Our journey through the world of tarot and herbalism begins with the suit of swords and element of air.
In many western esoteric traditions, the direction of east and air is honored as a place of beginnings. The east is where the sun rises each day and it is in the suit of swords that we learn to speak and express ourselves when we engage the illuminating path of tarot. In my experience, the suit of swords is also the area that most often illuminates conflict, challenges, miscommunication, and injustice in a reading. Swords are sharp and swing both ways – they represent our thoughts and words which can lift us up in one moment and tear us down in the next. They are the doublespeak of advertising and politics as well as the sacred charm and song of revolution. Swords are also the suit of illumination, inspiration, knowledge before it alchemizes into wisdom, and risk-taking. The swords hold incredible power, so when lots of swords show up in a spread I know to pay attention to what is in motion.
Swords can represent mental tension, stress, and a busy brain.
We live in a hyper-connected suit of swords time with a constant barrage of social media shouting and an ever increasing consumption of media. It becomes harder to take moments just for ourselves – quiet moments of tea time become an opportunity to connect with a multitude of followers via instagram. Suddenly a quiet pleasure-centered moment where we might settle into our bodies becomes a moment to get in our heads, our of the moment, and rack up likes. Such is a very out-of-balance swords world we live in.
Connecting the swords to herbalism, I think about plants that quiet hurried thoughts, release tension, and bring about a sense of ease. I welcome in plants that ease heartache (especially when the three of swords shows up) and take the edge off. I call to plants that enliven the mind where new ideas are needed and to clear out sluggishness which may have settled into the mind.
All cards shown in this post are from Thea’s Tarot, by Ruth West.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a enlivening herb which cuts through mental fog and I love it for invoking the clarifying powers of the swords. When the winds are tossing about emotionally and mentally, we can find ourselves in a state of tension and stress. Gently antispasmodic and a classic digestive, Peppermint relieves tension and the complaints of indigestion including gas, nausea, and intestinal cramping. Since we’re concerned with speaking and communication in the suit of swords, Peppermint has the very practical benefit of being an herb for bad breath. The herb is a classic cold care ally in Traditional Western Herbalism, especially when combined with Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Elder (Sambucus nigra). In a garden, Peppermint is as tenacious as the thoughts that go round and round in our head, which makes this plant particularly suited to bring in the power of swords into your life. Spray or diffuse the essential oil to awaken a space and clear out old energy – especially useful before a reading if you are seeking clarity on an issue that feels muddled and unclear.
The diffusive herb I chose for the suit of swords is Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) which is one of my favorite relaxing nervines. You know that mental chatter that goes round and round and round in your head keeping you from falling asleep at night? Skullcap might help quiet the noise. A powerful nervine, Skullcap restores strength to an overwhelmed nervous system (by working on the cerebro spinal centers), relieving spasms, nerve pain, and cultivating calm. The common name Mad Dog Weed speaks to Skullcap historical uses for St. Vitus dance, hysteria, epilepsy, convulsion, and major disturbances of the nervous and mental systems. It is a classic herb for those overworked and feeling like they are stretched to their limits, but there is a nasty voice in their head saying they just have to buck up and keep going. It is particularly useful when those drama llama cards arrive (10 of Swords, anyone?). Skullcap kicks out the nasties and welcomes in bliss. I like combining it with Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) and Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) for a deliciously soothing blend. Skullcap can alleviate the sharpness of too many swords in our lives helping us to connect back to the clarity that the airy suit can provide.
The Sword Court Cards
Seeker of Swords: Borage
The Seeker of Swords is adventurous, hurried, and ready for action. They jump in first and think later – they’re confident they’ll be able to talk themselves out of any trouble they might find themselves in. They’re also the most intuitive of the Sword Court, in that they listen to the song of the wind for guidance. I recommend Borage Flower Essence for the Seeker of Swords because the beautiful flower teaches true bravery through contemplation of what lies ahead. The Borage flower bends over and looks down at the earth – gazing at the path that it will soon fall on. Borage helps Seeker of Swords folks to find their bravery when it is lacking, to check their ego when it is drawing them into undesirable situations, and reconnect them to the wisdom of knowing before just rushing in.
