Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writing and Tarot

I'll be presenting this workshop on Friday at 5PM at Smith College's Conbust.  Here's a taste of what I've got planned:

The Tarot deck is a tool to help people understand their relationship to the universe, the world around them.  It gives a visual presentation of our motives, goals, conflicts, actions and reactions.  This makes it an excellent tool for writing.

When I do a full Celtic Cross reading spread, I read it as a map, a lesson.  What's the point of telling someone "This is going to happen" without arming them to prepare for whatever "This" is?  For me, a full reading spread addresses a conflict of the questioner, how this conflict has come about, how the questioner perceives the conflict as compared to how it may actually be, where the actions are leading, what to do to maintain or change the result, what is motivating the questioner, and an underlying consideration the questioner probably doesn't realize is in effect.

Doing a full tarot spread for the main conflict of a novel or short story can help a writer in outlining or dealing with a sticking point.

A Secret for Anyone about Tarot

Most readers I know, and the best I've learned from, have all instilled me with one "secret" that everyone should know.  This secret is why almost all the readings I do now are from people I've read for before.

Each card's meaning comes from you.

When you look at the written or given meaning in a Tarot primer, it's based on a collective experience and wisdom.  People are drawn to different decks, which when you look at the mini-booklets, vary in card meaning, because that culture and that experience which went into the deck design speaks to them.  Tarot readers study these things, but we also know that humans and culture are ever evolving and changing, that every individual strays from the collective, and that every individual assigns meaning to symbols just a little differently.

People who define themselves as writers instinctively and inherently tap into this collective wisdom: what motivates, inspires, drives, and affects people.  We are also masters of metaphor, symbolism, and hidden meaning  Writers observe people and life, and they often notice what your regular person misses and create meaning in our minds; meaning creates story.

Therefore, a writer using the Tarot need not ever look at a Tarot book or take a divination class to utilize the deck as a tool in their writing arsenal. 

If, as a writer, you choose a deck that "speaks" to you, it's automatically aligned with your sense of the world.  The frequently used symbols will speak to you, and you'll find new ones that match you perfectly.  You'll take that collective meaning used to create the card and make it your own. 

The Knight of Wands Example (will be a handout in actual class)

And sometimes the situation will change that meaning; as a writer, you know this, too.  How many of us have had characters go and do something utterly stupid or brilliant - but entirely unexpected -  when presented with an extreme or unusual situation?  How many real people have we seen do this, too?

The Power of a Single Card

The exercise we're doing for this workshop utilizes a single card. 

A reader can answer a question with a single card.  It's a "spread" that works for a simple question or issue or as a way to start the day with a directed meditation.  For writers, it can be a great jumping block for brainstorming or working out writer's block.

This exercise forces the writer to depend on his/her subconscious and reevaluate the meaning and expectations s/he may have for the situation.

  • Pull a single card from the deck.
  • If you do read Tarot, do not try and read the card.  If you don't normally read Tarot, you're better prepared for this exercise.
  • Look at the picture and its components for one full minute.  (I'll time you here; set a timer at home.)
  • Flip the card over or return it to the deck and shuffle it in.  Resist the urge to look at it!
  • Write for two full minutes everything you remember from the picture on the card on a sheet of paper.
  • On a second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc.) piece of paper, using only what you wrote on the first paper, construct a story or path for your character to take.  (For the workshop, I'll give you 2 more minutes; at home, take as long as you want/need/can.)

Bonus Step:
  • Collaborate with one or more partners and put your stories together.  (For the workshop, I'll give you 3 minutes to do this).

I'm a big fan of collaboration because it's good for any writer to be forced from her/his head at least as an exercise.  It also prepares the writer for a relationship with an editor and offers a fresh perspective on any situation.  Even if collaboration isn't a writers regular modus operandi, it's worth trying as an exercise every once in a while.

Related Reference: Ruth & Wald Amberstone's Tarot Tips.  Exercise based on similar one for readers.


Hopefully this inspires you to explore your writing in a new direction and introduces you to a tool you'll find helpful at any stage of your writing, from brainstorming to composing to editing.  The secret to using the Tarot is to trust in your own instincts, understanding of persons and culture, and signification of meaning.  If you need a trick to keep yourself from forcing meaning upon a card, break it down to the pieces that stick out in your mind and read based on those pieces, not the card itself.  This will give you a truer reading for the situation.

To make the most of this tool, I do suggest finding a deck that features persons or personified beings (like dragons, mythical beasts, cats/cat people).  This will give you a "character" for each card.  The more vivid the pictures, also, the more you will get from each card - especially for non-readers.

* I'm also including a Tarot reference sheet and an exercise for a 3-card spread.

Found this interesting?  Let me know.  Have any tips on using the Tarot for writing?  Add to the comments.


Lindsey Duncan said...

Very cool, Trisha ... I've always loved Tarot and went through a brief phase of using readings for my stories. This nudges me to get back to it. I've multiple Tarot and two non-Tarot decks, so choosing which one may be tricky.

(Confessedly, I bought the Goddess Oracle because the cards are so gorgeous, not for any significance ...)

Trisha Wooldridge said...

@Lindsey - the Goddess Oracle IS gorgeous. :) I also didn't get into how some stories sometimes work better with different decks or different divination rituals in general. I have one friend who's used the Faerie Oracle, and, after having received several amazing I Ching readings, I could absolutely see that applied to writing, too. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Trisha,

Good news! I wanted to try this technique and tonight it worked for me! It turned into a foundation for a light-hearted romantic story. Not sure yet where the writing will go from here but I'm very pleased with the results so far. - Julie

Trisha Wooldridge said...

@ Julie - Wicked cool!! :) Keep me posted. I want to hear how the story turns out. :D

Anonymous said...

Hello Trisha,

The basic story idea has areas that need to be worked on. For character development and stalled parts of the story, I will use cards again. This process is fun! Thanks for the jump-start idea.


Anonymous said...

PS: Julie, again. In the past, I have published non-fiction. Writing fiction is still very hard for me to do. Right now, learning for the sake of learning is the reward. You are very generous with your time and advice. Thank you.

Trisha Wooldridge said...

@Julie: Happy to help! :) Very good luck - and much fun - with the romance. :) Thank you for being such a great commenter on my posts.

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