Not so long ago I acquired the tarot deck pictured above by winning a runner-up lottery prize from a regional herbal collective. Quite a bit more recently an old ethnobotany buddy who off-and-on reads here SOS'd me on the subject of the same deck. Was asked if I'd do a visual breakdown explaining how I approach a new deck in order to become more familiar with it. Although I'd normally be inclined to post this on my secondary blog the gorgeous plant-elevating artwork feels like it's ultimately a better fit for this space.
go here if you want to see a thorough (and thoroughly lovely) PROPER review of this particular deck.
Hope my process/approach sparks ideas of how you might personalize and enhance the experience of familiarizing yourself with a previously unexplored deck or perhaps your very first.
My first move once the deck is out of the box is to liberate it from its paper ribbon. I hold it gently in my left/receiving hand while using my right to open the deck's accompanying guidebook to a random page. I then retrieve the card (this will be easy even if you've never done it before because a virgin deck is arranged in perfect numerical/suit order) corresponding with the page I opened in the booklet. In this case is was a very short search-and-find walk to The High Priestess.
I don't initially focus on the left brain/info part of this introductory gesture. I simply look at the card. Noticing what it feels like vibrationally and what I admire most about its visual presentation. Making note of what ultimately resonates - or fails to.
* If you've got a frame of reference for other decks notice how this card differs from and/or fulfills your expectations in terms of vibe, specific illustration, and color palette.
*If this is your first deck try looking at the card's imagery as if it had been created for your specific scrutiny. Solidify some type of personal response to what you see: note your feelings, intellectual connections swiftly made, emotional surges that defy linear definition and so forth.
The purpose of this opening gesture is to also get a feel for what the deck's guidebook has to offer. It was a lovely surprise to see the inclusion of (wild)crafting ideas. Interactive prompts are very compatible with the hands-on world of herbcrafting. That adds a lovely layer of automatic resonance and accessibility.
My next exploration nearly always involves XVIII and XIX - the Moon and Sun cards. The reason doesn't relate to the tarot-based meaning of these cards - it's astrological. My natal sun sign is ruled by the moon. My moon sign is likewise ruled the sun. That makes the cards' natural pairing - as well as their energetic polarity - especially potent when one or both cards appear in reading.
Unless you have a specific pairing of strong established meaning to you - I suggest you begin by doing this:
Separate the 22 (0-21) Major Arcana from the rest of the deck. Shuffle very lightly - not so much to mix them up as to give them your touch until the cards start to hold some of your warmth. Am aware many people interject assertive energy at this point by rapping the Majors sharply on the edge of a table or a specific sacred object sturdy enough to absorb the blows. I just like to touch them via shuffling until they hold warmth. Tarot cards are pragmatically composed of paper which holds vestiges of sentience. Simple warming touch seems like a much more rewarding way to wake up together, doesn't it?
Spread the cards out like I did - a bit messily and with a great deal of overlapping among the cards. Soften your gaze rather than studying whatever shows a focused way. As you gaze rub your palms together briskly for a moment. Then begin rubbing them more gently - about twice as long as you were brisk. These motions will enliven your secondary palm chakras as well as pinging your Crown and Heart chakras to begin their opening process .
Hold your hands, palms down, 4 to 6 inches above the cards. Don't mentally watch what you're doing just allow your palms to hover until you feel a gravitational dip/pull to pick something up. Repeat in order to select a second card.
NOTE: if you don't feel any kind of physical or energetic nudge simply shuffle the major arcana well. Cut the deck twice using your non-dominant hand. Re-stack and then use your dominant hand to deal yourself the top two cards.
Study the cards' colors, images and symbols. Make note of what these elements already mean to your visual brain - in or out of a tarot frame. Quiet yourself enough to notice anything the image whispers to (or from within) your soul. When you look carefully - what does this card feel like at a purely personal level? Is the resonation strong enough to focus on what's been evoked rather than concern over what the card is 'supposed' to mean?
