Tarot as a path of healing | Warding

In my first post exploring tarot as a tool of healing, I spoke about the essential skill of grounding and centering in any tarot, magickal, or healing practice. Having already spoken about the difference between ‘safe’ versus ‘supportive’ spaces, I want to talk about warding as a way to help you and those you serve feel supported during tarot readings and healing work.

Warding is the act of creating supportive and protective spaces through establishing wards around oneself and one’s space.

Wards remind us that we have a right to feel supported and secure in the world. Remembering this right can help us to get into the space of openness and receptivity necessary for healing work to occur. A well-supported reading space creates an environment for the cards cast and the messages spoken to land in a way that opens up pathways and possibilities.

While one purpose of wards is about keeping things and energies that would disrupt sacred energy out of a space, they’re also about setting up spaces and boundaries to allow things that we want more of to easily come forward (i.e. knowledge of a situation, healing memories, and pieces of our soul returning).

Tarot, with its knights and hermits, high priestesses and fools, can help us to invoke protective energies and hidden wisdoms into our life and practice. In fact, the cards can act as a portable temple of magick, fully warded and ready to be invoked at any time and in any place. The cards can also help us to identify the guardians we want in our lives as opposed to only focusing on the things which overwhelm or distress us (which is not too infrequently the space that folks will cast cards in, because at moments of overwhelm and distress we want answers and guidance).

What follows are a few simple techniques to help you connect with the protective current of energy that runs through every deck if you look for it and to help you create wards for yourself and your space that meet your unique needs to feel supported in the many worlds you may traverse in.

Invoking the Aces

The four Aces of the tarot are pure expressions of the elements they represent, and they’re a great starting place for creating a simple ward for yourself and your space. Begin by pulling out the four Ace cards in your deck of choice and take a moment to familiarize yourself with each of them. And if you need some help, search through the amazing archives here at Little Red Tarot for articles on the Aces, like Cassandra Snow’s Queering the Tarot series. For each element ask yourself:

What is it about {the element or suit} that feels powerful to me?
What is it about {the element or suit} that feels supportive to me?
What is it about {the element or suit} that feels healing to me?
What is it about {the element or suit} that feels magickal to me?

These questions are meant to help you connect with the guardian energies of each of the suits and their corresponding elements (I write more about each element in tarot from a traditional western herbal perspective in my Tarot Herbology series). When I look at the Ace of Swords, for example, I think of the fierceness of a sword to defend a space, but I also imagine the ways that wielding a sword with purpose requires balance, adaptability, and meditative flow. The tarot is meant to be a tool to help you connect with guides who embody these elemental energies whether you view them as independent spirits or archetypal manifestations of humxn consciousness.

Having connected with the guardian energies of the Aces, set them out in a circle around you, with the swords to the east, wands to the south, cups to the west, and pentacles to the north. Beginning in the east, visualize a shining sword in the air before you. Feel the power of the suit of swords and the element of air. What comes next takes a bit of visualization skill and focus – both essential skills for working magick. Bring your arms straight out before you, your palms together, so that your fingertips are pointed towards the sword hanging in the air before you. Take a deep breath in and with a sharp exhale, swing open your arms and visualize the one sword becoming a multitude of shining blades so that you are surrounding in a sphere of sword energy. Hold this image in your mind as you bring your hands to your heart and let the multitude of swords fade from your mind’s eye returning to the single sword in the east. While the image of a sphere made of swords has faded, they’re protective energy remains.

Continue this with the three remaining suits, visualizing a wand in the south, a cup in the west, and a pentacle in the north. Once every suit has been invoked take a moment to stand in this circle of elemental power, knowing that it will act as a personal shield wherever you go. As the final step, visualize the remaining energy wrapping around you like flexible, adaptable, lightweight but powerful suit of armor. Alternatively, if you’re warding a space (like a room or house), visualize the energy moving outwards to surround the entire space. You can, with focus of will, visualize these two things occurring at once.

Hopefully you’ve realized that there is a lot of space for your own personal twist within this ritual. If you’re a dancer, incorporate sacred movement to bring up each element and move it about you in a spherical fashion. Or use song or spoken word to call to each element. You can include candle-lighting, incense, herbal offerings, and whatever else you would like. Make the ritual your own.

One way that I like to ward a space is to keep cards in the four corners or directions of the place. If I’m warding a temporary sacred space (such as a college community room that I’ve reserved for my Pagan group), I’ll place actual cards from my deck in the appropriate spaces around the room, collecting them again at the end of the night. For a more permanent space (like my home) I’ll make a printed or drawn copy of each card and bury them outside in the four corners of the home (for landless homes or apartments I tuck the cards hidden in corners indoors where they won’t be disturbed).

I ‘feed’ or re-energize these personal wards every Sabbat or New Moon with the invoking the aces ritual already described, depending on the energy I’m working with.

Warding a reading table

Warding your reading table before you read for yourself or others is a quick way of setting up a small temple of sacred space for your card castings to happen on. It’s an adaptation of the ritual above and focuses on the reader as an transmuter of knowledge (i.e. the one who interprets the signs and symbols of the cards) into wisdom.