Apprentice of Swords: Impatiens
The Apprentice of Swords may get the prize for one of the most if not the most impatient card in the deck. Let’s go already! So, it is no surprise that Impatiens is a recommended essence for Apprentice of Swords folks. Impatiens honors the quick-thinking energy of the Apprentice of Swords while tempering the irritation and impatience that can accompany such speed of thought. In addition to teaching patience, Impatiens also teaches empathy and the importance of collaboration to Apprentice of Swords folks who can come off as bossy lone wolf types. Connecting with their empathy and patience, the Apprentice of Swords is able to move beyond being a know-it-all into becoming wise.
Artist of Swords: Vervain
The Artist of Swords disdains injustice in all its form. When in balance, the Artist of Swords is a revolutionary leader inspiring through words. An out-of-balance Artist of Swords uses the same strength of words to bulldoze other’s ideas and input until everyone agrees with their vision. The essence of Vervain is a good teacher for Artist of Swords folks because it helps to take an edge of the urgency of need for everyone to see why their vision is the best. Instead, Vervain helps Artist of Sword folks to hear and appreciate the ideas of others while talking about their own vision with a spirit of collaboration. Vervain also helps to protect against burnout which many Artist of Swords folks are prone to as they can push themselves past their limits for the cause they are fighting for. Remember, wordsmiths and fighters, we need you for the long-run, not just the next protest. Vervain helps us create sturdy foundations to fall back on so our fire can burn brightly for many years to come.
Mentor of Swords: Sage
The Mentor of Swords embodies the ideals of the suit of swords – a person who communicates with confidence and clarity, inspiring others with their self-expression. The essence of Sage helps to distill knowledge gained through experience into wisdom that can be shared with others. Sage also helps Mentor of Swords folks develop confidence in teaching others. On the flip side, the essence assists Mentor of Swords folks in understanding the importance of intergenerational collaboration. If you’re struggling to find your wisdom flow in your tarot practice or you’ve been reading for years and feel like you’re in a rut, Sage flower essence might be a good ally for you.
In addition to enjoying herbs in tea and tincture form, the suit of swords and the realm of air invites us to enjoy herbal medicine as aromatic remedies such as aromatherapy and loose incense. Loose incense is incredibly easy to make – simply choose your herbs and mix them together. You can burn them on self-lighting charcoal or cast into a fire. Loose incense can be blended into powder and cast into the winds or used to dress candles. There are a lot of possibilities and the following are a few tips for creating your own loose incenses:
Purchase or harvest good quality herbs. Old herbs smell like old herbs, whereas freshly dried and well-harvested herbs have a quality of life to them that creates wonderful incense. If wildcrafting, please do so mindfully.
Less is more. You can burn a single herb or a few combined together, but start with simpler recipes where each herb is working in harmony.
Let your incense incubate. Once you have blended together your herbs, cap them in an air tight jar and let them “brew” for a week or so (I like to wait for a full cycle of the moon). The blend ripens and the herbs have time to mix and mingle. You can sing charms to the jar each day or bury it in the earth for the entirety of incubation – whatever your heart is called to do.
Charm your incense. Take time to charge or charm your incense. Speak the names of each herb you are using and their powers. Name your incense and its purpose. Hold it at your heart, your belly, your head. Do what you do to raise energy and fill the incense with your charm. Remember your magick, clever one.
How will you be connecting with the herbs and energies of the suit of swords? Post your experiences below as well as any questions you might have about the information already shared. Next time we’ll be exploring the suit of cups and the element of water. Until then, journey well, clever ones!
Alexis J. Cunningfolk (she/they) is an intersectional herbalist, witch, and weaver of remedies at Worts + Cunning Apothecary.