Nature’s Hidden Charms: In the Press

Nature’s Hidden Charms: In the Press

This gorgeous article comes from Planet Mindful (Nov/Dec 2021). I love that the magazine took an extract from Nature’s Hidden Charms, and selected some natural charms to illustrate, too.

Talking to Herbs – A Charm for Healing

Talking to Herbs – A Charm for Healing

In Nature’s Hidden Charms, I talk about the Anglo Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, a tenth-century remedy against infection and poison. If you like a bit of specificity, here’s the list of ingredients – which were made into a paste using the juice of the crab-apple and old soap.

  1. Mugwort
  2. Plantain
  3. Lamb’s cress (watercress)
  4. Nettle
  5. Cockspur grass (or betony)
  6. Chamomile
  7. Crab-apple
  8. Thyme (or chervil)
  9. Fennel.

But before you get a bit ready-steady-cook and, like me, wonder if you can make the whole shebang with two out of nine ingredients, FEAR NOT! What’s remarkable is the spoken part of the charm – the way the healer talks to the herbs. Here’s a verse from the Nine Herbs Charm – these are the words the healer speaks over the herb to activate it:

“Remember, Chamomile, what you made known

What you accomplished at Alford (battle)

That never a man should lose his life from infection,

After Chamomile was prepared for his food.”

The charmer speaks directly to each herb in the recipe, recalling its past noble deeds as if talking to an old friend. And you can use this approach to create your own healing charms, too.

Making a Simple Lavender Charm
Here’s a simple lavender charm for harmony, addressing the plant directly and acknowledging its power to heal. (Of course, do adapt this and use your own experiences of your herbs to create your own incantation.) Hold your lavender (or other herb you feel drawn to) and recite:

“Lavender, you are known for serenity

Grant my wish for peace and harmony

So mote it be.”

Say this three times. Place the herb on your altar or in a charm bottle (the one shown here was purchased online, and the miniature crystals are amethyst for healing and self-connection). Carry the lavender charm bottle in your purse or pocket, or place on your altar. You can adapt this charm to any herb – and talk to your plants to create a connection for healing energy.

Making Magic with the Seven of Cups

Making Magic with the Seven of Cups

I do love this Seven: a mysterious figure conjuring seven chalices from a cloud. This, Tarotistas, is the card of fantasy, imagination, self-delusion and distraction. And the mystery man, seen only in silhouette, presents all manner of beguiling things – from a cupful of jewels and fantasy castle to a figure cloaked in a white cloth.  In fact, as a friend recently commented, the Seven of Cups is a bit like Instagram – everything’s up there for all to see, but you’re not too sure if it’s real.

We see the idea of hidden things and the unknown in the other Sevens, too (after all, Seven symbolises mysteries…):

Seven of Wands: The hidden opponents. Who is brandishing the wands? We see only the upper part – no hands or faces. The male figure can’t see what or whom is challenging him.

Seven of Swords: The sneaky thief. And the tents, too, symbolise things unknown; we can’t see their occupants. Again, like the Seven of Wands, there are signs of activity – but no physical bodies appears on the cards.

Seven of Pentacles: What’s hiding in the bushes? Are there more coins to come – or a hidden adversary?

In readings, the Seven of Cups card comes up frequently, particularly during our time of covid. Those I’ve read for over the past year have often said that this Seven illustrates their bewilderment. They need to do something – anything – to get a situation moving but the information is sketchy and the picture incomplete (looking at the Rider Waite Smith card, you’ll see that some of the cup’s symbols are in outline, and not coloured in). So, there are many possibilities. Are they real? And what should you do? In short, we need to land a cup, to focus on one thing and direct our energy there, rather than be distracted by all that glisters.

To take back personal power in this situation, we make a shift from the world of the hidden magician to the true Magician, card 1, who uses his resources to manifest what he wants. The Magician has his wand: we have our tarot cards.

Take your Seven of Cups and place it face up before you. From the list below, pull out the associated major arcana cards and place them around it, so you have the Seven of Cups in the centre and seven majors (one for each cup symbol). Here are the major cards that I’ve linked with the seven symbols:

  1. The shrouded figure. This represents Christ consciousness, which I associate with card XIX The Sun. The sun echoes the ancient sun-gods, the forerunners of Christ. Otherwise, you might choose XII The Hanged Man – or the wounded Odin on the Tree of Life, a Nordic echo of Christ on the cross.
  2. The castle. A E Waite refers to this as ‘the fantastic spirit’ which I see in card VII The Chariot.
  3. The snake. This suggests the snake of temptation on VI The Lovers.
  4. The salamander. This signifies the forked tongue – or lies. For this, I’ve allocated XV The Devil. The salamander is linked with fire, which we also see in the Devil’s torch.
  5. The victory wreath. You’ll see a skeleton on the cup, so together the symbols suggest beginnings and endings. Here, I’ve chosen XXI The World (the wreath) and XIII Death.
  6. The jewels: Abundance, and therefore III The Empress.
  7. The face. This is a representation of  Archangel Michael, so the associated card is XIV Temperance, which also features Michael.

