Explore Your Shadow

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Explore Your Shadow

An international group of tarotists are all writing on the same topic and then linking to each other so that the reader can hop from one blog to the next, seeing all the permutations and facets that the topic inspired in different writers. You can leave my blog and hop back to Alison’s Alembic. Or read ahead here and then hop forward to Tarot Trends!

The Hermit from Robin Wood Tarot by Robin Wood, published by Llewellyn, 1991.

What is the Shadow?

The concept of the psychological shadow was introduced by C. G. Jung and refers to the part of ourselves that we fail to recognize or acknowledge. This aspect that we are blind to is then projected onto others. One of the best ways to get in touch with your shadow is to ask yourself, every time you have a disproportionate reaction to someone, “What part of me is like that?” This simple exercise can be very enlightening and lead to great strides in self-growth.

Many people focus on the shadow as consisting of the negative qualities that we are unable to admit to in ourselves. Christine Jette has an interesting book called Tarot Shadow Work, and it was in this book that I first discovered the idea of what she calls the bright shadow. We don’t always project the worst parts of ourselves onto others—sometimes we project our very best parts as well. If you ever find  yourself in constant admiration of others, and a corresponding inclination towards self-effacement, ponder what similar talents you might have that you’ve been refusing to acknowledge and consider how you might better bring them out.

One of the most important things to remember is that a shadow can’t exist without light. The shadow self is not so completely lost in darkness that it is beyond our ability to perceive it. By its very nature it is a reaction to light, and light is knowledge, clarity, exploration. I asked the cards last night how to approach our theme today, and the cards I drew were Death, Three of Wands, Ace of Wands. Death represents entering this darkness, this unknown part of ourselves. I’ve always called the Three of Wands “the open door” because it looks like that to me—I see it as an opportunity to move forward. And the Ace of Wands, with the glowing bright aura that Robin Wood gives it, said to me to bring light into this place of darkness. Further consultation of the cards drew the Hermit, which perfectly summarized this reading for me: bringing the light of knowledge into the darkness of the unknown to open the door of understanding.

Active Imagination Exercise for Exploring the Shadow

One way of exploring the shadow is through what Jung calls active imagination. This might be called a guided meditation by some or shamanic journeying by others, depending on the details of the practice. But a simple version is to visualize entering the part of yourself that you want to explore.

Think of some area of your life that gives you consistent problems that you would like to resolve or at least understand better. Close your eyes, calm your breathing and when you feel relaxed, see a door in front of you. Know that helpful information about your problem is on the other side of this door. See yourself stand up and walk towards the door, open it, and step through.

It is common for many people to encounter the Guardian of the Threshold at this point—some very scary entity that wants to keep you from entering this realm of knowledge. Many techniques can be used to pass the Guardian, but some of the easiest and most common are to use a symbol for banishing or protection, such as a banishing pentagram, a cross, or any other religious or personally powerful symbol. You can draw this symbol in the air before you, or have it in your hand (I like to imagine myself as having it in my pocket so it’s ready when I need it) and hold it up before you. The entity should disappear or change form into something not at all scary and let you pass. If this doesn’t happen, it’s fine to retreat and try again later now that you know what to expect.

Once you are past the Guardian, look around you and see where you are. You might find a path that you want to follow, or a hidden place that you want to explore. For me, when I did this last night, I found myself in an attic full of dusty cardboard boxes and I picked the box that I knew would address my particular concern. I opened the box and looked inside and found something that was very relevant from my past that gave a new and interesting twist to my current concern.

When you are done exploring this realm, you may quickly and easily return to the door, exit, close it carefully behind you, see yourself walk back to your chair, feel yourself sit down again, and then feel your consciousness return fully to the world of waking reality. Open your eyes, start to move and then journal your experience.

Tarot Exercise for Exploring Your Shadow

Now that you have some new insight into your situation, you can further explore it with tarot.

Look through your tarot deck and find a card that looks like or has a similar emotional tone to or reflects the symbolism of whatever you found in your inner exploration. If you didn’t do the active imagination exercise, or if your results were less than satisfactory, look for a card whose imagery most reflects the problem that you want to explore. Place that card on your workspace in front of you.

Now contemplate that card, what it means to you, and what it symbolizes from your meditation, while you shuffle the rest of the deck. You will be pulling cards to represent the dark and the light—why it has been hidden from you and how you can bring understanding to it. When you are ready, cut the deck and reassemble it.

Take the top card of the deck and place it to the right of your pre-selected card—this represents the light—the knowledge and clarity you can bring to the subject. Take the bottom card and place it to the left. This is the darkness, and might help clarify why this has been hidden from your consciousness.

Your Next Stop

Hop off my blog and onto Tarot Trends by Christiana Gaudet or visit the master list of all the blogs.

Joy Vernon is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Reiki Teacher in Denver, Colorado. Her specialty is the Empyrean Key Transformational Guidance, which combines energetic and esoteric modalities to help her clients break through blocks and align themselves with their higher purpose. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.

© 2012 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

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  1. Thanks Much, Joy! A whole host of Big Dreams from waaayyyy back — all of which had been recorded typed and were lost in a storage unit when water leaked over time. Seems fitting that I respect their loss, and celebrate them by utilizing their characters as a procession two lead me down an unknown hall to a new door and Guardian. Thanks for the inspiration to find a new and hidden place through journeywork and then Tarot after. Happy Samhain, Joy!

  2. Definitely having fun and getting good insights from the spreads in the hop this time around. I am a Jung fan, although I was not familiar with the Shadow Guardian concept, but it sure makes sense! I tried out your spread, using the Queen of Cups reversed as the center card. I got Five of Swords reversed as the Light (fascinating!), and Seven of Cups as the Dark. Makes for a complex reading, I think, but does make sense, for my shadow manipulates and seduces others to exercise power, so the Light seems to be the idea of rediscovering my honor and not going down the path of diminishing others. The Dark in the Seven of Cups is more easily evident–the games I used to play may seem like things that would get me what I desired, but this was not so. Just an illusion, like the illusion of victory over others in the Five of Swords when it is upright. The only permanent solution is to turn the Queen upright and recapture emotional integrity. Thanks!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! I did a workshop recently and one person drew the Five of Swords for the highest expression of what he was working on. It took us a little playing and conversing to figure it out, but we were overwhelmed with the power when we discovered that for him it meant something that only he could do, no one could help him with it, it was uniquely his.

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