Shadow work is talked about in the spiritual online communities, but what exactly is it and how does one begin this process?
Here we’ll discuss key elements:
- What the shadow self is
- What shadow work is
- A shadow work tarot spread
- Shadow work journal prompts
- Books about shadow work
Let’s begin with exploring the basics of the shadow self:
What is the shadow self?
The shadow self is viewed as parts of the self that we may feel are unacceptable, that we feel others or ourselves disapprove of, feeling insecure or ashamed of.
The “shadow” is a concept that is known in psychology, first coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
Carl Jung wrote, “Everyone has a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” [Jung, C.G., 1938 “Psychology and Religion: West and East”, Collected Works of C.G. Jung 11, p. 131]
The shadow self is often the reason why we act, do or behave a certain way without understanding or knowing why.
When we don’t take the time to look under the surface and examine what’s within our shadow, we may see in other people what we’re repulsed by, what can’t tolerate, what we hate or what we shun.
When we refuse to understand what lurks under our surface in the recesses of our own shadow, these may often come out in other ways that may affect not only our own lives, but also the lives of others around us.
Carl Jung also categorized 12 Jungian archetypes which you can read about these here.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is the process of integrating the repressed or unconscious self through questioning and exploration of these aspects as a way for self-development.
This process can be cathartic and deeply personal, even triggering for some people.
Everyone has a “shadow self” – the part of the self that we often try to hide from others yet may often become seen in certain behaviours or actions that may seem counterproductive, self-sabotaging or harmful for our development.
Shadow work is an ongoing process that can take a lifetime peeling off the layers of conditioning, beliefs, fears, repression, trauma, etc.
Everyone does shadow work differently and everyone has their own threshold of what they can handle in a shadow work session.
There are different ways to do shadow work such as:
- Working with professional therapist or counsellor
- Working in underworld journeys with spirit guides or ancestors
- Working with underworld deities such as Persephone, Hekate, Inanna/Erishkegal
- Tarot spreads / readings or oracle spreads / readings
- Shamanic energy healing or therapy
These are a just a few examples of how shadow work can be done, which can be done in combination or separately.
Next, we’ll explore a Shadow Work Tarot Spread and include Shadow Work Journal Prompts at the end to allow you to go deeper into the tarot reading which can include meditation or journey work in your spiritual practice.
Shadow Work Tarot Spread
For the Shadow Work Tarot Spread, three cards can be pulled for each question.
The three cards for each question can be read in combination, together or separately.
There’s no specific layout for the spread.
The cards can be placed in 3 rows of 1 to 3 cards (depending on the amount of cards pulled for each question.)
This may produce a result in which there are three separate shadow issues (noted in the first question of the tarot spread), yet they may all be interconnected or these may be three shadow issues that need to be worked on separately.
This technique for the reading may be advanced for some readers.
If reading three cards for each question is confusing, then simply one or two cards can be pulled for each question in the tarot spread.
Questions for the Shadow Work Tarot Spread
- What needs to be acknowledged or come to the surface that’s repressed within my shadow self?
- What lessons need to be learned from these issues or aspects of my shadow self?
- How can I begin to heal, resolve or integrate these issues of aspects of my shadow self?
Next, the journal prompts will go deeper into the tarot reading to ask further questions about the cards that were drawn.
Shadow Work Journal Prompts
These journal prompts can be done after the tarot spread is completed and will allow to “flesh out” more information from the reading, going further into the shadows.
If assistance is needed to go deeper into these questions, a tarot card can be pulled for each of these.
The cards from the Shadow Work Tarot Spread can be used as a meditative tool to help go deeper into the reading, by asking the journal prompts below.
1. What memories or situations do I associate with what was revealed in question one of the tarot spread?
2. How can I apply the healing suggestions from the tarot spread to these aspects or issues of the shadow self?
3. Is there someone (including myself) that I need to forgive that’s related to the situation or memories from question 1? What do you feel you need to forgive and why?
(Forgiveness doesn’t equate that what happened was acceptable or excusable, but rather letting go of resentment or bitterness.
If you’re unable to forgive at this time, make a note of why you feel that way – knowing that it’s OK, giving yourself space and not feel pressure to speed up the process.
You may wish to come back to this at a later time and reassess where you are and how you feel.)
4. How do you feel about the lessons that you need to learn from your shadow self?
5. How can you implement these lessons into your life?
6. Take a card from the first question of the tarot reading and meditate upon it for a few days or a week.
Every time you look at the card, write down what comes to mind when you focus on what this represents in your shadow self.
Assess how this may feel to you: memories, people, triggers, ideas, feelings.
Pull on the thread and see where it leads. Write, record, create, dance or interpret what it evokes within you.
If you used more than one card for the first question of the tarot reading, do this exercise or prompt with the other card(s) and see what results you get.
Books about Shadow Work
While there’s lots of information and resources available online about shadow work and spiritual topics, some books may provide more that can’t be found online.
If you’re looking for something to read on the go about shadow work:
Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature – a compilation of works edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams
Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche by Robert A. Johnson
Romancing the Shadow by Connie Zweig
Shadow work comes with the territory of “Know Thyself”, as was written on the doorway of the Oracle of Delphi.
Not every therapist, healer or writer will have all the answers when it comes to your own psyche and shadow work process.
Not every book will have the “golden ticket” for what you’re seeking.
Critical thinking is necessary to know what works for you, what rings true to you, knowing what you believe is right, and to seek help when you feel you need to move to the next level in your life.
Shadow work can sometimes feel as if it opens Pandora’s box and can turn everything upside down or if you’re trying to swim through murky water.
As you go through the process of shadow work, reading books, articles or journal prompts, continually check in with yourself.
Question what you read and the source; dig deeper.
No one will know you better than you know yourself.
People may hold up the mirror to you, they may guide you to the gateway of your shadow, but only you will understand yourself and your own shadow better than anyone else.
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