✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

Soul Journey through the Tarot, by John Sandbach

Soul Journey through the Tarot: Key to a Complete Spiritual Practice, by John Sandbach
Destiny Books, 1644117096, 384 pages, November 2023

I’ve been studying tarot for almost 27 years, but these magical cards contain so much wisdom that there is always something new to learn, and I often feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Most tarot books on the market tend to be geared towards beginners, rehashing the same sets of keywords and interpretations, so I get excited when I find a text that delves deeper into the esoteric teachings of the cards.

In Soul Journey through the Tarot: Key to a Complete Spiritual Practice, author John Sandbach shares his own unique magical system, co-created with his spirit guides and inspired by over 50 years of studying tarot. Sandbach first channeled these oracles in 1976, and wrote this updated edition with the intention that it will be used as “a tool for vibrational healing.”1

He has named the Major Arcana cards depicted in this book the Azoth Deck, and the illustrations were created by South Korean artist Daehee Son.

“Azoth,” Sandbach says, “refers to the spirit and energy of the planet Mercury, who in Egypt was the god Thoth, who was the inventor of the alphabet—the tarot being an alphabet of spiritual forces.”2

Sandbach has changed some of the traditional names of the Major Arcana. For example, as a departure from the final reckoning of Christianity, Sandbach calls the Judgment card “The Awakening,” a title that he feels more accurately captures the core meaning of Arcanum XX. The Devil, Arcanum XV, has been renamed “The Musician,” to avoid the negative connotations of the original title and shift the focus of the card to the inner harmony or discord of the seeker.

The book’s cover claims that this text integrates “numerology, astrology, Kabbalah, and the contemplative life.”3 I wanted to read this book to get a better grasp of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and Hebrew letters in relation to tarot, as well as deepen my understanding of the astrological tarot correspondences. However, I was surprised to find that many of Sandbach’s astrological and elemental associations are completely different from the Golden Dawn attributions I currently use, which I learned from The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic (1984) by Israel Regardie (1907-1985).

Sandbach associates The High Priestess, titled “The Guardian of the Gate (Veiled Isis)”, with Virgo instead of the Moon; The Hermit, titled “The Seeker (The Sage)”, with Aquarius instead of Virgo; The Star, “The Light”, with Gemini instead of Aquarius; and so on.4 The Suit of Coins is assigned the element of Air instead of Earth, and Swords are Earth instead of Air.5 Even though most of these associations don’t resonate with me, I decided to keep an open mind and shift my perspective to include them, at least for the duration of time it took me to read this book.

Sandbach justifies the association of Coins with Air by explaining that exchanging currency for goods is an abstract concept created by the mind, and “the air element resonates with concepts and systems formed through the mental activity of humans.”6 Swords, on the other hand, are practical instruments made of metal, which penetrate the density of matter. These elemental associations have Vedic origins, and relate to the Hindu tattwa system. He borrowed his elemental and astrological associations from The Sacred Tarot by astrologer and occultist C.C. Zain (1882-1951), a work that was a major influence on his approach to tarot.7 Sandbach acknowledges that these are less popular tarot associations, and advises the reader to use whatever correspondences make the most sense to them, because all systems are valid.

“Ultimately,” he says, “we must realize that the four physical elements are not four distinctly different things, but the same thing in different states.”8

This is an excellent point, and it made me more receptive to his alternative elemental associations. 

While I had a hard time connecting with many of these correspondences, the Virgo association with The High Priestess, titled “The Guardian of the Gate (Veiled Isis)” was compelling to me, particularly in how it influenced Sandbach’s interpretation of the card. Virgo rules the digestive system, and the message of the High Priestess is to “be watchful of what you ‘eat,’ whether it be food, thoughts, emotions, concepts, or vibrations.”9 I personally associate The High Priestess with Persephone, whose fast was broken by pomegranate seeds while she was in the Underworld, so the digestion message really spoke to me. The Moon, which is usually the planetary association for this card, is considered to be the ruler of Virgo in esoteric astrology, and knowing this reinforces the validity of Virgo as an alternative astrological association for the High Priestess.

The most unique tarot associations Sandbach gives are spirit names in the intergalactic Language of Space. “This universal constructed language, known as aUI,” Sandbach says, “was originally received from extraterrestrial beings by psychologist and linguist Dr. John Weilgart (1913-1981) in the early 1950s.”10 aUI (pronounced “ah-OO-ee”) is a sound-based language, and the aliens who transmitted it to Dr. Weilgart told him that it had been spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.11

Sandbach gives a spirit name in aUI for each major arcana card and supplies the correct pronunciations for the reader. For example, the spirit name for the High Priestess (Veiled Isis) is ytlUkU (pronounced “yit-LOO-koo”).12 Sandbach says these spirit names were channeled by him and belong to entities associated with the cards.

“The letters of aUI and their sounds can be used for contemplation and to make up your own magical words,” Sandbach says.13

What a fascinating concept! Even if a reader doesn’t agree with Sandbach’s tarot associations, the chapter on the Language of Space is intriguing.

I draw a daily tarot card for myself almost every morning, and I decided to apply Sandbach’s interpretations while reading his book. One of the cards I drew was Strength from The Bones Arcana.

Sandbach calls Strength “Arcanum XI: The Maiden (The Enchantress)” and associates her with the planet Neptune. I love the title “The Enchantress,” which brings to mind the Greek witch goddess Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, who was accompanied by lions in the Odyssey and transformed Odysseus’s crew into pigs. I tend to prefer numbering this card 8 instead of 11 because I associate it with Leo, and the eighth month of August. Sandbach’s Neptune association aligns with the belief of some modern astrologers that Neptune is exalted in Leo.

Sandbach says of “The Enchantress” that “she has gained ascendancy over one of nature’s most powerful creatures, and she has accomplished this through the actualization of her psychic power, as well as through her love.”14 Sandbach’s description of Strength as “the arcanum of psychic power,”15 reminded me again of Witch Queen Circe. In the Odyssey, she was a loner who lived on the uncharted island of Aeaea. She was a master of illusion magic, involving shapeshifting and crafting potions, and she revealed the bestial natures of those who invaded her privacy by transforming them into animals.

All of these skills have a very Neptunian quality to them. Neptune is the hypnotic and bewitching planet of dreams, fantasies, glamor, illusions, mysticism, and drugs (or potions, in Circe’s case). Circe was the daughter of the sun god Helios, and Sandbach says the Sun is the root ruler of this card, while Neptune is the “therapeutic agent.”16 After exploring the Circe connection I made to the Strength card, I appreciate Sandbach’s Neptune association much more. 

Sandbach’s system is a radical departure from what most tarot students are probably familiar with, and this reminds me of the differences between tropical (Western) astrology and sidereal (Vedic) astrology. Western astrology is more popular, but both systems are equally valid. Tarot readers influenced by occultist C.C. Zain will likely resonate with Sandbach’s system, while those who have memorized the Golden Dawn’s tarot associations may find these correspondences a bit more difficult to integrate.

Sandbach claims that the system he uses, which is modeled after Zain’s work, “is a therapeutic or healing system,” while the more common associations, which he says are based on the Kabbalistic text titled the Sepher Yetzirah (the “Book of Formation,” or  the “Book of Creation”), encompass “the root, or actual system.”17 Approaching his associations as a complementary healing system may help readers blend Sandbach’s method with the one they currently use.

