The Gold in the Shadow: 7 Tarot Reversals For Shadow Work

Our shadow doesn’t only contain the repression of characteristics that we consider negative, or lesser. It is not just a repository of our “dark” aspects. In fact, the shadow also holds our radiant qualities and our higher callings, that for one reason or another we have spent a lifetime subconsciously repressing, rejecting, and disowning. The shadow, in this sense, also contains fragmented portions of our own light. And yes, that means that repressing our golden qualities and higher callings cause us to outwardly project and cast judgments onto other people and the world. Aided by a couple of paragraphs from the book “Owning Your Own Shadow” by Robert A. Johnson, let’s explore this dimension of shadow work and the related tarot cards that can show up for us.

One of the main ways in which a Reversal affects the meaning of its card is that it can bring out that card’s “shadow.” Several Reversals in the tarot, such as Judgment Reversed and The Magician Reversed, give us some very interesting insight into aspects of our shadow, with potent invitations for us to integrate certain parts of our shadow that we don’t normally think about when we engage in our shadow work. What we normally think of the shadow consists of those “lesser” aspects of our being that we repress and disown, thus resulting in our projecting it onto the world and other people. For instance, if you have guilt for not having cleaned a mess you made in the kitchen, and your significant other or roommate asks you to clean the kitchen; you may resent them for bossing you around, when in fact it is your unrecognized inner drive to take care of your own mess that is being projected onto them: they’re not being bossy, you’re just disappointed at yourself for not taking care of your stuff. Your disowned inner drive, in this case, is cast into your Shadow. This is a mundane example of something that can involve big questions and deep aspects of our being. In any event, while Robert A. Johnson’s work, I came across an enlightening concept: it’s not just the “lesser” that can be cast into the Shadow. In fact, the “higher” aspects of our being can be disowned and projected as well:

“It is also astonishing to find that some very good characteristics turn up in the shadow. Generally, the ordinary, mundane characteristics are the norm. Anything less than this goes into the shadow. But anything better also goes into the shadow! Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in that great leveling process that is culture. Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide the dark sides. To draw the skeletons out of the closet is relatively easy, but to own the gold in the shadow is terrifying. It is more disrupting to find that you have profound nobility of character than to find out you are a bum. Of course you are both; but one does not discover these two elements at the same time.” [p. 7-8; emphasis added.]

“Owning Your Own Shadow” by Robert A. Johnson

So, the process of integrating our shadows involves not only our “skeletons”, the “negative” or darker aspects of our selves. In fact, as important is to find the “gold” in our shadow: our shiny, radiant, and higher characteristics that are ours but that we may not believe we possess; or that society may in some way repress. In a case of humility-gone-awry, we may lose touch with our Basic Goodness. And as far as our life mission or evolution is concerned, we may even repress and reject the higher callings of our soul:

“The gold is related to our higher calling, and this can be hard to accept at certain stages of life. Ignoring the gold can be as damaging as ignoring the dark side of the psyche, and some people may suffer a severe shock or illness before they learn not to let the gold out. Indeed, this kind of intense experience may be necessary to show us that an important part of us is lying dormant or unused. In tribal cultures, shamans or healers often experience an illness that gives them the insight they need to heal themselves and then bring wisdom to their people. This is often the case for us today. We are still operating with the archetype of the wounded healer who has learned to cure himself and find the gold in his experience.” [p. 8]

“Owning Your Own Shadow” by Robert A. Johnson

In tarot, a card that is connected to our higher callings and purpose is the Judgement card. Traditionally illustrated with an angel blasting a trumpet of awakening that resurrects the dead, this ends-time-vibe card speaks of rebirth and signifies deep “aha!” moments of realization in our lives, as well as rebirth through reconnecting with our callings and with deep invitations from our spirit. Note that in the Smith Waite depiction, the people are rising up from coffins with dark interiors. We can think of the dark coffin interiors as our shadows, and of the Judgment card as a shofar call bringing out the radiant but repressed aspects of our being onto the light of consciousness. Particularly if the Judgement card is reversed, it is speaking to the repression and disownment of our higher callings, purposes, and sense of Basic Goodness. While in this state of rejecting our soul’s callings while here on this earth plane, we are disintegrated, fragmented, and far from consciously whole.

