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.

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 Real Ghost Voice

The Real Ghost Voice

After various travels at the weekend, I’ve received rather a lot of guidance. No, not from a guru deep in meditation, you might ask. Way more pedestrian: the repetitive advice from male and female announcers: ‘At the top of the escalator, please step forward/‘Use the litter bins provided/In the airport/Walk, don’t run/‘This is a smoke-free zone.’ There’s no way to interpret those as messages from the Universe, though I did try.

So there it is: we must be managed via public service announcements (PSAs, if you will). Without these ghost voices telling us what to do, we’d be falling off escalators, gaily throwing around empty sandwich packets and offering round a packet of B & H in the departure lounge. While some PSAs are surely for safety and insurance purposes (ie we’re not responsible if we told you not to do it) the warning against an infraction of the rules guilt-nibbles the soul like a digestive biscuit crumbling in hot tea. (I just deleted ‘just’ in that last sentence or I’d be contradicting my last post, The J Word.)

Here’s my train favourite: ‘Anyone without a valid ticket will be prosecuted.’ I’m seeing myself in handcuffs being dragged out of the toilet to a waiting police van. (Flashback to sitting on the train loo, forgetting to lock the door, which opens before a queue of people when another passenger tries to get in. No announcement saying, ‘Don’t forget to lock the toilet door,’ which would have been way more use than listing what’s on offer at the buffet car.) Of course I have a valid ticket. I always do. But that PSA, repeated a dozen times on the Mackem Express to London (translation: Sunderland, in the north east of England) trips me into a negative spiral. I could secretly have committed a crime. I might have an invalid ticket and be ejected at Hartlepool. And I don’t know anyone in Hartlepool, etc etc. It’s laughable, I know, but that ridiculous self-doubt is not only mine – on visiting a friend, I saw this note taped to the stove: ‘The gas is off. You don’t have to check again.’

Moments before that pernicious PSA on the London train I’d been thinking about the upcoming meeting with one of my publishers to talk about Nature’s Hidden Oracles, my next book. It’s about how to divine with natural findings such as leaves, stones, feathers and flowers when you’re out on walks. I reflected that on the beach, in the park, or your garden, there’s no interruption to the flow of ideas, of daydreams. No audio-interject telling you to walk on the path or step carefully over the stream or beware of the mud. The natural sounds of nature help us quietly connect with our intuition, or own knowing (and that’s one reason why being in nature can lower blood pressure and ease anxiety). Nature offers us a private and unique connection to the earth and with our sense of self. We’re appreciating what we see through our own filter and giving it meaning – from the pattern of rippled sand at low tide to the whisper of the leaves in wind. This is the real ghost voice, speaking; not the disembodied vocal loop played in commercial buildings and on public transport.

Freedom from this kind of sonic pollution gives us space to open up to new possibilities and to simply be with ourselves. When that’s not possible on planes and trains, let’s have some positive messaging instead: ‘Have a lovely trip.’ ‘Travel broadens the mind’ (I don’t mind clichés). Music, even. Or, ideally, silence, which as we know is golden (I’m on fire with the clichés, here) – unless you’ve forgotten to lock the toilet door on a train. In which case, give me that swift reminder, any day.

Nature’s Hidden Oracles is published in May 2020 by Godsfield Press, £10.
Image: From a trip to the isle of Arran, Scotland, December 2019. The west of the island near the standing stones of Machrie Moor.

Season 8 Episodes 3 vs 8: In Cards

Season 8 Episodes 3 vs 8: In Cards

It’s taken me many moons to process the mid-to-final episodes of Game of Thrones. Back in early May, I was teaching tarot in Australia when that cinematic masterpiece, ‘The Long Night’ aired; we’d rented a beachside studio in Perth, brought along a projector and, perched at the one table, angled its lens toward a thankfully white wall. Lights out, jet lagged and edgy with anticipation, we plummeted into Winterfell battle-fear. Samwell Tarley, fingers shaking; Melisandre igniting the blades of the Dothraki horde; Arya’s death-blow to the Night King. And afterwards, I thought I’d just continue to write about it. Then came the block: having seen the remainder of the series by the end of the trip, I could no longer review on an episode by episode basis. And there was a lot to process. Compare ‘The Long Night’ to the series finale, and it’s if we’re seeing a different Thrones: one, telling multiple hero’s journeys; and another, which wraps up a complex narrative by misaligning character and action. My Game of Thrones Tarot partner in crime, the artist Craig Coss, expressed this misalignment as being ‘archetypal untrue to character’.

There are many archetypal truths in ‘The Long Night’. Arya kills the Night King – true to her role as assassin, true to her quest for justice for her family (she’s defending Bran, after all). In cards, then, we have Death (Arya Stark), The Night King (Judgement) and Bran (the Hermit). These three express key stages of the soul’s journey toward spiritual ascension – the search for truth (Hermit) the death of the ego (Death) and the healing of the past (Judgement). In the crypts of Winterfell we have, amongst others Tyrion, Sansa and Varys, the diplomats literally in the dark. This resonates with me as a motif for the whole episode – the story comes from the place of the soul enacted through the body, which cannot be other than true. The intellect is buried, quiet in the crypts, while the soul fights for survival in combat. There’s even a consistency with Melisandre, that paragon of moral ambiguity – when Beric Dondarrion (finally) dies protecting Arya Stark, Melisandre tells Arya, ‘The Lord brought him back for a purpose. And now that purpose has been served.’ She acknowledges her own time to go when after the battle she removes her red necklace, saying, ‘My work is done’ as she ages and falls to dust. While Melisandre has her own card in our deck (The Priestess) I like to see Beric as the Ten of Wands – being brought back to life time and again without understanding why – until he dies saving Arya, who can in turn vanquish the Night King and save the living. As with the tarot meaning of the Ten, he has no perspective on his purpose, weighed down as he is by the burden of service.