Initially I was resistant to the teachings in this book because I was hoping to expand my understanding of the Golden Dawn associations, not learn a completely new system. However, being receptive to correspondences I didn’t agree with and exploring them with open-minded curiosity helped me glean new insights about the cards. I think any experienced tarot reader will benefit from questioning and reevaluating the associations they have memorized by being open to alternative ones or intuitively assigning their own. After all, when used as a tool for spiritual growth, tarot expands consciousness and opens our minds to new possibilities, so the archetypal images have infinite layers of interpretation. In this light, Soul Journey through the Tarot can help seasoned readers rediscover tarot and tap into new ways of relating to the cards.

Your Tarot Guide, by Melinda Lee Holm

Your Tarot Guide: Learn to Navigate Life With the Help of the Cards, by Melinda Lee Holm and illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason
CICO Books, 1800652607, 160 pages, October 2023

Does the world really need another guide to reading tarot? Well, if it’s Melinda Lee Holm’s Your Tarot Guide: Learn to Navigate Life With the Help of the Cards, then the answer is absolutely yes! This book is a fresh approach on helping novice and experienced readers use the cards to literally navigate life–imagine a guide to help you through the rough times, the murky times, the times when the path seems unclear.

Holm views the tarot as a “language and a tool,” and guides the reader into using it to navigate “life using tarot as a compass.”1 While applicable to all tarot decks, she uses her two decks, Elemental Power Tarot and Tarot of Tales, as the illustrations in this book. They were both illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason, the illustrator of this book too! What I found interesting is that the imagery in these decks do not include human figures as Holm believes that tarot is for everyone.

Holms reminds the reader that the cards do not foretell the future but rather offer a way to move through your life toward the life you desire. There are no bad cards, she explains, there is only information and conversation, thus removing the fear of using tarot the wrong way or receiving bad messages. Phew! That is a weight off my shoulders, giving me more room to open up and discern the card’s symbolism and meaning instead of becoming bogged down with worry.

The start of the book provides a comprehensive section on tarot basics, where it comes from, how the cards function as a whole, and how to choose and care for your deck. There are accompanying exercises to help you “get acquainted with your new best friend.”2 I loved the friend description of the deck. Yes, a good friend will help guide you through the challenging times, celebrate the good times, be honest without being judgmental and always have your best interests at heart!

For those new to tarot, the descriptions of the major and minor arcana are easy to understand. There is a big, wonderful table that makes it easy to understand correspondences. The major arcana overview includes astrological associations, crystal connections, apothecary associations in the form of essences, herbs, and flowers, and also affirmations. The minor arcana descriptions have association with card numbers as well as elemental correspondences for example, swords/air.

I did the exercises in the beginning section and found them to be a fun, non-intimidating way to connect with the cards. Although I’ve been using tarot for over three decades I enjoyed taking the time to do the exercises such as associating people I knew or famous people, characters from books, etc. with each of the major arcana cards.

I agree with Holm’s recommendations for how to choose a tarot deck, namely use the one you’re drawn to and make sure it has a “tone” that resonates with you. Ensure the images are ones that you welcome into your life. And, use the same deck for a year to allow yourself to open to its messages. She provides marvelous rituals to opening up and caring for the deck as well as keeping a tarot journal – all things that I do. And I love anyone who recommends keeping selenite, one of my favorite mineral cleansers, with the deck. I wish I had this book when I first started using tarot as a guide. 

Also, of particular help to the tarot reader is the questions that she answers that most of us have probably asked at some time or another while using tarot, such as what if someone touches my deck, what if I don’t get the answer I want, why am I getting bad news?

As a good guide, Melinda offers different tarot spreads ranging from a single card to an ambitious twelve card spread. For each spread she posed a different general question and the detailed question that each card would answer. The twelve-card spread was on the year ahead which is one that I have never done. For each group of three cards she referenced them to equinoxes and solstices. I will definitely put some quiet time aside at the end of December to do this spread. 

The majority of the book is Holm’s take on the major and minor arcana. Readers can look up the card they’re curious about and find descriptions that are  easily understandable and unintimidating. Both beginners and experienced readers will benefit from her descriptions of each card because Holm’s explanation brings unique insight.

For each of the Major Arcana she offers comments on the meaning of areas such as love and relationships, career and money, and challenge/reversal. She also associates each card with astrology, a Hebrew letter, a crystal, apothecary, and an affirmation. The first couple descriptions of each Major card vary, however. For The Fool she writes about Practicing Presence, for The Hermit about Seeds of Invention, and for The Moon about Reflections on Reflecting. The questions she poses for each card are not static but rather, prompt reflection.

For the Minor Arcana she describes what each of the four suits corresponds to and what they support. She offers general crystal associations and apothecary associations for each suit. The card descriptions are less probing than those of the Major Arcana but very clear and concise.

I’ve been working with Tarot for over three decades, but to be honest, I’ve always had trouble understanding the Court cards. Actually, I disliked it when I pulled one. I had never received a clear understanding in any guide I read about their meanings. Until now. Melinda descriptions were so relatable to me that now I actually want to draw Court cards!

Rohan Daniel Eason’s striking artwork fills the book. As I mentioned, he illustrated Melinda’s two tarot decks, Elemental Power Tarot and Tarot of Tales, and illustrations from each deck are offered for each of the 78 cards. Just like in those decks, illustrations for this book are the perfect companion to Holm’s text.

This book is filled with vivid imagery that keeps the reader visually engaged while flipping through it. The cover is framed by the tentacles of an octopus framing a rough sea with a pirate ship attempting to get through the storm. Birds serenely watch the scene, not phased by the storm, similar to how readers will feel about life when they read Holm’s take on the tarot. It’s wonderful to see how well the imagery and words bolster each on in this book.

Overall, I highly recommend Your Tarot Guide  for all who are interested in tarot, novice and experienced. Holm’s expertise as an author and experience of creating her own tarot decks  comes forth in this book to provide a guiding light for reading the cards. All that you need to navigate the wisdom of the tarot is held within these pages!

Healing Pluto Problems, by Donna Cunningham

Healing Pluto Problems: An Astrological Guide (Weiser Classics Series), by Donna Cunningham
Weiser Books, 1578638151, 256 pages, December 2023

Ever since Pluto was first discovered in 1930, our perception of this celestial body has been growing and evolving. While Pluto was initially recognized as the ninth planet in our solar system, it was demoted to dwarf planet in 2006, and a lot of people who grew up knowing Pluto as a planet are still bitter about this demotion (myself included!). Despite astronomers minimizing its significance, modern astrologers acknowledge the Underworld power of Pluto by assigning it as the modern ruler of Scorpio and the Eighth House.

Native Scorpio Suns pride themselves on being Plutonians, and they can be quite possessive of that identity (all Scorpios believe they were born under the best sign in the zodiac!), but they don’t own Pluto. Everyone has Pluto somewhere in their natal chart, and significant Pluto transits can have profound and lasting effects on our lives.

