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Observations On Pathworking/Shadow Work/Active Imagination


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I've set this thread up as a response to Flaxen[/member]'s request in my other thread about pathworking and active imagination.


I'm not quite sure just yet how this thread will develop, but my initial idea is to share any thoughts I have on my own experiences (without going into too many personal details) in case it might be useful or interesting or of benefit to others who are also interested in this type of work.


For me, shadow work is a long overdue undertaking. I'm not sure how I first heard about Shadow Work, but Kelly-Ann Maddox is definitely my go-to person now. Her YouTube channel is an absolute treasure-trove of information on this type of work, and, listening to her, I just know SHE knows what she's talking about. She 'walks the talk'. 🙂


The method I'm using to do shadow work is Active Imagination (a type of visualisation) using a Tarot card as the focus for the session.


I've been reading Robert A. Johnson's Inner Work (a copy of the book in digital format on the Internet Archive) which has two parts, one on dream analysis and the other on active imagination. The process is very similar for both, but active imagination is a bit like dreaming while you're awake. 🙂


That said, Johnson has warned that there are some people who really shouldn't undertake this type of work alone because it is very powerful and it can have serious repercussions for those who are not prepared. I've looked it up online, and psychosis (not being able to tell what's real from what isn't) is one such serious repercussion. The unconscious is VERY powerful, and can wreak havoc in our day to day if we're not careful and intentional, or if there is a history of mental health issues in us or our families. Another unwanted side effect is letting an aspect of the unconscious 'run the show'. This is where ego steps aside and surrenders. This is NOT a good thing to do, either. Ego has got to see itself as an equal to the unconscious because ego can understand and differentiate between right and wrong, and work out the potential consequences of an action, whereas the unconscious is raw energy and completely amoral.


In cases where there is any mental health issue, this type of work is best undertaken with a professional - a counsellor or psychotherapist - who has studied Jung and knows what the work involves.


A lighter form of this work that might be worth considering in those situations is Focusing. It is pretty much the same thing, a dialogue with the Unconscious, but it takes place via the physical body and how it feels or reacts to what is being said. Ann Weiser-Cornell does a lot of work in this area in the US and there is a lot of information on her website which is where the link above goes.


I also want to make it clear that I am not a counsellor or psychotherapist, and I do not have any expertise in this process. I am in no way equipped to give anyone advice, and that is not what this thread is about. It's simply to share my feedback on my experiences.


I believe this type of work is very valuable but it should be approached with caution and due diligence. It's not a fun pastime or a 'pop-psychology' type of exercise. It's deep work, and it requires a common sense approach. As Johnson writes, "It is the health of our own inner selves that is at stake."

Edited by Starlight
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There are four steps to Active Imagination.


1. Invite the Unconscious


  • Wait on alert - relax, clear your mind, go to your imagination, and wait to see who/what will appear.
  • Use fantasies/daydreams (or an image, symbol, or something that is on your mind) and enter into dialogue with the characters that show up in response
  • Visit symbolic places, or places special to you, and invite the unconscous to join you there
  • Use personifications that represent something you want to work on
  • Dialogue with dream figures - this is good for recurring dreams to bring about a resolution


2. Dialogue and experience

  • Work with one image until there's a resolution
  • Participate with your feelings - be present with your feelings; participate completely
  • Learn to listen - this requires a non-judgemental approach, even to aspects of self that you see as weak or flawed or defective
  • Learn to reply - contribute your own information, your own viewpoint and opinions and values. It's a 2-way exchange
  • No manipulation - there is no prepared script. You do not know what the other personage/character is going to say until s/he says it. If we listen to the Unconscious, the Unconscious will listen to us.


3. Values

  • Once the imaginative process is launched, the ego, guided by a sense of ethics, has to set limits "in order to protect the imaginative process from becoming inhuman or destructive or going off into extremes." The Ego has got to see itself as an equal to the Unconscious because the Unconscious is incapable of making decisions based on morals or ethics, as I explained in the first post. We can honour the archetypes that show up from our Unconscious, but we must also consider ourselves equal to them and make it a priority to speak back, to assume a position, to question what is said. We don't want to dominate our Unconscious, but we also don't want to be dominated by it.


