Facing Demons: A tarot spread series for deep psychological work

A guest post shared by Gretchen Davidson, LICSW

The Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot by Melanie Marquis and Scott Murphy, The Centennial Edition of the Smith Rider Waite deck, and Dark Days Tarot by Wren McMurdo.

Tarot opens the door to the inner self, to the unconscious mind.

When we choose to walk through that door life becomes deeper, more complex, and infinitely more rewarding. This type of journey, however, is not without its perils. The Facing Demons tarot spread series offers you access to clear messages that will light your way through the labyrinth of the unconscious.

When I first learned about, or maybe I should say, first integrated, the existence of the unconscious mind, I stayed up all night, my eyes pasted open with anxiety. The idea revolutionized who I thought I was: “You mean I have thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories that I don’t realize that I have?!?!?” That moment marked the beginning of a slow unraveling of my ego.

It wasn’t the first time I had experienced such an unraveling.

Sexual abuse had unraveled every safety I thought I could count on as a child, the words “You’re pregnant!” had blindsiding me in the stale, chalky atmosphere of a clinic. I knew how to regroup and rebuild, but what I didn’t know how to do was loosen my grip on control. Subsequently, learning that parts of my own mind were out of my control was terrifying.

Control is a shadowy concept, invented by the triad of patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism. It dangles, like a carrot on a stick, just out of reach, yet constantly waved in our faces by smiling women in underwear commercials and confident men in business suits who can apply for special credit card tiers. Control is a fickle friend, it lures you into believing in it, then whisks itself away the second you get close. Control is an illusion, it is a drug, and it is a facet of privilege.

Through my many unravellings I have come to understand how my whiteness helped me invest in the fantasy of control. As a white cis-gender woman, I exist at the crux of intersecting privilege and oppression. The fantasy of control exists as a real possibility, but only if I align myself with my white identity and refuse an integration of my whole experience. When I buy into control, I am choosing to embrace the seemingly simplified, yet infantile fantasy my privileged identity affords me and forsake the deep and complex reality that my femininity knows is true.

We all have those moments in life when we can choose to wake up, or we can choose to remain asleep to the complexities we are afraid to hold. Deciding to embrace and learn about my unconscious mind was one of the most revolutionary acts I have taken as far as how I understand myself and the world. I have learned so much simply from paying attention to what is inside me; from listening to that which I previously had no idea how to access. Becoming aware that my access was cut off, not just from being abused and separated from my intuition, but also from choosing emotional safety, choosing to attach to privilege, was essential to working my way back to myself.

To exist in a world that embraces the unconscious, the shadow side of life, for me means to elevate my dreaming reality, to stare at a Tarot card until it speaks to me in its smoky language, to attend to the subtle discomforts, delights, and tensions that pass through my body, and to live in paradox each and every day.

Most of our biases and privileges have their home in the unconscious mind.

They were absorbed at a young age, and they can be poisons about other people or about ourselves. Either way, they infect us from within. Learning to recognize, embrace, and communicate with the unconscious mind is the only way to really divest ourselves of these ingrained beliefs that don’t line up with our true values.

Tarot is one of my favorite tools for exploring, for playing in, the unconscious. While I love what tarot can show me about the future, by far the most benefit I get from tarot is in its ability to tell me about what is happening in my unconscious mind right here right now. It shows me what kind of nonsense I am selling myself and holds me accountable in my ongoing work to wake up to reality, to deconstruct internalized white supremacy, and to live outside the either/or mentality of capitalism.

I crafted these Facing Demons spreads to give myself and anyone who’s interested a concrete way to get some bearing while working with the unconscious.

It is called the Facing Demons series because the spreads are meant to be used when working through challenging emotions, stressful patterns of relating to others, trauma reactions, and any other kind of emotional peril. You can also use these spreads when someone else shows you that you’ve made a mistake or demonstrated a bias or prejudice you didn’t realize you held, when you want to understand what a teacher is saying, but are struggling to, when you find yourself holing up in the comfort of old defenses and throwing grenades over the fence at your friends and family, or whenever you feel like knowing yourself better.

