3 of Wands

assimilate and expand

Three is the response to the two and its integration (expansion) + Wands relate to our energy and where we put it.

from the Spiral Tarot

In the upright or centered position on the card’s spectrum, the Three of Wands sees the return of the two’s exploration and we’re assimilating and considering what’s next in expanding our horizons. If the two was sending our ships out, three shows them coming in, and we are seeing the return on the groundwork we’ve laid; but things are still in process or evolving (three strives for form), so follow-through is key as we’re building, expanding, managing the next cycle of the journey and the opportunities that allow us to expand. How can we keep growing?

When the three’s Fire is deficient, we’re bored with it already or we lack vision. Fear of the unknown can stifle our desire for expansion.

In excess, we’re overreaching, seeking or seizing opportunities which are beyond our capabilities or rooted in attention-seeking. Are we afraid of missing out?

Questions to ask when this card comes up may include

  • what obstacles prevent you from realizing your vision?
  • Is follow-through a challenge for you?

What else? You may have other insights. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? Feel free to share in comments.

2 of Pentacles

balance priorities which promote our soul’s growth

Twos aim to balance when an other is introduced + Pentacles represent navigating the material world.

from Darkness of Light (1st ed.)

And so, in its upright or balanced position on the spectrum, the Two of Pentacles invites us to look at what we’re trying to hold in balance. The metaphor of juggling is often used with this card, as the two acts in rhythm and balance, representing the natural flux of life in and flow such as cause & effect. Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down (as the ship in the background of the Smith-Waite 2oP, or the tides as shown in this example from Darkness of Light). Sometimes we must borrow from Peter to pay Paul. Life is a series of cycles, and in this two, we must juggle demands, balance priorities, and weigh our options. If we’re working too hard, rest. If we’ve overspent, save money. If we’ve eaten poorly, adjust our diet, and so on.

As we move out of the seed of the Ace, are we prepared to step onto the path of our soul’s work? What are we choosing to juggle? Now may not be the time to try and multitask too much, but to choose to release those responsibilities not in keeping with our path.

In resistance, we don’t make the connection between cause & effect, perhaps oblivious to our causative role in matters. One thing to keep in mind is that if we choose not to step into our soul’s work, we fail to grow.

In excess, we try to keep everyone happy and, in misplacing our priorities, we struggle to keep all of the balls in the air.

Questions we may ask when the 2oP comes up include

  • Where do you feel out of balance in your life?
  • Are you feeling pulled in opposite directions? Which serves you better?
  • What are you struggling to juggle? Why do you continue to do so?
  • Is there an aspect of your life that you’ve been ignoring? Why do you do so?

What else? Of course, this is just a sampling of this card’s spectrum, and you may have other insights. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? Feel free to share in comments.

2 of Swords

remain objective

Twos introduce an other in duality + airy Swords represent the mental realm of ideas.

from Touchstone Tarot by Kat Black

And so, in the upright or balanced position of the Two of Swords, we are balancing opposing views, striving to see both sides. Can they be reconciled? Must a choice be made, or can we hold the two in balance? In many modern decks, the figure is blindfolded, reminding us to trust our inner knowing for the truth and to remain objective; don’t allow emotion to cloud our judgement.

In resistance, we cannot remain impartial. Info or ideas inconsistent with our beliefs are dismissed or rationalized; cognitive dissonance.

In excess, we remain in indecision, stifled by self-doubt.

Questions we might ask when this card appears include

  • Are you feeling pulled in two different directions?
  • Is there another side of something that you’re refusing to see?
  • What factors or events from your past may be influencing your decision?

What else? Of course, this is just a sampling of this card’s spectrum, and you may have other insights. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? Feel free to share in comments.

2 of Cups

look into the mirror of the other

Twos take us from the sole oneness of Ace to the introduction of an other + watery Cups represent feelings and relationships.

from Murder of Crows Tarot, by Corrado Roi

And so, in its upright or balanced position on the spectrum, the Two of Cups is a coming together in relationship — whether a partnership of some sort or as the integration of parts within the self. It invites us to look into the mirror of the other and see ourselves reflected back. Can you accept what you see? This card’s most fundamental message relates to the age-old advice that you will not find love in another if you can’t find it within yourself. It’s important to remember that this card isn’t necessarily about romantic love, but about relationships and love of all kinds, including self.

In resistance, we find incompatibility between the two, or we separate. We may be rejecting a part of ourselves. It may also hint at an independence which rejects others.

In excess, we become dependent on another to compensate for a perceived lack in ourselves which we see reflected. Co-dependency.

Questions we may ask when this card comes up include

  • What part is preventing you from reaching out due to pride or fear?
  • What attracts you to another person in friendship, collaboration, love, etc.?
  • What irks you in another person in friendship, collaboration, love, etc.?
  • What painful event from the past do you need to make peace with in order to heal and move on?
  • How do you balance solitude and connection with others?

What else? Of course, this is just a sampling of this card’s spectrum, and you may have other insights. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? Feel free to share in comments.

2 of Wands

Take the initiative to explore outside of yourself.

