October 19, 2020
Sasha and Andrew talk about finding balance. How working on your shadow is just as important as working on the rest of yourself. They explore tarot and other tools along with personal stories of encounters wit the shadow.
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Welcome to another episode of The Hermits Lamp podcast. I am here today with Sasha Graham. I met Sasha at Readers Studio a number of years ago where they were talking about shadow work. And recently, this summer, they came out with a deck called the Dark Wood Tarot, which digs right into that shadow stuff. And for people who've spent time around me, really owning both sides of that stuff is important I think to every spiritual journey.
So I wanted to kind of have Sasha on here to talk shadow stuff and talk dealing with those things, especially at a time when COVID and racial issues and justice issues or the shadow issues of our cultures are really being brought to the foreground as well. It feels like an important conversation and an important thing to keep paying attention to. But maybe everybody doesn't know who you are, Sasha. So why don't you give us a quick introduction?
Yeah. Well, first off, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. So my name's Sasha Graham. I'm a tarot author and a deck creator and a teacher. I've written, I think, eight tarot books for Llewellyn and Lo Scarabeo. And I contribute to the Llewellyn's Magical Almanacs, which is Datebooks. And I've created two tarot decks, both of them kind of steeped in spooky darkness because I love that vibe: The Tarot of the Haunted House for Lo Scarabeo and The Dark Wood Tarot, which has just come out a couple months ago, with Llewellyn.
So tell me this, because you are a very positive-seeming, very upbeat, very energetic and outgoing kind of person. What's with all the darkness? What's with the appeal of that for you? What do you get from that?
I am a person who... The darkest parts of anything in my life that I've ever experienced, the most challenging things in my life that I've ever experienced has always paid itself back on the light side, if that makes sense. So I grew up in a very kind of... I think my childhood, to be honest with you, felt very terrifying. I lived in wild, rural places. I was on mountains and planes. We moved around.
The world always felt very supernatural and very scary. And it was always kind of going in and embracing the things and figuring out all of the dark stuff helped me find the light that much better, if that makes any sense. And especially I think as a teenager, when there were certain things that I couldn't process that were happening in my life, it was easier for me to go to horror and Stephen King. I happened to come of age when vampires and Anne Rice became a thing and the goth movement first came out.
So, to me, grinding yourself against the darkness, grinding yourself against the stuff that terrifies you makes you stronger and ultimately it makes you more whole. And then as I transitioned into my work as a taroist and as a writer and as like, I don't know, a spiritual creature or whatever you want to call it, I realized how profound and how the further you go into the...
We're all here to evolve, right? As a taroist, as an artist, as a writer, you're here to move forward and to see further than you've seen the day before. The only way you can bring the light of consciousness to whatever it is that you do is by exploring the things you don't understand or you don't know. Now, oftentimes those things are scary.
If you're doing between world work and you're encountering an energy that you're not familiar with, of course that's terrifying because you don't recognize it. But interestingly, that happening spiritually or in your imagination is the same thing that happens to us when we walk down the street and see something we don't recognize or a person that we don't recognize. Because something is not comfortable to us, we call that thing the other and we're afraid of it.
And that's why the shadow work that you perform for yourself is applicable on every single level of our lives. And so it's not just about how you're relating inside to yourself, but also how you're relating to the external world, and how what I call the trick of the material world, which in the tarot deck would be pentacles, how you really get fooled by the way that something looks rather than paying attention to the energy of what it actually is underneath.
And when you're looking at things energetically... Oh my God, I'm really running on here. But when you're looking at things energetically, it's a lot simpler, I think, than things look like on the surface. All right. I'm going to just stop talking now.
No. There are so many things to touch on in there. So the first one I want to ask you about though... I made a list here so we can make sure stuff doesn't get missed. The first thing that I want to say is... So I spent a lot of time in the wilderness. I grew up sort of North of Toronto in a town that I think it had about 8,000 people living there when I lived there.