In Healing Pluto Problems: An Astrological Guide, astrologer Donna Cunningham (1942-2017) explores the immense impact Pluto has on the soul’s evolution. Originally published in 1986, this Weiser Classics edition includes a foreword written by astrologer Lisa Stardust. This book has been on my wish list for a while now, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review it.

Cunningham defines a Pluto person as anyone who has Scorpio placements in their natal chart or a prominent Pluto connected to their Sun, Moon, Ascendant, or Midheaven.1 According to her definition, I’m a Plutonian, despite my Gemini Rising and Gemini stellium (Sun, Moon, and Venus in Gemini), because my natal Mars and Saturn are cozied up together in my Scorpio Sixth House. I was very close to having Pluto in Scorpio as well, but right before I was born, Pluto backpedaled into Libra due to retrograde motion, so I’m a member of the Pluto in Libra generation.

In Healing Pluto Problems, Cunningham addresses a wide range of taboo emotions and traumatic experiences Plutonians may experience with compassion and sensitivity, such as grief, resentment, alcoholism, domestic violence, incest, abuse, and suicidal thoughts. She gives guidance on how Plutonians can process the intense and complex emotions that arise from their life challenges, and she also coaches professional astrologers on how to counsel the Plutonian people who confide in them.

“One reason Plutonians keep their secrets is that so often the people they go to for help wind up making them feel worse—more ashamed, more angry, and more betrayed,”2 Cunningham says.

Being forced to keep their taboo emotions secret in order to avoid negative reactions from others often makes Plutonians feel isolated and alone, as if they are “from another planet.”3 I’ve observed this as spiritual bypassing in religious and New Age communities, in which people are often shamed for feeling angry or resentful about past victimization, and chastised for not being more forgiving of their abusers. Talking about Plutonian emotions can be a healthy way to release the pressure of them, but it can be difficult to find safe spaces with trustworthy people to confide in. For example, Plutonians who have suicidal thoughts must keep quiet about them when talking to a therapist, even if they have no intention of acting upon them, because that therapist may perceive the Plutonian as a danger to themselves and feel legally obligated to have them committed, which would be a traumatizing experience that would compound those negative feelings with more layers of shame and betrayal. 

However, Cunningham points out that there are potential benefits to Plutonian solitude. “Isolation may be a condition which some require in order to develop their abilities to the fullest or to achieve an agreed-upon life purpose,” Cunningham says. “It may be necessary to focus on some singular activity, rather than being immersed in the daily needs of family or other relationships.”4 Isolation can also be therapeutic, especially when one is processing grief or trauma.

“When we do not give ourselves time to regenerate and to process new stages of life,” Cunningham says, “resentment and grief can build up to toxic levels.”5 

Plutonian transits can generate healing crises, during which the Pluto problems seem to intensify, as if resisting one’s efforts to heal them. Repressed emotions are at the core of all Pluto issues, and they will flare up, demanding recognition. “The feelings don’t get worse,” Cunningham says, “you are just more aware of them and of the thought patterns behind them. Heightened awareness is part of the process.”6 The cathartic release of repressed emotions is like an acne breakout after a skin treatment. It seems like things are getting worse because all the dirt and grime that was clogging the pores is coming to the surface, but it’s all a necessary part of the purging and cleansing process. 

Cunningham offers healing methods to assist the process, such as affirmations, chants, flower essences, chakra cleansing visualizations, and color therapy. In the section on healing with color, I was fascinated to learn that purple, my favorite color, assists in “releasing and processing old resentments,”7 and that purple’s popularity increased when Pluto entered Scorpio. For almost a decade, I have preferred purple sheets on my bed, so perhaps my gravitation towards this color has been an unconscious impulse to help myself heal with the higher vibrational energies of purple while I sleep.

Cunningham supplies sample charts of a few famous Plutonians, including Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, and Sigmund Freud. Building upon her examples, I thought I would explore the chart of a prominent celebrity whose Plutonian struggles have attracted a lot of media attention. I read pop star Britney Spears’s memoir The Woman in Me (2023) alongside Healing Pluto Problems, which is quite fitting because Britney has Pluto Rising in Libra [natal chart], and her life struggles illustrate the unfair power dynamics that tend to manifest in the relationships of the Pluto in Libra generation.

Many of Cunningham’s insights about Plutonians apply to Britney. According to Cunningham, Plutonians tend to be the children of alcoholics, and, as a child, Britney was afraid of her alcoholic father, who would go on benders and disappear for days, which she said “was a kindness” because she “preferred it when he wasn’t there.”8 She also reveals in her memoir that her mother started giving her alcohol when she was in eighth grade. “By thirteen,” she says, “I was drinking with my mom and smoking with my friends.”9

As Britney rose to stardom, her Pluto Rising gave her a sexual magnetism that was perceived as threatening by the media, and she was criticized for being a corrupting influence on youth because of the way she dressed. During interviews, she was subjected to a lot of uncomfortable and inappropriate questions about her body and sex life, and she was shamed for her sexuality throughout her career. “I was a teenage girl from the South,” Britney writes in her memoir. “I signed my name with a heart. I liked looking cute. Why did everyone treat me, even when I was a teenager, like I was dangerous?”10

In her memoir, Britney describes herself as empathic and felt that she was absorbing all the negativity that was being projected onto her. She even believed her misfortune was due to bad karma catching up with her. It’s heartbreaking to read, in her own words, how this vivacious, free-spirited, and talented young woman was eviscerated by the media and financially exploited by her own family. After reading Britney’s memoir, I suspect it was ancestral trauma seeking expression and healing through her, not “bad karma” she had personally accrued (this is exactly why I have taken the word karma out of my spiritual vocabulary; it can guilt trip people into taking blame for things beyond their control!) 

“Tragedy runs in my family,” Britney says. “My middle name comes from my father’s mother, Emma Jean Spears, who went by Jean.”11 Britney was the spitting image of her paternal grandmother Jean, who took her own life in 1966, at the age of 31. Jean had lost a baby eight years prior, and shot herself over her infant son’s grave. Jean had also been abused by her husband June, Britney’s grandfather, and he had kept her institutionalized in an asylum where she was given lithium.

The parallels between Britney’s life and Jean’s are chilling. During Britney’s divorce from Keven Federline, the father of her children, she had a very public mental breakdown because she was grieving the loss of her two little boys since Kevin had full custody and would not allow her to see them. The breakdown landed her in a conservatorship, in which all her assets and every aspect of her life was placed under the control of the alcoholic father she had feared so much as a child. During Britney’s abusive conservatorship, her father, who apparently had learned from his own father to send defiant women to asylums, also had Britney institutionalized and put on lithium like her grandmother, in a disturbing reenactment of the Spears family’s intergenerational trauma. 

Pluto is a generational planet, and, after reading these two books together, I believe that the placement of Pluto reveals the intergenerational trauma that one is destined to transform into personal power. In other words, Pluto is your inheritance of unprocessed ancestral trauma. I feel like the Pluto in Libra generation in particular has quite a burden to bear because they are the intergenerational mediators, and the Libran desire to restore harmony may cause them to take on more than their fair share.

As a member of the Pluto in Libra generation, I sympathized with Britney’s relationship struggles and court battles because I also went through a nasty divorce around the same time she did. I’ve noticed that my own relationship issues are also rooted in ancestral trauma. I can only imagine how traumatic it was for her to go through all of that publically, especially compounded with the endless harassment by paparazzi. 

