Showing posts with label tarot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tarot. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 3

Plot Wheels And The Tarot: Part 2 of 2

Plot Wheels And The Tarot: Part 2 of 2

On Monday I wrote about using the tarot as a kind of plot wheel, something to help spark ideas, to help create a structure for a story. (see:  Plot Wheels And The Tarot) This structure would simply be a starting point, an intuition pump not a straight-jacket. 

Also, as I said Monday, don’t worry too much about the meanings traditionally associated with the cards. Look at the artwork and let your imagination go. (For this exercise it helps to have a richly illustrated deck such as the Rider-Wait deck illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith.)

As we saw yesterday, our protagonist—let’s call her Regan—wants material success (IV of Disks); that’s her initial goal. Which is going to be difficult. She has good intentions but, like Hamlet, has the tendency to overthink things (VIII of Swords). If she doesn’t get over this and act when the time is right then her dreams will die (X of Swords).

Let’s forge ahead now and look at the stakes, at what Regan will get if she wins and what she’ll lose if she doesn’t.

5. The Stakes: What the protagonist could win: VI of Cups

The VI of Cups signifies pleasure. The way I read this card, this pleasure isn’t quite the kind of pleasure that comes from acquisition of material things, this is the kind of pleasure found (hopefully) at the end of life; the Greeks called it eudaemonia. It involves looking back on one’s past and feeling a quiet kind of contentment, perhaps even of pride. To my mind, this is close to the ultimate happiness.

But the VI of Cups comes with a warning. The way I read this card, there is the possibility of illusion creeping in, one seeing one’s past the way one would like it to have been rather than how it actually was.

How this card applies to the spread: Regan could win more than she knows. She could gain far more than the fleeting happiness that comes from acquiring baubles, if only she can stay focused.  

6. The Stakes: What the protagonist could lose: IV of Wands

We’ve seen what Regan could win, now let’s look at what she could lose. The IV of Wands speaks of completion. This card in the Rider-Waite deck reminds me of a wedding, of nuptials. 

As in the Princess Bride, what is at stake is nothing less than true love. If Regan can stop overthinking things and muster the strength of will to meet the obstacles before her head on then, like Princess Buttercup, she has a chance at true happiness. But if she falters she could lose everything: her shot at true love, her job and even her life.

7. A tool or gift that could help the protagonist defeat the opposition and attain her goal: III of Cups.

The three of cups is about abundance. In this context, it seems to me that the card signifies generosity. There are times to be frugal and then there are times to let out all the stops. In order to overcome the obstacles before her, Regan must give 110 percent. If she holds anything back, if she falters, then ruin (X of Swords) awaits her.

8. A person, situation or personality trait that the protagonist must overcome (/integrate) if they are to achieve their goal: The Tower.

Even though, as I said Monday, I don’t believe tarot cards are magical, whenever The Tower comes up in a spread I catch my breath. To me, The Tower signifies a stripping away of the (generally false) securities we have surrounded ourselves with. The Tower speaks to a ripping away of masks, an unraveling of our personal armor.

The tower destroys our safe place, it overwhelms us and strips us of our (often dysfunctional) ways of coping. There is no safe place.

Not a comfortable, safe, cuddly card!

In in the context of our spread—of the protagonist’s arc—what could The Tower mean? I think it refers to the antagonist. This is just the function of the antagonist in the story. At some point the hero/protagonist comes to her lowest point. Everything has been stripped away from her, all her clever ways of coping. 

This process is painful but, in the end, it can prove to be a good thing. Some of those ways of coping might have been destructive (overeating, drug use, filling one’s life with work so one doesn’t have to think, and so on). 

In order for the protagonist to meet the antagonist head on and leave victorious Regan must ditch her old, harmful, ways of coping. She must die to her old self, her old ways, and come back transformed.

9. Final Situation: II of Cups.

The II of Cups is one of my favorite cards. For me, it signifies not only true love, but a blended, harmonious, enlightened, life. This is the card of the Renaissance man/woman. 

Since we decided this was to be a love story, this card tells us we’ll have a happy-ever-after ending.

10. Protagonist’s end state: The Empress

But Regan is about much more than her relationships. In the end, living happily-ever-after is a consequence of the changes in herself. The lovers come together in the end because of the growth and changes in Regan.