4. The Rituals

  • This is an important aspect of the work and is the point at which we bring the intangible into the real world. We give it "a physical quality", bringing the essence of the message, or the insight, into physical reality. We use our body to do this, and it can be as simple as going for a walk to honour the message/insight, or we can paint a picture of what we've experienced; we can journal, we can write a song and sing it, we can dance the message, knit, crochet, weave... The possibilities are varied, as long as we USE THE BODY.

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Thank you for starting this. :)


The grounding is so important - it’s an essential part of my rituals too. I always finish by eating/drinking something and writing about my experience. Often, I’ll do a sort of ‘walking meditation’ where I go for a walk in nature and reflect further on the meditation.



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Wow. Thank you so much for sharing! Talk about serendipity. I was just journaling this morning about something recent that's happening with me very much along these lines. I've been a bit puzzled by it, because not only is my artistic creativity suddenly flourishing, but my dreams are vivid again (I haven't been able to recall my dreams in... years, even though I used to, regularly, before menopause). I had a very vivid Imagination Session with one particular Tarot card archetype on Monday morning during my cleansing bath after the full moon ritual. I've been doing a lot of mirror work lately and thought that might have something to do with it.


I'm going to devour this thread, Starlight. Have just started reading the book you linked to. Could you also link to the videos you watched? I think I need to know about this, because I DO live completely alone and very isolated. And I DO have family history of schizophrenia, although I've never had any signs of it in the past. But it was my grandmother, who lived on this land where I am now living, in the middle of a remote reservation with lots of tangible energies.

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Thank you Starlight. Working with my shadow has been highly beneficial for me and I'm glad to see this thread started. It's a long process and not to be taken lightly so I'll visit here again and again I'm sure, to see how others are fairing and for help such as the excersise you've posted. :)

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This sounds really interesting! I like how you're supposed to finish the experience off by grounding the message in the material world by using your body to do it :) I'm going to have to come back to this and check out those links when I have a bit more time free


Yes, I like how practical this process is, too, TheFeeLion[/member] . :) It's great to do the work, but even more important to bring the insights back into physical reality and live them, embody them in whatever way feels appropriate. I tend to draw or journal mostly, but I also like the idea of a walk. And I'm considering making beads or a piece of jewellery as a reminder as well.

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Thank you for starting this. :)


The grounding is so important - it’s an essential part of my rituals too. I always finish by eating/drinking something and writing about my experience. Often, I’ll do a sort of ‘walking meditation’ where I go for a walk in nature and reflect further on the meditation.


You're very welcome, Flaxen[/member] .  Thank you for suggesting setting up this thread. :) It sounds like you have some experience with shadow work yourself?

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I'm going to devour this thread, Starlight. Have just started reading the book you linked to. Could you also link to the videos you watched? I think I need to know about this, because I DO live completely alone and very isolated. And I DO have family history of schizophrenia, although I've never had any signs of it in the past. But it was my grandmother, who lived on this land where I am now living, in the middle of a remote reservation with lots of tangible energies.


Sure thing, Day Soleil[/member] . So, Johnson's book (the one I linked to above) has the information on self-care and various criteria for when it would be better to do this work with a qualified professional. It's definitely in the section on Active Imagination, but I have a feeling he's also discussed it elsewhere in the book, perhaps in the introduction or first couple of chapters?


And here's the link to

on YouTube. You can also contact her with a view to working with her one-on-one, as well.


These are the only two resources I can recommend myself as I have more experience with them, but if I come across anything else I'll link to it in this thread.


Ideally, it would be good to check in with someone to discuss the shadow work sessions with them, especially if you are in an isolated area, simply because it's not always easy to tell when we're wandering slightly off the beaten path, especially if we've gained an insight that has shifted our perspective. Someone else can ask the questions (from a rational state of mind) that we may have forgotten to ask while we were doing the work. This is the part of the process that resonates really strongly with me right now, and I am considering whether to find a professional who could listen and offer feedback so that I don't lose my way.

