Shadow work is a practice of healing any behaviors, emotional wounding, limiting beliefs, self-sabotage, or blocks that are buried in your subconscious. This work is important for witches because many of our spells are powered by our thoughts and emotions. Because most of our thoughts and emotions happen within our shadow side, our subconscious, taking a long, hard look at those thoughts and emotions can help us release any hidden resistance that hinders our spells.
Why Tarot Can Help
Tarot is a wonderful magical tool to use when doing shadow work for several reasons.
- Tarot cards have rich imagery, and imagery is the language of the subconscious.
- Tarot cards can allow you to speak directly to your subconscious or to any spiritual guides who can give you insight into your shadow side.
- The variety of characters and situations in the tarot deck can provide you with a detailed look at where you need to heal and how to go about healing. Tarot can effectively show you where the problem is and what your options for solving it are.
How To Prep When Using Tarot Cards For Shadow Work
Shadow work is one magical practice you’ll want to be 100% grounded for before you dive in. Because shadow work can bring up a lot of emotions, make sure you are feeling as stable, secure, and supported before performing any of these tarot spreads.
My favorite grounding techniques to do before tarot work include sipping a warm beverage, enjoying a bit of chocolate, or curling up in my comfiest chair. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel nurtured.
The Energy Of Different Shapes
You’ll be directed to make different shapes and lines with your tarot cards with each spread. You can use the shapes as the spread suggests or choose a different arrangement based on the meanings of the shapes the intuitively resonate with you.
Circles represent completion and closing out old cycles—excellent energy for shadow work. Every time you heal an emotional wound, you close out a cycle and you are released of any limiting thought patterns that stemmed from that wounding. Ultimately, that is the goal of all shadow work.
Squares represent stability, protection, and strong foundations. Use this shape if you want to feel extra grounded and safe while performing your shadow work.
Triangles represent power and manifestation. Use this shape if you want to stay in a place of power during your shadow work and repel any sort of victim mentality.
A vertical line holds the energy of “ascension” or raising your vibration. This is another goal of shadow work.
A horizontal line holds the energy of progress and forward motion.
6 Tarot Spreads For Shadow Work
1. Is This the Right Time Tarot Spread
Sometimes when I read tarot for myself, I won’t understand the cards at all. It feels like they’re speaking gibberish.
In my experience, when this happens, it means I’m not in the right mindset to perform shadow work, I’m not ready to see or understand the information I need to heal, or my cards need to be cleansed.
Because this has happened many times during a tarot reading, I’ve developed a quick spread to perform at the beginning of a shadow work tarot session to see if I’m in a place to benefit from this kind of work.
Suggested arrangement: In a horizontal line from left to right.
Card One: What is my current emotional state?
Card Two: What energies will come up during this shadow work session?
Card Three: What specific personal issues will I be directed to examine?
Card Four: What energy can I expect to feel after this shadow work session?
If the cards are giving you answers that make sense AND you feel these answers will be constructive and positive, then you know it’s a good idea to do this kind of work today. If you’re not understanding the answers the cards are giving you, you can either move forward anyway or perform some other kind of magic that day.
2. Talking To Your Spirit Guides Spread
Use this spread when you want to get some guidance from one of your spirit guides during your shadow work.
Suggested arrangement: Place the cards in an upside-down pyramid shape—three cards on the top row, two cards in the second row, and one card in the third row. This is symbolic of the spirit guide sending down the wisdom of the universe to you.
Card One: A card to represent your spirit guide’s energy
Card Two: What issue can you help me with today?
Card Three: What is blocking me from resolving this issue?
Card Four: How can I change my perspective regarding this issue?
Card Five: How can I heal this issue I’ve been experiencing?
Card Six: What other guidance do you have for me?
3. Hidden Gift Spread
Suggested arrangement: Set out these cards in a circle starting at the top and going clockwise.
Card One: What is my current situation?
Card Two: How do I consciously feel about this situation?
Card Three: How do I subconsciously feel about this situation?