As shown in the quote above, in tribal cultures, healers often experience an illness that provides them with the insight necessary to heal themselves, and to in turn heal others. So, when the Judgment or Judgment Reversed appears for us, we may be invited to look towards our “illnesses”, or undesired conditions and states of being as a source of full realization of our purpose and wisdom. If you have a deep calling to be a healer, for instance, the repression of that calling may be reflected in your life in a variety of ways, many of which can be unpleasant. Or you may even come to resent others’ healing journeys or healing abilities. The details of how the repression of your “gold” and of your higher callings is projected is specific to your own life.  In any event, Judgement or its reversal calls on you to sit with these ideas and boldly awaken to the real-life consequences of the disconnect with and projections of your own repressed higher aspects and callings. Re-own the sense that you are basically good, kind, compassionate and generous of spirit. Further, if you are called to be a guide, or a healer, or on to service of any kind: gently investigate how re-integrating your callings may bring you onto greater wholeness and completeness, in turn healing and blessing the world. How can tapping into these unused reservoirs of purpose re-energize your life and bring you closer to being a fully self-realized human being?

Speaking of The World, this arcanum in tarot is the card of Wholiness and completion, and it is the very last one on the last line of the journey of the Major Arcana. But, before such completeness may be fully realized, there is reintegrating and healing of our shadow, including those radiant parts of our being that we repress. The Judgement card is not the only one to give us insight into this specific area of shadow work. Let’s overview some other Major and Minor Arcana cards that can also nudge us toward re-owning callings and higher vibrational characteristics:

The Magician Reversed

Then we embody The Magician, we are in connection and ownership of our abilities, talents, mission, and purpose. The Magician signifies that sweet spot of Universal intent channeling through us. It finds full expression as we assent to ideas and information coming from the divine source, using our hands to bring the seed of new creations into the world. When The Magician is reversed, however, we may be rejecting and in disbelief of our innate talents, gifts, and resources. We lack belief in ourselves and in our spirit-given abilities. We may even lack trust in our ability to be channels of the divine. Repressed onto our personal underworlds, The Magician in us may reflect outwardly as a sense of lack of personal power and control; as resentment towards other people who fully express their own talents; or as attacks towards a world that we may find beyond salvation. The Magician Reversed guides us towards re-integrating our own personal power and divine connection that we relegate to the shadows. It invites us to re-own the sense of skill and ability that is our birthright.

The Hierophant Reversed

We are all teachers in this world; and many of us are called to step up in being guides, teachers, and healers according to what we have learned in our own healing journeys. The Hierophant Reversed may show up as we dissociate from our wise selves and fail to step up to a teaching position that we may have been called to. When this happens, we may develop animosity towards ourselves, towards other teachers, and towards the spiritual practice as a whole. It may even show up as an intense hatred of religion or institutions. While some of that hatred may feel justified, how could this anger be keeping us fragmented and away from a state of equanimity? Could embodying our own roles as teachers and guides assist us in channeling that anger/drive onto our own work in the transformation of the world?

The Chariot Reversed

The Chariot is a deeply evolutionary card. It marks important periods when we outgrow previous shells and break through towards higher ways of existing. However, we can all downplay the ecstasy of our own evolutionary journeys. While we dwell on the fact that we still have a long way to go on our evolutionary path; we may forget how many times we have victoriously evolved and grown, and that we do have some experience playing out this incarnation. We may disown and reject the fact that we are consciously co-creating with the universe, and that we do have a certain level of control over our reality. The Chariot does contain this element of controlling dueling forces and marching forward towards an evolutionary destination. When these aspects of ourselves are buried in our shadow, and not acknowledged, we may project that onto the world, feeling like everything is completely out of control, that we have no control over our lives, and that we have no say over our destinies. We may feel lost, without direction, without hope. The “gold” that The Chariot or its reversal invites us to find is the fact that we are strong beings imbued with self-determination, a certain amount of control, and that our soul is very much aware of our destinations. We are not lost—we are found. Amidst a confusing world, The Chariot calls on us to re-own our power and resolve as evolutionary beings.

The Sun Reversed

The Sun signifies bright awareness and spiritual joy. With its reversal, this joy is left to be fully realized, and a certain moroseness or pessimism can abound. A spiritual maxim that can be found in traditions across the world is that pure joy is inherent within the human being, and that getting in touch with one’s true self brings out that joy like a bright flame. However, due to a variety of factors ranging from personality types to past trauma, that inherent joy may be hidden and relinquished to our shadow. We may in turn see the world as a solely cloudy, dark, confusing, and sad place.  In that sense, The Sun Reversed invites us to re-own the peace of being and bright awareness that is our inherent gift as human beings. While yes, the world can be a cruel place; we have been incarnated here as ambassadors of consciousness and life. Inspiring individuals in the direst situations have been able connect with their joy despite their circumstances. We too, can set a strong intention to reveal our inner contentment and joy, letting that wash over our life with confidence and optimism. We all have an insane amount of energy that gets buried and disowned. We make ourselves believe in the invincibility of our own sadness and grief. The Sun or The Sun Reversed, however, get us back in touch with own joyous selves.

