A Booksigning with Christine Jette by Alma Puissegur
On Tuesday, January 9, 2000, a night with an enormously clear and circular moon, Christine Jette spoke about Tarot Shadow Work, Using the Dark Symbols to Heal, at her book signing at Joseph Beth Bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. I took copious notes and believe that the following is a near verbatim transcript of her talk. Ms. Jette claims to detest public speaking, but she was well-prepared, with thorough written materials to which she referred, and she spoke with sincerity and occasional flicks of humor.
According to Jette, shadow work is about putting the past to rest with its pain, loss and regret so we can live in the joy of today. We are all walking wounded. Tarot Shadow Work is a grief workbook and it is about loss, if that is the way you perceive it to be.
Science and mysticism coexist. Jette doesn't see a conflict between New Age and the" tried and true". Her writing is based upon Jung's work, and she reminded us how we as a culture have incorporated Jung and his theories into our everyday lives. She quotes Jung as saying that he would "rather be whole than wholly good."
Jette reminded us of the importance of the collective unconscious, which is shared by all human beings, and how we incorporate archetypes which are understood and accepted by all, even if we can't describe these archetypes in exact words. She also spoke of the personal unconscious, which is that part of each individual which strives towards wholeness. The most powerful part of the personal unconscious is the shadow, which is at work as addiction, masochism, martyrdom, and self sabotage. She goes on to define the shadow as unresolved conflicts and unexpressed emotions and warns that, if we stifle what we truly feel, we end up sick later. Physical illness can be the language of the psyche.
Jung warned that if the shadow is neglected it will appear outside the self as fate. (The back of Jette's book contains the exact quote: "When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as our fate.")
Unresolved conflicts and unexpressed emotions appear in our everyday life and the recognition of this is "not funky New Age stuff." Manifestations range from "off color jokes" to life-threatening illnesses to "possession by an evil twin who causes you to do something utterly unlike your normal behavior and then you hang your head in shame." When a health-conscious person secretly binges on ice cream, the shadow self is in control; other examples are not so simple and can be as profound as abusing your partner or tolerating abuse from your partner. Addictions, eating disorders, and some kinds of depression (but not including those caused by chemical imbalances); lying and betrayal of one's partner are other aspects of the shadow. Unresolved and repressed anger can result in ulcers, high blood pressure, and unexpected explosive behavior and will continue to work on the person from some place "behind you".
Another way to peek at your shadow self is to think of someone you really dislike. The characteristics that you intensely dislike may be the aspects of yourself you don't like and you are projecting your shadow on that person. Jung says you can find your shadow in slips of the tongue. Humor can be an expression of the shadow self, whether you are telling the jokes or "really hooting and hollering at those jokes." Daydreams and fantasy can provide you a glimpse of your shadow.
Jung called the shadow, "The Other". Jette's name for the shadow is "The Evil Twin," and says it brings crisis and pain; leaves shame and outrage; and often shakes us out of our complacency.
She briefly states, however, that the shadow is not all about "bad stuff", it is also about "what ifs" - hopes and talents; abilities or creative urges that might have been, the lost parts of self. Jette said that writing this book was recovering a lost part of herself because she had always wanted to be a writer.
Either way, the more we suppress the shadow, the stronger it becomes.
How does shadow work relate to tarot? Jette avers that, "It is profound that any tarot book written from 1970 on refers to the connection between tarot and Jung." The tarot contains symbols that are recognizable by all, even they can't quite be explained in words, which is the same as her description of archetypes. The cross, the Star of David, and the pentagram "have at once an attachment and association to the language of the deeper mind" and "tap something deep within you." Jette suggests that anything that opens a pathway from the everyday mind to the deeper self is a symbol, and she includes art and music as symbols.
Jette does not believe that a person needs any knowledge of the tarot cards to use them in conjunction with her book. The cards have a lot in common with other symbol systems, such as the I Ching, Qabbalah, and astrology. Jette also thinks of the cards as a portable art gallery. In her talk, Jette downplayed the importance of the tarot in her book and told her audience that journaling, art, and other techniques were equally as valid and urged the use of anything that can open a dialogue between the inner and outer person.
Why do shadow work? Jette tells us that by believing that parts of us are bad will be fragmenting and willstop us from reaching our full potential. "Unresolved conflicts and unexpressed emotions divide, separate, and fragment us. A house divided cannot stand."
