Asali is a woman whose strength and presence is so strongly conveyed through her writing that you feel that she’s there as you’re reading it.
And her voice–gentle, yet full of conviction–makes you feel wrapped in the sweetness that she adopts as her signature. There are many layers to her work, and her focus on healing and community is a ray of light in these dark times. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying her work for a few years now, and I’m grateful that she agreed to share her more with us here about who she is and what she does. Grab some tea, breathe in its aroma, and let it lift you as you read on about Asali.
As stated on your website, Asali is the Swahili word for “honey.” How does this reflect your approach to tarot and healing work?
My walk as a healer is a gift of my getting to know Oshun, whose realm in my spiritual tradition is the divine feminine and all that is associated with it- including love, sexuality, healing, witchcraft, cool fresh waters, and the protection of women and femmes.
Oshun wouldn’t let me rest until I stepped into my power as a healer. She taught me to radically love myself, see my worth and power, and importantly recognize what my offering to the world would be.
In fact, through my elders, I was instructed to place honey on my tongue every day for some time to remember sweetness. One of the offerings given to Oshun is honey- which makes perfect sense for its golden color, sweet taste, and divine medicine. So in this way she was asking me to honor myself every day with her magic.
I learned medicine and the divine connection that came from accessing sweetness not as vulnerability as I’d previously done, but as power. So many patakis, sacred stories, in my tradition tell a tale of power and masculinity underestimating love and the divine feminine’s importance in the universe and regretting it, in the end even begging for Oshun to intervene.
It is this way I walk as a healer. My magic is sweet femme magic, and I recognize and witness its potential to transform. I come to those who work with me in love, honoring their experiences and inviting them to co-heal themselves with me. I’m intentional about co-empowerment to honor Oshun for helping me step up to my own healing work.
The name Asali, a name I dreamed about over and over till I accepted, is the constant compass that keeps my mission and vision focused on this divine love work. It’s kept my hands in flowers, sweet oils, and witches’ herbs so I’m not complaining!
What inspired you to begin reading tarot? What was your first deck of cards?
Through a dark (and also growing) time in my life, I started looking for accessible strategies for healing myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I had tried mental health counseling, but so much of the medical institution had been violent, dismissive, or inaccessible to me as a black queer femme and it didn’t feel safe. Additionally, my community was very often a source of pain and trauma for me, so I needed something I could work on myself. I received what I would come to know as an oracle card reading from my elder that really shifted perspective for me.
I went online to research the deck (it was the Flower Speaks deck, btw) to learn more and found myself on the Aeclectic deck index. I was intrigued but unconvinced. I kept finding myself around people who worked with tarot, though and it unlocked for me what my dissatisfaction was.
My second reading was impromptu from my godsister, who was black and queer like me, with the Motherpeace Tarot, and my third reading was from a trans woman of color with the Collective Tarot. It finally occurred to me that what I’d been looking for was a deck that looked like me. Very simple idea, more difficult to find than I liked.
I was persistent and uncompromising in this search, and eventually the Mythical Goddess Tarot and I found each other. It’s a beautiful deck that centers a diverse representations of the divine feminine and it is brimming with love magic. It’s still the deck I return to when I’m feeling my worst.
I do recognize that it isn’t perfect- while it is truly excellent in its race and age representation, its concept of femininity can be very cisnormative; I also acknowledge that the reproduction-centered archetypes of child, maiden, mother, and crone don’t work for all who heal with the divine feminine (though there’s great work blooming to shake that up like in Jailbreaking the Goddess by Lasara Firefox Allen).
Tarot became a way for me to really dig into the lessons Oshun was teaching me.
Looking back I’m so grateful for every time I drew the Ten of Swords (and let me tell you, that was a near daily thing for me and I really hated that misunderstood card for a long time).
It was necessary that I did though. It was the look in the mirror and my ancestors and guides saying, so you’re just going to stay in this deadly cycle or are you ready for something different.