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Great resource! Thank you so much for compiling this  :love: (and Kelly-Ann is a huge favorite of mine as well!)


You're very welcome, Raggydoll[/member]  - yes, Kelly-Ann is a favourite of mine too. She always has something interesting to say and comes at topics from a different angle than most.

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Thank you Starlight. Working with my shadow has been highly beneficial for me and I'm glad to see this thread started. It's a long process and not to be taken lightly so I'll visit here again and again I'm sure, to see how others are fairing and for help such as the excersise you've posted. :)


You're so welcome, Arabella[/member] . I'm glad you've found it helpful. :)

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Re-reading Johnson's 4 Step Process (and step 3 in particular) reminded me very much of The Chariot. The ego part of ourselves (rational, moral, ethical) is the charioteer, while the Unconscious could be represented by the two/four horses/sphinxes (raw energy).


Both are needed to move the Chariot in the right direction.


46155003884_6339639880.jpgThe Chariot by Lisa, on Flickr


The Mythic Tarot was my first deck and the deck was created from a more psychological viewpoint. (The accompanying guidebook is HEAVY reading, and as a relative youngster ~20 years ago it was pretty much beyond me.) Yet what stands out for me now, as I focus on shadow work, is the charioteer's face and arms. He is holding the reins steady. His face is full of concentration and determination - qualities that the ego must also carry into the work. And those horses! Boy oh boy - they are very powerful and almost feel headstrong. They do not willingly submit to control - so that charioteer needs all the determination and concentration he can muster!


45965367125_efca9a2dc7.jpgThe Chariot2 by Lisa, on Flickr


In the Druid Craft Tarot, the charioteer looks quite satisfied, and the horses quite docile. I wonder if this is because she has learned to harness the raw energies correctly - she listens and is listened to. It's something to aim for, anyway.


31938516897_5529255ec7.jpgThe Chariot Thoth by Lisa, on Flickr


I have a Thoth deck and I love the artwork and the vibrant colours, but I am not as familiar with it as I am with the RWS and its clones. But in this deck, the charioteer does not even hold the reins. There are 4 sphinxes and they sit quietly in front of the meditating charioteer, who is a lot bigger than they are. There's no doubt who is in control there, and there is not the same feeling of balance between ego and unconscious. In this card, I have the feeling that ego is in charge, and the unconscious is there simply to serve.


But I am open to discussion on this, so if anyone knows more about the Chariot in the Thoth deck, feel free to weigh in. :)


ETA - looking at the card again, perhaps there is a sense that in meditating, the charioteer IS listening to the four sphinxes in front of him? Perhaps that is why they are docile, they are in (silent) communication?



46155004054_a62868672b.jpgThe Chariot3 by Lisa, on Flickr


In this card, the Charioteer is once again not holding the reins, and the two sphinxes are sitting docilely anyway. I think this echoes the Druidcraft card, as in the ego and Unconscious are working together (listening to and conversing with one another); there is no struggle and they are equals.


Anyway, this was just some thoughts I had today, and as we're on a Tarot forum, I thought it might be worth sharing. Personally, I find that my thoughts and experiences find counterparts in the cards and help me with intepretations when I use them in readings.

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This thread is interesting.

Personally I've stayed away from active imagination because I knew my ego was too weak.

I would have went into a psychosis probably.


I did however connect symbolically to the unconscious through art, symbols and poems.

That opened the flood gates to a lot of very overwhelming stuff, stuff I'm only now getting a grip on.


Since this thread is dealing with the shadow, I found it necessary to re-read a passage of Jung in Aion,

just to remember the most pertinent points. I'll share it here for all to ponder.


"The archetypes most clearly characterized from the empirical point of view are those

which have the most frequent and the most disturbing influence on the ego. These are

the shadow, the anima, and the animus. The most accessible of these, and the easiest

to experience, is the shadow, for its nature can in large measure be inferred from the

contents of the personal unconscious. The only exeption to this rule are those rather

rare cases where the positive qualities of the personality are repressed, and the ego

in consequence plays an essentially negative or unfavourable role.

