Part 2: How to Use the Shadowland Tarot Deck

by Monica Bodirsky

Last week in Part 1, I spoke about my own experiences with shadows, and as we move from winter to spring in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a perfect time to shake out a few cobwebs. Today in Part 2, I will share how I use a simple 3-card spread that will offer you insight and direction to a block you may be experiencing.

Over the years I have found that most of my Tarot clients arrive seeking questions about direction, choices, and are seeking a way to move forward. Often they describe feeling stuck in jobs or relationships and don’t know what to do. They see cards as holding secret information and readers as translators through which normally inaccessible information can be conveyed. While I love my cards and I love helping people gain clarity, I believe strongly that anyone and everyone who is inclined can learn how to read the Shadowland Tarot and embark on shadow work.

Some of us possess intuitive gifts, but this is not a necessity to become a good Tarot reader, and I want to stress that you can access all of the answers you seek without a reader or forty-plus years of experience. In an age where we can find so many Tarot decks and classes, we have the ability to learn from many teachers and practice reading so we can become empowered and not dependent upon others whenever we face challenges. Becoming self-sufficient and building resilience through learning to use Tarot is something I encourage.

The common denominator in most client readings is the inability to see a way forward within the repeated patterns of their lives. I feel that these often occur to all of us due to a lack of recognition of our own behaviors and perceptions. Understanding that we can’t control others and that we need to look at how we can change or modify how we react to situations and others is the first step. We often see ourselves as victims, and indeed many of us have been and are; however, I am speaking about our behaviors that when changed will benefit our lives.

Carl Jung believed that in recognizing our own personality shadows, we could work with them and move forward to become fully integrated people and distinguish between what is ours to work on and what belongs to others. His theory of shadow work included his belief that we suppress distasteful aspects of our personality and then inadvertently project these onto others.

For example, if I am particularly offended by what I perceive as arrogance and am surprised by the number of people I meet who are arrogant, it could be a coincidence; however, it could also be that I possess these characteristics but refuse to acknowledge them and, therefore, I see them in everyone else. It could be I am arrogant or fear being arrogant, so rather than take accountability, which means now that I see it I have to do something, I will take the easy way out and project it onto others. We all know the drama queen who always wonders why everything happens to them. It is important to note, if you are self-aware and have worked on and resolved your own shadow of arrogance and still see it in others, those people are probably just arrogant. We should always look at all sides of every situation before assessing it.

In addition to Jung’s interpretation, I feel memories may also be viewed as shadows if they hold us back. Spiritually, I also think that if we learn how to communicate with certain energies, we can peer into the shadows to retrieve otherwise unknown or forgotten information that may assist our journey forward. All of these interpretations involve self-awareness and can help us become unstuck. By acknowledging and accepting both shadow and light in our lives we can find psychological, emotional, or metaphysical balance.

The characters of Shadowland represent 78 Tarot aspects of the complex personalities we all share and although they are lighthearted they do not negate the serious work for which they were designed. I have used many Tarot decks for delving into shadows and seeking answers, and have several favorites, however, none offered the imagery or perspective I sought.

Now I use the Shadowland cards, and the first thing I suggest to a client who feels stuck is one of my simple 3-card spreads. Here it is, please give it a try:

  1. Take your Shadowland Tarot (or a Rider Waite Smith-style deck) and shuffle. There is no need to turn the cards because we won’t be using reversals. I don’t read reversals with this deck because the light and shadow aspects are both within the image right side up.
  • After shuffling—and don’t get hung up on shuffling; just do your best—take the top card and place it face up in front of you. Take a second card and lay it face up and to the right of the first card. Take a third card and lay it next to card 2 face-up.
  • Let’s interpret them. The card in the middle represents your current state and where you are at this moment in time: mentally, physically, spiritually, and possibly financially. The card to the left represents a shadow (a blockage) you are not recognizing, and the card on the far right represents your suggested course of action. In my book, I am using many standard RWS interpretations but have left a lot of clues in the drawings so remember to look closely at the art because it will help you interpret the cards.

For example, if I pull the Ace of Pentacles, which represents the first card of the Earth element, as my current situation card, it is telling me I am about to begin something material. It could be I am creating with my hands, working with the earth, starting a new job, project or simply at the beginning of a journey towards creating security.

If the card to the left is the Devil card, a personal fave, it might be saying my shadow is manifesting by making me apathetic and not looking at the outcomes of my actions. I might be in it for instant gratification instead of long-term goals, or perhaps I really don’t care how I am affecting others. Not a particularly positive card and one that requires you to be objective about how you see yourself in this situation, the Devil is not there to make you feel bad but encourages you to reflect on your behavior so that you can deal with it and achieve your long-term goals.

OK, now that the Devil has been seen and illuminated, and, by the way, he is pretty funny—who hasn’t just hung out self-absorbed while the city burns behind us? We’ve all been selfish. So what is the solution? Let’s look at your third card for the answer. Let’s say you turn over the 3 of Pentacles. This card shows a proud bug that has created an art installation, perhaps a commission.

How do you interpret this? The suggestion here is that instead of hanging out sucking back a can of beer you little devil, you use your free time to create something you are proud of and that is useful.

After you have looked at all three of your own cards, try to summarize the full reading something like this. Remember, often the question is the answer. If you wonder what the Devil card means, keep it simple with a keyword. The Devil card is about selfishness; the answer implied, therefore, is selflessness. There are many ways to interpret cards individually and in context so along with looking up the meanings of the card, let your own experiences inform your answers and try to not be defensive.

From my example, my summary of this three-card shadow spread might look like this.

“I am currently at the beginning of starting a new project but I’m not really looking at it realistically or perhaps not in a communal way. Maybe if I had a deadline, structure, and worked more collaboratively, I could achieve something that benefits myself as well as others.”

Remember, I have been reading for a long time and it becomes much easier over years and years of practice. In the meantime, I have included reflection questions in my book so that you can get there a little quicker. There are also many spreads for you to try as well as my fave FAQs collected over the years. Think of the Shadowland deck and book set as a lantern for you to illuminate your life, whether directly through shadow work or simply as a Tarot deck.

Gaining insight from visual symbolism is an ongoing process and requires patience, honesty, and resilience; however, since embarking on my own journey I’ve become more focused and able to deal with difficult situations with relative ease. In learning to accept both my own shadows and light, I have developed balanced self-esteem as opposed to ego, and, the ability to help myself as well as others while retaining healthy boundaries.

I hope this article inspires you to journey into the shadows so that you may illuminate them and make all of your dreams become reality.

Monica Bodirsky, BDes, is a first-generation Canadian artist, author, educator, and, professional Tarot reader with over forty years of experience and spiritual training.  Informed by a familial northern and eastern European gift for seership and folk magic, she is passionate about making creative tools that foster self-awareness and help people build bridges between the seen and unseen realms. Her work has manifested as the Lucky Lenormand Oracle, the House of Shadows Lenormand Oracle, and the Awakening artist’s residency, as well as numerous international workshops, lectures, written work, and visual arts connecting and integrating Earth-based spirituality with creativity. Invited as a pagan delegate and panelist to the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions, she is also the founder of the WITCHfest North Arts and Culture Festival.