Loving myself, treasuring myself, believing in who I was and who I was growing to be. Accessing healing not as a privilege but as something I had a right to. Accessing nourishing love as something I deserved not as something I had to beg for or compromise to receive scraps of. Tarot affirmed me, told me about myself, and pushed me when I needed to. I hope in my own tarot work for others, I am a vessel for this work for them as well.
Were tarot and social justice always connected for you, or was that something that grew organically over time?
My journey to my first deck was all about the lack of diversity in the tarot and my refusal to even look at a deck that didn’t do this work, so I have to say it was always connected. Following that experience, I quickly learned how racist and classist the new-age community could be so I didn’t have time for a honeymoon period. The work was there, it had to be done. My Tarot of the QTPOC project is a direct response to that.
As I healed and had the capacity, I recognized the tarot’s potential for not just self-empowerment but community empowerment.
Here was a relatively accessible tool, whose only requirement was that you had a deck and the will to pull cards. More and more I saw and experienced how tarot could spark deep conversations and practice surrounding gender, power, sexuality, and mental health. Here was a tool that asked you to rely on your own understanding of the cards and connect it to your understanding of your life experience.
It’s a small but large thing in a world where you are still trying to convince folks that your life mattering doesn’t negate their life. Here was something I could offer a bridge to for folks looking for a guidance that is empathic and heart-centered. Healing work is one of my forms of activism. As the need remains, I can’t help but make tarot a part of my social justice practice.
Your ethos details your belief (like that of Audre Lorde) that self-care is a radical act. Was there ever a time that you didn’t have a self-care practice in place. How do you get back on track when your self-care has taken a back seat?
Yes! Even now when I get off-track from my self-care practice, there isn’t a part of me that doesn’t feel it. And it shows. Getting back on track is often slow going, but I start small (I say no to someone or a project, I enforce a boundary, I take a bath, drink some tea or pull a tarot card) and that often builds momentum into more and more steps back towards self-care practice.
I think the best (or maybe worst) example is the aforementioned period of darkness where I didn’t love myself enough to truly practice self-care. It left me looking for validation from people who didn’t see my light and worth, or saw it and sought to take it for themselves, or they’d do everything they could to dampen it to make their shine look brighter. I left myself exposed and acting silly. It was a mess. Thank GODDESS for honey and the femmes who fed it to me.
That’s what the project of self-care is really about to me.
A practice of self-care is someone claiming space for themselves and saying I matter enough to take the time to love on and nourish.
There’s been a growing trend of vitriol against the way folks access self-care, particularly marginalized folks, disclaiming it as just another trendy millennial fad. While, yeah I’ll be the first to admit that capitalism is doing its best to exploit this new shift, I don’t think that telling folks that meditation and baths don’t matter is the answer.
Further than that, me caring for myself and ensuring my well is filled means I am better able to offer support to those in my community who may not have the means or energy to care for themselves. Capitalism will tell you that the project of self-care ends with you, but radical self-care intentionally spills over into the community.
What does being an earthworker mean to you?
The origin of the name fades in and out, but I remember being in a room, writing poetry with others in my community. It had been a long bad day, I was exhausted, raw, and blinking back tears and I looked down to find I’d written the words “the earth wants to heal me” over and over on my page. It shook me to not have even been aware enough to notice what I was writing, and I immediately felt better than I’d had all week.
Despite my air sun and moon signs, there has always been something so very supportive about the element of earth for me. It’s the expression of grounding and rooting. It’s the creation of a solid foundation to hold us up when we aren’t able to.
It’s the bottom of the river, the ocean. It’s the way it resembles my skin or my skin resembles it. It’s the way it regenerates when cared for, just like us.
It’s what we all return to. It’s in the gifts it offers us to heal, crystals and herbs, and is the vessel all water is held in. Earth is wise and infinite and transformational in slow, steady ways we can’t always see but its presence is felt. It keeps our fire and holds our bones.
I hope this reflection offered some insight, as to this day I’ve not been to articulate what earthworker means to me in a straightforward sentence. It’s all these series of actions, feelings, and memories that are conjured in my healing work all mixed up with honey, and so Asali Earthwork.
Asali is a Black queer femme community healer and earthworker writing, practicing, and creating at Asali Earthwork.
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