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On Tarot as a Literary Tool

A few weeks back, I listed the how-to writing guides which I found most useful. Among them was Corrine Kenner's Tarot for Writers. Throughout her text, Kenner references the traditional Rider-Waite deck -- a deck which I have never owned or used. Nonetheless, Kenner's exercises and suggested spreads work with (virtually) any deck.

That (virtually) there is important. The book has proven most useful not just with the decks with which I am most familiar, but also those decks that contain the most densely packed imagery.

The first two decks that I purchased (I really can't remember which came first) were The Motherpeace Round Tarot by Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble, and The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. I have since added The Anubis Oracle by Nicki Scully, Linda Star Wolf, and Kris Waldherr; Ancient Feminine Wisdom of Goddesses and Heroines by Kay Steventon and Brian Clark; The New Mythic Tarot by Juliet Sharman-Burke, Liz Greene, and Giovanni Caselli; and the Art Nouveau tarot from Lo Scarabeo, to my collection.

Of all those decks, the Art Nouveau proved the least useful. Yes, the art is pretty, but the definitions of the cards are ... odd. At least for me. Trying to adapt the definition and artwork for a story proved problematic. I still found a use for the deck, though: I cut up several of the cards for devotional art projects, and have plans to do so for more in the future. 

Steventon and Clark's Ancient Feminine Wisdom is slightly more useful. It focuses on Greek mythology (with a couple of Roman Goddesses thrown in), which is a plus for someone like me who follows a Hellenic path. I can't tell you how happy I was to see artwork depicting The Charites; that is a rare find. The deck features many other lesser-known Goddesses and heroines, such as Pheme, Carpo, and The Hesperides, and some unusual interpretations which aid in story creation; Hebe, for instance, is "spiritual sustenance" while Hera is "social rituals." As I become more comfortable with this deck, I have no doubt that it will prove even more useful in providing literary inspiration.

Waldherr's Goddess Tarot, though, remains my favorite, both for divination and inspiration. The deck offers a wide-ranging exploration of Goddesses from pantheons around the world. Rather than the traditional four suits, Waldherr's deck features Cups (the path of Venus), Staves (the path of Freyja), Swords (the path of Isis), and coin-shaped Pentacles (the path of Lakshmi). Many of the Major Arcana are also different; for instance, the second card is Wisdom and features the Hindu Sarasvati, while card nine centers on the concept of Contemplation (the Chinese Goddess Chang O). More traditional Major Arcana, such as the Star, the Moon, the Sun, and Judgement feature Inanna, Diana, the Russian triad The Zorya*, and Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), respectively.

Each card -- either alone or combined with others -- is uniquely inspiring, a rich source for story ideas. For instance, the main image on the Five of Pentacles is two women wrapped tight in their cloaks as they make their way through a snow storm. One woman looks forward, chin raised, while the other huddles within her cloak, eyes downcast. What might their story be? Perhaps they are mother and daughter, trying to survive in a near-future India which is experiencing radical environmental change. The surrounding border of birds and flowers signifies hope; perhaps they will survive, and find a new home.

Drawing a second card ... say, the Eight of Swords ... adds another dimension to the tale. They encounter deadly violence, and only one woman survives. Which one? And why?

Tarot decks are terrific creative tools for writers. A single card can open your mind and heart to inspiration. Who is this person? What does he want? Is he a hero? Villain? Both? Draw a second card, and find out. 

  

*The Zorya are sometimes depicted as twins or two sisters, for the Morning and Evening Stars; and sometimes as a triad, with the addition of the Midnight Star. I can't find a citation anywhere, but I hazard a guess that the Midnight Star is the North Star/Polaris, considering its importance in Slavic mythology. 

 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

Comments

  • Emily Mills
    Emily Mills Monday, 10 September 2012

    Wonderful post! I haven't picked up The Goddess Tarot, but I love that the staves are the path of Freya. I just took a class about the new Witches Tarot deck by Ellen Dugan. She shared with us some of the stories behind the cards and also discussed the story-telling elements of the Major Arcana. The art in the deck is wonderful for storytelling and I'm finding it helps me connect with the cards more. I'm hoping this approach will help me learn the cards better. It sounds like this deck and several others I own would work well with Tarot for Writers. I've meant to pick it up for awhile, but I have to get it now!

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Tuesday, 11 September 2012

    Thanks for mentioning Dugan's new tarot deck. :) I will have to see if I can find a copy.

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