The Botanica Tarot, published by Beehive Books, is truly one of the most exquisite tarot decks I have had the pleasure of seeing. Beehive Books is a boutique press that specializes in beautifully designed books.
If the 78 cards of a tarot deck signify 78 universally experienced allegorical points on the circle of life, where more often the cards speak to human life, then these 78 cards speak to the circle of life in the plant kingdom.
The paintings are done by illustrator Kevin Jay Stanton (psst… join his Patreon here) who, per his Instagram profile, describes himself as a “workaholic illustrator with a green thumb.” Well. The result of that is having brought to life paintings of flowers that exude vibrant personalities.
Conveying emotions in illustrations of plants is one of the most challenging aspects of art, and Stanton does it with grace and ease. The above is one of the postcards that the Herbalist Edition comes with. Mount these bonus postcards into a 4″ x 6″ or 5″ x 7″ frame for some beautiful wall or desktop decor.
The gold foil printed on black card backs and gilding to the gold foil printed keepsake sliding drawer box, right down to the attention to detail in every aspect of craftsmanship elevates the Botanica Tarot to satisfying opulence. This deck is just so beautiful that you want to show it off.
I can’t speak on Stanton’s plant to tarot card correspondences because I don’t know enough about plants, but from the explanations he provides in the guidebook, I’m following along with relative ease, and every one of his correspondences makes sense. I love that the dandelion is The Fool: “Like the floating seeds of a dandelion, The Fool sets out on their journey full of hope with the promise of new growth.”
“Mistletoe was sacred to the druids, and represents magic and masculine energy.” Thus, The Magician represents power and resourcefulness. The High Priestess features elder flower, which was “also revered by the Druids,” and in balance with the mistletoe on the Magician card, elder flower represents feminine power, and “witches were once said to gather underneath them when their fruits were full.”
The LWB (little white booklet) that comes with the deck is a godsend, especially for those of us who are not green thumbs and can’t distinguish an amaryllis from a magnolia. In the above photo of a Major Arcana page spread, you’ll see the symbol for each Major Arcanum, which is the only designation on the cards letting you know what is what.
Most are easy to follow, like the lemniscate symbol for The Magician, the triple goddess diadem for The High Priestess, and the twelve stars for The Empress. Others, not as easy, like on my own, I’m not sure I would have recognized the dandelion seed for The Fool. However, if this becomes your working deck, then that’s likely to be something you’ll just naturally commit to memory.
I’ll be the first to confess that this isn’t the easiest tarot deck for me to read with. The Major Arcana cards are unnumbered, no captions (a design decision I agree with, I think), and the tiny little white symbol at the top center of the card is supposed to identify which Major Arcanum you’re looking at. Most of the time I can guess correctly, but I admit I do get confused.
On second thought, small gold foil lettering centered at the bottom of the cards would have added value to the art. So for example, the top left corner card in the photo above would bear the ever most discrete metallic gold print on the bottom: PEONY and then a little gold horizontal bar, and beneath that, The Lovers. Or, alternatively, replace the white symbol at the top altogether. The center card in the bottom row would read STAR ANISE, a delicate gold horizontal bar, and then beneath it, Medicine Wheel.
Temperance is the water iris, which feels to be a traditional by-the-Western-occult-books correspondence here. Then Stanton adds the botanical explanation, which deepens my appreciation for that traditional correspondence. Water irises exist between land and water, nourishing both, wherever they set their roots, and help to prevent erosion.
There were other points of resonance that tickled me. Stanton drew jasmine for The Star (above photo, bottom right corner). For my deck, the SKT, I depicted Kuan Yin on The Star card. Jasmine flowers are associated with Kuan Yin.
The deadly nightshade, or belladonna, is The Devil. I love the tips and trivia included in the booklet. Simply reading through the LWB cover to cover is worth your while and for me, was both fascinating and educational.
The Moon card is the Queen of the Night, one of my personal favorite flowers. I have one growing in my backyard and late spring/early summer nights, you get the great pleasure of witnessing one bloom, and always just for a single evening. The next morning, it’s wilted. “Like the moon itself, its power is fleeting but its pull is immense,” notes Stanton.
The Sun is the sunflower and Judgement is the Easter lily. Writing about the Easter lily, “These flowers have taken on the symbolism of purity and chastity in Christian imagery, and are thought to herald the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In a similar way, Judgement is a call to action card, the trumpet preceding a decree. It’s the signal of an end to darkness and the dawn of something new.”
To designate the Minor Arcana, you’ve got an “A” for the Ace, then Roman numerals I through X, P for Pages, KN for Knights, Q for Queens, and K for Kings. Then next to that designation is a glyph symbolizing the suit.
The sorcerer’s garlic (above left) is the Queen of Cups. This is “Circe’s herb of power . . . Circe was a Greek witch with the powers of transformation.” The symbol accompanying the flower is a gold diadem with a Herakles knot. On the King of Cups is a golden laurel circlet, symbolic of the laurel given to heroes. The centaury, which is the flower pictured on the King, is named after the immortal centaur Chiron, the “wisest and justest of all the centaurs” (Homer).
