Two hounds gather under a large yellow moon, whose face gazes serenely down between grey pillars in one of the most controversial Tarot cards, the Moon. What makes this card so controversial? Perhaps because of the many taboo subjects already associated with the moon. Don’t we all know that witches fly on broomsticks under full moons? That more crimes are committed under moonlight? That those who menstruate do so in similar cycles to the moon? That the word lunatic is also based on the Latin word for the moon? Without even exploring what this card may represent, we relate many different concepts to La Luna. And this card does not shy away from the dark or disconcerting – we see how a wolf is snarling while another dog howls, and a crawfish crawls creepily out of a body of water. The crawdad’s claws point us toward a long and narrow road that winds between these wild animals, flanked by the two large grey pillars and even farther into the hills beyond. Where does this road lead? The answer depends on what we are asking. But we know where it begins – in the depths of the water – in our unconscious, in our fears, our weaknesses, our dark bends. In our wounds, our cracked corners, our broken places. This card is one of the most challenging of the entire Tarot deck because it asks us to confront the parts of ourselves we are not proud of, the parts of ourselves we did not choose, that we regret, that we wish were different, were stronger, smarter, sexier, more good looking, more like everyone else. Just as moonlight distorts shadows, so too, do we sometimes distort our view of ourselves, of our mistakes, of our past hurts, and our traumas.
This card is all about illusion and distortion – not the kind of illusion seen through the Ego lens of greed or laziness or pride, but the kind that occurs through fear, through embarrassment, suffering, or shame. To confront this kind of fear or shame takes a raw kind of gut-level bravery. Some of us go our entire lives without ever facing our deepest fears. And what’s to gain, one might ask? Why go through such a daunting mission? To fully answer that question, one should study the Major Arcana in the Tarot – starting with the Fool and finishing with the World. But even in the card the Moon, we can see a glimmer of why such a task should be undertaken. We see the pillars forming a gate that is wide open – showing us a world beyond that is accessible and new. We see the moonlight looking down, so tranquil and gentle, so understanding and forgiving, her light raining down like hopeful drops of dew. The card that follows this one in the deck of Tarot is the Sun – a card full of joy, of celebration, of release, and innocence. By far it is the brightest card in the entire Tarot deck. It is important to understand what follows a dark journey like the one the Moon is asking us to take. Robert Frost said it best in his poem A Servant to Servants: “the best way out is always through.” The healing power that this card holds is in the aftermath. First, we must hold our weakest, ugliest, most aggrieved selves. We must talk with them, walk with them, understand them, and become friends with them. Only then can we truly connect with and integrate into our strongest, most complete, and most beautiful spirits.
When meeting this card during a divinatory reading, the Moon is asking us to confront our deepest fears and our darkest secrets. Whatever question we are posing, the Moon wants us to get to the heart of the issue, though it may cause us to wilt in insecurity, anxiety, or shame. But we must hang on. We must see past our own illusions. The gate awaits us – its doors are open. Only our fear holds us back. The night is dark, but the moon’s light illuminates the path.
The perfect companion to any moonlit journey is Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), a plant known for its dream-enhancing qualities. The pale green leaves of this plant are long and lance-shaped, and underneath the leaves, it shows its affinity for the moon with its soft silver color. Mugwort has a pleasant aroma, but a very bitter taste, so to enhance dream recall or the ability to lucid dream, sew the dried leaves of the plant into a silk or velvet pouch (also known as a dream pillow) and place it nearby when sleeping. Very vivid dreams may occur, so take care! Indeed, it is a powerful plant, with a long history of circulating blood, such as in those with stagnant menstruation, as well as being the main ingredient in moxibustion therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Many species in the Artemisia family are potent plants such as Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) which can remove parasites and is also the base ingredient in Absinthe, or California Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) a spiritual shrub that the Chumash, Paiute, and related California Native American tribes use to promote healthy sleep, sacred dreams, and to ward off ghosts or evil spirits when they burn or inhale smoke from the leaves.
The Moon and Mugwort are intimately connected, as dark journeys and the dream world are also closely entwined. They remind us that not all things which disturb us are “bad,” and not all nightmares should be forgotten – most importantly, there are lessons in the things which make us uncomfortable.
*Tarot reading is based on the Rider-Waite Tarot Card deck, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith
Frost, Robert. “A Servant to Servants.” PoetryVerse, Accessed 21 September 2022. https://www.poetryverse.com/robert-frost-poems/a-servant-to-servants
McCabe, Stephen, Reid, Sara, and Wishingrad, Van. Native American Uses of California Plants: Ethnobotany. University of California Santa Cruz, June 2009. P3
Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. San Francisco, Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2007. P125-129
Tierra, Lesley Lac. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Berkeley, The Crossing Press, 2003. P102-103