I see The Empress, in the context of our story, as signifying creation. We saw that Regan’s main internal flaw was her hesitancy, her anxiety, her inability to choose one course of action and stick with it (VIII of Swords). By the end of the story her defenses were stripped away (The Tower) forcing her to be decisive or face ruin (X of Swords). she has overcome this and, now, is equipped to bring about (/create) her version of the world. She is able to focus on her dreams, her plans, and make them reality.

That’s it! This was a general analysis, a template that can be realized in many different ways. If something in it inspired you, please take it and use it!

I’m curious, have you ever used tarot cards when trying to create a character? Have you ever pulled a few cards in an effort to kickstart your creativity and spin a story? 

Photo credit: The Healing Process by Sean McGrath under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, December 1

Plot Wheels And The Tarot

Plot Wheels And The Tarot

Ever since I first saw the tarot—it was my friend’s mother’s Rider-Waite deck—I’ve been interested in the history of the tarot. Recently I’ve been thinking about how I could use tarot cards as a kind of plot wheel. (see: NaNoWriMo, Erle Stanley Gardner, Perry Mason and Plot Wheels)

But, first, a disclaimer. For me tarot cards, though beautiful and thought provoking, and though they have a rich history, are simply cards: rectangles of paper printed with colorful inks and published by U.S. Games Systems Inc. They are no more intrinsically magical than a box of Cheerios.

But there’s no reason why we can’t use the Tarot as a creative aid. So, in that spirit, I put together a card spread intended to help writers prime their idea pumps. 

The Writer’s Tarot: A Character Arc

Choosing a protagonist

I was thinking—keeping with the theme of the tarot—of talking about the Decans and using Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s descriptions to help generate a character, but I’ve decided to go with a more modern approach. has a number of terrific random generators, you might want to try out the one for characters. Also, check out the character generator, as well as the skills and abilities generator, over at Seventh Sanctum. (Warning! These sites are time sinks.)

Remember, we don’t have to make all our decisions about the character right away. Her outlines will likely become clearer once we start thinking about the shape of the story.

The character I’ve picked for this example is as follows:

“A fun-loving 27 year-old woman, who comes from a wealthy background, lives in a country cottage and tends to worry a lot.”

The Spread

(Click on the picture to enlarge)

That’s not terribly informative so I’ll do an example spread and step through it card by card.

The Cards

1. The starting state in the Ordinary World: VI of Swords

2. Initial Goal: IV of Pentacles

3. The internal obstacle to the initial goal: VIII of Swords

4. The external obstacle to the initial goal: X of Swords

5. Stakes: Win: VI of Cups

6. Stakes: Lose: IV Wands

7. A tool or gift that could help the protagonist defeat the opposition and attain her goal: III of Cups

8. A person, situation or personality trait that the protagonist must overcome (deal with/integrate) if they are to achieve their goal: The Tower.

9. Final Situation: II Cups

10. Protagonist’s end state: The Empress

Choose the genre

I think part of the key to success here is to let your own creativity take the lead and not to be too concerned with the meanings that have been associated with the cards. Remember, we’re just using the cards as a guide, as an intuition pump. If you would like to completely ignore the traditional meanings and come up with your own based on the card itself and what those images suggest to you, please do!

There are two kinds of cards in tarot decks: majors (or trumps) and minors. In most modern decks there are 21 trump cards which reflect universal themes and minor cards which reflect personal themes. The minor cards are divided into four suits: wands, cups, swords and disks (or pentacles). 

Although you can make up whatever meanings you like for the suits, here are a few commonly accepted associations:

Wands --> Work, Business
Cups --> Love, marriage, pleasure
Swords --> Trouble, loss, scandal, quarreling
Pentacles/Disks --> Money, goods & purely personal matters

Interpreting the spread

First, let’s look at the general distribution of cards:

Wands: 1
Cups: 3
Swords: 3
Disks: 1
Trumps: The Tower, The Empress

When I look at this spread I see cups. Yes, there are the same number of cups as swords, but the II of Cups in the 9th position combined with The Empress as the protagonist’s end state suggests (to me at least) a love story.

Stepping through the spread

1. The Ordinary World: VI of Swords 

The first card indicates the starting state of the character. What is the single biggest influence on them?