So now you’ll have a selection of major arcana cards: The Sun (or Hanged Man), The Chariot, The Lovers, The Devil, The World, Death, The Empress and Temperance.

Shuffle them and ask:

What can I do to find direction?

How can I land this idea/job/project?

Choose one card. This is your guidance.


The main image shows cards from The Universal Waite, US Games Systems, Inc.
Astro-Tarot: The Magician and a Nursery Rhyme

Astro-Tarot: The Magician and a Nursery Rhyme


Do you recall the day of your birth? A neat little fortune-telling rhyme goes:

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
And the child that was born on the Sabbath day
    is bonny, blithe*, good and gay.

I loved this as a child, because I was born on a Friday which made me a rather lovely person, if the rhyme was anything to go by. The rhyme probably originated in the 1500s. But where do the day meanings coming from? With my tarot-reader’s curiosity, my first thoughts drifted to those Week Ahead tarot spreads which follow the classical planets – Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, the Sun and Moon (the Sun and Moon were classified as planets then – you can find the Week Ahead spread in The Ultimate Guide to Tarot). So let’s see if the planetary and tarot-card associations match the rhyme:

Monday              Moon            Fair of face                         Planet of inner life
Tuesday              Mars              Full of grace                       Planet of war
Wednesday         Mercury         Full of woe                         Planet of communication
Thursday             Jupiter           Far to go                            Planet of expansion
Friday                  Venus            Loving and giving               Planet of love
Saturday              Saturn           Works hard for a living       Planet of time and restriction
Sunday                Sun               Bonny, blithe                     Planet of life and self

* In some versions, ‘wise’

Some alignments work perfectly. Sunday’s happy child is favoured by the Sun, planet of optimism, which we see in XIX The Sun. Friday, Venus’ day, is just right for the child born on Friday – loving and giving, just like our tarot Empress, who bears a Venus glyph on the Rider-Waite-Smith versions of her card. Saturday’s child works hard for a living neatly chimes with Saturn – the taskmaster planet whose influence brings slow, hard work. The World card is ruled by Saturn, expressing the work and culmination of the journey through the major arcana cycle. Thursday’s child has ‘far to go’, which links to Jupiter, planet of expansion, education and development. No surprises there. And Jupiter’s tarot card, X The Wheel of Fortune, reflects Jupiter’s reputation as a bringer of luck – just as the Wheel turns, bringing good fortune (at least in the upright position in a spread). Monday’s child is ‘fair of face’. In contemporary astrology, the moon represents the interior rather than the exterior – inner life, intuition and dreams. In Greek mythology the moon relates to the Greek goddess Selene and the Roman Diana, both known for their beauty. And with a dose of enchanting moonlight, I can be bewitched enough not to glitch too much on this one.

At first glance, Tuesday looks like an anomaly. How does Tuesday’s ‘child being ‘full of grace’ relate to Mars, planet of war? Given the age of the rhyme – and its Christian theme – ‘grace’ may have been meant in the Christian context of ‘unmerited favour of God toward man’: a warrior’s prayer for God’s favour in battle. Mars’ tarot card is XVI The Tower, also known as the House of God, or the call to surrender to a higher power. I can just about countenance this. But what of Wednesday’s child of woe and its association with Mercury, planet of communication?

Mercury is the planetary ruler of I The Magician in tarot – one of the most energising and positive cards of the major arcana. Here’s the possible reason it’s literally woeful (bear with – I’m just having a sip of tea and a biscuit.) If we look at the etymology of Wednesday as ‘Woden’s Day’, we find Woden/Odin, the Norse deity of magic, wisdom, poetry and war. To me, it seems that ‘woe’ may have been short for ‘Woden’ , but we got landed with ‘woe’. Which is pretty miserable.

Working on this basis, I reckon that Wednesday’s child is not full of woe, but full of magic. And I’m also thinking of generations of children who misguidedly believed that they were destined to be, well, a bit dour, little knowing that the true meaning of their day of birth was rather more exciting. Woden/Odin spent nine days and nights suspended from Yggdrasill, the World Ash, a spiritual initiation which gave him the gift of reading the runes (and he was known as the ‘father of charms’). The Magician card shows the Greek deity Hermes (the Roman Mercury), who travelled between the realm of humans and the realm of the gods. As a messenger, Hermes was a god of communication, magic and divination. Now this diminution of Woden may have been deliberate (the Church, seeking to suppress our Pagan ways) or one of those slippages that no one thought to correct. But I’m going to begin doing that at a micro level.

My younger sister was born on a Wednesday and I remember that when she cried we’d say ‘Full of woe!’ This happened a lot as we lived near the beach and she hated sand – there’s many a picture of her making sandcastles with a pretty woeful expression. Thankfully she got over her dislike of the beach, and her woe. Maybe I should tell her now that she, and anyone born on a Wednesday was never a child of woe at all, but Woden’s child – full of abracadabra.

