In my most recent YouTube video, I talked about how my big goal for this month was to really get down and dirty with my shadow work. I talk a little bit in that video about the amazing success I’ve had, and about why I think anyone and everyone could benefit from shadow work. (I also talk about what exactly shadow work is and where the term comes from, so if you’re a little bit confused I would definitely recommend checking out the video.)
In order to keep that video from being an hour long, I decided to provide additional resources here. These are some of the most effective methods I’ve found for doing shadow work, and I wanted to share them for anyone else who is preparing to embark on this journey. You could do one or two of the exercises on this list, or you could do all of them if you want to be extra thorough. I’ve listed them in the order I would recommend going about them if you were going to do all five.
Method 1: Find Your Shadow Archetype
I learned this method from the Fat Feminist Witch podcast — she did a whole episode titled “Emotional Witchcraft” which covered shadow work and other forms of magickal self care. In that episode, she talks about the book Light Magic For Dark Times by Lisa Marie Basile, which is where this method originally came from. This is a great starting point for shadow work, and is a fantastic way to identify the shadow aspects you need to work on.
The only things you need for this method are a piece of paper, a pen or pencil, and your imagination.
First, think back to all of the books, movies, video games, etc. that you’ve consumed over the years. Think about the villains from those stories. Try to identify a villain that you’ve always felt a strong connection to, or that you see aspects of yourself in. Maybe you’ve always kind of loved Maleficent, or maybe you’ve got a soft spot for Poison Ivy. You don’t necessarily have to think this character is a good person — in fact, it’s better if you don’t.
Once you’ve got a character in mind, draw a dividing line down the middle of a sheet of paper. On the left side of the paper, write down every negative trait you can think of about this character. (Remember, these aren’t your traits — right now, we are working only with the fictional villain.) They can be big, obvious things, like “Killed several dozen people,” but the list should also include smaller and more mundane traits, like “Holds grudges,” or “Has a martyr complex.” Take your time with this. The more thorough your list is, the more helpful this exercise will be.
After you’ve finished your list of negative traits, move to the right half of the paper. Now, start making a list of all the positive traits you see in this character. Once you get going, you’ll be surprised by how many good things you can find in this “bad” person. This list should end up being at least as long as the first, if not longer.
After you’ve finished both lists, take a good look at them. Think about how the traits on the left side of your paper are related to the traits on the right. In many cases, you’ll realize that they stem from the same underlying personality traits — one cannot exist without the other. Think about how these lists relate to you. Be honest with yourself. Are there traits on the “negative” list that you see in yourself, or that you find yourself actively trying to suppress? How are those things related to the traits on the “positive” list? Try to think of practical ways to embrace the positive aspects of this character. You might want to record a short journal entry with all your thoughts.
Method 2: Use a Tarot Spread (or several)
Tarot is a time-honored tool for self-reflection. It’s all about connecting with the subconscious mind and bringing things to the surface, which makes it perfect for shadow work. Tarot is a powerful psychological tool, even if you don’t believe in a mystical or magickal aspect to the cards!
The easiest way to use Tarot for self-reflection is to do a single-card reading. Take your deck in your hands, and focus on your connection to it. Tell yourself, either in your head or out loud, that you will draw the card you are meant to read. Then, ask your question. Some questions that would be suitable for a shadow work reading are:
- “What do I need to know about my shadow?”
- “What action can I take to assimilate my shadow?”
- “What issue from my past do I need to work on?”
- “What obstacle may prevent me from assimilating my shadow?”
After you ask it, focus on that question as you shuffle the cards. You will feel intuitively when it is time to stop shuffling. You can either cut the cards and then draw one, or simply draw a card from the top of the stack. Study the card carefully — pay attention to its symbolism, as well as how it makes you feel or anything it brings to mind. If you don’t have all the cards memorized and need to look up the symbolism online, that’s okay! Just keep in mind that your first gut reaction to the card is what matters most in its interpretation, even if it doesn’t match up with the commonly accepted meaning.
You can also use spreads with multiple cards to get a deeper, more in-depth look at a single issue. YouTuber Kelly-Ann Maddox has a great series about shadow work on her channel, including a couple of different videos about tarot spreads. I used several of her spreads to explore how my shadow affects my life and how I could work on those areas, and I had really great results. I would definitely recommend checking out her channel if you want to use tarot as your main shadow work tool.