But I lived on the edge of town and there was nothing but farms and forests between us and the next town, maybe a 15 minute drive over or a very long, long walk or bike ride. And so I spent a lot of time in the woods and pretty deep in the woods and getting lost in the woods with friends and stuff like that or by myself. And I spent a lot of time cycling the rural roads.
I would just hop on my bike and ride for hours and be like, huh? And again, pre GPS, pre whatever, like actually lost. Being like, huh, I think if I turn right here, I'm going to get back to my city, my town. But if not, then I'm going to hit this other town and then I'm going to have a really long bike ride home after that. I'm already really tired.
Because for me, as I continue to grow and continue to live my life spiritually, my connection to the land, to wilderness, to sort of spirits from places, to plants and animals and all of those kinds of things that has its root in that time continues to flourish. Because I think that in nature, there's no avoiding the shadow. Nature doesn't avoid it at all. It's all kind of unified.
Nature is what it is and that's it. And we sometimes try and glorify it and be like, "Oh, all these things are so perfect." And it's like, well, nature is astounding. Nature is magical and powerful. Nature is intense and scary. It's all there. So I'm curious what role some of your experiences of being in the wilderness or in nature and so on impacted on your journey in this. Was there a moment where you were out there and you were scared of stuff? Was there a moment where you had a spiritual encounter in the woods or wherever?
Yeah. And this is, again, one of those things where you asked me in the beginning, why do you love the darkness? One of the things that used to terrify me the most was I lived on the side of a mountain in Vermont. We had like a mile long driveway. I was in fourth grade. And I would have to walk from the school bus up the driveway and into the empty house and hang out for like two hours by myself before anyone got home.
And so it was like I would leave the den of the school bus. And the second I stepped off that school bus, man, it got quiet. And the gift of being a young child and of being scared, because there's a difference between playing... Well, whether you're playing or whether you're kind of nervous and therefore kind of on alert, the gift of being very young and being in those situations is that you're not always necessarily sure what you're looking at.
When you encounter things, I think that you encounter them maybe in their truer form than what people have. Because once you're told this is a doc, that is a red robin, you kind of place it in a box in a way. But when you're young and in nature... And I believe that being nervous and being scared, especially those walks up that driveway, because I was in kind of a heightened state of alert, I was certain I was going to get murdered or there was a troll under the bridge. He was going to devour me up.
I really paid attention, like super-uber attention. And with that, yeah, I saw things and I experienced things on a much more profound level probably than I could even... I probably couldn't even express it in words. But again, it's something that I'm so grateful for because as I've grown older and moved deeper into the work that I do, I understand that now and I'm able to see things in that way or I know when I'm encountering something and what I would call between mortals experience, where I'm almost in two places at the same time and looking through the veneer of the material world into the energy that's underneath.
So again, I think it's that full circle thing, when you have a childhood rooted in nature and go outside and play, you're immediately interfacing with all of this energy that in and of itself could be your teacher. You never have to pick up a tarot book or a witchcraft book or a Shelly book if you were just paying attention to and outside in the woods. So that's an example of why I'm grateful for something that was spooky that was my greatest teacher as well.
Yeah. I think there's something about fear that is really helpful sometimes, not always. You know what I mean?
I remember the first time I summoned Goetic demon to demand it to do something for me. It was one of the first evocations that I did. A friend of mine and I had spent a long time... We got this 10 by 10 foot canvas and painted our magic circle on it by hand. We did all sorts of stuff around setting that up. And I remember the feeling as I started that ceremony and the way in which it heightened all of my other senses and kind of opened me up.
It wasn't that I hadn't been meditating and scrying and reading cards. I had been doing a lot of stuff. But something about the tension around that and sort of that taking it really seriously. And I think that whether it's a deliberate experience or whether it's a sort of situational experience, right? I remember being... We were at a friend's wedding somewhere north of the city and we were walking back, me and my co-parent and the two kids, one of whom was like an infant at the time.
And we were walking back from where the post wedding dancing was happening around a fire with a bunch of drums and stuff like that, back to the cabin where we were sleeping. The road was pitch black and we didn't have a flashlight. And the only light that there was, was this little tiny gap above us where you could see a few stars through the trees. And I was just like, "Oh, this is fine. I know this." I mean, I don't know that place. But I know the forest. I know being here in the dark. I know whatever.
