The tarot is a deck of 78 cards, and an essential accessory to the storytelling witch.
The tarot aims to represent the totality of the symbolic world.
It’s a (nearly) complete set of narrative forms and characters. As such, it becomes a game of archetypes and symbols, a useful tool – a kind of machine – for generating endless artistic inspiration.
In the Tarot for Writing Project, I first lay out the symbols on each card, then I attempt to teach the tarot’s symbolic language through analogy; specifically myths and classic literature, but mostly, I use children’s fairy tale movies. Their symbolism favors the clean and simple, and their characterization is often two-dimensional. Also, they tend to be more widely consumed and/or easily obtained.
The Tarot For Writing Project was created to teach the tarot through its symbolism, but also show how learning to read the cards can open portals in your writing. For each card, I will give you writing prompts and show you how to incorporate the card’s energy, so to speak, its essence, in both your craft and content.
Here, I only deconstruct the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. For me, it’s the ur-deck. I find its images both iconic and deeply symbolic. They recall fairy tale times, Arthurian myth times. That magical space between the complete shift from Paganism to Christianity. I am not a Christian, but I was raised one, so their influence will still heavily affect my analysis (and Waite did design it as such), but I do not use the tarot for or against any spiritual practice or religious faith.
Some believe the cards have divine properties, that they can predict the future, or even change it. Some link them to the Devil and his black arts. It’s not uncommon for people to frown or quite literally step back when they see a deck. While I find its history to be endlessly fascinating, we will be concerned primarily with the symbols on the cards as they are drawn, not Waite’s descriptions. I find his guide to be extraordinarily limiting.
Naturally, I am as also limited by my subjective experience. My interpretations are not definitive. There is a kind of vague agreement among people who study the tarot, but there are discrepancies inside each nuanced perspectives. The readings of the cards here are my own, but all art only exists because of what came before it. At end, I will leave a list of my resources and influences.
That being said, next to that list there is also another list of various narratives I spoil, as it were, to discuss their symbolic properties. Each card’s page is broken up into sections, I will try and give ample warning to my readers. I find it impossible to properly analyze a text without revealing the conclusion to plot points and character arcs.
Here, I want to show you how to read and interpret symbols, but specifically how you can incorporate them into your writing. Because, superstition aside, the tarot is a tool that guides one through their personal spiritual quest.
Cheaper than a therapist, journaling with a tarot deck is a great way to mirror, map, and find your innermost self.
As the tarot’s symbols are the bedrock of our symbolic language (ur-symbols: eggs, trees, phalluses, portals, stuff found drawn on caves), their essences – the questions that bring up are not only spiritual but philosophical. And I think they are vital to good writing.
Storytelling entertains, but when it’s done right, when the reader feels its transcendent magic, something happens. The reader experiences a catharsis, they release emotions that were stuck, sometimes unbeknownst to them, inside their body. Or they experience an epiphany, suddenly understanding a personal puzzle that’s been messing with their inner peace. We have found that children understand the wisdom of symbols in fairy tales subconsciously, without knowing why they get it, but the children feel the truth of these stories’ wisdom in their bones, as though the story were truer than true, realer than real. This is the magic of writing.
Like Hermione, I think divination’s a load of rubbish. But to each their own. Whether or not you believe in the tarot’s magical properties as such matters not for our purposes.
Here, I relate each card (and its symbolism) with a series of characters and plots that fulfill their roles and mirror the meanings of the respective card they’re assigned.
Symbolism adds depth to whatever it touches. Good writing considers the symbolism inside the story’s objects, characters, and plots. The tarot can help you learn and add symbolism to your work easily, and it’s also crazy fun.
The cards will unfold in stages :: First the Aces, then the Major Arcana, followed by the Court Cards and the Minor Arcana.
The Major Arcana :: The Whole She-Bang, a microcosm. Your spiritual quest in a nutshell.
The Aces :: Pure Symbols.
The Court Cards :: Archetypes / Character.
The Minor Arcana :: Plots.
Symbolic images are like doorways leading us to new dimensions of meaning.
Symbols helps us piece together who we are and figure out what we want. They come to us in dreams, in ideas, through art and film, television and advertisements. They are the building blocks of all stories. Wielded correctly, they transport the reader, they inspire the reader to relate, think, and make their own art. (The greatest compliment of them all.)
Like symbols, poetry expresses that which cannot be said. Something realer than real.
Expressing the inexpressible is the je ne sais quoi of what makes art the best.
I live for those divine moments inside the ecstasy of creation, or the rapture you feel when you’re moved by a painting, or when you read line so stunning it hurts.
Each tarot card is covered in specific symbols. A good tarot reader explains the relations of the symbols with one another and relates them to your life. Every individual symbol has a complicated relationship with each of the other symbols in the deck. The balletic dance between the symbols is both endlessly interpretable and easily personalized.
Every card has a few shades to its hue, a kaleidoscope of meanings.
I do not deal with reversals. In other tarot books you’ll see people talking about whether or not it matters when you pull a card and it’s flipped upside-down. That, to me, smells like divination. As I use the tarot to meditate and consider (to write), every symbol has its negative connotations built into its power and cannot be separated. I do not urge you to abandon your practice of reversals, but I do feel as though when you don’t you’re limiting your practice, and yourself, unnecessarily.
The philosopher Jacques Derrida says, “There is always an interplay of absence and presence.” Everything is in constant flux because it’s in a constant dialogue with everything else. Meaning, things are defined in relation to what they are not. Everything is up for interpretation. To interpret is to read. Language is a slippery minx, things only are because of what they are not. So every card in the tarot relies on its brothers and sisters for a sense of wholeness.
Each card has on it a pure symbol, or a specific plot line, or an archetype. An archetype is a person turned into a flat object :: a stereo-type, cliché, or symbol.
“The function of an archetype is to diminish the unique ‘I’ in favor of the collective...An archetype is only an image that has got too big for its boots and bears, at best, a fantasy relation to reality.“Angela Carter
This is why every person is the whole deck, not just one of the archetypes.
Using children’s stories (with some adult ones sprinkled in), we’re going to spin each card around to unpack the myriad facets of its symbolism, attempting to paint a wholistic tableau of essentially what each card represents.
I only know the narratives that I know, my list and interpretations certainly are not exhaustive. Feel free to comment any additions you would like to have seen included.
The Tarot for Writing project is a free online tool to inspire you to turn your readings into art.