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one

can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become

conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present

and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it

therefore, as a rule, meets wih considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a

psychotherapeutic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period.

Closer examination of the dark characteristics--that is,

the inferiorities constituting the shadow--reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of

automomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality. Emotion,

incidentally, is not an activity of the individual but something that happens to him.

Affects occur usually where adaptation is weakest, and at the same time they reveal

the reason for its weakness, namely a certain degree of inferiority and the existence

of a lower level of personality. On this lower level with its uncontrolled or scarcely

controlled emotions one behaves more or less like a primitive, who is not only the

passive victim of his affects but also singularly incapable of moral judgment.

Although, with insight and good will, the shadow can to some extent be assimilated

into the conscious personality, experience shows that there are certain features which

offer the most obstinate resistance to moral control and prove almost impossible to

influence. These resistances are usually bound up with projections, which are not

recognized as such, and their recognition is a moral achievement beyond the ordinary.

While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty

as one's own personal qualities in this case both insight and good will are unavailing

because the cause of the emotion appears to lie, beyond all possibility of doubt, in

the other person. No matter how obvious it may be to the neutral observer that it is a

matter of projection, there is little hope that the subject will perceive this

himself. He must be convinced that he throws a very long shadow before he is willing

to withdraw his emotionally-toned projections from their object."

Carl Jung - Aion p.8-9


To me the image of dark angels encapsulate the repressed darkness.

Dark spirits in my unconscious, rejected by "heaven" and at the same time holding on to untold treasures.

The redeeming jewel hidden in the depths, that Prometheus must find.

Although from my interpretation that may be found deeper with the anima/animus archetype,

and the jewels of repressed shadows may not be of the same value.




"Prometheus the artist, the soul-server, disappears from human ken; while human

society in obedience to a soul-less moral routine is delivered over to Behemoth, the

antagonistic, destructive outcome of an outlived ideal. At the right moment Pandora

(the soul) creates the saving jewel in the unconscious, which however, does not reach

mankind because men fail to understand it. The change for the better takes place only

through the intervention of the Promethean tendency, which by virtue of its insight

and understanding brings first a few, and then many individuals to their senses."

Carl Jung - Psychological types p.319

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Nice post re anima/animus and Jung, Arch!


Thanks!  :)


I've been thinking on this ever since I wrote it,


. (At least in my mind)
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Thank you for sharing those excerpts and the video, Arch[/member] . Wow - that video! It's eerie and compelling watching at the same time.


I have some books by Jung or about Jungian psychology on my bookshelf but beyond the basic ideas of archetypes and imagination and personality I really don't know very much.


Like you, I'm actually feeling a bit hesitant about diving straight into Active Imagination because of doubts about how healthy my own ego is just yet. And I think that's why The Chariot kept talking to me - I'd pulled the card a few days earlier, journalled about it, and then forgot about it altogether. But The Chariot obviously hadn't forgotten about me! lol As soon as I read the 4-Step Process, The Chariot popped into my mind again. And flicking back through my journal last night, I was surprised to find the entry I'd written about very much highlighting the issues with Ego that I have that suggest diving into Shadow Work straight away might be unwise.


I wrote a bit about The Chariot above, unsure as to why it was on my mind at the time, but I sat with it for quite a while last night and after doing some research on the Ego, I'll be writing a new post soon to update this thread.


Thanks for weighing in, Arch.  :thumbsup:



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Yeah I simply adore Grimes as an artist, she is very versatile and has a broad range of expression.

of her from a completely different frame, the light vs darkness almost  ;)


Hehe, one can read Jung for months on end, and always come from it with a feeling one don't know very much.

Unless one is possessed by an archetype that is, (say the magician) dreaming of untold power through the knowledge one has gleamed.

Only to be tripped up badly from the unconscious shadow, since one didn't see ones own limitations.


"Hence the "magician" could take possession of the ego only because the ego dreamed of victory over the anima.