And I was just like, "It's fine. Just put your hand on me and I'll just walk us back." And I just walked us back, following that faintest of trails. I mean, the road itself was big enough to drive a car out. So it wasn't like I was walking through the woods on a tiny goat track on a mountain with the kids. But it was dark. And that sense, for me, in that moment, of connection to all of that stuff around me made it really easy to be there. But I think that in the absence of that, that is a terrifying experience, right?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I think that, again, it's kind of the trick in the way that we address what's happening, like fear. So many of the same things that happen to us physically when we're freaked out and scared are also the same thing that happens to us when we're intensely sexually aroused. Your face flushes, you get goosebumps on your skin, you're really paying attention to everything that's going on.
Well, what happens in those moments when you're on such kind of high alert, you're broken open. In the sense of the erotic, you're opening yourself up to someone and if everything's in your favor, you're about to have an incredibly transcendent experience with someone. And I think the great thing about really good horror movies, for example, or a great horror novel is that also opens you up and shows you something new.
It shows you what's possible. And it doesn't necessarily always feel good, which I always talk about the three of swords being the heart opening card. To look at an incredible natural landscape can be kind of as painful. Beauty can be as painful as grief, and all of it is breaking you open. It's taking you out of where you were yesterday and it's moving you further into a deeper experience of being a human being and therefore understanding the world in a more profound way, which is why I think we're all here and why we do this work.
I love the notion of the sublime from like 19th century landscape and then kind of further into modernism and other things. This idea that we can have these experiences of something that is so vast and overwhelming that it allows us to understand our place in the universe and our relationship to source the creator or, as they would have said, to God.
Because it is that a complete existential understanding of our place in relationship to everything else. And that sense of both our smallness and our bigness in relationship to things. A friend of mine had this land that backed onto 50,000 hectares. I don't know what that is in America, but it's huge. It's unbelievably huge. And the land was logged like a hundred years ago and then has been untouched ever since. And other than a few hunter shacks and stuff, there's nothing there.
And I used to go pike in there and find a high spot, because there's just sort of like rolling Canadian shield, rocky surfaces that on the top of them there's just nothing there because they're just fair walk. And I would find a nice one and I would camp there for a couple days by myself. And at night I would do ceremonies to the sky goddess.
And you're there in this vast wilderness and I'm like three, four hours walk through the woods from anybody else probably. And you're on this high point and you're away from all the cities. So it's just this vast, expansive starriness. And that sense of being lost in relationship to it, being consumed by the bigness and then connected to it and then returned back to myself is such a profound and healing experience.
And also, when I'm out in the woods by myself, what is always surprising to me is the sense that I'm definitely not out there alone. And I'm not talking about like tree energy or field energy. I am talking about something much more beguiling. And I would not even dare to kind of try and even define it because again, I think it's something that...
What happens to you when you are truly alone without other people in the wild I guess is like the hermit and taro. You have to be out there to experience it yourself because I think it's one of the closest, comfortable ways that you can start to understand how you interface with the world around you. And I think it's an exquisite and always surprising and amazing. I just think it's amazing. Now I want to go hiking, or maybe it's the weekend that has caught up.
Yeah. I just got back from a week camping, not particularly remotely, but a week camping with my kids. And they were like, "Can we go again?" And I'm like, "Yeah, we'll go again. We can do on October." And maybe we'll go somewhere just slightly further that's maybe going to be a little Wilder, especially because October we're not going to be swimming or not likely to be swimming. It's going to be cold up here and stuff.
One of the things I think is very interesting about you as well is that you have this background in acting. And you have this piece that's attached to what people talk about as sort of, in my mind, glamor magic, from like what you do and how you go about it, stuff like that. And so I'm curious for you, how do you think about it, or if you ever think about this sort of idea of how you are in the world as sort of a deliberate expression of yourself and us sort of being attached to that wholeness or that magic or those kinds of ideas?