Card Four: What lesson am I learning through this situation?
Card Five: How will I be stronger after I move past this situation?
4. That Card You Hate Tarot Exercise
Go through every card in your tarot deck and select the one you absolutely hate. The more times you do this exercise, the more likely this card will change depending on what kind of shadow work you are ready to do.
Once you’ve picked the card you hate, take a moment to gaze at the card. You can examine any details in the imagery or allow your eyes to become unfocused and see if you experience any more subtle reactions to this card.
Journal about all of your thoughts. If you aren’t getting enough information, draw a second card asking, “Why do I hate this card so much?”. Then examine this card the same way you did the first one.
A strong aversion to a specific tarot card is usually related to some deep fear we hold. Ask yourself what fears this card brings up. Journal about what experiences caused you to develop this fear. Ask yourself if this is a valid fear or if this is based in any limiting beliefs such as, “I’m not good enough.” or “There’s not enough to go around.”
If you realize that this is a valid fear, list some ways you can feel safer. How can you protect yourself, so you no longer have to fear this thing? Maybe this fear is something that is out of your control like worrying about the health concerns of a loved one. In that case, you can begin healing this fear by accepting that you don’t have control and releasing the worry.
You might also meditate holding this card to see if that allows any messages from your subconscious to come through clearer.
5. Love/Hate One-Card Pull
Like the exercise above, this technique is less of a spread and more of a journaling ritual. It’s designed to help you find answers as to why some things bother you. A key concept in shadow work is that many issues that annoy us in others are things that we, ourselves, do on a subconscious level.
Shuffle the cards and draw one card as you state your intention (aloud or in your head), “Show me a card that I love and hate.”
Take a moment to look over the card. Notice any immediate thoughts or memories that come up as you examine different details in the imagery.
In your journal make a list of all the aspects of this card’s energy that you love. Why do you like getting this card? What does it mean to you? What is attractive about the character or energy of this card?
Next, make a list of all the aspects you hate about this card’s energy. What bugs you about this card or this character?
Go through your list one at a time and try to think of an instance or area of your life where you embodied each of these qualities that you love or hate. If nothing is coming to mind immediately, sit with the card longer, or get up and make yourself a cup of tea and come back to the spread. Sometimes just getting up and moving will allow new thoughts to come to the surface.
Keep embodying the qualities you love about this card and begin to release any of the bad habits or the qualities that you hate about this card within yourself. Journal about different ways you can respond to situations using the qualities you admire.
6. What’s Going Well Tarot Spread
Suggested arrangement: Set the cards out in three rows of two cards. Space them out in a way that forms a square.
Think about what is going well in your life, then draw the first and second cards.
Card One: Why is this going well in my life?
Card Two: What energy do I need to keep making progress in this area of my life?
Think about what your biggest current issue is, then draw the third and fourth cards.
Card Three: Why is this issue holding me back?
Card Four: What energy do I need to improve this area of my life?
Think about a goal that you haven’t been able to manifest yet, then draw the fifth and sixth cards.
Card Five: Why haven’t I achieved this yet?
Card Six: What energy do I need to meet this goal?
These parts of your life are likely related in some way. If it’s not obvious to you as you’re looking over the cards, spend time journaling and see if the answers or patterns emerge.
Tarot & Your Shadow Side
Shadow work is ongoing. It’s like cleaning your oven or doing laundry—if you do it on a somewhat regular basis, you’ll stay on top of it.
Some people think shadow work has to be this long, drawn-out process that makes you cry or drains you of energy, but I disagree with that. Theoretically, once you discover a false belief or emotional wound in your subconscious, you can heal it within minutes. You can heal so much in a short amount of time, especially when you find a magical system that works for you. Try out these spreads and see which ones feel the most meaningful.
Some of these might become your go-to spreads. Others you’ll use when you’re in the right mood. Many witches will tweak their tarot spreads by adding additional cards to a spread or changing the questions to better fit their needs. Feel free to personalize these tarot spreads however you like.