As a Libra Rising, Britney’s chart ruler is Venus, and her natal Venus at 25° Capricorn forms an exact square with her natal Pluto at 25° Libra. This emphasizes that her way of relating to people (Venus) needs to be transformed (Pluto) in this lifetime. Britney Jean’s Pluto is in the first house, and, by bearing her ancestor’s name, the trauma associated with her grandmother Jean’s memory expressed itself through Britney’s public persona. It’s also noteworthy that Britney’s Pluto is conjunct Saturn, the planet of incarceration, and she was locked under the conservatorship for almost the entire duration of Pluto’s transit of Capricorn (ruled by Saturn). Pluto entered Capricorn in 2008, the same year Britney’s conservatorship began. The conservatorship was terminated on November 12th, 2021, when Pluto was at 24° Capricorn, forming an almost exact square to her natal Pluto at 25° Libra.

In Healing Pluto Problems, Cunningham says that the square between Pluto and natal Pluto “is a major chance to heal your Pluto problems” and presents opportunities for “confronting and breaking down barriers.”12 Transiting Pluto squaring Britney’s natal Pluto liberated her from a thirteen year abusive conservatorship, so if anyone who is reading this is afraid of their own Pluto square Pluto transit (which is one of the so-called midlife crisis transits), this is proof positive that it can emancipate you from long-standing Plutonian difficulties. I’m experiencing mine right now and I find this to be quite comforting.

Healing Pluto Problems is an excellent resource that has given me a lot of insight into understanding Pluto’s power in a natal chart, and any student or practitioner of astrology should have it in their library. The therapeutic advice Cunningham provides also helps Plutonians work on reclaiming their personal power through self-healing. This work is indeed a classic, and as Pluto transitions into the sign of Aquarius, the guidance Cunningham gives is just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1986.

Tarot Life Lessons, by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Tarot Life Lessons:  Living Wisdom from The Major Arcana, by Julia Gordon-Bramer
Destiny Books, 9781644118177, 216 pages, November 2023

In Tarot Life Lessons: Living Wisdom from The Major Arcana, Julia Gordon-Bramer endeavors to “heal the world”1 with her personal stories and those of her clients from 40 years of tarot card readings.

Gordon-Bramer picked up her first tarot deck at 16 and began her journey, and along the way, she became an award-winning author and poet, professor, and host of her own radio show turned podcast called Mystic Fix.  She currently lives in St. Louis, MO.  You can learn more about Gordon-Bramer on her website.

In the book’s introduction, Gordon-Bramer shares:

“The tarot is a tool to awaken and tame the subconscious, to help us grow our strengths and make changes when we identify our weaknesses. It’s a way to conquer problems and move on from painful situations and the baggage we carry through life.”2

Within this book, Gordon-Bramer shares stories from readings she has done in regard to the Major Arcana, the first 22 cards in most tarot decks. She references the Universal Rider-Waite tarot and features drawings of cards from this deck in this book. These major arcana cards “represent the key players and milestones in life, the sacred adventure from birth to death. Those are my primary focus in this book.”3 Each chapter features one of the cards from the magical 22 cards. Gordon-Bramer shares these stories in card order from The Fool to the World.

“My tarot cards became a life decoder and a compass to navigate  and reduce the chance of bad luck.”4

In the first chapter, Gordon-Bramer kicks off her story with the first card in the Major Arcana, the Fool. Here, she shares her own spiritual journey, including her fascination with the famous poet Sylvia Plath, who had her own tarot deck.  She conveys more about who she is, creating a bond with the readers, to set the stage for her trip through the rest of the cards.

My favorite card in the tarot deck is the Star card, so I was curious about Gordon-Bramer’s notes on this one. She shares a story about working at a renaissance festival with her son and the clients who came her way.  She worked with a young couple, a man who aspired to be a recording artist and another man who was a skeptic. To his comments, the author said:

“Tarot is about showing you where your energy is going. It gives you tools to understand yourself and guidance to make the changes you want.”5

Each chapter includes a highlighted section on a special TIP. For instance, in the chapter on the Fool, she provides suggestions for buying your first tarot deck. In the chapter on the Star, she addresses the question “Is Tarot Evil?”:

“Tarot does not call spirits, good or evil, into play. . . The idea behind the tarot is that we all have access to that knowledge and power because we are all one, of one spirit (which I call God). . . As a reminder, what the tarot shows us about the future is not fixed. We always have the power to change our path through the decisions that we make.”6

My favorite chapter in the book is the chapter on the Devil card. Gordon-Bramer weaves a story about two women who immigrated from Columbia to St. Louis and were seeking love and money.  When the Devil card popped into a reading for one of the ladies, the woman panicked.  Gordon-Bramer told her:

“Relax, this isn’t about being evil; It’s about being indulgent. The Devil is about  living large: good food, drink, pretty clothes, expensive cars, sex, vacations, sleeping late . . . you get the picture.”7

These ladies visited the author many times over the years and through her readings, Gordon-Bramer was able to support the women as they navigated their lives. 

The cover is beautiful, printed in a soft gray with pastel type and extra varnish on the three tarot cards featured on the front. On the back, the Gordon-Bramer’s photo is highlighted with varnish also! The book is a nice size, perfect for tucking into a handbag or backpack. In addition to a Table of Contents, Gordon-Bramer also puts the name of each chapter’s card at the top of each page.  This makes it very easy to navigate the book and find a chapter or passage. 

In the back of the book, she adds a list of resources, including her favorite tarot decks for client readings. She also features an extensive index for finding specific stories or tips within these pages. 

This book would be great for the experienced tarot reader, one who wants to add an additional layer to their readings. Gordon-Bramer combines client histories with her own tarot symbolism to add to your knowledge base. I can also see that this book will add to my own journey with the cards, as I refer to her stories when I pull a specific Major Arcana card for myself.

The last tip in Tarot Life Lessons was an important one. She shares how to use tarot cards for creativity:

“I know many creative people who pull a card for inspiration or to help them take a project in a new direction. We come to the tarot to find language for the impenetrable emotions and  things we don’t have language for. As they say: a picture says 1000 words. Let the tarot show you your next steps in life and how you might create it.8

Conjuring Dirt, by Taren S

Conjuring Dirt: Magick of Footprints, Crossroads & Graveyards, by Taren S
Moon Books, 1803413328, 176 pages, October 2023

I love dirt. My father is a ceramic artist, so unlike other kids whose parents might have tried to keep them tidy, I was always encouraged to play in the mud and eventually learn how to shape clay into bowls and mugs. From there, my enjoyment of dirt, and nature in general, led me down a path of environmental science; I’ve studied the microbes in dirt and learned how soil’s nutrients are vital for the growth of plants, which keep us alive through a balanced ecosystem.

But beyond the mind-blowing scientific study of interconnectedness through the ground beneath our feet, I’d never realized the potency of dirt from a magical perspective prior to reading Conjuring Dirt: Magick of Footprints, Crossroads & Graveyards by Taren S. This book has opened a whole new realm of magic to me, which I’ve been eager to embrace!

