The Herbal Healing Deck is a wonderfully mystical, yet grounded and practical, 48 card oracle of herb, plant and flower energies. The cards are divided into four suits - Roots, Herbs, Flowers and Trees - and each card features an individual physical plant. The deck is designed to give therapeutic information on herbal medicine, as well as introduce plant spirits and their guidance and wisdom.
The mystical and spiritual powers of plants is an integral belief to many spiritual paths, yet it has seldom been explored in the context of oracular cards. Many indigenous peoples, as well as alternative spiritual groups (such as Findhorn), have connected with the life force, spirit, or deva of plants. In connecting with these devas they have reaped the benefit of both the knowledge and function of the plant.
The Herbal Healing Deck by creator Sarah Baldwin, and illustrator Ashley Verkamp, is such an system. The deck has 48 cards divided into four suits of 12 cards each. Each suit is aligned with a season and a cardinal point, which not only cues certain characteristics, but can assist the Seeker in determining the passage of time, and timelines in a reading.
Roots, being the part of the plant usually buried deep within the earth mostly go unseen. They provide sustenance to the plant and anchor it to the earth – they represent that which lies beneath in terms of the human psyche. Roots are aligned with Winter and the North.
Herbs are generally represented by leaves which contain the most active healing essence of many plants. Leaves are also the point of contact between humans and the plant devas. The suit of Herbs is connected to the concept of growth and the growing process in the Seeker, as well as healing. The suit of Herbs is aligned with Spring and the East.
Flowers have a potent connection to/with humans – their beauty captivates us, their perfume intoxicates us, their perfection of symmetry and their unique individuality is a point of deep contemplation. Many a mystical mandala features flower patterns, and we use them as ersatz expressions of emotions. The suit of Flowers represents our individuality, and is connected to Summer and the South.
Trees have been part and parcel of human survival – they have provided us with wood for fires for cooking, heat, and shelter, with fruit and nuts for food, and medicine from leaves, bark, sap, and roots. Many mystical traditions and folk tales feature trees as having magical properties, as anchors for mystical realms, and as portals between the worlds. In The Herbal Healing Deck the suit of Trees represents issues and matters larger than the Seeker alone, and they are aligned with the season of Autumn and the West.
The cards measure 90 x 133 mm, which is fairly standard for an oracle deck – considerably broader than many tarot decks currently in circulation, but of ‘average’ length. The card stock is excellent - it is solid and sturdy without being heavy, and quite flexible but not flimsy. The cards have a high gloss finish which makes them easy to handle and very smooth to shuffle. The print quality is excellent – the images are clear, with crisp lines, no blurring, no misprints, and no colour bleeds.
The artist’s palette is subtle and elegant, with muted colours which does not detract in any way from the curious liveliness of the illustrations. Not surprisingly many of the images are dominated by shades of green, but grades of yellow and orange as well as strong pinks and reds also feature.
The artwork is modern, graphic design with clear, clean lines. Each plant is depicted as a stylised, near geometric image. The leaves, branches, seedpods, and flowers form symmetrical pairs of watching eyes. They have cunningly wrought facial features which, far from being sinister or eerie give the impression of a little soul connected to the healing herb or plant, looking back at the Seeker with interest, humour, wisdom, and even coquettishness. The decorative details of the cards sometimes reach outside the picture and beyond the narrow white frame into the border. The borders are plain, complementary colours, differing for each card. The titles, in a simple, chocolate coloured font, are given below the image on a pale strip which echoes the colour of the border.
Each card has a small symbol alongside the title which indicates its suit. The image on the back – a flower of life design surrounded by stylised leaves – is neutral, however these cards are not intended to be read in a reversed position.
The cards come packaged in a typical Schiffer Publishing box set – with all its attendant attention to detail. The box is solid cardboard with magnetic clasps holding the lid closed, a pale green ribbon loop and matching ribbon hinges facilitate easy opening, and hold the top in place. The cards are situated in a well bordered by light green cardboard, with the guidebook placed atop them. Both the guidebook and the storage box have a satiny finish with spot lamination to highlight feature images and symbols from the deck. It also has information and publisher’s details about The Herbal Healing Deck. This cardboard box is solid, and sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of frequent handling, and while not exactly compact it can be slipped into a backpack, and will travel without sustaining significant damage.
The 144-page guidebook has been written by Sarah Baldwin, and features the same elegant and attractive presentation as the rest of the box set. The introductory chapter 'About This Deck’ introduces the reader to the concepts which inform this deck, including ideas such as plant consciousness and plant spirit medicine. It also deals with what the deck is not – an introduction to herbal medicine.
'Dancing With The Plant Spirits’ is the title of chapter 2 and details the process through which the cards were created, much of which involved shamanic journeys to connect with the spiritual essence of each plant, as well as vision states and moments of synchronicity.
Chapter 3 – How To Use This Deck – really details how the Seeker can utilise this deck, not only for oracular purposes, but also to connect with actual plants. There are sub-chapters on the uses and limitations of the deck, as well as methods for purifying the deck and storing it properly. Other information includes rituals and methods for drawing cards, how to phrase a question for the best result, and how to determine timing. Included here are some divinatory spreads; the 4- card Four Directions Spread, the classic 3- card draw, the Plant Wisdom Spread, The Healing Spread, and The Illumination Spread.
Each entry for a card includes information about the physical plant, as well as where it grows. The medicinal qualities of each plant is provided, as well as astrological and spiritual correspondences. Finally, the general character or personality of the plant is discussed, along with any folklore connected to that. The deck does not give concise divinatory meanings or direct answers but instead guides the Seeker to connect with their intuition and discover how the qualities of the plants may be speaking to their experiences.
The interpretations, such as they are, come in the form of guidance – which is compassionate and insightful. It generally focuses on self-empowerment, personal growth, and spiritual awareness. These meanings apply to upright cards only, this deck is more akin to oracle cards in that it has no tarot correlations, and is not intended to be read with reversed cards. There is a good balance of plants and herbs from around the world including Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.
If herbal healing interests you then this beautiful deck is a must have. If you are interested in the spiritual qualities of plants and would like to know more about devas and other vegetal beings then this is a wonderful place to start. And if you are looking for an oracle deck with a difference then The Herbal Healing Deck is worth considering. Full of wisdom and complemented with delightful illustrations, The Herbal Healing Deck is unique.