Every tarot reader knows that it’s not enough to have simply learned the “meanings” of the tarot cards – for most readers, the meanings they find and attribute to the cards themselves are of far more importance than the traditional meanings or the ones given in the guidebook which came with your deck. Using your tarot cards to create short stories is a wonderful way of connecting with the cards, and of spotting hidden links and symbolism you can then transfer to your real readings.
To give this a go, you’ll need a notebook, your tarot cards, a pen and an open mind. Choose a deck which is full of imagery, as it’s much harder to do this with plainer decks. Sort your deck into three piles – the court cards, the minor arcana and the major arcana – and shuffle each one thoroughly.
Every good story needs a protagonist. Select a card unseen from your pile of court cards. This page, knight, queen or king is going to be the main character in your story. Take a good look at the card, and at this person you’re about to bring to life. Forget for a moment any interpretations you’ve studied for this card. Look at the figure carefully. Note the colour of his or her hair, the stance they’re taking, the expression on their face, the colour and style of clothes they’re wearing. What assumptions can you make about this person’s character, goals and attitudes purely from what you see in the card? Are they holding anything or doing anything? What does that add to your sense of who they are? Note this all down briefly – go with your gut instincts throughout this exercise, and don’t dwell on what you’re “supposed” to know about this card.
So, you have your protagonist. Now they need something to do. Typically, good fiction begins with a character facing a problem, a dilemma or a challenge. There has to be a point of tension, or there is no story to follow. Select a card unseen from the minor arcana pile. This is the problem your character finds themselves facing. Don’t be confused if the card you have drawn is a positive one – as well all know, you can have too much of a good thing. If your character finds themselves facing the ten of cups, they may have lost their purpose in life through “having it all”, or perhaps they’re so preoccupied with seeking the good life that they’ve forgotten to value what they already have.
Examine this “problem” card carefully. Again, go beyond what you already know about the traditional meaning of this card. Look deeply into the picture. What can you see? What are the predominant colours or feelings of the card? What is the weather like? Are the are any animals or plants? What is the setting? Visualise this “problem” as clearly as you can in your mind, making full use of your instincts and your knowledge of symbolism. Make brief notes as you go along.
Now, here’s the slightly tricky bit. Synthesise what you have understood from these two cards. Knowing your character’s personality, how will he or she deal with the problem dealt to them? Imagine whatever scenario seems to make sense – be creative about how your character gets through this issue.
Having seen your character safely through one problem, is that it? No! In fiction, just as the character appears to have solved their problem, another one usually pops up, resulting from their own actions, to stretch the tension just that little bit further. You need to draw another card, unseen, from the minor arcana pile. What is your character facing now? Go through the same examination of the new card. Can you draw any links between your character’s actions in facing the first problem, and the situation they now find themselves in? How will this character, given his or her personality, react now? Let your imagination loose, and help your character work out how to solve their second problem.
The good news is that now your character (and you) get a reprieve, of sorts. With both problematic situations resolved, it’s time to see what your character has learned from his or her experiences. Draw a final card, again unseen, and this time from the major arcana pile. This card represents the wisdom your character has accumulated at this point. As ever, examine the card very carefully and go beyond the textbook interpretation. It’s perfectly OK – good, in fact – to go off at a complete tangent from what the card is supposed to mean. If it’s a positive card, it’s easy (ish) to figure out what lessons your court card has learned; if it’s the Tower, perhaps, you might struggle a little more, but remember that every card in the tarot has a positive significance in some way, even if some are better hidden than others. Make notes about what your character has gained in strength during this process.
And relax. You’ve exercised your imagination thoroughly here, but more importantly, you’ve probably spotted symbolism and links between cards which hadn’t “clicked” for you before. Review your notes and you’ll be surprised at what jumps out at you. This is quite a demanding tarot exercise, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and it really does help with intuitive reading. Happy story telling!