I love that you just said glamour magic. That makes me so happy. So your question is, I'm sorry, how do I...
How do you think about this yourself in relationship to how you are in the world, like your shadow and all this stuff? You're out there as a teacher and a taroist and all these things. But how do you think about how you present yourself, about your persona, about your way of being in the world, especially maybe in relationship to your public self, or if you do at all? I don't know.
Look, from as far back as I can remember, I think there's two things that kind of occupied my mind and in terms of what drove me to do the things that I did, and that was, one, in a sense having some sort of agency or power. And two, with that, also being authentic to who I was or am. And that's something that I'm constantly trying to figure out.
And I think anybody who's extremely empathetic, I pick up a lot of whoever I'm around. So I'm constantly trying to navigate, okay, is that me or is that someone else? I try to be and I continue every day, I was just in bed this morning with my husband talking about this thing, being the most authentic version of who it is that you are with that whole idea of the things that are placed inside of you that you are drawn to.
So in terms of what I put out there, it's who I am. I love that you say glamour magic. I think supernatural stuff is sexy. I think witchcraft is so sexy. I think it's powerful. That's what I loved when I was an actor and I made like a million B movies. I'm looking at them right now. They're all right there. But when I look back at the roles that I did, I wasn't the girl being like slashed in a wet t-shirt. I was the vampire. I was the gargoyle.
I was the mafia hit woman. It was all about claiming my power because I think for so long I felt powerless. So what I do now, as a woman... It's funny. The teaching just kind of came along with writing books. I never set out to become a teacher at all. But then since I started publishing, people were like, "Oh, will you teach a class. Do you guys do that?" So I was like, okay, all right.
I mean, I'd rather be a student. Any day of the week I would rather be a student because I'm still figuring this stuff out and it's always felt odd to kind of be like, well, here I am the authority. Let me tell you what I know about the invisible world. How do I know that for someone else? I only know my experience of it. And even with my books, I'm always like you know more about yourself than I do.
Throw my book out the window and write down what the symbol of a crown or a rainbow means to you. So as far as what I put out there, I mean, I'm just trying to be me. I like glamour and pleasure and beauty and travel and excitement. And I always felt, since I was very young, that life was cinematic. And it's why I love living in New York city and I love being in the mountains because it's like being in a movie thing and I do love the movies. So I don't know. That's just me, I guess. I'm trying to be me.
Because it sounds like there was a time where you didn't feel empowered and now there's this time where you feel more empowered or you're sort of aware of it and making a lot of choices that bring you into that place. How did that shift happen?
Well, the second I moved to New York city, I got a great therapist. I found myself a good, good therapist. I always had the sense... How did that shift happen? Taro has always been my jam. First of all, when I first started as a reader, I was like, well, if I'm not following my own advice, then I'm kind of like a total fraud. So I always already felt like it was like, okay, it was going to keep me on point. And the shift into... I don't know when it happened. I mean, I think it's been a slow and steady ascension up the cliff into whoever is inside of me that's trying to come out or trying to show itself. I don't know.
Interesting. Yeah. It's funny how that stuff sort of sometimes is easier to see in retrospect, that the change is happening, than it is to sort of notice in the moment. And I think that... Maybe you see this with people, too. Sometimes come for readings and they want that change today. And I'm like, yeah, that would be so nice, wouldn't it? If I could just, and then you would feel empowered or this or that or whatever. But it's often those accumulation of little things, or not even little things, right? Like, well, I did therapy for a while. I did this. I did that. I read my cards every day. I kept asking questions. I kept writing.
And it's so true. And I'm so curious. When people have those big moments... My sister, for instance, she was a heroin addict. And I'm always like that day of clarity where you woke up and were like, "I'm done," how many tiny things had to... And if you look bad at any moment in your life when you make a big decision like, "Oh, I'm finally really done." And you might call that a major care moment.
I'm really finished with this. It's always the tiniest things that led to the biggest kind of I think outward, inward changes. And in a sense makes it so easy... I didn't know what I was going to do for a career. I was asking the tarot every day, what should I do? What should I do? If there's something you want in your life, ask what that is every day.
