Unveiling your Shadow Side With the Help of Tarot

The Shadow can be a frightening thing to face.

When we hear the word Shadow,we think of our dark side, our repressed, even evil, instinctual side. The Shadow is much more multifaceted than that. Let’s see what the Shadow Archetype can teach us about ourselves, and how Carl Jung considers the acknowledgement of our Shadow to be an important step in the individuation process.

As I have talked about before, individuation is the process of becoming a more well rounded, balanced person. This can be accelerated when we work consciously on it, when we try to see the whole picture of a situation, problem, or how we react to it. This can take a lot of analytical work on our part. One way to help with this process is the tarot. I love how the Strength card show us we can make friends with our Shadow!

Jung explains that the first part of our lives is spent finding ways to interact with the external reality. This means figuring out what our principal function type is (are we more Thinking or Feeling? Sensing or Intuitive?) and whether we are extraverted or intraverted. We also spend the first part of our life tuning up our persona. All these steps help us better adapt to our outer environment.

The second part of our life (after 35 years of age) is spent on adapting ourselves to our inner reality. This is where we ask the big questions about who we truly are. This is when we tackle our unconscious, where we try to understand our whole personality, even the parts of ourselves that have lied dormant for all these years.When we ask ourselves questions like: Why do I always fall for the same type of person? Why do I sabotage my new friendships? Why do I let this person get on my nerves? Why am I so hard on myself? What can I do to truly love me for who I am?

Are you ready to see yourself in your true light?

This is where the Shadow steps in. The Shadow is our other side, our alter ego. Even if it is almost always hidden, it is inseperable from us. It is how we don’t see ourselves normaly. The opposite of how we would describe ourselves. If you have done the Function type test, you will see that the function type that scored the lowest (the one that was less like you), represents your Shadow. If you are predominantly a Thinking type person, your Shadow is the Feeling type function. Also, if you are an extraverted person, your shadow will be intraverted. As you can see, your Shadow is the opposite of how you see yourself, how your consider yourself to be.

We have determined, through the filter of our social upbringing, our morals and our family, what we think is unacceptable, unwanted, because it is in contradiction with what we consciously believe is “right” or “acceptable”. The Shadow is made up of these unacceptable behaviours, thoughts, ideas. When we only live with our principal function type, our Shadow is very big, because it has to encompass everything else that we reject. The more we know ourselves, the more we delve into the unconscious, the smaller the Shadow becomes. Think of stepping down into an unlit basement. It is dark and unknown. But with the help of a flashlight, we uncover forms, shapes of things that we have boxed and kept in that basement. The more we take time to explore these dark crevisses of ourselves, the less the Shadow is frightening.

Jung explains that our Shadow can manifest itself in 3 ways:

  1. it can come to us internaly, symbolically; for example, personified in a dream. (See Stacy Larosa’s post, “Finding your voice”, for a great example of this)
  2. Our Shadow can manifest itself externaly, when we project onto others. A projection is (very briefly) a defense mechanism that we call upon unconsciously to protect ourselves. Projection (think of a movie being projected onto a screen) creates a world where we see our Shadow belonging to somebody else, but not us. It’s a way to cope (“It’s not me, it’s you!”). We project onto others what we don’t like or acknowledge about ourselves. And what we don’t like about others is what we don’t like in ourselves. We have all been there. You’re at a party, and this one person drives you crazy with her casual laugh and manners. She takes center stage.  Why does she bother you so? Is it because as an introvert, you would never think of being able to do such a thing? Another example: a friend has a decision to make. She tells you how she has come about her decision,because she had a feeling it would work out. All you can think of is “She’s crazy! What if it doesn’t work? Does she have a plan b? How ridiculous to take such a decision based on a hunch!” Be conscious of your reactions to others’ actions and words – they usually say more about yourself than about the other person.
  3. Our Shadow has an emotional nature, and can also manifest itself in our behavior, without our realizing it. It takes over, our moral judgement goes out the door, and we respond as our alter ego: when we act out instinctively, when we become mad, or when we cry, when we make a scene, or when we are paralized and can’t do anything. When we become ourselves again, we say “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me!” This is when our Shadow has made an appearance.

