In shadow work (which I’ve written about here), we often deal with the “shadow” meanings of cards. Very primitively speaking, some readers treat all cards as reversals in their shadow work readings; some readers try to explore the “hidden” meanings of the cards; some readers follow their intuition. The thing is, shadow work is closely linked to how you prefer to deal with negative topics in Tarot and what your take on reversals is.
My favourite example of this is the Tarot of Vampyes by Ian Daniels, which includes one of the most amazing companion books I have seen – the Phantasmagoria. So how Daniels treats “reversals” is that he doesn’t exactly use them, but he does encourage the reader to explore the shadow meaning of the card if he or she feels that the card is actually in a “shadow” position (which, for some readers, could be a reversal).
But what IS the shadow meaning of a card? Is it safe to say that if the Sun means joy, then its reversed or shadow meaning is despair? If the Three of Swords means heartache, will its shadow meaning be recovery? This is a technique many use for reading reversals (and one that I don’t).
Then there is the classic “156 card system”, where you study by heart all traditional RWS meanings, and then an additional set of 78 reversed meanings.
And then there is the shadow meanings. I thought long and hard how I could possibly explain my take on the shadow meanings (since I almost decided to write an entire essay on Qliphoth, the DARK Tree of Life), and then I decided to use the seven planetary sins and virtues. Not for any particular reason (okay, totally for a reason – here I wrote about the Major Arcana and its rainbow colours in the petals of the sacred rose, so it only makes sense to follow the rainbow path.
There are Seven Planetary Sins:
But, as you might have guessed, there are also seven planetary virtues,
So when we discuss sin versus virtue, we do not discuss the opposite of something; we discuss the virtue gone sour. In Venus, we have the virtue of Love. Unconditional, warm, caring, nurturing, water-lily-bursting love. But when love turns to its ugly sour form, we find lust – possessiveness, raw animality, carelessness, neglect, selfishness and all the other niceties that come with.
Or take Mars – the courage and bravery of a warrior fighting for a cause can turn awry when the cause is lost and all that remains is burning ashes and a heap of rage. Wrath is not courage, but it can stem from it. Lust is not love, but they share common roots.
It is very important to realize that the shadow meaning of a card is not its opposite meaning. It is the overextended, overemphasized, rotten meaning. The Ten of Pentacles in the Sacred Rose pictures a cornucopia. It always brings into my mind the wedding feast of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, as she left the fruit, the wine and the delicatessen to rot until they were covered in rats and worms and guano. It is affluence turned bad.
The Seven Planets Shadow Work Exercise
1 | Choose a deck you feel comfortable, but inspired working with
2 | Get some journal space
3 | Write down the Seven Planets in the middle of the sheet, leave empty space on both sides in two columns. These will be your columns for VICE and VIRTUE
4 | Draw a card for each of the planets
5 | Contemplate on the card you drew in regards to the planet itself. How does the energy of this planet manifest in my life?
6 | Put the card on either the VICE or VIRTUE column and interpret it accordingly
E.g: In Mars, you draw Knight of Wands. Do you put it under vice or virtue? Why? How do the Martian qualities manifest in your life, based on this card?
Have fun and share your thoughts and ideas (and results, why not) in the comment section