Tarot and the art of herbalism have always gone together for me.
The year that I started creating my first herbal remedies was the same year that I also purchased my first tarot deck. The Smith-Waite deck that I began to learn to read with was lush with plant life and symbolism. In addition to becoming a tool for me to translate what I was feeling in words and concepts to other people, the cards were a way to connect with my plant kindred in new and meaningful ways. Finding roses growing in my neighborhood suddenly was an opportunity to step into the world of the Magician or Strength or perhaps even Death – all three cards are but some of the landscapes that roses appear in the deck of cards I had.
As I developed my practice as an herbalist and witch, I began to understand and value that our emotions and experiences are not independent of our bodies. Our feelings flow through the neural pathways of our entire body and they can pool, stagnate, or run amok like any other fluid or energy in the body. One way tarot and herbalism are such useful complementary tools is that they are both addressing the underlying emotional story of our lived experiences. If tarot is a map of our internal landscape, herbs are the nourishment for our journey as well as keys to new lands, while our will and desire is the compass which guide us.
While knowledge of tarot does not make up for lack of knowledge about herbs, there are many ways that each of, experienced in the practice of herbalism or not, can connect with our plant allies through tarot. Over the next few months, I’ll be looking at the tarot cards starting with each suite of the Minor Arcana and then the Major Arcana, exploring how the energy of the cards connect with specific plants and herbal actions. At the end of the this post, I’ll look at three simple ways you can start connecting with plants through your tarot practice.
As Traditional Western Herbalist, my perspective on herbs and their energetics are based in the six tissue state framework and the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. The six tissue states of Traditional Western Herbalism (TWH) can be seen as comparative to the three doshas of Ayurveda or the five elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine. My own personal practice also includes the concept of stella and terra energies or “as above, so below” which is a concept that many tarot folks are familiar with. What this means, is that based on the elemental association of each of the suits of tarot we can make herbal energetic connections.
So, the swords are a suit of air and might work with herbs that focus on the lungs, while the pentacles are a suit of earth and we might work with the roots of herbs the skin. The use of herbal energetics within a tarot framework will become clearer as the series progresses, but I have found it to be a very useful way of connecting the elemental system of tarot with the energetic properties of herbs.
For our journey through the Minor Arcana I’ll be using the following format for each of the suits of tarot in my posts.
Receptive Herb: Our receptive herbs bring in the energy of the element of the suit. A receptive herb for the suit of cups or water might be moistening and oily in nature, bringing moisture to a dried out situation.
Diffusive Herb: Our diffusive herbs diffuse or bring balance to the element of a suit. A diffusive herb for the suit of pentacles or earth, which tends to be slow and stagnant when out of balance, might be stimulating and energizing.
Herbal Actions: Each element has a tendency towards certain herbal actions. Herbs of the suit of wands which is related to fire, for example, are generally stimulating and warming.
Herbal Remedy: A simple herbal remedy technique that relates to the energy of the suit being discussed.
While I’ll look at the pips of each suit as a whole, I will explore the court cards individually recommending flower essences for each one. Flower essences are a very accessible, inexpensive, and safe form of herbal medicine that are easy to make on your own or purchase at your local health shop or favorite online seller. The amazing thing about flower essences is that by their very nature they can do no harm – an essence that isn’t right for you will do nothing whereas the correct essence may affect profound change that you are ready for. I’m recommending flower essences for each of the court cards because I want folks who have little to no herbal experience or training to have a very accessible medium of plant medicine to access and use. Also, heck, they’re amazing magick and lots of fun!
For the court cards, I will be using the language from The Collective Tarot which I think describe the energies of the cards in a fantastic and understandable way. The court cards will be named as followed:
Page = Seeker
Knight = Apprentice
King = Artist
Queen = Mentor
Now, let’s look at some ways that you can begin to connect with plant allies through the tarot whether or not you’re an experienced herbalists or have never had a cup of herbal tea in your life!
3 Ways to Connect with Plant Allies through Tarot
Tarot + Tea. Whether a black tea or herbal tisane, if you are so inclined to brew a cup before beginning a reading, you can also begin to connect with the energies of the plant releasing its medicinal and magickal energy into your cup. One way to do this, is to sit quietly while holding the cup between your hands and speak your intention for the reading ahead. Focusing on your intention, blow it across the surface of your brew, letting the water ripple and shift, connecting with the power of the plant to charge your intention with energy. Take a sip and then begin your reading.
Choose an herb featured in tarot and learn about it. The Smith-Waite-Rider deck is full of herbs that play a prominent role in the western esoteric tradition including Roses, Lilies, and Sunflowers. Begin researching the medicinal and magickal uses for any of these herbs. Botanical.com is a free searchable materia medica of Maude Grieves and includes both folkloric and traditional uses for plants.
Pull a card for a plant. Get into the garden, the local park or visit the plant growing on your windowsill, and say “hello!” Pull a card asking what healing gifts the plant possesses, what message it might have for you specifically (especially if it has been sitting in your house and watching you for a while, it might have some useful insight), or any other question you might have. Always connect with the plant first and ask permission to do a reading with it and be sure to say thanks afterwards, perhaps even offering a bit of water or a song. If you’re looking to pull more than just a card, you can check out my Wild Tongue: Plant Ally Spread for a more in-depth reading.
Herbalism and tarot are two fascinating arts which offer us incredible tools of change and connection in a world that desperately needs both. I hope that some of you will find the practice of tarot and herbalism to be useful in your own lives and in the lives of the communities you serve.
The decks featured in this post are the Smith-Waite deck, more commonly known as the Rider-Waite-Smith or RWS tarot, Thea’s Tarot by Ruth West, The Greenwood Tarot by Chesca Potter, and The World Spirit Tarot by Jessica Godino and Lauren O’Leary.
Alexis J. Cunningfolk (she/they) is an intersectional herbalist, witch, and weaver of remedies at Worts + Cunning Apothecary.