Here we have the six of swords. This is the Science card or, alternatively, the Lord of Learned Success. It indicates that our protagonist’s intelligence as well as her sense of right and wrong is balanced. She can see the solution to a problem and also has the guts to do the right thing. But her intelligence and courage are about to be put to the test.

What this means: The protagonist’s life, her world, is in balance. She’s at a good place, all systems normal, and she’s grown comfortable coasting along. 

(Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter to me if my imagination carries me away from the traditional meaning of the card. This is all about generating ideas. The cards are only starting points.)

2. The protagonist’s initial goal: IV of Pentacles

The four of pentacles has to do with material gain, with wealth maintained by law and order.

In our spread this card has to do with the protagonist’s initial goal. This card tells us what she’s shooting for. She wants riches, wealth, the American Dream. This card also reminds us that her success, if achieved, may be fleeting.

3. The main internal obstacle to the protagonist’s success: VIII of Swords.

In most stories there is both an internal and external obstacle to the protagonist achieving her goal. The card we’ve drawn for the internal obstacle is the eight of swords.

The protagonist is anxious. I’m going to say that the protagonist has trouble with anxiety. She either feels paralyzed and can’t make up her mind or else keeps changing her mind, trying out one new thing then another. If she continues like this, she won’t be able to attain her goal.

Since we saw at the beginning that the protagonist’s life was in balance, we can infer that something has occurred since then to shatter this balance. This something is the Inciting Incident. (Information about the Inciting Incident isn’t included in the current spread.)

4. The main external obstacle to the protagonist’s success: X of Swords.

This is the external obstacle to the protagonist’s goal of living the good life; that is, of filling her life with material riches.

Many people see the death card, the 13th trump, as indicating the end of life when, actually, it only indicates a profound change. Unfortunately, if one wants to welcome something new into one’s life—a new job, a new outlook on life—one often needs to first get rid of the old job, the old way of thinking. One thing needs to die for another to be born.

The ten of swords, though, indicates ruin. And, yes, sometimes death. This is not a feel-good card. 

So—thinking about how this card could fit into our love story—I’m going to take it that the external obstacle to our protagonist’s dream of material success is something that could either kill her or kill her dream by permanently cutting her off from her goal.

Summary of the story so far

This post is a bit long, so I’ll complete my analysis in the next one. Here’s what we have so far:

This is a love story so the antagonist/nemesis is the man (or woman) the protagonist will fall in love with. But this can’t happen right away; if the protagonist and antagonist aren’t kept apart there will be no story. (Girl and boy see each other, fall madly in love, and ride off into the sunset together isn’t going to keep anyone turning pages!) So, although the protagonist feels irresistibly drawn to the antagonist, she needs to realize he is all kinds of wrong for her. She thinks: Whoever I end up with, it’s not going to be him.

The protagonist wants material success so let’s have it that the man she’s drawn to isn’t wealthy. Perhaps he’s a scientist. Although he makes a decent wage he’s too focused on, say, developing a cheap, biodegradable fuel that will save the environment to worry about money. 

That’s it for today! I’ll pick this up in my next post.

Update: The next and final part of this two part series is here: Plot Wheels And The Tarot: Part 2 of 2.

In this post I’ve played fast and lose with the traditional meanings assigned to tarot cards but if you’d like to learn more about the traditional meanings, the origins of the tarot, and so on, I would recommend  Robert Wang’s book “The Qabalistic Tarot.”

Photo credit: "I_Ching" by Cristian C under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Friday, September 13

Using Tarot Cards To Tell A Story

Using Tarot Cards To Tell A Story

I thought I'd write about something a bit different today.

Years ago, an acquaintance told me she thought numbers had meaning. Although I didn't share her belief, I was intrigued. Next, she told me the meaning of numbers told a story.

A story! That did interest me and I scooted to the edge of my seat.

She laughed and told me the story and, though it was interesting and I promised myself I'd remember, I promptly forgot it.


This morning I went shopping with a friend who bought a deck of tarot cards. Later, while she was making coffee and puttering around her kitchen, I picked up the tarot cards and flipped through the major arcana, starting with The Magician.

At that moment my friend's story came back to me and I realized something. The meaning of the numbers from one to ten seemed to be a close analogy for something else: The hero's journey.

I'll lay out my reasoning below, do tell me what you think in the comments.

