Writing With Tarot
Waking in the early morning hours, the world dark and sleepy, you slip into your writing space. Your notebook beckons from its perch on a table. Clearing your mind, you peer into the blank page and endless possibilities begin to spark.
There’s a story forming deep within, you know it, but how do you pull it from the dark depths? How do you bring it out into the warm sunshine?
The story is tangible, with characters so full and a plot so rich you can almost taste it. You light a single candle. Its gentle flicker drives away the morning chill. Gingerly, lovingly you pick up the deck of cards lying beside your notebook. Your fingers tingle as if touching the hand of an old friend, or lover.
As you shuffle the cards, a question emerges: How can I bring the world of my mind into reality?
Placing the deck beside your notebook, you lay down the top card and stare into the eyes that will lead you on a journey.
Can Tarot be used for writing?
The short answer is yes. Yes! A thousand times, yes!
Interpreting modern tarot cards, designed for storytelling, is referred to as “reading.” A tarot reader creates a narrative by applying the symbols in the cards to specific questions. As intuitive observers, it is fitting for writers to gravitate toward this tool to inspire the creation of worlds and lives.
Like the writing process, the practice of reading the cards is deeply personal, even spiritual.
What is Tarot?
When boiled down to its essence, tarot is a system of symbols, organized into seventy-eight cards, that can be interpreted as a story. Some regard the stories as a form of divination — communication between the reader and the universe or a selected diety. Others use the cards for self-reflection and personal insight. Tarot can help to dig deeper into your understanding of reality.
Symbolism aside, the images in tarot are often works of art that can inspire countless stories.
A Brief History
According to Tarot for Writers, by Corrine Kenner, tarot was first created in 15th century Italy. Initially used in a trick-taking game called tarocchi, the imagery in tarot cards inspired poetry as early as the 16th century.
The symbiotic relationship between the cards and writers may have been present from the start of modern tarot interpretations. Kenner connects the creation of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, first published in 1909, to the great poet W.B. Yeats. In her book, she writes, “In fact, some experts think Yeats’ poetry actually inspired some of the imagery in modern tarot.”
The easiest way to approach tarot is to jump right in. Find a deck. Find your deck.
Visit a local crystal shop, spiritual store, or even an Indie bookstore. Hold each deck in your hands and feel the energy passing between you and the cards.
If that feels too “hippie woo woo” — Imagine me gesturing, my fingers flitting about my face — research decks online, and order one whose imagery attracts you.
The number of gorgeous tarot decks available today seems endless. However, I encourage you to start with a deck based on the Rider-Waite-Smith design. With a traditional deck, you will have clearer readings and a better understanding of reference guides. My first deck was Llewellyn’s Classic Tarot.
Tarot is designed to provide insight and tell a story. To do so it must be approachable. Tarot readers don’t need special innate gifts to use the tool. Find a deck from whatever source allows you to comfortably approach the cards.
Connect With Your Deck
Take your crisp new tarot Deck home and get to know it. No, you don’t have to take it out on a date — though if you are going out, you may as well pop the deck into your bag.
Familiarize yourself with the cards as you would a brand new writing journal. Flip through the cards, bend them a little. Do they feel stiff or are the edges worn and softened?
Smell the cards. Do they smell like a new glossy book? If you’re a book sniffer like me, you’ll appreciate that incredible new book fragrance.
Or perhaps you acquired your deck from a second-hand store or as a hand-me-down. Do the cards retain the scent of patchouli, fresh baked cookies, or a new box of crayons?
Whatever their feel and smell, let the cards tell you their story. Lay each card out in front of you. Order them in a way you feel drawn to. This could be in order by number, by suit, or by similar imagery.
Keep a dedicated journal for your tarot practice. As a writer, my favorite way to interpret my cards is through the act of writing. I feel a deeper connection when writing down my readings by hand.
Practice interpreting the imagery of your cards. Choose three to five cards each time you sit down with your deck. Observe the imagery, and write your interpretation of the meaning in your tarot journal.
You can research these cards until you’re blue in the face, but tarot is personal and the practice is intuitive and unique to each reader. Open your mind to the cards and they will open your world to an endless array of stories.
As with all writing, it is good practice to verify the facts and details. There are countless books that can be used to confirm your own interpretations. Guidebooks are not crutches. They are tools to enhance your practice. The authors have seen the cards in many different contexts through decades of experience.
Some of my favorite guidebooks are:
- Tarot for Writers, Corrine Kenner
- Kitchen Table Tarot, Melissa Cynova
- The Ultimate Guide to Tarot, Liz Dean
Additional research sources:
- Social Media – You’ll find a wealth of community and knowledge on Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and more. On Instagram, I follow @foolandthepage, @typewritertarot, @thetarotlady, and @melissacynova.
- Tarot-related podcasts – My favorite, The Fool and The Page, is produced by Austin-based writer, Claire Campbell and speaks specifically to writers.
- Review Sites (Yelp, Google Reviews, etc.) – Find a respected local tarot reader through reviews. Consider getting a reading to see how it works. From there, consider asking if they’re willing to guide you in your own practice.
A deeper understanding of the tarot’s symbology systems, such as Astrology, the four elements, and numerology, may be a useful asset to your tarot and writing practice.
Illuminate your blindspots with insight from other sources and systems, but remember tarot is personal. If something doesn’t ring true for you, simply keep it in your back pocket and go with your gut.
Shuffle Up and Deal a Story – Your Story
Before you begin, arrive in your writing space. Do whatever you can to relax and settle into your writing mind. You may choose to find a comfortable seat, light a candle or incense, place a crystal (amethyst is a great one), or play soothing music. I like to take a few minutes for quiet meditation.
Shuffle the tarot cards, clearing your thoughts and infusing your intention into the reading. Professional readers often allow their clients to shuffle and cut the cards in any way they feel drawn to bring their energy to the reading.
A Writer’s First Reading
Rest your hand atop the cards, and focus your thoughts on a single question.
How should I work with these cards in my writing practice?
Draw a card using your left hand and place it, face down, on the left side of your workspace. Return your hand to the pile, or trail your fingertips along the fanned cards and focus on the next question.
What energy do I already possess that will aid me in my writing practice?
Pull a card with your left hand, and place it to the right of the first card. Replace your hand on the cards and focus again.
What action can I take to achieve my desires for my writing practice?
Lay the final card to the right of the first two. Flip over the first card you placed, turning it from right to left as if opening a book. Repeat this step with the following cards in the order they were placed.
Observe the cards for an initial reading, writing down any connections in your journal. What feelings or thoughts bubble to the surface first? Write them in your journal. What imagery leaps out to you? Write that down. Which card are you most drawn to? Do any cards repel you or make you uneasy? What similarities do you see in your cards? Any differences? Write everything down.
When reading the individual cards, describe the scene as it relates to the question asked of that card. Write down everything you think might be connected no matter how personal or cringe-y it may feel. Remember, the tarot is a tool for self-reflection and discovery.
Look up each card in a guidebook or the deck’s companion book to enhance your reading. Write down any interpretation or symbolic meaning that rings true to your personal writing story.
Interpreting Reversed Cards
There are dozens of ways to interpret reversed or inverted cards (ie. Cards that appear upside down from the perspective of the reader). Most guidebooks offer a reversal interpretation. Some suggest new readers turn reversed cards right side up, ignoring the reversal. I choose to interpret reversals as blocked energy. Find the interpretation that resonates most clearly with you.
If you are a writer or a tarot-curious individual, prepare to mine gems of a story buried deep within. In this multi-post Tarot for Writing Inspiration series, I will explore ways to use tarot to inspire character, plot, setting, and all aspects of storytelling. Watch this space for my next post, Tarot Spreads for the Writer, and leave a comment below about your experience with tarot.
Happy writing and reading!
Feature photo by Haley P Law.