One facet of the spreads is a card that gives the seeker an image to focus on to promote deep psychological shifts and healing. You can take these images to bed, meditate on them before sleep, and stick them under your pillow. You can also place them on your altar and ask for guidance absorbing the message of the card. The more time you spend with a card, the more complex its answer will become and the deeper its message will penetrate.

Conversely, if you want to cultivate a particular energy, you can choose a card intentionally to commune with in the same way I described above. Because the unconscious mind communicates in symbols, the card imagery delivers the message to your deep mind as you meditate on it. It is like sending instructions to yourself about what energy you are working towards.

Once you start a conversation with your unconscious mind, the back and forth can be enlivening and even fun. It is important to be patient and compassionate with yourself. Your first relationship is with you, and sets the pattern for all the other relationships in your life. As you wake up to unhealthy patterns, biases, prejudices, and fears, remember to nurture yourself, as a seeker on a journey of discovery. You must eat, sleep, and stop to rest so that the changes you make are sustainable.

Just like the unconscious mind, these spreads are fluid, so play around with them, drink them in, and see what the cards have to show you. The cards after all, are just beautiful mirrors.

Facing Demons: Five tarot spreads for deep psychological work

The “I F*&#@! Up” Spread

The Working Through Internalised Privilege Spread

A Spread for Dealing with an Uncomfortable Situation or Emotional Unease

A Spread for Dealing with Emotional Triggers

About Gretchen

Gretchen Davidson, LICSW is a Psychotherapist, Hypnotherapist, and Tarot Card Reader who is passionate about working with the unconscious mind. She works with individuals, teaches classes, and leads groups and workshops in and around the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire. She uses her intuition, training, and tools to help people explore their dreams and heal from past trauma in order to craft a more intentional life. She believes that working on our inner landscapes is essential for crafting a healthy, just, and equitable world. You can learn more about her offerings at www.gretchendavidson.com or by following her on Instagram @abundanceofgood

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  1. Jeannine says:

    Thank you for these – they look very powerful. The thought and energy put into them is really impressive. I have a huge family gathering this weekend, and the emotional triggers spread is something I will use immediately. Again, many thanks!

  2. Isabel says:

    Synchronicity… beautiful article. I can’t wait to do these spreads. Today.
    I love Little Red Tarot. The content in every article never ceases blowing my mind. So much healing and resonance.
    Blessings to Little Red Tarot.

  3. Valeria says:

    Hi Gretchen,

    I have used my Tarot decks as spiritual guides and counsellors in the past whenever I was working through traumas and baggages. But what I have noticed over the years is that the deck you choose to work with is just as important as the spread you are doing.

    I am sure you must have noticed how different decks have different personalities. Almost like, the personality of their creator seeped into them during creation. Just like how we still share a lot of personality traits with our parents.

    That’s why, some decks prefer answering questions about love while others are really bad at giving relationship advice. Why some decks are brutally honest while others prefer to ease you into the answer. Why some decks will outright tell you what to do (we all ask those questions) and some refuse to meddle with your free will at all cost.

    Just wanted to bring up this point because I have recently started working with the Dreams of Gaia deck and it’s so much better for psychological work than my other decks. It staunchly believes in free will and never makes any decisions for me. But every advice I have received from it till date has resonated for days afterwards something that has never happened with my other decks. That’s why I am really looking forward to using your tarot spread series with these cards as my guide.

    I believe the deck is just as important as the tactics when it comes to psychological forays.

    Thank you so much for sharing this and for using your experiences to help others face their demons.

    • Valeria, what an important point. I totally agree that the deck makes such a difference to the reading. What a blessing to find a deck whose messages keep ringing true for you for days. Thank you!

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