Begin by placing each of the aces in the appropriate directions. You can place the rest of the cards in the center of the table. Take a few grounding breaths and then touch the Ace of Swords, saying:

Ace of Swords
ward this place
may I speak wisely
in this space

Visualize a light glowing from the card and draw that light to the Ace of Wands, saying:

Ace of Wands
ward this place
may I know wisely
in this space

Again, the light appears and is drawn towards the Aces of Cups, saying:

Ace of Cups
ward this place
may I feel wisely
in this space

Finally, the circumnavigation is complete with the Ace of Pentacles, saying:

Ace of Pentacles
ward this place
may I grow wisely
in this space

Tap each of the cards in succession twice more, for a total of three times and therefore sealing and warding the reading table with three final knocks in the center of the table.

Meeting your tarot guardian

There are all sort of techniques for setting up a intelligent ward – which is a ward that has a beneficial mind of its own. In my personal cosmology, I do believe that the tarot has a spirit to it and that different decks and individual cards attract and are conduits for different energies. You could view it simply as recognizing that the images in the cards, including the colors, symbols, and archetypes presenting, invoke a reaction from us – sometimes subtle, sometimes intense, and often somewhere in-between. Choosing to work with a tarot guardian, or a tarot version of an intelligent ward, is one way of becoming active in your engagement of the deck as opposed to simply reacting to the cards. A tarot guardian acts as a companion and guide who reminds us not to fear the knowledge about ourselves and our situation that we see reflected back at us in the cards but to trust in our wisdom (and to help us guide our clients in the same way if we read for others).

Meeting your tarot guardian begins by shuffling through your deck and pulling out cards that make you feel protected. You might be drawn to the strong energy of the suit of Swords or find yourself pulled towards the nurturing energies of cards like the Empress or even the vulnerable yet powerful cards like the Star. Begin to narrow down your choices until only one card remains. Ask the same questions of your chosen guardian card as you did of the Aces (see above). It’s ok if what draws you to this card as a guardian isn’t readily expressed in words but instead just flows through as a feeling and knowing. Trust your intuition.

You can pull out your guardian card before readings to invoke the energy of protection and support, as well as a reminder to trust in your inherent wisdom. Any sort of self-discovery work can feel scary at some point – it means you’re getting somewhere – but you don’t have to face it alone. Connecting to your guardian card before a reading is one way of remembering that you’re not alone in your work (even if it’s just reflecting on the fact that you’re using a deck that got in your hands through the effort of many hands – from the creator to the publisher to the shop and then to you). You can also include your guardian card in any of the rituals I’ve already described, but one of my favorite ritual uses of a guardian card is to use it to charge a talisman.

The tarot guardian talisman

Having chosen your guardian card, choose a piece of jewelry or similar item to charge as your talisman. Place the card on your altar and the talisman next to it. Take a few centering breaths and then cover your heart with your hands. Gaze at your card, forming a powerful connection. When you have felt the power build, touch the card with both hands and then brush your hands up over your face, crown, behind your body and then up the front of your body. Repeat this process of touching the card, gathering up it’s energy, and then brushing it over your body two more times. Adapt the movement as needed given your mobility, as well as simply visualizing this brushing over of energy without any movement – do what works best for you.

Place your talisman on the card so that it exists between the powerful flow of energy between you and your guardian card. Let your non-dominant hand (i.e. the hand that you do not write with) rest over the card and talisman, your other hand remaining over your heart. Then switch hands. Following the flow of your breath and unique energetic pattern, switch your hands again and again, establishing a firm connection between you, your guardian, and your talisman. When the energy feels potent and ripe, pick up your talisman and hold it over your heart, grounding its protective energy within and around you. Thank the guardian spirit of your card and use the talisman as a portable ward and reminder of your right to be supported and care for in the world.

Customize your guardian card talisman and any of the rituals described to your needs including using astrological timing, sacred herbs, and the invocation of holy beings to make the ritual yours.

If you’ve never done a warding or similar protection work as part of your tarot practice, I recommend giving it a chance. You don’t need to feel unsafe or like you need protection to benefit from a warding. Just like we turn off distractions such as our phone notifications before doing a reading, a warding can be an act of turning off energetic and mental distractions so that you can cast your cards in the best sort of environment – one that supports and affirms your right to read the cards, take healing breaths, be your own mystic, and exist as a complex and beautiful magickal being.

In the next part of our series we’re going to be asking some sacred questions to inspire a tarot-led journaling practice that helps us to figure out what we’re trying to heal in the first place.

Decks featured: Elemental Tarot, Dark Days Tarot, Numinous Tarot

Alexis J. Cunningfolk (she/her/they) is an intersectional herbalist, magickal mentor, and weaver of remedies at Worts + Cunning Apothecary. She helps folks radically re-enchant their lives through herbal medicine and magickal arts.

When Alexis was twelve years old, she bought her first tarot deck and so started her journey to becoming the deep tarot nerd she is today. As a queer nonbinary womxn of mix-d heritage, she revels in the powerful intersections of ancestral wisdom, social justice, and plant healing. She offers online and in-person classes, including
The Lunar Apothecary
and The Tarot Apothecary, as well as free resources on her blog and magickal insight through her newsletter. You’ll find Alexis most often on instagram, taking photos of tea and waxing poetically about life as a witch.

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