Twos take us from the sole oneness of Ace to something outside of ourselves + Wands represent energy and identity; the life force that drives our actions.

from The Relative Tarot

And so, in its upright or balanced position on the spectrum, the 2 of Wands is standing at the threshold, considering the initiative to go beyond what we’ve been comfortable with and allowing ourselves to explore new territory; to reach out; to set goals; sending out our ships, sharing something of ourselves with the outside world. We may be confronted with a choice between inner emptiness and outer fulfillment; between action and inaction. Will we forge a new path or choose to risk nothing?

When this desire is blocked, we may have some hesitancy or indecision around this outward venture, or we’re stuck in a pattern of complacency. For some, negotiating the outside world can be challenging. What holds us back?

In excess, we’re never content with what we have, always searching elsewhere for gratification, or for something bigger & better.

Questions we may ask when this card comes up include

  • Is there a part of you or an identity that’s ready to be brought forward?
  • How are you holding back? Why might you be doing so?
  • Are there competing desires you’re trying to integrate?
  • Is there something about success that frightens you? What might that be?

What else? Of course, this is just a sampling of this card’s spectrum, and you may have other insights. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? Feel free to share in comments.

Ace of Pentacles

take the first step in manifesting your idea

Aces are offerings or opportunities of the highest potential of the suit + Pentacles deal with the physical domain of earth, and how we as spiritual beings navigate the material world.

from Darkness of Light (1st ed.)

And so the Ace of Pentacles, Disks, or Coins is the potential or foundation for manifesting in the earthly realm. It asks us to get out of our head and implement that thought, desire, idea; take the first step to give it concrete expression. (This is the Ace that brings the others to tangible form.). This journey will likely take time and require tending, like the seed we plant in the soil of our garden and nurture.

In resistance, we’re stuck. We just can’t move beyond our thoughts and dreams. What holds us back from taking the first step toward manifesting? Perhaps we doubt our ability to manifest.

In excess, is there an overemphasis on the material or physical, of security, or some other aspect of earth?

Questions that we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include:

  • What seeds are you planting?
  • What prevents you from pursuing your soul’s work?
  • Do you feel secure? Is there a part of you that does not?
  • How is your health? Do you get the physical exercise and nutrition that your body needs? How is your relationship with food?
  • Do you have a need for more time connecting with nature?

But of course that’s just a beginning. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? What is your favorite depiction of the Ace of Pentacles, and how are its shadow aspects portrayed?

Ace of Swords

bring forward your ideas; speak your truth

Aces are offerings or opportunities of the highest potential of the suit + Swords deal with the mental realm of air, and our belief systems.

from the Medieval Scapini Tarot

And so, the Ace of Swords offers an opportunity to bring forward whatever it is that needs to be expressed through us. There may be a challenge to our belief system, perhaps new info or a choice (note that the sword is often double-edged); but the mind is open and we have the clarity to express our ideas and speak our truth.

In resistance, we may not feel ready to articulate. We may be confused or foggy, or don’t have all of the information, yet.

In excess, we may be overthinking.

Questions that we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include:

  • What keeps you from expressing your ideas? Is there a part that holds you back from realizing your potential? Why?
  • What holds your tongue from speaking your truth? Where did these limiting beliefs come from?

But of course that’s just a beginning. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? What is your favorite depiction of the Ace of Swords, and how are its shadow aspects portrayed?

Ace of Cups

expand our capacity for compassion and healing

Aces are offerings or opportunities of the highest potential of the suit + Cups rule the domain of water, representing our emotional experiences and how we relate to others.

from Sola Busca Revisited by Tarot by Seven

And so the Ace of Cups reminds us to expand our capacity for compassion and fulfillment in whatever situation is coming up (whether toward self or others). It offers us a chance to more deeply consider what we’re available to receive or take part in.

In resistance, we withdraw. Our heart isn’t available for connection with others, this new experience, or acceptance (again, whether socially or of the self).

In excess, we may hold unrealistic ideals in this new experience or relationship. Are we a little starry-eyed?

Questions that we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include:

  • How connected are you with your subconscious parts? How can you better connect with and accommodate their needs ?
  • How connected are you with your spirituality or a higher power? What do you hope to cultivate in spiritual practice?
  • What parts of you feel the need to protect your heart?

But of course that’s just a beginning. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? What is your favorite depiction of the Ace of Cups, and how are its shadow aspects portrayed?

What Exactly is Shadow Work, Anyway?

We see a lot of mention in tarot circles of shadow work, but what is it, really? It seems to be increasingly trendy in social media, and the term is often thrown around without much explanation or context, so a proper explanation is in order.

Shadow work is a term coined by Carl Jung to describe the collective parts of the psyche which we suppress from consciousness as the least desirable aspects of our personality. He called the shadow “the thing a person has no wish to be.” The more these parts are denied and suppressed, the darker and denser the shadow becomes; thus the more likely they will slip out during our daily interactions, when we least expect them or understand what they are suddenly doing there. Our projections about others, our slips of the tongue, our addictions, our dreams, even our physical symptoms are the manifestations of these parts that have been denied another outlet. We all have a shadow as part of the Self, no matter how much inner work we may have done, and this work can never truly be finished.