Main image: The Magician from Tarot of the Heart, Liz Dean/Oliver Burston
The Devil and Beyond

The Devil and Beyond

We know the drill: the Devil equals temptation, lust, affairs, addiction, abuse, debt, control issues, material entrapment; contracts with the self or with others, all of which are unfulfilling. In readings, it’s tempting to see the Devil’s enchantment as external, and we its little victims. But before I get into a lengthy diatribe on the moral aberrations of this most flagrant of cards, I’m intervening to say this: that the Devil also presents an opportunity to look closely at our conscious or unconscious choices. Unravel the god of excess, and we find unexpected gifts; a key to life-changing action. By understanding how we arrived at a Devil situation, we are better equipped to deal with him.


First, the doorways: these are the four minor arcana cards which lead toward the Devil’s Coming (I know this sounds rather hellfire, but interpret as you will). These are the Fives, which form part of the Devil’s number XV: the Five of Pentacles, Five of Cups, Five of Wands and Five of Swords. These are the tests and, given how we respond to them, they may be just the ticket to the Devil’s waiting room: trapped by ego (Wands), poverty (Pentacles), humiliation and shame (Swords) or loss (Cups). After all, the Devil plays on insecurities. In short, these Fives symbolize vulnerabilities that may lead us to give away our power.


Next, I wonder what leads us so completely into the lair, to go from a Five to a XV. Given he’s the shadow side of VI, the Lovers (the reduction of XV), I consider that the Devil may be the result of a decision delayed, a giving away of power. Poised between Temperance and the chaos of Tower, he surely represents the consequence of not fully owning ourselves or our decisions: that unsteady ground of over-compromise. If we do not act when prompted by the Lovers, a situation festers and is pushed down into the subconscious realm of fear, shame, and unrealised truths. This is the Devil’s domain, the base, material depths; yet it is also where our instinctual creative power resides, suppressed and hidden, waiting for early release.


Here’s one example of a Five and XV journey. Some years back I worked with the tarotist and author Kay Stopforth (Quantum Tarot, Universe Cards). Each month we’d get together to read, using her Hero’s Journey spread. The central card position represented our greatest current challenge. For more than two years of our six-year tarot meet-up, the Devil came up as my central card. And the Five of Wands, my very own doorway to the devil realm, would also appear so often it became a joke between us (Oh, not again, Liz… at which point I’d help myself to another tea cake). At some level, I saw my situation at work as simply an ongoing test, and given time I would work out the winning formula. My ego said my manager would change her personality if I kept trying to appease her. (This wasn’t about finances. The work was better paid than others at an equivalent level in other companies.) Only when I left the company I had been working for and the all-consuming boss did the Devil entirely disappear from the spread. Looking back, I ignored my early Lover’s card so long it flipped into its shadow.


This helped me reflect upon how the Devil can be a great teacher, a lesson we encounter over and again and which persists until we get the message; we’re never too aware, evolved nor clever not to need him. In a reading for yourself, he offers a great opportunity for focus, to see where most of your energy is going and how you’re being consumed – whether this is through giving away time, creativity, love, money. This idea of consumption brings to mind the fifteenth-century Visconti Sforza Tarot and a card that shows three figures being eaten by the Devil. It’s a grotesque image, dominated by a central human face who appears bewildered rather than agonised by his predicament. He’s half-eaten, yet unaware of what is going on. If we find ourselves in a Devil situation, it is not down to stupidity or bad motivation. The Devil creeps up on us. He’s not riding a horse and holding a banner that screams, ‘Hand over your soul!’ At first, he may make you feel good with a surface enticement. He may come to you as the Magician, disguised. The Hebrew letter associated with the Devil is Ayin. Its symbol is the eye, meaning ‘clear vision’. And that’s exactly what is needed – to recognize a potential devil situation before it consumes our energy, before we have agreed to our own enslavement.


In Game of Thrones Tarot, artist Craig Coss and I chose the psychopath Ramsay Bolton as the Devil, one of the most obvious pairings for us in the deck. Ramsay entices the Ironborn prince Theon Greyjoy by offering him freedom, but then betrays him, leading him right back to the dungeons of the Dreadfort, the seat of House Bolton. He has him castrated by henchmen, tortures him and forges a perverse intimacy based on psychological as well as physical abuse. Naming him Reek, Ramsay takes away Theon’s identity to the extent that when sister Yara attempts to rescue him with a fleet of Ironborn soldiers, he refuses because he believes her intervention is a trick; at this point in the story, he has been captive too long to reclaim himself. He cannot choose freedom, to take the Fool’s leap of faith. (In my forthcoming workshops in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney this May, I’ll be talking more about the thinking behind Game of Thrones tarot and the intersection of tarot the the mythic narratives of the series).


A consideration of the Devil takes work. Yet the truth, as they say, sets us free – and that freedom, that final decision that takes away the Ten-of-Wands weight, is ours to take: without our agreement, without our energy, he’s gone. In client readings, I often interpret the Devil then turn him face down. The whole energy in the reading shifts; it’s lighter, more fluid, and suddenly there is space for what’s to come.


This article first appeared in The Magician, the official publication of the Tarot Guild of Australia, 2020.