Taren is a seasoned magical practitioner with roots in the Carolinas, though she now lives in California. For over a decade she’s worked as a spiritual counselor and tarot card reader at a Haitian Voodoo Doctor’s botanica. She is initiated as a High Priestess within American Witchcraft and as a Mama Bridget within American Voodoo/Hoodoo. In Conjuring Dirt, she shares a lot about her personal path, giving readers perspective into how she’s learned this craft as well as the traditions behind the content of the book.

“We all have sacred and special dirt specifically to us. When we go back through memories we can ground into the land, and we can build new memories through the land. This in itself is a magical spiritual journey.”1

In this book, Taren teaches readers about three categories of dirt: Graveyard, Crossroads, and Purposeful (Footprint). She dedicates lengthy chapters to each one, giving the reader a full sense of the powerful energy held within the dirt and the many ways each one can be utilized in magickal workings.

She starts with Purposeful Dirt, noting that it’s the “most common and easily accessible”2 kind. Since it’s very versatile, Taren describes ways this dirt can be used for cleansing, banishing, and spellwork. She teaches about the types of spirit of place, such as Ancestral spirits and Land spirits, and how to connect and work with these spirits. Then she covers “spirit of the root” and how to unite with plants as allies. The list of plants and herbs and the way they can be used, which spans a whole ten pages, is immensely valuable to all practitioners, especially those new to working with plants and herbs.

Reading over parts of this section made me think of the land in a new way; did you know you can use the dirt from banks, casinos, and libraries for magickal purposes such as prosperity spells, amulets, and building knowledge?! Prior to this, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the dirt or spirit of these places. Now everywhere I go, I’m thinking about the energy of my surroundings, taking time to pause and attune to the spirit of the place, and think creatively about how the dirt might be utilized.

Crossroads Dirt comes from the liminal spaces where “two different environments meet or intersect but is technically neither extreme.”3 At these intersections, boundaries are thinner; it can feel like stepping out of time as multiple directions become available, prompting initiated action before the moment passes by.

“The meaning of crossroads is all about liminal space. Liminal space is that in-between point that means both we are neither here, nor there. Liminal space as represented by crossroads points to 100% potential and opportunity. It is the place where magick happens because it is that slight crack when/where anything can happen.”4

In this section, Taren provides an overview of the global lore about crossroads, revealing similarities between cultures while also highlighting each one’s unique lore. She also covers crossroads and witches, crossroads in dreams and modern magic, the significance of ley lines, and offers a crossroads tarot spread.

After sharing about crossroad magic in general, Taren goes more in-depth about Crossroad Dirt specifically. She teaches readers about the different types of crossroads one might gather dirt from and the significance of soil from each one. She covers how best to collect the dirt, petition the crossroads, and offers a ritual to open the crossroads. Other workings Taren provides are for propensity, a spell to forget, and banishing.

Last but not least, the section on Graveyard Dirt. Taren explains Graveyard Dirt “is used to employ the spirit of the one buried for your intentions.”5 Taren covers so much in this section, from symbols on grave markers to gathering dirt from the roots of cemetery trees, and it completely opens new doors for readers. This section alone could be a whole book! But one emphasis that comes through strongly is showing respect for the deceased. I like how Taren always reminds readers to mind their manners above all else!

While reading the section on Graveyard Dirt, I’ve decided it’s high time I go visit my ancestor’s graves and leave an offering. I don’t plan on taking any dirt this time, but I would like to begin cultivating a relationship with them, learning more about who they were in life and how I can maintain a relationship with them in their afterlife. To start, my dad and I decided we are going to begin purchasing grave markers for the family member’s burial sites he’s found that do not have them.

All in all, Conjuring Dirt is a wonderful resource for all spiritual practitioners. I would go as far to say it’s been my favorite magical book I’ve read in 2023! Taren does such a wonderful job sharing all she knows to help readers begin to incorporate dirt in their workings. Her style of talking straight makes readers feel she really has their best interest at heart, ensuring they’re doing things the right way and not making trouble for themselves down the line. This book is sure to reshape your perception of the land beneath your feet and give a deeper appreciation for the magic held within the dirt we often take for granted or overlook.

Magical Tarot, by Madame Pamita

Magical Tarot: Your Essential Guide to Reading the Cards, by Madame Pamita
Weiser Books, 1578638119, 272 pages, November 2023

As a tarot reader for over a decade, I admit that I take the cards face value. I no longer really see the imagery, rather I just notice the name of the card and immediately jump to my own interpretation of it. Reading Magical Tarot: Your Essential Guide to Reading the Cards by Madame Pamita has been an opportunity to slow down my readings and truly connect with what is being depicted in the artwork of each card, unlocking new perspectives about the spiritual messages being revealed.

“Much more than a device to see the future, the tarot is a powerful book of esoteric knowledge in the form of cards.”1

Madame Pamita is a Ukrainian-American witch and quite an accomplished occult practitioner. She runs an online spiritual apothecary called Parlour of Wonders, hosts workshops, teaches witchcraft, reads tarot for individuals and group events, and hosts podcasts Magic and the Law of Attraction and Baba Yaga’s Magic. Her previous publications include The Book of Candle Magic (the best book on candle magic I’ve ever read!) and Baba Yaga’s Book of Witchcraft.

In the introduction, Pamita describes how she wrote this book for her students to ”guide them as to the meanings of the cards from the truly positive perspective that the cards contain, but also show them how they can expand far beyond traditional readings and use the cards as tools for manifesting and attracting the best life experiences ever.”2

To achieve this goal of manifesting greatness, Pamita starts with the basics for readers, explaining the law of attraction and how magic can be used to focus one’s intention. After a quick esoteric history lesson on the tarot, she shares suggestions for how readers can build their own relationship with the cards. Pamita then describes the art of affirmations to the readers and teaches readers how to get quick, magical manifestation results using the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot cards. 

The bulk of the book though is her description of each tarot card, leading the readers through the whole deck suit by suit, starting with the numerical minor arcana cards (Ace-ten), then covering the court cards, and finally moving onto the major arcana cards. I appreciated this approach of beginning with the minor arcana and slowly going suit by suit, rather than immediately diving into the major arcana, which is the approach of many other tarot books.

For every card, Pamita goes into depth about the imagery on the card and what the different symbolism means in regard to its overall meaning. Then Pamita supplies a list of the key symbols in the card and what they represent, a list of what the card signifies in a reading, a journal question to explore the card more deeply, and an affirmation.

Her analysis draws attention to aspects of the cards one might normally overlook or simply might not have the background knowledge to see in the way she’s explaining. She sometimes refers to the numerology of the card or brings up unique ways of how to view the card, such as seeing the Knight of Cups’ relationship to Hermes due to his shoes. For the Three of Pentacles, Pamita writes about the way triangles being pointed upward and downward represent the different elements alchemically. All these little tid-bits of information come together to open the reader’s perception of what’s really going on in the card beyond just the surface level visuals. I found her explanations to be very grounding, as in they make you think from within the card’s settings. 