If you're the type to document grab a fresh notebook and write down the cards you select. If they resonate strongly for you at the blink/image level pay special attention to their designated meaning. Documenting your card draws will yield a fascinating grasp of patterns to the draws you might not notice if you rely solely on your temporal memory. After the trends are noted I transform the otherwise dull/repetitive entries into art journal pages or use them for collage substrates.
Next I pull my soul and personality card from the deck.* This is a numerological thing often attributed to Mary K. Greer. In research prep for this entry I learned the technique actually pre-dates her. Here's an online source for all the relevant info needed to make your own calculations.
[Note if you follow the link: I don't know what is up with the third mentioned card of Shadow. What's been included doesn't make sense to me. When I consulted my copy of Tarot for Yourself I saw nothing similar but it's a very early edition. The new re-release may have that shadow information included. If anyone reading has that edition and the info makes the slightest bit of workable sense could you verfiy in comments, please?]
*alternatively you can simply look at the remaining major arcana and pick two more cards that appeal to you - whether you know why or not. Sometimes it's a lot more juicy and ultimately revelatory when you don't know why but you go with it anyway.
By now I trust the imagery clarifies why I decided to publish this post here. This morning I found a comment to a post in which grace mentioned a review she'd read of Herbcrafter's comparing artist Joanna Powell Colbert to Pliny. It doesn't seem at all hyperbolic the longer I look at her gorgeous work. Each card is comparably compelling and brimming with life-force as well as flawless and beautifully varied composition.
I have one more habitual step before moving on to study the deck's imagery systematically. Will begin posting the full visual review in the next post. Hope everyone will agree this was a good choice to kick off a new blog element of sentient exploration. I want to more cohesively feature art that's inspired by ever-deepening appreciation for the green nations. Thought to name the category Plant Geek Eyes.
Always good to see such a personally significant card riding high above. Dandelion is an interesting choice as a Fool significator plant. In comparison Michael Tierra's classic Herbal Tarot assigns Ginseng. Dandelion feels a lot more on the money. Have some intuitive opinions concerning alternative allies for 0 but they are of zero relevance to anyone but me.
[If you have feelings or thoughts about specific cards you pull - write them down within the day's card list.]
Was gladdened to see Strength in the below position. Garlic is an excellent choice for a Below totem. And an equally excellent health-full ally to cherish.
within reflection: Garlic is pretty much everything to a faltering immune system. Or surviving practical and situational emergency. If you have water and some garlic you have a healing restorative broth that can help keep you lucid, aid recuperation, or promote sufficient resilience to avoid getting sick in the first place. If those two ingredients are all you have for a little while you'll keep up enough strength to forage for additional nourishment.
[It's good to keep a fresh vibrant head of garlic with your emergency bug-out supplies if you can - for these very reasons.]
Tower energy signifying my current within status is right on the money. BOOM. pluto. BOOM. pluto again, over and over again. Over the last couple of weeks I've found that pretty much anything involved with my internal structure that's remotely false or outdated has been crumbling or lighting itself on fire with colossal speed and great finality. I think it's a thing that's happening for people intent to marshal inner resilience in the face of whatever lies ahead. We're organically shedding what we can't use no matter how inviolate such internalized structures have seemed in the past.
In some moments it also feels like the ceremony of burning a few inner temples to the ground while they hold their peak beauty.
The thing to remember about Tower energy is it's not something you or anyone else can stop or even forestall for any successful length of time. Tower-generated change is inevitable in nature. As is, within literal nature, the decay on which flourishing mushrooms feed.
Usually I let my first Hello end with such quick and largely visual assessment. But this time I went back to the accompanying guidebook to read about Mushroom's relationship to the The Tower as perceived by the deck's creator. What I read put me much in mind of what happens from a naturalist's perspective once the Tower's archetypal role is reconfigured in neopagan decks as The Blasted Oak.
When drawing your own three cards keep things loose and intuitive if the meanings aren't known to you. really LOOK at the cards before reaching for the guidebook. What does the featured imagery already mean to you? If you don't hold personal associations what can you infer about the focal points from the way they're presented on the card?