And I guarantee you within three to six months, probably sooner, you'll get the answer. But it's just about kind of focusing yourself and realizing it's something small. Just asking a question and opening yourself up to the wisdom. It will come. And funny enough, my answer was like, oh, you should be a tarot reader. And it was right. So yeah, it is so often something that would be seemingly insignificant or small that is so incredibly powerful.
Well, I think that reminds me of maybe three, four years ago I was feeling very log jammed by stuff. I was running the store. I was doing readings. It was all going well, but it was a lot to deal with. I had kids. I got a lot going on. And I was reading cards and trying to figure out essentially how to be happier because I was not super happy in that moment.
And I put out the cards and journaling again. And I wrote when I'm free, I want to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All right? And then I kind of stopped myself. And I looked back over like my past series of readings and stuff and almost all of them had similar language. And I was like, wait a second, when I'm free? Okay. I have my own store. I am my own boss. I can do whatever, maybe not immediately, but over time I can do anything I want with any of these things.
I'm in a relationship, but it's an open relationship and I'm free to date other people and do whatever I want in that regards and so on and so on. And I'm like, when am I going to be more free than this? What would that even look like? It would look like, oh, I won the lottery and I've got $10 billion and I don't have to think about anything anymore. That would be more free.
But I was like, oh, I already have this thing, but I'm putting my unhappiness onto this idea of lack of freedom as opposed to looking at my happiness and say, okay, what can I do to change this? And obviously, there are lots of people who are in positions where they don't have those freedoms. I was in a very privileged position around this.
But I think that that idea of when we're reading or journaling or whatever, keep looking back and look for those patterns and look for those words that you're like, what's the central word there? What's the sexual thing there? And then try and unpack that and see what's there, because often there's something that could be done or there's a shift around our attention.
And once I started dropping that story, I was like, "Oh, well, look at this. Now I'm going to do this and now I want to do that." One of the things was I was like talking to people on the phone isn't making me happy. I'm going to put in a booking system. And that's it. I'm going to stop talking to people by bookings. And I was like, oh, that's easy. Done. And I changed a few little things and it created a lot of movement. And then I started moving from there further, further into it.
And that's the funny thing. We nuance the stuff that we want and it makes it seem like we're swimming in this ocean when it's really quite simple. When I wrote 365 Tarot Spreads, which is a tarot spread for every day of the year, before I began, I thought, oh, I wonder if there's a limit of how many questions a human being could ask. And so I sat down and I researched it and I thought up as many questions as I could.
And when you take out the personal nuances of your life, there's really under a hundred questions that a person could ask. And again, almost to the point of what we were talking about earlier, what's underneath is really quite simple. What we do is confuse it for all of this different stuff. I find that endlessly fascinating. And then you're like, "Oh my God, this is so much easier. I was making it all such a big deal."
What you just described, and then realizing that you already have what you want. I love what I said about the magician card. It makes me so happy and it just gives me so much joy. He's got the four suits of tarot typically on his magician table. And I always say that you already have everything you need. It's in front of you. And that's the funny and interesting thing about making magic and casting spells when.
Actually, I wrote an article, this technique called The Grief Eater Technique for one of the Llewellyn annuals. And it's about what happens when your witch's desires are not granted. You have to recognize that what you need is right there, perhaps you're not recognizing it or perhaps you don't see the gift or can't appreciate that what you are looking for us is staring at you in the face.
And then that leads to the next magical tenet, which is know that you already have it. I have to say, a couple of years ago, I was dying to travel, but we just didn't have the money and the budget. And I have a teenage daughter. So the idea that the three of us could pick up and go halfway around the world was very ridiculous. And I thought, okay, tarot teaches me that the world repeats. That underneath all of this stuff, everything is the same.
So I thought, okay, I can't go traveling the world right now. So I'm going to, every day, for five to 10 minutes, look for the entire world in my backyard. And whether that's on a city block in the city or that's in a puddle behind this house. And I started looking and traveling. And wouldn't you know it, Andrew, I swear to God, within a year for me doing that every day for 10 minutes, I was being literally invited to China, to the Middle East, all over the country. I started traveling like a fiend. And it was amazing, I think magic and tarot and figuring your stuff out can be so simple. We make it tough.
