Tarot as a Writing Tool

“According to mythology, there were nine muses. With the Tarot, you’ve got seventy-eight! ”

– Llewellyn, Publisher.

The practice of cartomancy, or divination, using playing cards is a ancient activity. How ancient exactly, it is not known. Playing cards arrived in Europe in around 1360 and were used for fortune telling also. The first written account of a divination done with tarot cards is 1527, but these activities are assumed to be much older, and playing cards are thought to have arrived from Europe via Turkey and before that, possibly China.

The Tarot is a specific, more recent form of cartomancy, thought to have started in the courts of fourteenth century renaissance Italy as a card game, Tarocchi.

The world’s most popular deck—the Rider-Waite Tarot—with its countless subsequent variants, didn’t appear until 1909 and was associated mainly with occultists like Aleister Crowley and Madame Blavatsky in the early 20th century, before exploding into popular culture in the new age 70s with books like Stuart Kaplan’s Tarot Cards for Fun and Fortune Telling, and by cult filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky.

I am a professional Tarot card reader, and also a writer of non-fiction, fiction and verse. These are separate activities but I feel they come from the same source; that oldest part of the human mind upon which physical survival depended, and as we know, some parts of the human brain are indeed much more ancient than others in our physical evolution, while recently discovered, is the very speedy nerve connection directly linking gut and brain.

No surprises there. Thoughts and feelings can make us sick to our stomach. We’re a hunting animal and a prey animal. Feeling is our fastest way of thinking, faster than calculation, faster than language, and everywhere we look, we seek pattern, and meaning.

We’re all of us hard-wired for stories from earliest childhood from which can be deduced, story-telling serves some crucial purpose within the human psyche, both individually and collectively, while any story, however crazily fantastical,  still contains primal truths.

apocalypto
The story teller in Apocalypto

 

A great story makes us feel something before we know exactly why. A great story creates or presents anew, some ancient pattern of the world.

It makes us feel like it means something. We look up at the three stars of Orion, Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka, and see a belt resting on his hips as he strides out.

Orion
Image: constellation of Orion (the hunter)

Where is the overlap between Tarot for divination and writing?

The purpose of each is to establish an avenue of information exchange and emotional exchange creating a meaningful, resonant connection with another person, very probably a total stranger.

Predicting and so forth, well, that’s another conversation, and the writer need not trouble themselves about the divinatory uses for tarot cards. Fortune- telling can also be done with tea-leaves but there’s no need to worry about drinking tea on that account.

Novel writers and poets WB Yeats, TS Eliot, John Steinbeck and film director Alejandro Jodorowski, have found inspiration in the Tarot.

Jodorowki said that “the Tarot will teach you how to create a soul.”

That is a poetic statement, not a statement that can be explicitly explained or quantified.  Exactly right, there’s no recipe, and there are no rules. A tarot deck is a symbol system, a storybook of 78 individual storyboards dealing in archetypes and archetypal situations.

The archetypal story structure is widely known as The Hero’s Journey, as described in the book by twentieth- century mythologist, Joseph Campbell.

herosjourney

The 22 cards of the Major Arcana (Great Secrets) of the Tarot Deck also represent an archetypal journey – known as The Fool’s Journey, presented in three acts of 7 cards each with the Fool as the title card.

The Fool is numbered 0 and is sometimes also counted as card 22. The Fool is like an ouroboros, a serpent biting its own tail, representing an endless cycle of beginnings and endings, life and death.

ourobouros

The Fool makes mistakes but he is quick to learn, inexperienced but not stupid. This is the Tarot’s card of the eternal human spirit, born to explore on the material plane.

The Fool is you and me.

There is a video link in the resource section at the end.

 

Suggested writing uses of your Tarot deck:

 

circe
Circe, painting by J WW Waterhouse, c 1911.

 

Planning. Ask yourself, what is the story I want to tell? What is at the heart of this story? Why do I want to tell this story and not some other story? Draw a card for each question. Meditate on the imagery. By all means look up the meaning in the instruction booklet, but don’t let yourself be restricted to that book meaning.

Theme: Reflecting on your major story themes. Is this about The Lovers? Justice? Is it a catastrophe story? Maybe then it’s got the Tower card at its heart. Is it about childhood or an animal? Maybe it’s a Sun card story. Maybe it is about recovery from tragedy or despair, and it is a Star card story, or a Strength card story.

Plotting: Instead of post-its on a wall,  use your cards, experimenting with the story arc and ordering the chapters.

Character Development, reflecting on the great story archetypes they might represent. Would you say your hero is a King of Swords, for example, or a Queen of Wands, or a Knight of Pentacles? Is he or she walking the walk of The Hermit or The Devil?

All you need is a deck of Tarot cards, a fully illustrated Tarot deck. Not an oracle deck because you want that complete library of 22 major archetypes that only the typical Tarot deck delivers.

There are many hundreds to choose from, available from bookshops, New Age stores, or online via Amazon, Etsy, Ebay or Aeclectic Tarot.

Important Tip: choose a fully illustrated deck in the Rider-Waite tradition. Simply choose a deck that you like, that resonates with you emotionally. You need to relate to the artwork. That’s all. Most if not all decks come with an instruction booklet explaining the cards and their meanings.

You have a deck of unlimited creative possibilities at your disposal.

You, the writer, are the Tarot’s Magician, master of your sphere and of the elements that make it physical: air, fire, water, earth.

“Writing is Magic happening on paper” –

Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls of Eternity

themagician.png
Image: The Magician from the Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti.

 

Guest blogger

Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

Further Resources

Video: The Fool’s Journey

Tarot for Writers by Corinne Kenner; probably the definitive work.

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition  by Christopher Vogler (Author), Michele Montez (Illustrator)

Tarot 102 The Fool’s Journey

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