For my first few weeks of working with the cards, I had to keep checking back into the LWB. While the Minor Arcana cards were easy to identify, I was still having trouble identifying some of the Major Arcana cards just from the little symbol code. And then I would still want to look in the LWB to read about the plant correspondence.
Although I don’t know a whole lot about plants or gardening, I do keep about a dozen fruit trees, a couple of potted flowers, and grow herbs. And I talk to my trees and plants. If you’re around them long enough, you can absolutely discern unique personalities from each one, and you build a relationship with them.
That sentiment of chatting with my trees and plants is replicated in the way the Botanica Tarot works for me. In the same way occultists might describe divinatory tarot readings as connecting to a spirit or spirit-like realm for communication, something similar happens here, but to the realm of Plantae. In the way our physical world has a metaphysical counterpart, the Botanica Tarot connects us to the metaphysical dimension of plants.
Bleeding hearts is the Three of Swords! I love it! Then the Four of Swords is the snowdrop blossom. “Snowdrops symbolize hope and purity.” There’s a belief that snowdrops were given to Odysseus by Hermes to ward off evil magic. The four swords pictured on this card are xiphos, used by ancient Greeks. Five of Swords is the stinging nettle.
So much in-depth thought, at many levels, have gone in to the Botanica Tarot, that this deck and the LWB it comes with is a treasure. The mandrake root, every witch’s go-to spellcrafting item, is the Page of Swords. To designate it as a court card, you’ll see the Greek diadem. You might not be able to see it from the photo here, but carved into that diadem is Dionysus and Ariadne. Little details like that are what I mean by the layers and levels of in-depth thought Stanton has put into the art.
Oh, and on the Knight of Swords is a silver Cherokee gorget. The Queen of Swords, featuring red oleander, connects to Durga through the Kiritamukuta, essentially a conical, cylindrical mitre-like crown. The King of Swords brings in Japanese symbolism for the camellia. For the court symbol, we see the helmet of Date Masamune, with that signature crescent moon maedate, or ornamentation, which according to Star Wars lore, inspired the outfit for Darth Vader.
The multicultural references, the absolutely stunning illustration work, the lush, luxurious production value– all of it comes together to bring us a one-of-a-kind tarot deck.
The Ace of Wands is the hawthorn, symbolic of spring, and here you see a ribbon-wrapped maypole. The Two of Wands is the snapdragon, a Mediterranean wildflower that “will overtake a garden if not carefully watched.” The scepters here are of Egyptian origin. The sakai tree for the Three of Wands is the sacred tree of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess. Then the Four of Wands is a reference to the Norse goddess Frigg.
Continuing on in just this one suit, you’ll read about a Scottish legend, the Cochise of archaic America, Elizabethan England, how the datura plant was used as a poison by Indian assassins, and the Huluppu tree’s association with the goddess Inanna. As a deck that features just plants, the Botanica Tarot is diverse and inclusive, conscientious about representing every region of the world.
The above photograph also shows some of the fun stickers you get as packing favors, that comes with your deck order.
Above in the Queen of Wands is the Huluppu tree of Inanna. The golden crown pictured on the card is the horned crown of Inanna. The pomegranate is the King of Wands, which is a very thought-provoking and different-from-Western-occult-tradition take. Here, its association with the King of Wands is connected to the red color of the pomegranate seeds and how its juice resembles blood, symbolic of war and power, but also passion. Through the pomegranate, the King of Wands connects to Hadad, the Semite god-king of thunder and agriculture.
As for the Ace of Coins– grapes. “This fruit is associated with Dionysus, the Greek God of hedonism. . . . The coin on this card is a tetradrachm (silver coin of ancient Greece, equivalent to four drachmae) bearing Dionysus’ visage.” The Two of Pentacles, one of my favorite cards of all from this deck, is the waterlily. The Egyptian deben was a form of protocurrency, used here to represent the Coins suit.
Stanton’s approach to the Coins is delightful. The Three of Coins, which is the saffron plant, features Persian darics. The Four of Coins, the honeysuckle, features wampum, a protocurrency of the Eastern Woodland tribes of North America. The coins in the Five of Coins feature symbols of Athena. The hellebore is the Five of Coins for its dark magical properties, “sacred to witches and goddesses alike.”
We often talk about the tarot as a language. The Botanica Tarot is a hybrid that fuses the language of tarot with the language of flowers (… like Spanglish or Chinglish?…). And something about the energy of this deck definitely feels bilingual.
For me, there was a learning curve The Botanica Tarot reads accurately, though most of us may be LWB-reliant for a while, before we get our bearings. The LWB also sparked many reading-research rabbit hole adventures when I wanted to know more about the cultural references this deck has included.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received Botanica Tarot from the publisher for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.