While the general meaning of each tarot card is easily found online, the more nuanced mystical symbolism of the cards is not as readily accessible. Pamita does a good job of turning the cards on their head for readers to gain new insight to the essence of energy of the card. For instance, the Seven of Swords has always been a card that I associate with deceit or theft with a negative connotation, but in her analysis of the card, Pamita writes:

“What if the guys he’s stealing from are some really bad dudes and he’s one of the good guys stopping them from slaughtering innocent people with those swords? What if he’s just taking back what rightfully belongs to him? What if he’s not stealing the swords from an enemy but playing a prank on some friends? Maybe he’s not taking the swords at all, but merely rearranging them. One of the things that this card always awakens in the savvy reader is the idea that there may be more than one side to the story and that the way of the Trickster is to show us that are not always what they appear to be.”3

This insight was really impactful and helped me to shake out of the habits I have when reading the cards. For those like me who are often looking for concrete meanings, Pamita helps to widen this perspective to encompass the “what if” and see the energy of the card in a new light.

I also really appreciated the journal questions and affirmations included. All questions were meaningful and prompted me to explore inwardly for a few minutes to come up with an answer. I also have been enjoying using the affirmations daily when I have a moment to reflect. My next step is going to be intentionally using the affirmations magically, choosing the cards whose energy I want to work with rather than just being more passive right now and exploring what card comes up in my daily pull.

Overall, I highly recommend Magical Tarot for those looking to bring a bit more perspective into their readings. This book would be perfect for beginners, but it also can be immensely beneficial to skilled readers that feel their practice has grown a little stale. Discovering the esoteric secrets of the tarot symbolism is quite illuminating, opening new psychic doorways through visual engagement. You might even find yourself, like I am, starting to doodle the symbolism, deepening my connection with imagery on the cards. There are new worlds waiting to be explored and Pamita has done a wonderful job of guiding us over the threshold into magical terrain.

The Sacred Herbs of Yule and Christmas, by Ellen Evert Hopman

The Sacred Herbs of Yule and Christmas: Remedies, Recipes, Magic, and Brews for the Winter Season, by Ellen Evert Hopman
Destiny Books, 1644117800, 344 pages, September 2023

Sit down and clear your lap to make room for Ellen Evert Hopman’s The Sacred Herbs of Yule and Christmas: Remedies, Recipes, Magic, and Brews for the Winter Season. This book is full of all of the tips, backstories, and recipes that you could possibly need to navigate through the winter months.

I was born in January and winter has always been my favorite season. It’s warm from the inside, stark and beautiful on the outside, full of promise as one turns the calendar page to a new year, and the perfect time to set intentions, rest, and of course, commune with friends and family. 

In this memorable book, Hopman covers all of the traditions and recipes of Yule and Christmas found around the world–and there’s quite a few! If one really wanted to participate in all of the rituals and traditions, it would be advised to put pen to paper and note the various dates and traditions. December 13 for Saint Lucia Day, December 6, the day that Santa arrives in Switzerland, December 16, the start of the Christmas season in Venezuela, and Twelfth Night. 

There is a primer to the book that advises on how to prepare herbs including choosing good quality herbs, making teas, salves, tinctures, poultices, and using essential oils. Hopman also writes about crafting spells, magical properties of the color and seasons of plants, and the basics of spell work. 

Part One focuses on traditions, rites, food, and drinks of the season. The characters are both benign and also “fearsome,” from the Yule Lads of Iceland to Polish werewolves. “First footing” is found in many parts of Europe, a “type of magical practice designed to bring luck in the New Year and Christmas.”1 There are rituals of fire involving candles, logs, and communal festivals, along with fascinating yuletide divinations for marriage, to bring back the sun, and for luck as well as accompanying recipes. Hopman shares wonderful rituals for everything from taking down the seasonal greenery and the winter solstice.

This comprehensive section covers Christmas traditions from around the world with accompanying recipes from Austria to Wales, with places such as Venezuela, Spain, and Italy also represented. And what would seasonal merrymaking be without libations? There are a few recipes for the hot toddy, liqueurs, infused gin, and martinis too!

Part Two covers the magical and medicinal herbs of the winter. The plants profiled “all have a special connection with Yuletide and Christmas, and are valuable winter medicines.”2 The herbs run alphabetically from Allspice to Vanilla, and for each she writes of corresponding legends, medicinal properties, magical uses, and the herb at Yuletide, plus recipes for each. 

For example, for Pine she writes about the Greek goddess Cybele and her lover, Attis, sharing the tale of how the pine became the symbol of eternal hope. She also writes of the origins of the tradition of the Christmas tree and also the meaning of standard ornaments, pinecones for motherhood and fertility, stars for guidance, bells for joy, and… carrots for success in cooking! There’s even a recipe for conifer crème brulee.

The range of traditions covered by Hopman is quite impressive. Someyou might be familiar due to your familial history, others will surely be completely new to you. The origins of Santa’s reindeer, benevolent witches bringing treats in Italy, and other rites and rituals of the season are shared.  To be honest, most of what we celebrate is a mish-mash of many cultures and traditions, all of which honor the season, bring in the light, and aid us in navigating the dark. As Hopman’s aim is to “explore the roots of this ancient celebration (of Yule) from the magical and medicinal herbs of winter to the traditions, rites, foods, and drinks of the season, with the intention of deepening our understanding of the past so that we can carry it forward with purpose, respect, and joy.”3 

Another neat feature of the book are the colored-page inserts of Christmas imagery. They depict different Yuletide scenes and have little informative explanations next to this. The pictures add to the reader’s experience, bringing to life the words on the page.

Hopman is a well-regarded master herbalist and lay homeopath, who has been a Druidic initiate since 1984. She is also the author of Celtic herbals and Druid novels. In other words, Hopman is highly qualified, but more importantly, passionate and knowledgeable about herbs and also Yuletide.

My most favorite concept from the book, which I now carry with me, is that plants want to heal us. I highly recommend The Sacred Herbs of Yule and Christmas for those looking to embrace this time of the year with a renewed awe and deeper understanding of the rituals we use to celebrate this season. I know I’ll be spending plenty of time testing out the recipes and enjoying the celebrations with more purposeful intentions.

Sage, Huntress, Lover, Queen, by Mara Banscombe

Sage, Huntress, Lover, Queen: Access Your Power and Creativity through Sacred Female Archetypes, by Mara Banscombe
Findhorn Press, 978-1644117934, 256 pages, July 2023

Sage, Huntress, Lover, Queen: Access Your Power and Creativity through Sacred Female Archetypes by Mara Banscombe has managed to bring a balance of self-reflection and immediate application to the mysteries of the Sacred Feminine. Reaching deeply into the core of what the nature of the sacred is, Branscombe has crafted a book that allows the reader to feel the power held within these mysteries. All the while, she coalesces what is truly soul-searching work into actions and thought processes that are accessible and resonant at every level for any reader.

This book has the structure of seven feminine archetypes: the Maiden, Mother, Sage, Huntress, Lover, Mystic and Queen. Each archetype has been given secondary assignations that are easily recognizable and immediately bring to mind visual experience of how these archetypes might appear in physical form.  

Branscombe describes the Maiden as the Underworld Explorer using the familiarity of the story of Persephone as template for that journey.

“To embody the Maiden archetype is to reclaim creativity, gather courage, restore faith in your biggest dreams, and live with a lust for life.”1

The Mother is the Earth Matrix that knows how to protect, guide, sustain, and create.

