Tarot Tutorial ~ Shadow Draws, Decks and Designs

I recently play-tested a new Tarot deck live on my Facebook page (here’s the video). The deck in question is the TrueBlack Tarot and I specifically acquired it for Shadow readings.  I’ve gotten a lot of questions since then about how and when to use a Shadow deck and what layouts to follow.  So, today, I’m putting on my best professor guise to talk about Shadow Readings.

McGonagall is #witchgoals


What is Shadow?

In my Tarot practice, Shadow can take two forms.  The first is the repressed, hidden or destructive parts of our psychology and the influence those impulses have on our lives. Our Shadow behaviors are frequently obstacles to our goals.  If you find that you are repeating the same circumstance or behavior over and over and over again, or that you are forever at the edge of being successful and then something happens to screw that up, or that for some reason you just can’t manifest the change you’ve been trying for, it’s time to look at your Shadow.

The second form that Shadow readings take has to do with bad washing – with fucked up people doing fucked up things for fucked up reasons.  If I suspect a client has been hexed or is carting around an enormous ancestral paradox (an inherited challenge that causes trouble in most of or an entire bloodline), I break out my Shadow deck.

Bring. It. On.

Why a Shadow deck?

Shadow readings are absolutely possible using a ‘normal’ tarot deck.  For the past few years, I’ve been using one of my older, semi-retired decks to fulfill that purpose.  You can also use the same deck to read for Shadow that you do for surface.  You would just need to do two readings. The reason I prefer to have a ‘dedicated’ deck has to do with resonance.  Tools that are attuned to a specific vibration are better at accessing that vibration.  Think of it like overtones and undertones.  If you hit the middle C on a piano, the Cs up and down the instrument ring out.  By using a tool that resonates to a particular magickal ‘note,’ you have a better chance of getting the fullness of that message.

For a Shadow deck, I chose a deck with darker imagery.  The TrueBlack Tarot is beautiful but quite dark, perfect for interpreting the shadow meanings of different cards.    I also specifically chose it because some of the artwork deviates a bit from the Waite-Smith inspired art of most Tarot decks.  In my hands, it functions somewhere in between a Tarot deck and an Oracle deck.  The given meanings of the cards inform the meaning I access during a reading but leave room for my intuition and psychic ability to speak as well.

Using Shadow Divination in Readings

There are many ways to begin accessing Shadow during readings.  One technique I use is to include a draw (or a few draws) from my Shadow deck during ‘regular’ readings.

  • Add a draw for ‘What Shadow impulses do I most need to examine and resolve right now?’ Or, ‘What Shadow impulses are preventing me from achieving my goals?’
  • If you are doing a general reading, include a Shadow draw for any Obstacle cards. For example, in a Celtic Cross layout, the second card is generally a Challenge/Obstacle.  Draw a card from your Shadow deck in addition to the standard to see what Shadow impulses support the Obstacle.  It will tell you what you need to work on in yourself as well as what to work with on the surface.
  • If you draw a card for a position and that card makes no sense, this might be a place where a Shadow draw would be informative. Sometimes our subconscious urges are more powerful than anything we’re doing consciously and that undercurrent can cause a wonky reading.


Shadow Layouts

You know what works great with a Shadow deck? The ‘What the Actual Fuck’ spread from Interrobang Tarot. This is a great layout for examining a particularly fucked up situation.  Full marks, highly recommend.

  1. – 2. WHAT THE: (Center Cross) The face of my current challenge. The crux of what hounds me.
    3. ACTUAL: What is real about this situation?
    4. FUCK: What is wrong about this situation?
    5. ?: Where do I need more information? Where do I need to ask, research, and listen?
    6. !: What can I do? What first steps can I take in action?


Basic Shadow Reading

One good way to examine our Shadow impulses is to do a simple but informative reading specifically looking at that area of our lives.

  1. What Shadow behavior is preventing me from moving forward right now?
  2. What work must I do to uncover and resolve that Shadow behavior?
  3. What parts of my Self must I be prepared to face in this work?


Bad Washing Spread

This spread has a prerequisite – you either need to know for a fact that a hex has been placed on your client OR run a simple yes/no divination before laying this one out to see if a hex is present. It is incredibly easy to allow our paranoia to grab the wheel when we hit a run of bad luck or experience rough waters.  A pre-reading determination of whether a Bad Washing Spread is even necessary will help manage the oogedy boogedies.

  1. What does the hex do? How does it affect me?
  2. Who placed it?
  3. How do I break the hex?
  4. How do I protect myself from the Sender?
  5. How do I make myself less vulnerable to this kind of hex in the future?

You’ll notice that this layout takes the form of a Banishing Pentagram if you complete that last line from 5 to 1.


Ancestral Paradox Spread

An ancestral paradox is an inherited energetic obstacle.  They can be caused by deep trauma to our forebears, old hexes and curses on the entire family line or repression of magickal abilities and gifts (among other things).  Paradoxes manifest by affecting an entire bloodline or one specific subset of it (all the women, or all children born with a particular physical trait).  Those impacts can include a particular flavor of mental illness, poor luck in a specific area of life, fertility problems, physical illnesses that repeat, a repeating age of death, etc.  When you’re evaluating yourself or others for an ancestral paradox, you’re looking for patterns across a bloodline.  The impact will be to more than just one person.

    1. What is the nature of the paradox? (Trauma, hex, repression, or other)
    2. How can the paradox be removed?
    3. Do I need additional knowledge, tools, or resources to remove it?   3a. (if 3 is a yes) What resources must I gather to remove the paradox?
    4. What impact will removing the paradox have on those affected by it?
    5. What must I do after removing the paradox to support healing?
    6. What will the ultimate outcome be?


Relationship Spread

This spread should be used when a relationship between two people is in conflict.  It can apply to almost any kind of relationship – romantic, friendship, familial, etc.  It explores both the suppressed Shadow behaviors currently influencing the situation and what is necessary to resolve those behaviors.

  1. The Shadow behavior currently impacting the relationship (both partners)
  2. What needs to be resolved in order to move forward (both partners)
  3. Ultimate outcome


If you use one of my layouts, let me know how it goes!  Also, if you want to have a Shadow reading done but would prefer not to do it yourself, get in touch.  Do you have a particular layout you love to do for exploring Shadow?  Hit me up in the comments.




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2 Replies to “Tarot Tutorial ~ Shadow Draws, Decks and Designs”


    your layouts works SO well for me, i can’t stop playing with them, and i don’t even have enough tarot clients these days to use all these so i’m reading for myself obsessively GAAAAAAHHHHHHHH.

    :::::::::runs away to dive back into decks::::::::::::

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