That dream was an encroachment, and every encroachment of the ego is followed by an encroachment from the unconscious."

Carl Jung - Two Essay on Analytical Psychology


That is why shadow work is so difficult, cause if one tries anything other than an equal dialogue,

the shadow will be insulted, and make you regret it badly.


"If the ego presumes to wield power over the unconscious, the unconscious reacts with a subtle attack, deploying the dominant of the mana-personality, whose enormous prestige casts a spell over the ego.

Against this the only defense is full confession of one's weakness in face of the powers of the unconscious. By opposing no force to the unconscious we do not provoke it to attack."

Carl Jung - Two Essay on Analytical Psychology


Personally I'm conducting a sort of dialogue with my own shadow through my journal on this site.

Where I use Tarot and some other systems as both lenses and intermediaries.

Taking it slow and not presuming to know how things will go,

yet hoping for a positive direction for myself obviously.


But back to your stuff!

The chariot is interesting in this sense yes.

From a Jungian frame the white is the conscious parts of the personality,

the black is the unconscious part of the personality.

Yet who then is the charioteer?


That answer is given in the formula 1 + 3

Where one perspective is set to rule over the three others,

hence there is one light that is supreme, while 3 white perspectives are subjugated,

with the 4 repressed in the shadow, which gives us the formula 1 + 7.


As you see in the Druid Craft Tarot chariot, the wheel has 4 colours, and 8 spokes.

both the sum 4 and 8 is included.

This is more easily seen in another chariot card from the Modern Spellcasters Tarot.




Here 7 stars are following the chariot who holds a lotus with the supreme perspective.

The same perspective that out ego revolves around and identifies with.

Here 2 of the stars are kept over the chariot, and 5 below.

This is also an important concept, but I won't go too deep into this,

as it is quite involved, but I hope you get the gist of it.


I'm always happy to weight in on Jung, as I seem to learn best when I discuss him in relation to a topic.  ;D



I realized that it might be confusing to see only one horse on the Spellcaster chariot.

This is because the horse symbolizes libido (mental energy), and in this deck the horse more purely reflect that,

making the stars carry the symbolical burden of the different white/dark constellations that may arise.


"We have already seen that the libido directed towards the mother actually symbolizes her as a horse.

The mother-imagio is a libido-symbol and so is the horse; at some points the meaning of the two symbols overlaps.

But the factor common to both is the libido."

Car Jung - Symbols of transformation p.275

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Thanks, Arch[/member].


I haven't posted here in a few days because this thread really requires a completely different mindset than the one I need for my day-to-day - and the weekends are when I have more time and space for that mindset. :)


I've been doing a lot of thinking about Active Imagination and Shadow Work and I will post this weekend.

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Of course!

Just got home from work myself, only reason I have been posting a bit lately, is that I got some spare time.

Its been a while since I have discussed Jung as deep as this.

You are challenging me to learn more about how he relates to the tarot.  :)


I'll leave you to figure out what you need to write, and I'll come back when you are ready.  ;)

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I'm back!  :biggrin:


I've had a couple of weekends and a week between to think a lot about the role of Active Imagination (Act Imag) for Shadow Work - and why it's something I won't be doing myself just yet.


I mentioned a little bit about the potential downside of Act Imag in my first post on this thread, and I'd like to share the thoughts I've had on this topic since then.


I'll start with an Act Imag I did with the Emperor card I drew, following on from DanielJUK[/member] 's reading for me in the Something Nice Coming Your Way thread.


My immediate response to the reading was remembering back to something I went through with a family member which derailed me and knocked me for 6. It was something I had never experienced before and really made me question and take a good look at my value and worth. And in particular, how *I* felt about my value and worth.


I may write more about the details in another thread, but what I realised after doing the Act Imag is that I did not question the "advice" given to me by the Emperor. And this is NOT a good thing!


