When I finished the manuscript for Tarot Shadow Work in 1999, I didn’t believe I could write one more thing about tarot and the shadow. I was wrong. Time has passed and I am able to revisit the book with a more objective viewpoint. I originally wrote that I used only the 22 cards of the Major Arcana because shadow work is a spiritual endeavor. While this is true, it’s time for writer honesty: the concept of using 78 cards eluded me in the beginning. Four years later, I know how to use an entire tarot deck when doing shadow work and the Llewellyn Journal is the perfect place to share my expanded ideas on it.
Taking my cue from astrology, the Major Arcana cards represent the WHAT of shadow work, a description of the shadow and what its challenges and gifts entail. The Court Cards are the HOW and WHO of shadow work—how the shadow presents itself in personality development and whom we draw to us for our life lessons. The Minor Arcana depict the WHERE of shadow work, or in what department of life the shadow is operating.
The Major Arcana (Numbers 0-21), The Fool through the World, speak to you of both life lessons and life wisdom: those qualities being tested and developed, your gifts and challenges, karma and the reasons you are here. The twenty-two cards symbolize spiritual development and help you understand your place in the world. The "Greater Secrets" will point to the higher overview of life and give you insights into the "big picture." They will also hint at your healing potential and what lies in the shadows. (See the appendix in Tarot Shadow Work for more information.)
The Minor Arcana, or "lesser secrets," offer information along the planes of existence: Wands, spiritual creativity in everyday life; Cups, emotions and feelings; Swords, psychological well being/the mind; and, Pentacles, physical reality and the body. When the different suits shows up in a reading, ask yourself: What action can I take? (Wands) What am I feeling or dreaming about? (Cups) What am I thinking or what decision needs to be made? (Swords) Because Pentacles explore issues of food, housing, money, work, the body, and physical health, ask yourself: What do I value?
In life, there is no separation between body, emotion, mind, and spirit. It is impossible for something to happen to us without all four levels of existence being affected. It is likewise impossible to change without attending to these same four levels of being. Life does not fall neatly into categories. Because stress or concerns at any level affect all levels, the lines sometimes blur.
No other cards in the tarot deck have more interpretations than the Court Cards. Just pick up any three tarot books and compare. It’s mind-boggling. We all have qualities that are traditionally associated with masculine and feminine ways of being. For instance, a woman can be competitive and a man can be nurturing. Be aware that the King and Knight can represent a woman and the Queen can symbolize a man. The gender or "occupation" of the court card is less important than the qualities it describes.
Pages can represent a child, but they also introduce the element of their suit, the willingness to change, risk, or learn something new. Pages can symbolize the catalyst needed for change and the child within us all. Pages also carry messages related to their suit: Telephone calls or significant e-mail (Page of Wands); important dreams (Page of Cups); written warnings (Page of Swords); and messages from your body, especially in the form of illness: What is your body trying to tell you (Page of Pentacles)?
Knights represent young adults or someone starting over, focusing on a specific task through their suit, be it creative (Wands), emotional (Cups), psychological (Swords) or physical (Pentacles). Our "knightly" qualities include being energetic, daring, headstrong and goal oriented. Knights show movement and action through their suits.
Queens are mature. They take their understanding of life inward and use this life wisdom to nurture others and encourage self-development through their specific suit. For example, the Queen of Cups nurtures the emotions. Because they are the embodiment of the feminine tradition of healing, Queens often represent healing in relationship to their suit. An example of this is the Queen of Pentacles symbolizing a natural healer. Our "queenly" qualities include sensitivity, fullness of expression, empathy, and personal, inner control.
Kings are also mature, but they project their maturity outward in the form of leadership through their suit. They take charge and give advice: Creative or spiritual advice (King of Wands); emotional advice (King of Cups); psychological or intellectual advice (King of Swords); and, practical advice about the everyday world (King of Pentacles, especially in the area of finances or work.) Our "kingly" qualities include being capable and in control, with an air of authority, leadership, and worldliness.
So how do you use the entire deck in shadow work? It’s simple. Separate your deck into three stacks: the 22 Majors, 40 Minors and 16 Court Cards. Do a star layout, or any other activity in Tarot Shadow Work using Majors only, as described in the book. Look at your shadow layout or activity and select one card that puzzles or bothers you, or one that you especially like. Pull that card out of the layout.
Now think of the Minor and Court Cards as the cards to use for more information. Shuffle your Minor Card stack. As you shuffle, concentrate on WHERE, or what department of life, this particular Major card is operating. For example, you have chosen The Fool from the shadow layout because you know you allow others to take advantage of you and have decided that now this needs the most work. The minor card that turns up is the Ten of Wands.
You first decide if the Ten of Wands describes the challenge of the shadow or the gift of the shadow. In other words, does the card feel negative or positive? Hint: If you like the card, it probably represents a gift of shadow work, something to keep and nurture. If it feels negative, for instance being reversed, it means it is a lesson to be learned, something to improve or work on. You realize that it depicts the challenge of the shadow: others take advantage of you because you are unable to say no and you take on too much responsibility as a result.
As you shuffle the Court Card stack, concentrate on HOW the shadow presents itself in your personality. You can also think about the people in your life and why they might be there. Remember, the Court Cards are always a reflection of you—you draw the people to you that you need for your life wisdom. So it doesn’t matter if the Court Card describes someone else. The card is still about you and your need to have those qualities in your life for good or ill. Randomly select one Court Card. First decide if it represents the shadow’s challenge or the shadow’s gift. Does it feel negative or positive to you?
Continuing with our example, you have drawn the Queen of Pentacles. At first you think, oh, great, the smothering mother card. After some thought, you decide she symbolizes the shadow’s gift after all: Yes, you have been taken advantage of because of your need to nurture (rescue) others; but the answer is still in the Queen of Pentaclesif you start saying no and allow others to learn self-responsibility. Then they are able to find their own way, and you are free of the martyr’s shadow.
You can use the Minor and Court Cards for more information on any shadow star layout, single card in a layout, or any tarot activity in the book. Using the entire deck helps pinpoint both strengths and challenges of doing shadow work. Think of it as your magnifying mirror for a better reflection of you. And for goodness sake, trust your intuition when deciding if a card feels negative or positive. Only you can know that. To review, ask the following questions when doing shadow work with the entire deck:
* For Major Arcana cards: WHAT shadow is this card describing? Does this card symbolize the challenge of shadow work or the reward for facing the shadow, the gift of shadow work?
* For Minor Arcana Cards: WHERE or in what department of life is this card operating? (Physical, financial, emotional, psychological, legal, creative or spiritual pursuits, etc., according to its suit.) Is this card a challenge (something that needs work) or something to keep and nurture—my strength or talent?
* For Court Cards: HOW does the shadow present itself in my personality development? HOW do other people see me? HOW do I see myself? WHO have I drawn into my life for soul development? Does this card describe the shadow’s challenge or gift?
For me, shadow work and its resultant soul development are meaningless if not viewed through the lens of everyday living. Divinity lies in the details of life. The magic of shadow work doesn’t come from the tarot cards—the magic comes from our willingness to change. If we ascribe to the philosophy of "as above, so below," then who we are and what we do is spirituality in action—not "out there" somewhere, but in us, here and now. May you find joy in the shadows.