The Shadow or Base Card

By Frances

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The shadow or base card is the card found at the bottom of the deck (tarot, oracle or otherwise) after you have shuffled and are ready to lay the cards out for the reading. Not everyone who reads uses it but I find it truly invaluable. When I first learned to read I was taught that this card would give me insight into the true nature of the reading or may reveal some hidden factors I might not have considered. That was a great start, but for me this card is so much more. I believe it sets the stage for the reading. 

Reading professionally can be tricky. Sitters have preconceived notions about how a reading is supposed to be conducted and what you, as the reader, should be told by them. Some feel you should be able to read their minds and tell them that their deepest, hopes and wishes are coming true. Some are frightened that their darkest secrets and shames will be exposed. Beliefs are highly subjective and vary greatly from person to person but very often I will get a new client come to me with a terribly pressing issue and refuse to tell me a thing. Most times they'll sit with their arms folded across their chests in an almost combative way. They need help and empowerment but they are terrified to ask. That is their prerogative, of course, but it would be so much more productive if we could cut to the chase and dispense with the games. This is where the Shadow or Base card comes in extremely handy. It always cuts to the heart of the matter.

Typically I will begin a reading session by asking a sitter if there is something on their mind that they want to focus on. Sometimes they deny having anything on their minds, a statement that always gives me an invisible chuckle. OK, no worries. I shuffle and have them cut the cards while I tune into them. The first thing I do with the deck is look at the card at the bottom. I lay it on the table and see where we are or rather what is the subject of the reading. I will often say something like "Ah so this is about XYZ." The obstinate sitters or the fearful ones in denial, will say Nope before I even finish my sentence, which gives me another invisible chuckle. It rarely makes a difference to me whether they agree or not because No doesn't mean that the answer is actually No. When I first began to read professionally this type of naysaying would throw me for a loop. I would get very flustered but I have learned to silence my ego and let the messages come in as they may. Quite often they have not put the pieces together or I haven't articulated the message succinctly either way we continue.

The beginning of a session is always about me finding my way in the dark. The base card helps illuminate the path.  If the card is a court, I might find this is the person the sitter is worrying about or involved with or how the sitter is being perceived at this point in time. They may ask me about their failings in love and the base card turns out to be the Queen of Swords.  The message may be that they have detached themselves from their emotions and they may need to get in touch with their watery side. If the card is a major arcana card, we can see what is going on in the subject's life. If the base is a pip we can usually glean from the suit and number what is directly effecting the subject. For example, if the base card is the 5 of Cups it might indicate that the sitter is depressed or sad about something. This doesn't have to be about a love, it could be about anything. If the base card is the Tower, we know it is something dramatic and life changing. It could be that all hell is breaking loose or the sitter has had a major breakthrough personally or something just rocked their world like the best sex in their life. :-) It all depends on what our antennae pick up. The base is just another piece of the puzzle.

Over the years, I have expanded on this practice of reading the base card by looking at the cards preceding it, until I "know" it is enough. Most of the time one or two cards may be added to the base to give it more depth of meaning. Other times I may add five or six or more cards. I lay them in order down from the base. It is like mining for gold. You keep going until you have exhausted the resource which is when you can't see how the next card would fit. Revisiting the 5 of Cups example, what would you think would be revealed if the Tower were behind the 5 of Cups and possibly the 2 of Cups behind that? It could signify a major disappointment or betrayal with a new love. Something may have shattered the sitter's world. 

The other day I was reading for a person and while I can't remember the base I remember that preceding it the sitter had ten Major arcana cards. As I laid each card down they fit like pieces of a puzzle weaving a story about where she had been and what she had come through. By telling her what had been going on I disarmed her immediately. She visibly relaxed, which allowed the session to flow better but reading the back of the deck added significant depth to her reading. I trust that Universe will reveal to me what I need to know to help the sitter in their current situation. It is hard to make sense of a moment in time without a little backstory. The base cards fill in the blanks by setting up a foundation for the reading. Why not give them a try.....

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