“The embodied Mother greets her masculine spark to enhance her feminine frequency. Embracing her inner child, she discovers the world with an awakened vision, choosing love over comparison, acceptance over judgment.”2

The Sage is the Water Healer gathering her power from the flow of deep waters of gnosis and wisdom.

“The Sage flows with change, while staying present to her evolving intuitive process.  She cultivates a peaceful inner life while sharing her visionary’s wisdom with the world. The sage does not sleep her life into being. Like the healing hands of the grandmother, she gathers her current materials and weaves them into her cloak of knowledge.”3

The Huntress is the Fire Generator that catalyzes and becomes the path towards right action.

“The embodied Huntress has the true spirit of the warrior and empowers herself and others to live life to the fullest. Her life purpose is fueled by her devotion to be in service to her impassioned cause. The Huntress teaches us how to ignite our true essence and share it unapologetically with the world.”4

The Lover is the Air Alchemist who teaches the lessons of self-love and acceptance to cultivate healthy and strong relationships at all levels of being.

“The Lover understands that self-awareness is her superpower inside any relationship. Her boundaries are clear, either refined or porous as needed. She is wild at heart and stays true to her mission; to source the pure frequency of love while going as deep into the realms of intimacy as possible in this lifetime.5

The Mystic is the Ethereal Time Traveler who remains rooted and anchored in corporeal existence because this is the path to cosmic understanding.

“The feminine Mystic’s power is expansive. Energy can be sensed within, above, below and all around. She uses this information to respond to her soul’s calling. Paying close attention to the sacred experiences coming alive in this human body is the work of the Mystic.6

And, The Queen as the Universal Thought Weaver who commands ultimate authority over self through experience and indomitable self-awareness and confidence.

“The Queen embodies wholeness. She is a clear channel of refined inner strength. She is both movement and stillness, wisdom and inquiry, surrender and activation.”7

This book is thoughtfully separated into eight chapters, a robust Introduction (“Evoking the Divine Feminine Way”), and “Revealing the Archetypes and Appendix: Rituals and Wisdom Practices to Embody the Archetypes”, which indexes the rituals throughout the book for quick reference. I really liked this addition of indexing and thought there was an abundance of opportunity in using it as a checklist, of sorts, to mark the highlights of your journey through the archetypes. 

Each of the chapters provides the reader with a bounty of information and techniques of approach and awakening the specific archetype of focus within the reader. Branscombe takes the reader through informed step-by-step creative practices, guided visualizations, rituals, and poetry to help the reader embody each archetype and activate a life of fulfillment and happiness

The journal prompts were spot on for each of the archetype chapters and rather than a one size fits all approach to the other self-directed work to be completed, each chapter contained just the right combination of foci and intention to really push the reader to examine more deeply and thus, effect change more deeply.

I was particularly drawn to “Chapter 6 – Awakening the Mystic: Truth Seeker, Vision Holder, Divine Space Explorer”. Typically, the term “Mystic” has been associated with spiritual practice that aligned more with Eastern philosophies and applications. The image of the Mystic has been that of one who has hermited themselves away from the world and immerses totally in the Divine. These are true, but Branscombe has also brought that term into Western practice and more specifically as an archetype of the sacred feminine. The first portion of this chapter answers quite nicely who the mystic is:

“Anchored to the earth and attuned to her inner voice, the feminine Mystic embodies an otherworldly, enigmatic presence. Drawn to the numinous, spirited, and ethereal frequencies, she imbibes the natural magic and shares it freely with the world…The modern Mystic trusts the power of Divine timing. She embodies a heightened awareness to what happens in the natural world and to the ordinary synchronicities in everyday life… The Mystic walks the earth sharing her gifts with all sentient beings while tuning in to the realm of the skies.”8

One of the underpinnings of this chapter, that I would say also is true of other archetypes and development of their potential, is that of illusion that can be found on any spiritual path, particularly one of self-growth.

“Go beyond the smoke and mirrors of certain spiritual practices. Be aware when you are following a spiritual teacher to fit into a mold or generate a false sense of security.”9

Would I Recommend?

Sage, Huntress, Lover, Queen: Access Your Power and Creativity through Sacred Female Archetypes is a treasure of accessible and inspirational content. Throughout the book the reader will find little gems of poem and inspired verse from Banscombe that provide yet another way of engaging those archetypes within self.  This book is a rich and self-empowering and deeply immersive journey into the many facets of power and expression that we hold as sentient beings. Reading this book is an opportunity for reclaiming of these archetypes that have inspired and catalyzed transformative change throughout the evolution of the feminine and HER mysteries. 

About the Author: Mara Branscombe

Mara Branscombe is an author, mother, yogi, artist, teacher, mindfulness leader, ceremonialist, and spiritual coach. Her mission is to amplify wellness and creativity while supporting others to live their best life. She is passionate about weaving the art of mindfulness, self-care, creativity, mind-body practices, and earth-based rituals into her life and work. Mara has been teaching and leading ceremony since 2000.

A Tea Witch’s Grimoire, by S.M. Harlow

A Tea Witch’s Grimoire: Magickal Recipes for Your Tea Time, by S.M. Harlow
Weiser Books, 1578638216, 208 pages, October 2023

I read the most delightful book recently: Afternoon Tea Is the New Happy Hour by Gail Greco. This book gave me plenty of tantalizing ideas for teas, small plates, and other sweet treats to enjoy, BUT it didn’t venture into the magical aspects of tea, which is what I’m always looking to include in my daily routine. Luckily, A Tea Witch’s Grimoire: Magickal Recipes for Your Tea Time by S.M. Harlow has amply provided the mystical wisdom of tea that I’ve been craving.

“In the daily practice of the magical arts, the spirit desires enlightenment but also seeks nourishment and comfort. By our hands, we create earthly substances of vast power, and by our hearts, we tend to the fires of our soul.”1

Tea witch Harlow infuses this whole book with love for her craft. She shares how her grandmother, “a true Wise Woman”2, was constantly healing family and friends with her unique conceptions, seeming to just know what remedy was needed. In the same spirit of generosity and warmth, Harlow carries on the tradition of passing along knowledge by sharing what she’s learned in her on-going journey of mastering tea magic with readers.

The book starts right at square one, providing a description of tea, guidance on how to prepare and store herbs, covering the tea tools needed for this practice. I remember when I first got into drinking loose-leaf tea that I didn’t have the right items to steep it in, nor did I have a proper tea cup. So it’s worth reviewing the basics just to make sure you’re ready for the endeavor, especially if you’ll be preparing your own herbs too.

As for the teas Harlow shares, where do I start?! Well, she beings with remedies, which includes things such as happiness tea and purification tea, but also psychic protection and astral travel tea. I see this section as having all the tea rituals for what people would usually cast a spell for (binding, courage, friendship are just a few more teas covered!). She then covers teas for the moon phases and esbats (full moon each month), tea for every zodiac energy, and sabbat teas (Imbolc, Mabon, and so on). There’s even a section on creating blossoming tea, where the leaves unfurl when put in water.