Yeah. I think it's interesting. Whenever people talk about magic, I'm always like, cool, what's the mechanism there? What accomplished that? And in the story you said, I'm kind of like, well, is that like doing devotion work to idea of travel for long enough that something, whatever it was, opened up and granted that to you? Is that aligning your attention to those things that started to make that more possible and sort of attaching yourself to those energies and actions and thoughts and stuff that make that happen?
It happens on so many different levels. And I think that that kind of idea of ongoing continual practice around stuff is really fascinating and actually fits with a lot of what I do. I do a lot of sort of sigil and art-based magic. And on the regular, I'm making art sigils, art gifts, art petitions and giving them to the ancestors or giving them to whatever. And I just make them and make them and make them. There's a whole pile of them.
I just sit there with them. And some of those are around bigger things or smaller things. A lot of them are just around like help me just understand what I really want and what I don't want. Help me to just be really clear about that. And that continuous, ongoing attention over years, it just turns into those moments where you're like, oh yeah, that's cool. Look, oh, I don't do that anymore. Oh, now I do know this. Oh, I have this clarity. Or also, hey, this thing opened up and this happened or that happened or, yeah, these opportunities, right?
And it's interesting. Because the impulse to seek that out or to create whatever it is that you're creating is already kind of implanted inside you, again, authentically. Talking about just being yourself, like a true, authentic version of expression of whatever is kind of embedded inside of you. When you either, A, I think recognize it in the material world or in nature, or when you write or paint, or also then create it, I do believe it's magnifying that energy which wanted to be seen.
I love this idea that everything on the other side, all of what's in the invisible world or not yet manifested, I love the idea that it wants you as much as you want it. And not only just the things that you want, but kind of like everything. When you're walking through your garden and you can smell a cucumber or rosemary, I feel like it's begging you like, "Pay attention to me," Just like clients want to be seen in a tarot reading and they want you to understand them.
I think everything in the invisible world wants to get your attention because it wants to be seen because it's exactly like us or that's us. It's all part and parcel. So the magical act is so inherently creative, there's just, I think, such power in the recognition and kind of the duality of creating it. And that's why it's so crazy and cool when you'll create a piece of art or write something and then like a year later you're standing inside of it. It's amazing. It's so cool.
So take away, magic school. Go through magic.
Practice magic every day. Do lots of magic. It's the perfect time of year anyway, if you're in the Northern hemisphere.
I think that's great. Well, maybe this is a good place to leave it with that and say, hey, go practice magic. Stay in it, stay curious, and look at that fear and work on it. Because I think that that stuff is gateways to all sorts of great possibilities. So for people who want to come and follow what you're up to, and of course people should do that, where are you hanging out online these days? What's your social stuff?
My social sitch. So I guess anybody who's interested in seeing what I'm up to can look on Instagram. I think I'm Sasha Taro Diva, Sasha Graham Taro Diva. Just Google Sasha Graham Taro and my stuff will come up. But I'm on sashagraham.com. I'm on Facebook and on Instagram primarily. Those are like my main social Hangouts. But more importantly, and probably something that would be even more interesting and helpful to you would be to like rather than looking for me online, look for my books and my tarot decks at independent bookstores. Support them. Get a tarot deck to play with. Grab one of my books. I promise you like 365 Spells or 365 Spreads is going to give you so much fun stuff that you can do and play with your cards and get into. Honestly, social is like a light version. Get one of my books, get one of my decks and play. I think that's the best way you can kind of get little piece of me.
I agree. I agree for sure. And speaking of that, we're going to wrap this up and we're going to go record a bonus episode for people who are supporters of the Patreon, where we're going to get into specifically how to play with regards to dig in and do a little shadow work. So if you're not already supporting the Patreon, go check it out and start. You're missing out on some fantastic stuff. All right. Thanks for being on today, Sasha.