If you don’t have access to a deck of tarot cards, you can also use regular playing cards. These use a separate set of symbolism, but you can look up their meanings online.
Method 3: Look At Your Astrology
This one is a lot of fun. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about astrology, but I do find it interesting and I enjoy going over my own birth chart and exploring my connection to the cosmos. (If the phrase “birth chart” is totally foreign to you, here’s the oversimplified version: your birth chart is essentially a snapshot of the night sky — and, importantly, the position of all the major planets and astral bodies — at the exact time of your birth. Astrologers believe that examining the birth chart can provide insight into a person’s personality, actions, and destiny.) There are actually multiple planets and signs that can be helpful to study when doing shadow work.
Saturn is the first astral body that can shed light (pun intended) on your shadow work journey. Saturn is associated with constriction and limitation — the limits that we set for ourselves, as well as those that are set for us by other people. Many astrologers believe that the position of Saturn in someone’s birth chart can indicate areas of their life where will they will struggle, but ultimately experience growth. Saturn is also associated with fathers and fatherhood, so if you have a rocky relationship with your father or with a father figure, that can be another added element to Saturn’s influence in your shadow.
For example, in my birth chart, Saturn is in Taurus. Taurus is a sign associated with material wealth, physical pleasure, and comfort. Having my Saturn in Taurus, however, means that I sometimes struggle in these areas. I hate greed, and will actively try to avoid doing things that can make me come across as greedy. One of my challenges is in learning to accept that I am deserving of some physical pleasures, and that indulging the senses can be a healing and uplifting experience.
The comet Chiron, though less constant than Saturn, can also give us some insight into our shadows. Chiron is said to represent both our “deepest wound” and how we can heal that wound. Self-esteem issues, overcompensation, and feelings of helplessness all fall under Chiron’s domain.
Chiron is in Scorpio in my chart. Scorpio is a complex sign, associated with both death and sex, and with the psychic realm. Having my Chiron in this sign means that I struggle with the concept of loss, especially in interpersonal relationships. It can be hard for me to form deep connections with other people due to my fear of getting hurt if that connection is severed. In my case, healing this “wound” involves listening to my feelings, doing conscious acts of self-love, and allowing myself to be open to relationships.
The third astral body that I like to look at in relation to shadow work is Lilith, also called Black Moon Lilith. Rather than being a planet or asteroid, Lilith is a mathematical point in space. This is an interesting one. Named after a demon from Jewish folk lore, it’s related to sex and sexuality, especially the “darker” side of sexuality, like fantasies and secret turn-ons. Lilith can also represent the darkness inside of us, such as our private fears and secret desires, as well as areas of life that we struggle with or that cause us anxiety.
My Lilith is in Scorpio, which is interesting because it aligns with Chiron’s position in my chart. People with Lilith in this sign can have issues with sex, intimacy, and emotional attachment. We tend to be afraid, or even paranoid, of the dark sides of relationships, like jealousy and possessive behavior. Lilith in Scorpio folks can be uncomfortable with public displays of affection.
If you don’t have a copy of your birth chart, you can find birth chart generators online with a quick Google search. Consulting your chart can be a fun way to supplement shadow work, and is a little less heavy than some of these other methods.
Method 4: Use a Guided Meditation or Pathworking to Meet Your Shadow Self
This one is a little bit more intense/advanced, so I would recommend trying one or all three of the previously mentioned methods first. A pathworking is a type of meditation that involves taking a guided mental journey while in a meditative state. Usually, pathworkings are done with a set goal or intention in mind — in this case, the goal is to meet and make peace with a manifestation of your own shadow.
Begin by sitting or laying down in a quiet place where you can have some time alone. You may want to do something to set the mood, like burning incense, playing meditation music, or lighting a candle. Take a few deep breaths. Visualize your connection to the earth beneath you, as if there were strong roots growing from the base of your spine into the ground, stabilizing and grounding you. Next visualize your connection to the world of spirit (or the mental world, if you prefer). I like to imagine a waterfall of pure white light flowing down from the sky above, entering the top of my head, and slowly trickling down until it fills my whole body. Once you feel completely connected, focus on your breathing. With each breath, feel yourself moving inward. You are retreating into your inner world. You are ready to take a journey through your own mind.