Some people will combat their dark side relentlessly for their entire life, staying on the surface of consciousness, never to step into the unconscious side. These people never take the blame for anything, always point their fingers at others or outside situations. They don’t realize that the more you try to repress your dark side, the more you feed it, and the more your facade will be harder to keep up.

There are a lot of benefits to the discovery and acknowledgement of our Shadow. It will help in acceptance of ourselves, and will diminish our projections onto others. It will make us less volatile, and less prone to irrational behavior.

Another reason to deal with the Shadow:

Is the Shadow all dark, all negative? No! The Shadow represents (in part) what we have repressed into our unconsicous. For example: some naturaly artistic people only discover their talents later in life, because they were taught that art was a waste of time and energy. Same thing for sexual orientation. If we come from a very homophobic environment, it could take longer to acknowledge and embrace our non-heterosexual sexuality.

Our Shadow exists because we live in a dualistic world, and it is easier for us to just pick one side, and repress the other. We see things in black or white, true or false, good or bad. The mark of a more mature person is being able to see the nuances in everything, and that there are always two sides to every story.

This is not to say that when we acknowledge our shadow, we become a different person altogether. It means we will be better prepared when we are faced with our less loved side. All the Court cards can help us see this duality. For example: The Queen of cups can be emotional, loving. But she can also be a drama-queen and jealous. The King of Wands can be a great motivational speaker. He can also be an ego-maniac. The page of Swords can be a highly intelligent, and he can also talk back with words as sharp as knives. The Knight of Pentacles can be very dependable, and he can be stuck in his routine. When we know that we are capable of the whole gamut of emotions and behaviors, we are less likely to be suprised by our Shadow side.

How can the Tarot help us integrate our Shadow side?

The Tarot tells no lies. Tarot see right through our defense mechanisms, and gives it to us straight. When a card comes up that doesn’t seem to fit into what we perceive ourselves to be, maybe it’s our Shadow side that has come by to set the record straight. This is why I find the Tarot an immeasurable tool for self-discovery.

Try this 5 card spread. Ask the tarot:

  1. What is my Light (known by me, recognized) side? (card 1, place on top of spread)
  2. What is my Shadow (private, hidden, repressed) side? (card 2, place on bottom of spread)
  3.  How can I integrate my Shadow side into my Light side? (cards 3,4 and 5, place between cards 1 and 2)

Unveiling the Shadow using the tarot

Card 1 is the Magician. Wow! This card is all about manifesting the things I want and need in my life. The Magician has all the tools he needs, and he’s ready to take action. If I have such an aknowledgment of this Magician side in my life, why do I have difficulty doing this? Why do I doubt my abilities?

Card 2, my Shadow side, I have the 7 of Cups. Very passive, emotional card, listless, unable to focus my energy, feeling powerless… Aha! So I am feeling as if I can’t manifest the magician side, because I feel as if I don’t have the power to do it! Does this stem from me not embracing my masculine, active side? Do I equate being powerful with being full of myself?

Cards 3,4 and 5. What can help me surpass this feeling of being overwhelmed? The Wheel of Fortune, Nine of Pentacles, Death. It tells me I can blend my masculine side and my feminine side (the colours of the Wheel of Fortune remind me of this).To trust that life presents me with what I am able to take. I should rembember to be more patient, consistent, and that the rewards will be there when I cut away the old ways of seeing myself.

What is hiding in your Shadow? 


All the card images in this post come from the very beautiful Anna K. Tarot.

Further readings:

Jacobi, Jolande. The Psychology of C.G. Jung. Yale University Press; Sixth Edition (revised) edition (1962).193 pages.

