One great thing about being my patron is that pretty often I’ll ask my patrons what they want to hear me talk about. As I am very open and public about both both mentally and physically ill, one such patron requested an easy guide for telling the difference between physical and mental illness in the tarot and I thought that was a GREAT idea, so here we are!
I want to offer a huge, giant disclaimer to start with though:
I’m not a doctor, and none of this is meant to be perceived as medical advice. Furthermore, everyone’s journey with the tarot is different. The following advice comes only from MY experiences being sick and working with the tarot.
That being said, I have developed some very quick “go to” ways to see what the cards are talking about when they bring up illness or injury.
One HUGE thing I’ve done is gone through and assigned keywords that correlate to my various illnesses to the cards I think they fit the most. In my personal tarot journal, I have the Four of Cups listed as “depression” and the Five of Wands as “arthritis flareup.” I have enough cards assigned to various illnesses that if I’m asking about my day/week/month/etc. pulling those specific cards gives me a VERY solid head’s up on what to expect that day/week/month/etc. sickness wise.
(As a side note, I STRONGLY recommend making your own tarot keyword list in addition to the one that comes with your deck, my slightly more radical approach to a keyword list, or anything else you might’ve purchased or acquired to help you learn your cards. Developing your own keyword list IS work. It requires looking at your cards individually and in spreads, and sussing them each down to 3 or 4 words or quick phrases each. It’s so, so, so worth it though. It deepens your relationship with your cards and makes your readings moving forward so much more personal. In doing this, you can ABSOLUTELY add in your own illnesses or worries for certain cards.)
If you’re starting from scratch or have a new deck and want to know where you might start looking, I GENERALLY use this guide to guide my health readings. ALWAYS trust your own knowledge and intuition over someone else’s though.
If a lot of WANDS show up in your reading: wands are fight and fire. When you get to know your deck you’ll see that so often the negative Wands cards indicate internal conflict and turning your anger inwards. For this reason I use Wands to denote autoimmune disorders most often.
PENTACLES represent Earth. They can also represent the human body itself. For this reason, in a health reading or a general reading where sickness is indicated I usually read these as a physical illness that is debilitating but not permanent. This could be the flu, or a sprain, or anything like that. Pentacles do heal and I think that’s an important difference here.
Both SWORDS and CUPS can indicate mental illness or trauma reactions if they show up frequently in a reading. Generally I read Swords as chronic mental illness like Depression or Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Bipolar Disorder (which I don’t have but am intimately aware of). There will be ups and downs but you can’t cure these things. You can manage them, but a flareup is still horrendous and will still happen on occasion.
I tend to read an overflow of CUPS as being more about the emotional side of mental illness. My Avoidant Personality Disorder can be cured. My PTSD can be cured. (I mean they won’t be until I find a new therapist, but theoretically they CAN be cured. They can CERTAINLY become more manageable in a way that chronic mental illness often can not.) I usually find these things then in the Cups which are about both emotions and healing.
The MAJOR ARCANA are not fun if they come up in a reading about health. On a smaller scale, they represent the health things that come with aging and are therefore inevitable. You’re going to get your mom’s bad eyesight and your dad’s weak knees and you can’t stave it off forever no matter how many carrots you eat. Unfortunately, a lot of times the Majors warn us about big, bad life-changing illnesses. If you do a reading about your health and get a ton of Majors, you might want to hit up your doctor ASAP, especially if they’re negatively aspected.
All of the above are told from the lens of the idea that you’re doing a reading and you know that there are some health problems. This information is only meant to help you isolate the problem so you know where to start working from. If you are healthy and all of your cards in a health reading are positive, don’t sweat it! You’re probably fine! If you have been on a healing journey to manage chronic illness and you feel like things are pretty well under control and you get a bunch of cards about peace regardless of the suit, than that’s great! You’re doing great!
Another great way to check in on your health is to simply create a spread that addresses specific body parts or chronic illnesses.
If I’m worried about an arthritic winter and the emotional fallout of being isolated because it’s Minnesota in winter, than I’ll do a two card spread to see what the cards say. I take those at face value—scrap everything I said above. If I pull a 5 of Pentacles in the one about emotion than the cards ARE confirming that I’m going to feel very lost and alone this winter. You can do as many placements as you want! I’ve also done a head to toe check in using upwards of 10 cards, each representing a part of my body or piece of my health. Don’t be shy in how many cards you use, and you can always use scraps of paper placed beside the cards to remember which body parts or illnesses you were worried about.
Always trust a doctor or therapist over the cards, and always trust your actual intuition in that whole process too. The cards can offer some great insight into what’s wrong and why though. Hopefully this primer helped. Remember though that as you grow on your own journey with your own cards, you might find totally different results than me. That’s rad! Trust that.
In the meantime, happy tarot reading and blessed be y’all!