/oracle spread eBook titled - Healing Thru Tarot’s Healing and Mental Health Spreads Vol. 2 This ebook includes 15 healing & mental health tarot/oracle spreads to help with all aspects of healing through the various 9 card spreads in this ebook including inner child healing, body healing, conquering anxiety, managing depression, restoring balance, ancestral karma clearing, soul connection, and much more. Complement to Vol. 1 Healing and Mental Health Spread ebook but can also stand alone. This ebook will help you continue your healing thru tarot journey! You can purchase this eBook for $14 by clicking here
Check out the list of all 15 spreads below so you can see what you are getting with this spread eBook. When posting your card pulls, feel free to use #HTThealingspreadbook2 Happy Cardslinging!
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