Jung, C.G.: Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (Collected Works of C.G. Jung,Vol9 Part 2), Princeton University Press,2nd Edition, 1979. 353 pages.

16 thoughts on “Unveiling your Shadow Side With the Help of Tarot”

  1. You know I’ve been on a massive Jung reunion as of late. I ate up every word. What better person to learn about and acquaint yourself with than yourself! Your emotions were so raw, your acknowledgement so genuine…thanks for having the courage to share the cards with us, Johanne. I am going to do this one soon ;)
    All my love, Stacy


  2. Johanne –

    This is a fantastic article! I love working with my Shadows, and appreciate that you enumerated the ways in which our Shadow can appear. I see Shadow as made up of numerous personas/fears/anxieties, and not so much as a solid “entity”. I think of us as having Shadow “sides”, rather than one Shadow side.

    My mind is flipping to the mystery book that I am currently revising and getting into shape. Shadows drive the story, which has made it relatively easy to write.

    Life is good! :)



  3. Hello Stacy,
    Yep, the cards can leave us vulnerable and real. Don’t you love it when that happens? When we start to improve our life by looking at ourselves, we are on the right track.
    Glad you enjoyed it!


  4. Hello Bonnie,
    thank you very much! Coming from you, it means a lot.
    Yes, very true, Shadow sides… It seems more manageable that way, no?
    Good luck on the writing of you book! I love a good mystery…


  5. Hello, Johanne!
    Your article and my choosing to read it today are, shall we say, very timely synchronicities…!
    Alright, I shall out with it… sigh!
    I needed myself to turn around and poke me in the eye, to say, “See that? You did it to yourself!” Now, perhaps, I shall pull my socks up and get ahead!
    Thank you so much, Johanne…!
    Looking forward to more revelations!
    Warm regards,


  6. Hello Zoe,
    ah, those synchronistic moments… The very good news is that you did it to yourself. We have no control about others’ perception of us, or how they respond to us in a situation. But what we create? We are in the drivers’ seat!
    As Jung has stated, the more we are aware of our projections onto others, the better humans we become. A lot of conflicts come not from the situation, but our subjective perception of the situation. Then it becomes all about us, and our memories, and then, the situation does not make sense anymore.
    It takes a very mature person to accept his or her Shadows… You are well on your way!
    Thanks for your comment!


  7. Hello Donnaleigh,
    Yes, our Shadow side can come up in a lot of different ways… When we take a minute to figure out where our reaction comes from (from the present situation, or a trigger from the past, for example), we can understand our Shadow side much better.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment! :)


  8. Hi Vickie,
    I love working with the Shadow sides too… There is just so much information, isn’t there?
    I sometimes ask: “What is going on”, and then add a card underneath for “What is REALLY going on”… I love getting to the bottom of an issue.
    Thanks for your comment, Vickie, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!


  9. I am so moved by this article! And I have had the Strength card come up in a lot of readings I have done for myself, so I knew I had to take time to sit and read your post and really let it sink in. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my Shadow side and am eager to see what new insight your spread can give me to help me learn to get the heck outta my own way! Thank you.


  10. Hello Krysten,
    Oh, having the Stength card come up a lot? What a great place to be in your life. I love the symbolism of this card. Also: learning how “to get the heck outta my own way” is my favorite quote today. I couldn’t have said it better.
    Thank you for your kind words, Krysten!


  11. This looks like a most wonderful spread!

    I tried reading about mine with my remaining El Gran Tarot Esoterico cards but I ended up rather confused, having my Light as the 2 of Swords (reversed). It still seems to make sense, though. I have Pentacles cards (6, 8, 9) to help me integrate my Shadow with my Light. Hmm.


    1. Hello Abbee,
      Interesting! what was your Shadow card? It does seem that you need grounding, physical manifestations to help with your Shadow side. 2 of Swords indicates that you can be a logical and methodical person…


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