In your mind’s eye, see yourself standing at the edge of a forest. Try to be there completely — feel the grass beneath your feet, smell the scent of growing plants, hear the birds singing in the trees. When you feel fully present in this new landscape, begin to walk deeper into the trees. Take your time as you make your way through the forest. Eventually, you come to a clearing. In the clearing is a figure — it may be a human, an animal, or a mythical creature. It looks as if they have been waiting for you.
Pay attention to this figure, and try to notice every little detail. What do they look like? How much — or how little — do they resemble you? Do they frighten you, or make you sad, or make you feel something else? What are they wearing? Are they holding anything?
At this point, you will have a conversation with your shadow. It may be long or short; they may be polite or rude; you may hear their voice or simply intuitively receive their messages. Pay attention to what they say. Remember throughout this conversation that your end goal is to make peace with your shadow. Talk with them for as long as it takes to reach an understanding.
Once you have finished your conversation with your shadow, turn and walk back through the forest until you return to your starting point. Begin to breathe deeply. With each breath, feel yourself returning to the physical world and to awareness of your body. Once again, focus on your connection to the earth and to the world of spirit. Wiggle your fingers and toes. When you feel ready, open your eyes.
It’s best to immediately write down what happened in your pathworking after you finish. As you do so, you may notice new layers of meaning that you didn’t see before. Writing it down also means you can look back on it later and compare it to other shadow work exercises you do in the future.
Method 5: Ritualistic Journaling
This method is one that I picked up from YouTuber Anais Alexandre, and although it’s not my favorite method for shadow work in general, it is really great for digging deep into a single fear, bad habit, or repressed personality trait and discovering the root of the problem. It’s also one of the simplest methods on this list — all you need is paper, a pen, and some free time.
You may find it helpful to begin by creating a sacred space by burning incense, lighting candles, playing music, or just taking a few mindful deep breaths. At the top of your paper, write your question. This question should relate to a specific issue that you want to work with. For example, it could be something like, “Why am I afraid to be myself around other people?” Focus on your question. Try to be honest with yourself, and to keep yourself in a sacred or spiritual place while you contemplate it.
Write a response to your question on the next line of your paper. In response to our example question, you may write, “Because I am afraid they’ll think I’m weird.” This response will probably raise additional questions, such as, “Why does the idea of people thinking I’m weird make me afraid?” Write that next question down, contemplate it, then answer it. Continue with this pattern. You’re essentially having a conversation with yourself.
You want to keep writing until you reach the root cause of the issue and decide on a solution to address it. Sticking with our example question from earlier, you may find that your fear of expressing yourself stems from being bullied in elementary school. You may not have thought about this trauma in years, and may not even have realized it was still having an effect on you, but it’s causing you to put a lot of pressure on yourself to fit in. A possible solution would be to make a commitment to stop measuring your success by how other people perceive you, and to give yourself permission to be “weird.”
In order to enact this solution in your life, you might use daily affirmations — starting each day with writing down or saying something like, “I love myself no matter what other people think. I am allowed to stand out. The world deserves to see how unique I am.” Depending on your spiritual beliefs, you might start wearing crystals and stones associated with courage and self-expression, or you might do some healing work with your root, sacral, and/or throat chakra. Only you can decide the best way to use what you’ve learned from shadow work.
And that’s the most important part of shadow work, no matter what method you use: using the knowledge you’ve gained to improve your life. A lot of people talk about “being your most authentic self,” and shadow work is a great way to accomplish this. Successful shadow work makes us more aware of ourselves, and helps us to embrace all parts of our personalities. It gives us a chance for mindful self-examination, and allows us to live more loving and fulfilling lives.
If you’re interested in starting your own shadow work journey and would like to hear someone else share their personal experiences, stay tuned! I will be posting a second part to my shadow work video where I’ll specifically talk about my personal shadow work journey, some of the exercises I used, and how it affected my life. That video will be up on YouTube tomorrow, so keep an eye out for it!
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