I started writing for Little Red Tarot nearly three years ago, sharing my love of tarot and its intersections with herbalism. I wanted to follow-up that series with a more expansive view of tarot as a tool of healing beyond a focus of plant medicine.
My tarot deck (ok, let’s be real honest and say decks) is a multifaceted tool in my spiritual practice.
One of my first intensive journeys with the tarot was working through Christine Jette’s book Tarot Shadow Work, where I learned about how to use tarot not only as a tool of self-discovery but as a companion into the parts of who we are and our life experiences that can be difficult to look at.
Through my own shadow work, I began to realize that when I did a tarot reading for myself or my friends that we weren’t just looking for an answer to a question (i.e. Will I be happier in Job A or Job B? What should I do after high school?), but we were seeking reconciliation with our inner desires and our outer realities – which is also just another way to say healing or even more aptly, wholeness.
Through my Tarot as a path of healing series, I want to invite you to use your deck of cards in new ways to create a healing practice that is all your own. I think the tarot is a rather fantastic tool of healing, because it adapts with you as you grow and change as a person. Every card holds a multitude of meanings which change depending on where a card is cast and what other cards show up in the mix. I have found that tarot is always able to show up to wherever we might be on our path of healing – the tumultuous bits, the riotously blissful, the content, the grieving, and all-between.
With an invitation extended, lets begin with the practice of grounding and centering. I’m going to start by talking about an important dynamic in healing spaces, including during a tarot reading, that sets the stage for the practices we’ll be learning in this series.
Safe versus supportive spaces
As a tarot reader and herbalist, I can’t make the world safer but I can learn how to help folks feel safer within it and that’s through the act of creating supportive spaces. A supportive space recognizes that while safety is not guaranteed (no one can ever know, for example, all the things that may trigger a stress response or anxiety attack) but that support is always guaranteed (i.e. showing up and supporting someone experiencing an anxiety attack in the ways they need).
A safe space can imply that everyone within that space is always going to be aware of all of the dynamics occurring in a space and within other people that no incident will ever arise. It puts a lot of pressure on everyone to get it ‘right’ and be perfectly informed (which none of us are) and that if something goes wrong than safety has been revoked. A supportive space realizes that limitation of humxn knowledge but instead creates an environment for folks to show up in ways that are loving and kind even when they don’t know everything (i.e. I don’t know why exactly you’re having an anxiety attack but I’m going to show up and support you through it, change the environment and my behavior appropriately, and engage you in ways that feel helpful).
Learning how to ground and center is one of the most consistent ways we can feel more secure in ourselves and our surroundings.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re on a crowded bus. It’s noisy, folks are grumpy, and you’re standing in the aisle counting down the stops before you can get off. The bus stops suddenly, you lurch forward, and a rush of adrenaline floods your system. Your body is having a stress response and it’s a pretty primitive one. Our body doesn’t know how to differentiate between being chased by a large predator (something our ancient ancestors had to deal with) or simply experiencing a sudden, but still safe, stop on a bus.
In this moment choosing to ground and center can help your body move from the initial stress response of fight, freeze or fight to the recovery period (also known as rest and digest). Engaging your grounding and centering practice, your adrenaline levels can drop and messages are sent throughout your body via your nervous system that everything is OK, there’s no sabertooth tiger to be worried about.
What’s happened in this scenario isn’t a change of external circumstances, but an internal shift that allows us to create some semblance of flexible control and security in our environment. Of course, learning to ground and center isn’t just to be able to react better to stress, but to allow us to focus the mind on what we want to focus on. In the case of tarot readers, that’s being able to observe cards cast and connect the narrative between the images, symbols, and stories that we’re looking at for ourselves and our clients.
A basic grounding + centering exercise
What follows is my version of the magickally ubiquitous ‘tree of life meditation’. It’s one of those meditations that shows up in different iterations throughout the magickal community, because it works so well for so many different kinds of people. The first few times running through the meditation may take 10 – 15 minutes (though it can be much longer if desired). If you continue to practice this meditation daily for a few months (and hopefully long after that) you’ll find that you’re able to invoke the feeling of grounded and centeredness from a physical and psychic muscle memory in any situation without having to visualize every step at length.
To begin, create a space where you will have 10 – 15 minutes of undisturbed time. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and begin with taking a series of deep, slow breaths. When you take a breath in, feel it reaching to the edges of your body – to the very tip of your toes, your fingers, and the top of your head. When breathing out, visualize the release of tension, and as you breath in, see nourishing energy settling into your being.
After a few minutes of breathwork, bring your attention to the part of your body that is closest to the ground. On your next out-breath feel and visualize a root extending into the earth below you. On your next in-breath feel and visualize green, earthy energy flowing up your root and into your body. Breath out and feel your roots growing down deep into the earth.
Continuing this cycle of ebb and flow with your breath, feel the green energy pulling up to the top of your head. With every in-breath feel your energy pulled up from your roots, past the crown of your head, and into expanding branches that reach towards the stars. While your in-breath pulls you up and out, your out-breath relaxes you and draws starry-energy through your branches, down and in to your body.