Shadow work is not about fault finding and blame, nor is it about cutting ourselves off from our shadow. Rather, shadow work teaches us about acceptance of the self and extending compassion to ourselves which allows us to extend compassion to others. If we can genuinely forgive ourselves, we can genuinely forgive others.
Shadow work with Ms. Jette involves four steps: discovery (learning what you don't know); recovery (finding lost parts of yourself); illumination (determine what to do); and hope.
She advises shadow workers to take the book in order and to go slowly. "Shadow work is not quick and it may take a lifetime," Jette said, reminding her audience that it took a lifetime to become who they are. "It takes courage to meet the shadow. It is easier to stay messed up."
Ms. Jette told her audience (and she documents the same information in her book) that she is an alcoholic and a drug addict who has been in recovery for 14 years. She stayed for 18 months in a physically abusive marriage, but is now in a marriage she describes as "wonderful". Ms. Jette observed about herself and her personal shadow work that even now, from time to time, she finds herself engaging in such self talk as :"It is much harder to be well. It is painful stuff. Why would anyone want to do this painful embarrassing work? It hurts."
Her answers are that there are rewards, including acceptance of self , which we can extend to others. When we are no longer filled with self-hatred we accept our imperfections. We focus on solutions after facing up to and freeing ourselves to make responsible choices. We gain control of life on a spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical level.
Shadow work can lead to learning not to repress, but to express our shadow aspects as a tool. If you think of aggression as one of your shadow tendencies, acknowledge its existence and learn how to apply aggression as a leader and in problem solving. Ms. Jette encourages the readers that we don't have to change ourselves, necessarily, but that we can "accept that we are complex beings made of darkness and light." When we accept ourselves, we learn to recognize and accept the shadow in others, which leads us to greater acceptance of others.
Ms. Jette says that she would never do "Recovery Workshops", because shadow work is intimate, painful, private, humorous, and embarrassing. "It can be fun, but it can be profoundly painful work." She notes that repressed memories of sexual abuse by fathers sometimes arises, and advises that shadow work should not be done without the assistance of a mental health professional if such serious issues arise. In her book, she includes a self-diagnostic tool developed by the American Psychiatric Association and she stressed that if any of the warning signs exist or occur, professional help should be sought.
In the brief question-and-answer session that followed, Ms. Jette said that any tarot deck would work for shadow work. She used Robin Wood in her book; at first, she indicated that she did so because the deck and her book share the same publisher. She later said she liked Robin Wood personally because "the deck is pretty and I like pretty," but realized that deck would not appeal to everyone. She noted that Robin Wood took the Christian symbolism out of Rider-Waite and Rider-Waite is full of Christian symbolism. She recommended Rider-Waite as a deck for shadow work. She also said that some people chose to use a deck they didn't particularly like, especially if they found it creepy, because they found that it "highlighted the shadow more."
Ms. Jette said that she accepts the mystery and magic of the tarot and could not say "why it works" nor does she care to know; "she accepts the mystery." She gets a reading only two times a year.
A concern of Christine Jette's is that she and her book be taken seriously. She stated several times during her talk: "I don't want my book to be seen as New Age fluff." Perhaps for that reason she downplayed the use of the tarot for shadow work, but her book certainly emphasizes the tarot as an appropriate tool. She includes special spreads and the final 40 pages are devoted to meanings of the Major Arcana as applied to shadow work.
In a humorous moment, when asked for a source for a wide variety of tarot decks, she readily and enthusiastically gave us the name and driving directions to another bookstore which she credits with having the largest selection in this area. She almost immediately blushed and clapped her hand over her mouth, but the Joseph Beth representative took it all in good spirits. I thought Joseph Beth was an unlikely site for Ms. Jette's book-signing, since their tarot section has never had more than three to five decks, total count, at any time that I've looked--and I buy books and music there frequently. (Ms. Jette recommended Amethyst Books for those of us who live in the Cincinnati, Ohio area; when I called the shop, they said they regularly carried 100 different tarot decks at any one time.)
She told us that in July, 2001, Lewellyn is publishing her book, Tarot for the Healing Heart, and in September 2001, Tarot for All Seasons, which includes layouts for all seasons of the year. She is currently writing another book which she has titled New Age Writing for Publication. Unasked, Ms. Jette offered that she is so busy writing because she feels "she doesn't have a lot of time left."
Article © 2001 Alma Puissegur
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes