In the tarot and writing workshops I’ve taught, one of the problems some people have with using the tarot for writing is how to read the cards, especially when it comes to brainstorming with the tarot.
Reading a tarot card is sort of like teaching someone how to ride a bike. It’s difficult to explain exactly what it is you have to do when riding a bike. Remember how it was the first time you rode a bike? How hard it was to keep your balance, to steer it, to make the bike remain under you as opposed to sprawling onto the ground with you on it?
Some people pick up riding a bike fairly easy and, if you learned when you were really small, you probably started out with training wheels. I was young but not that young when I first learned to ride a bike, and I remember it took me most of the day to finally get the hang of it. I still remember that it was near dusk when I finally was able to keep the bike balanced, with me seated confidently on it and, joy of joy, making it go where I wanted it to go!
Learning to read tarot cards is like that. I can tell you to do this or try that, but you really just have to pick up the cards and work with them. And work with them often.
Funny how that no matter how long you go without having ridden a bike, you never forget how to. It can be like that with reading tarot.
Another book that I have on my tarot bookshelf is Mary K. Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. Mary K. Greer is another well-known name in tarot circles as she’s written some of the best books you can read on tarot, especially as it relates to self-development and tarot.
21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card is unique in that it focuses on twenty-one different techniques for reading the cards, including storytelling, drawing, dialogue, etc, to help you connect and interpret the cards. I highly recommend it.
For today’s Tarot Thursday, I’m going to select three exercises from the book and use them specifically for writing purposes. I’m also going to use the same card for each of the three exercises. I’ve chosen the High Priestess from the The Dark Fairytale Tarot.
This is one of my favorite decks to use when brainstorming ideas and characters for writing. The images are very evocative and look like mini-scenes from a movie, which can be very helpful for brainstorming.
This is Activity 2:1 from the book.
Describe the card as completely as you can with no meanings or interpretations.
A tearful woman, wearing a golden mitre and robe, sits alone in a church. The fingers of both her hands are touching her chin and mouth. She looks very sad, Either her mascara is running or black tear tracks have been painted onto her face. She is dressed in a dark burgundy gown with velvet sleeves. A silver crescent mood lies at her feet.
Now describe the card in first person, present tense.
I sit alone in the church, robed in a golden gown, the golden mitre upon my head. Behind me light streams through the stained glass windows, but I sit in the shadows. A silver, crescent moon lies at my feet. I have been crying, but no one is around to see my tears.
The point of the activity is to help you really look at the card and put yourself into it.
Let’s try another.
Describe what seems to be the emotions, attitudes and feelings of the figures in the card and the mood and atmosphere.
The church appears to be empty of everyone but the woman. Light streams in from behind her but she in the shadows. She looks despondent, abandoned, sad. The silver crescent moon at her feet looks as if it has fallen or rolled off her lap. She is touching her chin and mouth as if she’s ashamed of something or perhaps regretful for having spoken words she should not have.
Now repeat it but in the first person, present tense.
I have been left alone in the church. Everyone has gone but me. Light streams in from behind me. I can feel it against my neck. But I will not turn to see it. I cannot. I have been abandoned, chastised, left to mine own devices for what I have done and said. The silver moon which I’d once held so proudly lies at my feet. I am ashamed of what I said, wished I had not, but I know I cannot take back the words spoken so carelessly.
Here’s the last one I’ve chosen. Activity 10:1
Look up the card in a book or the booklet that came with the deck.
In the booklet that comes with the Dark Fairytale Tarot, the High Priestess is described thusly: The guardian of the gate she can never enter. Her heart is heavy with the weight of the secrets that she keeps. Her wisdom has become her prison.
Okay, so that sort of fits in with what I saw in the card on my own. A woman who is saddened by the knowledge she has within her and her inability to share the burden of that knowledge.
So, how would this help me with, let’s say, coming up with a character? A lot. If, for example, I wanted to create a villain for my story and I pulled this card and I did the three activities noted above I could brainstorm a character who has information about something terrible, is unable to share that information or, maybe, is unwilling to share it, even if it means saving the lives of others.
She could be a sympathetic villain if I wanted to focus more on her having this information but feeling guilty about not sharing it or, if I wanted to push her a bit more into the dark side, I could see her as perhaps feeling an itsy-bitsy bit guilty about it, but not all that much because her reasons for not sharing the information are selfish, meaning she’s looking out for her own skin and any tears she may cry about all those people who are going to die are more crocodile tears than actual grief.
So my overall best advice for learning to read the tarot? It’s similar to the punch line in that old joke about how does one get to Carnegie Hall.
Practice, practice, practice.
But it doesn’t have to be boring practice. Trust me, playing around with tarot is never boring! 🙂 And if you use the activities in 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, it definitely won’t be!