When we look at the last episodes of Game of Thrones, I struggle to square the circle. We’re given hints that Varys may be having Dany poisoned and, given Dany’s family history of madness, this would be an acceptable plot development – the poisoning induces madness, likening Dany to her ancestor Mad King Aerys – leaving a clear path for Jon to take the throne. But this doesn’t materialise. We’re expected to believe that power alone has corrupted the queen who once wanted to break the wheel of slavery, turning her into a virtual tyrant who destroys the innocents of King’s Landing. And naturally I felt cheated of a Dany/Cersei showdown: too easy for her to die under the rubble with Jaime; and then, there’s the Brienne situation. Virgin queens are legendary. Why did the writers deem it necessary for Brienne to sleep with Jaime, then be cast as weeping widow-to-be, waving him off into the night, now a ‘whole’ woman? What did work for me, however, was the destruction of the iron throne and Bran becoming King: the wheelchair replacing the throne, hopefully heralding an era of enlightenment.

When I look at the numerology of the cards that represent the characters in the crypt, I get the gender of the next ruler. In the crypts are Varys (V the Hierophant) Sansa (XVII the Star) and Tyrion ( the Fool). Add 5 + 17 + 0 = 22. Reduce (2 + 2) to give four, the number of the tarot Emperor. Now to the numbers of cards representing key characters involved in the final confrontation with the Night King – Theon, Arya, Bran and the Night King himself – and we get the Hanged Man, Death, the Hermit and Judgement (9 + 12 + 13+ 20 = 54). Add 5 + 4 = 9 which returns us to Bran, IX the Hermit, the quintessence, and the final ruler of Westeros.

Fate on a Plate: The Pizza Readings

Fate on a Plate: The Pizza Readings

There’s a woman standing on stage in a small, dark theatre in London. With a flourish, she holds up a Kellogg’s cornflake box, and rips it to pieces (luckily, no cornflakes inside). She looks at the debris and asks for a volunteer. A million hands go up – this is The Stand-Up Psychic Show, so everyone’s up for a reading – and one woman takes to the stage. The reading that follows is insightful, funny, and very accurate. There’s a huge round of applause.

The presenter on stage is Becky Walsh, an intuitive, TV presenter and author with a background in theatre and stand-up comedy. Becky’s demonstration always stayed with me, because she proved you could divine with literally anything to hand: since that time, I’ve divined with stones, shells, tea leaves, plants, flower petals, egg whites, salt, flour – you get the drift – and wrote up some of these techniques in The Divination Handbook.

Little did I know I was about to venture into new divination territory until last weekend, when meeting two friends in York for a rare day off the writing schedule. I realised I didn’t have my tarot cards with me, so we thought about casting divination stones in the park (I do a lot of stone-casting at home by the beach) but got distracted by hunger and the Vikings in the streets, all dressed up for that weekend’s festival. Heading for food along the packed, cobbled street, we found the perfect location: The Real Ale and Pizza Pub (also full of Vikings in full regalia, carousing, etc).

With much oohing and finger-licking, we polished off a whole pizza each. Then Rachel piped up: How about we read our plates, Liz? She explained this impulse as, ‘I don’t know, it’s just that… bit of crust on that plate, sort of sticking out, is really annoying me.’ An annoying crust? Who knew.

The minute Rachel suggested pizza-reading and Julie nodded in agreement, I recalled not only Becky and her cornflakes box, but the celebrated British psychic, Arthur Molinary (who read for Freddy Mercury). At one of Arthur’s classes at the College of Psychic Studies in London, we’d been given a bowl of sand each. He walked past each bowl and made a random pattern in the sand with his fingers. ‘Now, interpret!’ After that first black feeling of panic, we all began to divine meanings, and to offer Arthur interpretations as he made his way through the class. So, at that moment of pizza-reckoning, I reasoned that a pizza couldn’t be far off an impression in sand. And after all, there’s that time-honoured tradition of reading with food: from chicken entrails (yuk, indeed) to apple-bobbing at Samhain.

These are of course, summaries of just some of the issues that arose from each plate. For confidentiality reasons, I’m not matching the plate to the person (although anyone who knows me will probably guess which was mine).

The stack of scraped-off ham, stacked by the cutlery: Feeling emotionally shredded. The two large, half-eaten slices, clearly cut: a good front. Boldness, doing what you say you’ll do; taking a practical approach. Three clear portions of remaining food: divided time and loyalties. Compartmentalising life to cope with pressure.

Angle of the knife and fork: Forced space; setting very clear boundaries. The multiple pieces of leftover crust and base suggests a multitude of projects. Drawn to three pieces in the centre – two upright crusts and a broader piece between them felt like there would be three primary projects to focus on. It may be time to push the others aside.

The single piece of crust to the left: worry, irritation. The horizontal stack of crusts: planning, working through a series of projects or problems in an ideal order. Getting through work is foremost, as the crusts are at the top of the plate. The need to clear out negative energy; a longing for space. Lots of ideas, but presently scattered thinking – like the blackened crumbs.

Of course, you can try this with the remnants of any meal. Reading without preparation, on the hop, also helps free up your imagination and intuitive knowing: there’s no pressure, and you might be surprised at your insights. And, if you’re feeling a little too welded to one precious deck of tarot, LeNormand or oracle cards, give yourself some time away and read with whatever you have.

After all, we all need a day off from time to time.

Thanks for reading.