Let the energy of earth and star mingle within you for a few more cycles breathing. When you are ready, begin to pull your branches and roots back into your being with every in-breath. With every out-breath you settle further into your body. Pull the energy into the center of your body, a few inches below your navel. Let the energy settle into a softly turning sphere of light that pulses with your breath before slowly fading completely back into your body.
I find it useful to take one last big breath in and out, holding my hands over my belly, then my heart, and finally my head before lowering them to the Earth (or holding my hands so my palms are directed towards the Earth if I can’t reach the ground). Having a regular ‘tree of life’ or similar meditation practice can bring you greater ease in traveling the many worlds of tarot in your readings for yourselves and others in addition to the healing and self-love benefits such a practice cultivates. If you feel called to such a practice, I hope you give yourself permission to show up for it and the pleasure it can bring.
Grounding + centering yourself with tarot
One of the simplest ways to use tarot to help us ground and center is to choose a card which will act as your personal switch**. This switch card can help you to reverse the current of distraction or stress to one of focus and calm or help to energize you from a state of ungrounded lethargy – hence the reason for calling it a ‘switch’. Once you have performed the grounding and centering exercise described above a couple of times take out your tarot deck. Search through it until you come across a card that embodies the feeling of grounded centeredness you’re seeking.
You might choose the Empress, for example, which shows a grounded and centered figure who is comfortable in their body and their self-sovereignty. Or the World card might represent the security of self you feel when you feel grounded and centered in your body. Once you’ve chosen your card you can begin to incorporate it into your grounding and centering practice.
The first way you can use your chosen tarot card is to bring the imagery into your grounding and centering meditation.
Let’s say that you’ve chosen the Empress. You might visualize being a tree within the garden (or however the imagery is displayed on the card). By connecting your practice of grounding and centering to something larger than yourself (i.e. the current of energy which runs through the archetypes of the tarot) you begin to create a psychic support net to help you achieve your feeling of calm and steadiness.
Another way to use your switch card is to leave it in a spot in your home or room where you will see it frequently throughout the day. Whenever you see the card take a moment to ground and center yourself. This doesn’t have to be a prolonged guided visualization and can be as simple as thinking or saying aloud, “In this moment I am grounded and centered.” I actually like to make a couple copies of my chosen card and have it tucked into mirrors, my wallet, at my workspace. I’ll change the wallpaper on my phone to be my card image too. In this way, you will be practicing the conjuration of grounded centeredness without always having to be in a situation that is stressful – you are learning from a place of action rather than reaction.
**For those of you who’ve been practicing magick in one of the many Western esoteric traditions since the 1990s or before ,you might recognize what I’m writing about as a form of magickal trigger. I’ve chosen not to use the word trigger (though I do think it accurately describes what’s happening on an energetic level), as the word is rarely used these days to describe a beneficial occurrence. The term ‘switch’ in this case is imperfect, but I do like its queerness – and it’s the closest approximation to trigger I could come up with. If you have an alternative term to magickal trigger that you think applies well to what I’m describing, please let me know in the comments. I love a good search for a new or reclaimed word to help us describe our experiences!
Grounding + centering your tarot cards
I want to mention the importance of grounding and centering your tarot deck. If you read for others or have other folks touching your cards, it can be a beneficial practice to recenter the energies of your cards and ground any excess energy they may have picked up. There are a number of ways that one can do this from laying your cards out under direct sunlight or moonlight to laying them in a dish of clay.
One particularly potent way I have found to ground and center my decks is by wrapping them up for a period of time with an earthed crystal. An earthed crystal is a stone that has been buried in the earth for at least a day and night (I like to bury mine for cycles of three, six, or nine days) which recharges the stone and realigns its energies. I’ll take my earthed crystal and place it on top of my tarot deck and then wrap both stone and deck up in a silk cloth (I found a silk scarf at a thrift store many years ago that I use for this purpose). You can then place the bundle on an altar or other safe space where it will remain undisturbed for a few hours to a few days – the timing is an intuitive thing so be sure to pay attention to when it feels right to unwrap and use your deck again.
How often should you ground and center your tarot deck? That’s up to you and the deck.
Decks I use often in public readings, that are being handled by lots of folks other than me, tend to get wrapped with an earthed crystal monthly, whereas other decks that I’m only working with may experience this only once or twice a year. If I’ve been doing some intense healing work with a tarot deck as one of my tools I will ground and center with it. I’ll start with a tree of life meditation while either holding my deck or having it on my altar before me. Then I’ll wrap up my deck with an earthed crystal and place another earthed crystal on myself, usually lying down by my altar for a period of time alongside my deck. This can set up a beautiful resonance with your tarot deck, but it can also just be a nice cat nap with a shiny crystal in the midst of your sacred space. Play with the practice and let it unfold in meaningful ways just for you.
I hope you’re feeling inspired to practice grounding and centering. It’s one of those foundational practices that, once embraced, brings a special quality to your tarot, healing, and magickal work that is hard to find elsewhere.
In the next part of our series, we’ll learn how to incorporate tarot with the traditional witchcraft practice of warding space and discover how warding can be an important part of our healing work.
Decks featured: Daughters of the Moon, Slow Holler, Triple Goddess Tarot, Dark Goddess Tarot, Smith-Waite Centennial
Alexis J. Cunningfolk (she/they) is an intersectional herbalist, witch, and weaver of remedies at Worts + Cunning Apothecary.