6 of Wands Reversed

6 of Wands is a card of recognition, acknowledgement of one’s own efforts, and riding the wave of one’s past work and endeavors. When reversed, this card may indicate that we are failing to acknowledge our own successes and our own efforts. We may downplay how far we have come, and all the work we put into our journey. This may project outwardly, and we end up creating stories to uphold the narrative that the world doesn’t recognize us, that we don’t have inherent worth, or that we are a failure. We think to ourselves that we are unworthy, untalented; and in turn interpret the actions of other people and of society as confirming this false ideal of our lack of recognition. The shadow work invitation of this card and of this reversal, in finding our “gold”, is to practice radical self-recognition of our self-worth, of our motivations and or our efforts. Outward recognition starts with oneself!

Page of Cups Reversed

The Page of Cups is a messenger of Spirit. The appearance of this card often signifies that a certain message or invitation is being repeatedly communicated to us from our inner selves or from the spiritual realm. However, we may not be heading its call, or even outright blocking it. When we block important messages from the spirit, its urgency is cast into our shadows. That may reflect outwardly as we feel disconnected from our heart and from our soul; we may feel like we cannot hear spiritual messages; and we may feel confused or conflicted over our life path. Continuously ignoring spiritual messages may reflect in the form of telling incidents and happenings in our life; “coincidences” that may cause us concern. In fact, we are all connected to spirit, and we are all more than capable of listening to messages from the heart and from the soul. We are golden recipients of spiritual communication. The Page of Cups or its reversal sends a message for us to investigate the communications and signs that we may be casting into the shadow. They will pop up in our lives in some way or another. Can we take the steps to open our spiritual ears to them?

In Sum

Each card of the tarot has wisdom regarding our re-owning our own gold, and acknowledging our own higher callings. When doing readings, be on the lookout for the higher qualities and aspirations that the cards you pull represent. Ask yourself, am I hiding and disowning any of these higher qualities? Can I accept the fact that this “gold” already exists within me? Can I embody my higher callings and positive qualities with my whole heart? My hope is that this article will have you finding and revealing all the goodness, kindness, and compassion that already exists in you. May your light come out of its shadow.

Shadow Work Journaling Practice I:

7 Days of Gold

This tarot exercise can be incorporated into your shadow work. While you could use the instructions below to do a quick reading in one sitting, this practice is meant to be a week-long endeavor. If you journal, this would be a great exercise to incorporate into your journaling for that week. For this exercise, we will go over the tarot cards mentioned in this article, one by one.

  1. Grab a tarot deck and select each of the cards mentioned in this article: Judgment, The Magician, The Hierophant, The Chariot, The Sun, 6 of Wands, and the Page of Cups.
  2. Put the 7 cards in a little pile, and shuffle well without looking.
  3. Each day of your week-long exercise, blindly pull one card. Review my points above regarding each card, and check in with yourself:
    1. (a)  What “golden” aspects or higher calling of this card you may be relegating to your shadow?
    2. (b) How could you be projecting those disowned aspects onto other people, the world, or onto your life in general?
    3. (c) If you arrive at any personal insights for future action and further work, write them down. If applicable or desirable, set an intention to engage in healing on any of these specific points.
  4. Put the card that you pulled for each day aside and back into your deck. Repeat for 7 days until have gone through the 7 cards.

Shadow Work Journaling Practice II:

Finding My Gold

For this exercise, you will use your entire deck. Incorporate your reversals and shuffle well. Then, pull one card. In the manner of my analysis of the 7 cards overview in this article, ask yourself what higher callings or golden qualities this card that you pulled may evoke. Have you disowned any of those qualities into your shadow? Are you in a place in which you can acknowledge this disownment? Are there any projections associated with now owning this quality or higher calling? If applicable or desirable, can you recognize that this golden quality or higher quality is already within you? Some cards may prove more challenging than others to interpret in this method. Repeat with different cards whenever you’d like to do some shadow work on finding your gold!