What’s the Shadow Card in a Tarot Reading?

April 11, 2022

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Have you ever seen a tarot reader glance at the bottom of the deck before they interpret the cards they’ve drawn? They might lay out their tarot cards and then do a final flip to the bottom of the deck to see what that card is. Or maybe they check it at the very end of a tarot reading.

Why are they doing this? They’re checking the shadow card.

What does that mean? And should you be doing this too? How do you incorporate it into the rest of your tarot spread?

This post answers all those questions by going over the three main ways to interpret that shadow card in tarot.

This post goes over the three main ways to interpret that shadow card. Read on or watch the YouTube video below. Your choice!

Three Ways to Interpret the Shadow Card in a Tarot Reading

1. Foundation or Overall Theme for the Tarot Spread

The first way to read the shadow card in a tarot reading is to lay out your spread and then check it before giving your reading. When you do this, you treat the shadow card as the foundation or overall theme of the tarot spread you’ve laid out.

Imagine that you are doing a tarot reading. You shuffle your tarot deck as you think about or ask your tarot question out loud. You stop shuffling and pull the cards needed for your spread from the top of the deck. After you lay them out on the table and then you turn the deck of remaining tarot cards over to see what the very bottom card is. That’s the shadow card. Some people even take that card and put it to the side of the spread as a reminder of the overall theme or direction the spread is taking us in.

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If you interpret the shadow card in this way, it almost becomes a clarifier for the spread – or a reminder of what flavor or direction you want to take your interpretation of each of the cards.

[Related: How to Use Clarifier Cards in Tarot Readings]

Most frequently, I read tarot cards for myself. I use it as a self-discovery tool, as a way to dig past my own bullshit, and get to the heart of what it is I’m trying to sort through or feel out. But if I am ever doing a tarot spread for somebody else, I usually take a peek at that shadow card before I interpret my spread for them. Why? Because since I’m not reading for myself – and I’m not a mind reader – I appreciate a little more context or guidance for the overall reading. The shadow card acts as that and helps me get a little more organized with my interpretations.

2. Final Message about the Tarot Spread

Instead of checking at the beginning of your tarot reading, some people check the shadow card after they are done giving a reading.

If you choose to work with the shadow card in this way, you shuffle and draw tarot cards for your tarot spread as usual. Then, you just set the tarot deck aside for the remainder of the reading. Don’t touch it yet!

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You interpret your tarot spread as you normally would. And then, when you are nearing the end of your interpretation, that’s when you check the shadow card. Essentially, with this second method, you leave yourself in suspense about the shadow card. You check it only after you’ve already interpreted the primary cards in the spread.

Why would you do it this way? Because this way of interpreting the shadow card treats it as a final confirmation or validation of the interpretation you’ve already given . Some readers don’t want the shadow card to color their reading until they’ve given it. So it  comes in only at the end. It’s a neat little bow, or a final piece of pizzazz for the tarot package they’ve already wrapped up. Think of it as a little cherry on top. One final message from Source, spirit guides, your intuition, whatever you believe you are channeling when you’re reading the cards.

[Related: 5 Beginner Tips for Giving Great Tarot Readings]

3. Hidden Influences

The third way to interpret the shadow card matches its name the most in my opinion. It could represent hidden – or shadow – influences. In other words, this shadow card can indicate a hidden or repressed fear or desire that is subconsciously influencing our situation.

The term “shadow” often refers to this darker, repressed side of ourselves. When we talk about our shadow side, we often refer to a part of us that we maybe don’t like or aren’t very proud of. It could represent a fear, trauma, or anything difficult we’ve been repressing that we might be better served processing and working through.

I love the poetic nature of this concept because we tend to bury these darker aspects of ourselves, and that’s literally what’s happening to this card in the tarot deck. It’s buried all the way at the bottom of the tarot deck! It’s trying to avoid getting pulled out into the open and into your tarot spread or layout. So reading the shadow card with this interpretation in mind is a courageous way to say “Aha! Gotcha!” We take a look at that repressed or hidden aspect of our lives so that we get a fuller picture of the situation at hand.

Let me know if you incorporate the shadow card in your tarot readings. And if so, how do you do it?

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  • Reply Carol Richards October 19, 2022 at 8:35 pm

    Love your site! Need to start communing with my deck after a protracted hiatus, and am eager to experience what the shadow card will bring to my readings. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Reply Annie | The Tarot Professor March 9, 2023 at 7:01 pm

      Thanks so much for reading, Carol! Let me know if you’ve reconnected with your deck yet! <3 -Annie

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