For all of these teas, not only does Harlow provide the exact recipe, she also leads readers through the entire ritual, from what items are needed, how and when to prepare the tea, and what to focus on when drinking the tea. Some tea rituals are a bit more elaborate than others. It can vary from Harlow simply recommends a certain color mug to drink it from to  a long list of specific items such as crystals, candles, salts, honey, and more.

For instance the items called for November’s Yarrow Moon Tea Esbat include “a black altar cloth, 1 white candle, heat-safe plate, 8 snowflake obsidians, an oil burner, Wisteria and lilac with a base oil, 1 bay leaf, a black and white mug, strainer.”3 I have no doubt all of these items blend together to truly create magic, but I certainly wouldn’t have these things lying around! Therefore it’s important to plan ahead and make sure you have time to gather all the ingredients and items needed for your tea ritual.

As for the ritual, Harlow guides readers to do a variety of things to enhance their spells. There’s the usual visualizations and chants, but at times she encourages readers to spit into their tea (break hexes), salute the energies around you, or speak aloud your intentions. Harlow also provides an entire section on reading tea leaves for divination, known as tasseography, where a list of symbols helps readers to know the messages coming through.

Beyond the specific rituals, Harlow provides a plethora of information about tea magic in general, including tea sigils, properties of various crystals, and uses of tea remnants in spellwork. Additionally, there’s an entire chapter on potions, as well as guidance for creating aromatic oils and vinegar, alcohol and milk tinctures, and moon water.

Finally, the chapter “Tables and Correspondences” is worth its weight in reference gold. It includes a table of brewing times based on tea type and a table of measurement conversions. There’s also a list of intentions/goals and the herbal correspondences, along with a sections on the elemental attributes of herbs and herbal substitutions  o further help readers learn how to successfully create their own tea blends or alter the recipes she’s provided based on what one has available.

The book itself is a sturdy hardcover, which makes me feel it will be resistant to the spills that will ultimately happen as I am trying to turn a page while brewing my tea! There’s a whimsical quality to the illustrations, and they really provide an aesthetically pleasing browse through the text.

For those just learning about the magical aspects of tea, A Tea Witch’s Grimoire is a great place to start, though experienced tea witches certainly will also appreciate the compendium of recipes and rituals. Readers can reference this book year-round to trying out the different tea rituals as the seasons change, establishing their own relationship with the herbs. Or they can use the guidance of Harlow to manifest their will through the tea rituals, attracting or banishing what they want from their worlds, while also looking to the leaves for messages about the future. Harlow has created a true treasure trove of tea wisdom, and I for one am excited to start crafting my next brew!

Unlocking the Secret Language of Tarot, by Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone

Unlocking the Secret Language of Tarot: 22 Keys to Understanding Its Symbolic Imagery, by Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone
Weiser Books, 1578638186, 304 pages, November 2023

As tarot pioneers in America, Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone founded The Tarot School in 1995 and first published this material in 2008. Unlocking the Secret Language of Tarot: 22 Keys to Understanding Its Symbolic Imagery combines the curriculum of many classes that they taught to thousands of students. This book presents a treatise on many of the symbols in the popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck. It is arranged in a series of seven chapters, each of which shares information on three or four of twenty-two symbols from the deck. You can learn more about the Amberstones and their school at www.tarotschool.com.

The Amberstones state the following about this material in this book:  

“We’ll be using the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery as our benchmark, but the information in this course should be transferable to any deck you care to use. We think it will also give your intuition a lot of additional material to work on.”1

The Rider-Waite-Smith deck was my first tarot deck, and I was excited to investigate this book by these master teachers. In addition to sharing imagery for the twenty-two symbols, they also share exercises and spreads throughout the book to make the most of the information. 

I decided to peruse the book, get myself familiar with the symbols, and then put it to the test.  I looked back at a three-card reading I did for myself to see how the enhanced symbology would inform or accentuate the message. I chose a reading I did a few months ago with the general question:  “What do I need to know today?”

I drew the King of Pentacles, Three of Swords, and Six of Wands.  My own guidance from the reading can be summarized as:  Although I may mourn losses, I use patience and determination to achieve my goals and meet victory and success.

After reviewing the Amberstones’ information for each card, I learned the following:

  1. King of Pentacles: “The armored foot of the king of pentacles is a hint of the full armor hidden from sight by his robes. It is a symbol of the public servant who guards the well-being of his Kingdom despite his apparent personal opulence.”2 Next, the authors take the reader on a “Contemplation of the Symbol of Armor.”3 This simple exercise invited me to ponder a question regarding how I might use armor to defend myself and was quite revealing.
  2. Three of Swords: For this card, I investigated the symbol of clouds. First, I had never noticed that there are three clouds on this card. Second, the authors share that clouds are “potent symbols of change.”4 Also, clouds can bring obscurity, depression and disaster, as well as divine support and potential.5
  3. Six of Wands: One of the cards that features a horse or horses, the Six of Wands has always represented success to me. Once again, the authors shared an exercise, “The Journey of the Horse.”6 This mythical meditation invited me to experience the world as a horse and it was truly magical!!! Then, the authors share the message of this card:

“Here again, we have the white terrestrial horse that carries his rider from the past into the present and toward the future in the world of human events. Because the intent of this card is to picture victory, the horse is white to symbolize nobility, triumph, and the mildness of perfect surrender to the rider’s will.”7

I have never seen the Six of Wands in quite this way!

With the additional symbology from the Amberstones, I now summarize the guidance from my previous reading as follows: Even though disaster might come, I have Divine support and take good care of myself as I transcend my past and travel to the sweet success of my future.

I really love the extra layer that the imagery provides! 

Next, I reviewed all of the information on my favorite card in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck: The Star. I learned that “the simple lesson of the eight-pointed star is the feeling of beauty and perfection that rewards the completion of an inner journey.”8 Did you know that the eight-pointed star is found on only two cards in the deck?  The Fool and The Star. The authors also share information on the pool, which in the case of The Star, represents “the great pool of spiritual awareness that we explore by meditation.”9

Throughout this chapter, the authors share information on the other types of stars on cards in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, as well as ideas for spreads and meditations. I will return to the spread called “The Pool, Moon, and Star”10 later for guidance.  

The book is very well constructed, with information on the symbols and then representative cards that feature the symbols. They worked with the original printing plates of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and Ruth Ann highlighted a different part or parts of each card to call attention to the specific symbol being discussed. This technique is very helpful!

In the Appendix, the authors lay out exercises and spreads for each of the seven chapters.  This enables the reader to find a particular spread, meditation, or practice, without going page by page through the book. They also include an eight-page Index where you can find everything from every mention of angels (or archangels!) to every Major Arcana or Minor Arcana card mentioned in the book. These tools are very helpful for the novice and experienced tarot professional alike. For this reason, as well as the conversational style in which the authors share the information, I feel that this book would benefit any level of tarot reader. In fact, for the new reader, this book is a great textbook for learning more about the esoteric symbols of tarot.

I plan to use many of the spreads for work with my clients, as well as utilizing the information on imagery to add depth to my own daily readings.

Perhaps Tarot Master Rachel Pollack said it best on the back cover of Unlocking the Secret Language of Tarot:

“For years, Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone’s deep work on the symbols and esoteric traditions of the Rider-Waite-Smith cards has been a legend, the learning and inspiration available only to their students. This book is useful in the deepest possible sense.”11