IRL I am non-confrontational. Definitely with friends or acquaintances, and I'll only come out of this mode with family members who have pushed so far past my boundaries that there really isn't an alternative but to bring the pushing to a halt. :)


My MO is to quietly disagree. Not aloud, but in myself. Listen, disagree silently, back away or take my leave, if necessary, and then do my own thing. :)


This is not the correct way, according to Robert Johnson, to conduct a dialogue with the Unconscious. My Ego must see itself as an equal, and take a position or stance, and question what comes up. Listen, respond, question, disagree (if that is how I feel) - but very definitely have a dialogue. Back and forth.


So, that made me wonder just how strong my Ego is. And off I went to do some research.


From an online article, this sums up the characteristics of a healthy, strong Ego:


In contrast, a person with well-developed ego-strength is resilient, optimistic, and has a strong sense of self as capable in handling challenges. They more often:


  • Take a learning approach to life that increasingly grows their strength and confidence in handling triggering situations.
  • Have an ability to tolerate discomfort, enough to regulate their emotions as opposed to feeling overwhelmed by them.
  • Approach life overall with a curiosity and readiness to explore and to master what strengthens them, thus, increasing their chances of finding new ways of coping with challenges.
  • Treat self and others as having inner resources to deal with challenges.
  • Do not personalize what others say or do, and regard self and other as human beings, thus, fallible.
  • Give others ownership for exacerbating or solving their own problems, as necessary.
  • Exude an overall confidence in self and others to use their resources to handle and resolve life issues.


The stronger the ego-strength, the more comfortable one feels in taking ownership of their problems, and giving ownership to others for theirs.


A healthy ego-strength is connected to a healthy self-concept, one that is resilient, thus can look at a situation and see beyond it, understand the difference between wants and needs, and practices acceptance to discern between what can and cannot be changed, to respond accordingly.


(from: PsychCentral)


Further research suggested that the key to developing a strong, healthy Ego (or Ego-Strength) is self-compassion.


So, that's where my Shadow Work has taken me. I found Kristin Neff and she has some guided meditations on her site for helping to develop self-compassion. They're very good, as are the meditations on her colleague's site, Chris Germer.


They only sticking point for me, on a couple of days of practice, is that the meditations are geared towards dealing with something uncomfortable that you're feeling. And there were some days when I just needed to practice self-compassion in a "check-in-with-myself-cos-there's-nothing-upsetting-me-right-now" kind of way. For that, I remembered a Sufi practice called Remembrance - and that was perfect!


(If you're interested in that, Mark Silver of Heart of Business has a recording on his site which you can download here.)


In addition to practicing self-compassion (which feels WONDERFUL, btw :D ) I am using techniques other than Act Imag to do Shadow Work.


My preferred methods at the moment are:


[*]Tarot card + journalling - drawing a card to help me work through something that's bothering me (perhaps something that happened during the day) and then freewriting about it till I sense a resolution

[*]Focusing + Tarot card + journalling - if I'm REALLY bothered by something, Focusing is a very helpful, self-compassionate technique to bring about a sense of ease, if not resolution.


Ann Weiser-Cornell offers a free introductory ecourse for anyone who would like to learn how to Focus, with each email containing the next step in the process. It's an easy way to get used to the practice. And I highly recommend her book, The Power of Focusing. (This is a digital copy of her book on archive.org)


Kelly-Ann Maddox has a plethora of videos on Shadow Work which I will also work my way through to see if I can pick up any more techniques, but I do like using Tarot cards for this work.


And, thanks to Arch[/member] and his informative posts on Jungian psychology, I have been inspired to look into purchasing a good guide for the layperson on this topic. One book that was favourably reviewed on Amazon is "Jung: A Very Short Introduction" by Anthony Stevens, OUP. That's going on my wishlist.


ETA: I should probably mention what The Chariot has to do with all this!  ;D I am not my Ego; I am not my Unconscious. There is another I (the one that observes the observer, I think they call it) and that I is the charioteer, I suspect. The charioteer has to have a firm hold on the reins guiding the Ego and the Unconscious. This card, then, was a call to me to examine this more closely.




This has been quite a long post, but I hope that the information and thoughts and links are helpful or useful.  <3

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