The goal of shadow work is to identify those deeper parts and engage compassionately with them to bring them up to the light, so that we may correct their functions and better integrate them into the known parts of the Self. This requires a lot of honesty with yourself. The approach that I like best is to engage them in open dialogue to better understand their role. Most shadow parts are trying to help the Self, and believe they’re doing so. By offering it acceptance and a channel for compassionate communication, we can better understand why and how it’s functioning, and perhaps guide it to a new job in the psyche – one more productive.

So, how do we use tarot in shadow work? I should start by stating that tarot shadow work is absolutely, in no way, shape, or form, an alternative to psychotherapy. If we have complexes which are causing dysfunction in our lives, we really need to consult a trained mental health professional. While health care in the U.S. (never mind mental health care) is often not accessible to those who need it most, there are resources such as betterhelp if coverage is a barrier for you.

Done seriously, shadow work can be an arduous and lengthy process; it really shouldn’t be glamorized and isn’t really meant to be done with a single simple tarot spread. Search Instagram with #tarotshadowspread and you’ll get hundreds, in all shapes and colors and sizes — many so vague or generalized that you’re left with no real insight or next step after having done it. They often portray the shadow as one entity when it’s really a multitude of different parts functioning in complex relationship with the others to, say, protect more sheltered parts or to manage the environment to reduce harm. Sure, these generalized spreads can be helpful in identifying things to work on, but the work doesn’t end there. Shadow work is often a difficult and messy process of reliving old wounds and grinding through the painful memories of a younger you and committing to new practices.

First up, get a notebook or journal. You will be asking yourself a lot of questions with the cards, exploring different aspects of their meanings, and digging down deeper and deeper, like a 2-year old asking “why?” after every single answer you get, and engaging parts of yourself in dialogue — which is all facilitated by free-form writing. Pages of it.

Step one is as simple as identifying a behavior or thought pattern that you’d like to change. I know I have plenty of these, so I’ll bet you can find one, too. In fact, I do actually keep a little list in the Notes app of my phone, which I add to when I’m out in my daily world and notice a shadow part. Later, when I’m aligned and sitting peacefully with my cards, I’ll pull out my handy dandy list and start shuffling the cards.

As a little aside, here: People often ask which decks are good for shadow work, and my suggestion is to use a deck you’re comfortable with and have a good familiarity with. You don’t need a new deck for shadow work, and you definitely don’t need a “dark” deck. The issues that come up for you may be dramatic enough, and you just want a deck that feels like a trusted friend. One of my favorite decks is Bohemian Gothic, with its cold castles and evil dwellers and creepy kids in graveyards — a vibe I love, but don’t necessarily need when trying to create a warm and compassionate approach to shadow parts. Some readers say they want an “honest” deck, but I think each of my decks is honest (or I wouldn’t keep it). Honesty lies in the reader’s interpretation, not a deck of cards. If a certain deck elicits that from you more than another, then that deck would be a good choice.

The key when beginning shadow work is to be in a place of mindfulness or a centered state, free of the complexed parts that often take the driver’s seat. I do this through a simple tripartite soul alignment using breath, but whatever practice allows this for you is right. Many do this as a regular part of their tarot practice before reading, so feel free to adopt whatever works best for you in creating a clear head or channel.

Using the cards in a more conversational style when accessing shadow parts can enable us to tap into them more easily, and function as a tool in deciphering their identities and needs. Start asking questions as you would of any close friend. “Hey, what was up with that outburst, earlier?” Some like to pull 3 cards, some prefer shuffling for jumpers- whatever feels right to you. See what insight is revealed. Ask if there is a part that would like to talk, making sure to create a warm and inviting mental space for that, and start shuffling. Ask who that part is and start shuffling. Ask about the root of that anger / fear / shame / envy / anxiety / whatever, and start shuffling, for as many questions as may be helpful in clarifying the issue or identifying and defining this part. Was there a specific incident or pattern when you were a kid that prompted this? As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask “Why?” over and over and over again to dig deeper down. Don’t forget to journal both your questions and the cards – you will likely be able to glean great insight over time as you move through this process, through repeating cards and connecting the dots with the way the cards portray this inner landscape.

Are there attainable goals in shadow work? Meeting our shadows is vital in spiritual practice (and in just being a better person) to help us to correct those things that cause us fear and shame and guilt, allowing us to evolve past our dysfunctions and into growth, so it is an ongoing process. It can be really effective as a tool in goals work. We can establish attainable goals and set action steps til we’re blue in the face, but without identifying the blocks we’ve put in place to protect us from harm (prevent us from stretching outside of our comfort zone), we may remain stuck in our progress without forward momentum.

So, there are many reasons why shadow work can really help to foster growth and unlock our potential, and various methods how. I’ll continue this series with spreads and questions and techniques, and add some resources in the comments, in the hopes that it grows and blossoms over time; but I hope this is helpful in getting you started with a little bit of clarity and inspiration. Now, get yourself a pen and a notebook and pull out your favorite tarot deck. Shadow work can be really challenging, but I hope and believe it’ll be an amazing journey of discovery for you!