(Please keep in mind I'm not claiming numbers have meaning; in fact, I don't think they do. What interested me was the similarity of the one story to the other.)

The Hero And The Fool

1. The Unaccomplished, Unrealized, Hero

Number 1: The thing itself without division or differentiation of any kind. Pure, raw, potential. (By the way, all my information about the meaning of numbers was drawn from the links on this page over at

This is from at
"... the Magician implies that the primal forces of creativity are yours if you can claim your power and act with awareness and concentration."

Hero's Journey: The Hero in the Ordinary World

The hero in the ordinary world is at the beginning of his journey. He hasn't yet claimed his power and does not act with awareness.

The hero is untried, untested; a diamond in the rough.

The hero has the capacity for great bravery, for acts of courage, but none of that has manifested yet. One day he may be able to slay dragons but that day is not today.

2. The Hero Starts His Journey

Number 2: Duality. Division. Instinctual knowledge. The energy of (1) gets direction.

Hero's Journey: The Call to Adventure

In this second stage what was metaphorical becomes literal. The hero literally gets a new direction with the call to adventure.

For example, Indiana Jones is asked to find the ark of the covenant (Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark), Joan Wilder must ransom her sister (Romancing the Stone), Frodo must destroy a ring of power (The Lord of the Rings).

As with the biblical story of Jonah, our hero may refuse the Call to Adventure at first, but, eventually, something will happen (in Jonah's case, being swallowed by a whale and stewing in gastric juices for a few days) to change his mind.

3. The Hero Enters the Special World

Number 3: The number three brings balance to the two opposites. One can also think of 3 as the child of 1 and 2; in this sense, 3 can be thought of as having been birthed by them. It is a newborn that needs nursing, developing.

Hero's Journey: Entering The Special World

Christopher Vogler, in his wonderful book, The Writer's Journey, puts it this way,
"It [the Special World] is a new and sometimes frightening experience for the hero. No matter how many schools he has been through, he's a freshman all over again in this new world."
Vogler also notes that "the Special World should strike a sharp contrast the the Ordinary World."

So here we have the hero entering a new situation, a new world, with different rules. It is completely unfamiliar. What used to be his strengths in the Ordinary World are weaknesses here and what were weaknesses are now strengths (think Alice in Wonderland).

To sum up: the hero enters a new world that is completely different.

4. The Hero Trains, Becomes Something New

Number 4: If the number 3 is a new thing then the number 4 is the new thing matured. It can be successful, or not. The number 4 is about maintaining what has been created, about building a strong structure.

Hero's Journey: The Hero Finds His Footing.

The hero finds her legs in the new world, she learns how things are, is tested, finds some allies and makes more than a few enemies. Through her journeys, her trials and tribulations, she starts to grow into her own.

5. The Ordeal: The Hero Confronts His Nemesis And Loses Something

Number 5: Something is lost. This could be momentum, love, money, friendship, whatever, but something that was gained in (4) is lost. Also, though, one becomes stronger because of the ordeal.

The hero goes through the trial (usually) victorious. He loses something, but he is made stronger.

The is part of the wikipedia entry for The Hierophant:
"The negative aspect of The Hierophant is well illustrated by the myth of Procrustes. Procrustes was a man (or a monster) living in the mountains of Greece. He invited weary travelers into his home, washed the dust off their feet, provided a meal, and let them lie on his bed. If they were too big for his bed, he cut them to size. If they were too small, he stretched them to fit. At last, Theseus came through the mountains and accepted Procrustes’s seemingly kind offer. When Procrustes tried to cut him to fit, Theseus killed him, making the road safe. In this way, the Hierophant is like Freud’s superego. It shapes us, sometimes brutally. This shaping is necessary for us to become who we are." (Wikipedia)
I would add that not only the shaping, but rebelling against the shaping, is what brings us into our own. It is the fight against the monster that makes us, as the saying goes, "come into our power".

If the hero never fights the monster, never engages it, the hero will never realize his full potential.

Or something like that! (grin)

So here we have a confrontation, like what happens between the protagonist and the antagonist midway through a story, what Vogler calls the Ordeal. Because of the battle something is lost (in the case of Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark it was Indiana's freedom) and something is gained (he gets his lady love, Miriam, back).

(In the tale of Procrustes the Pitiless, although Theseus doesn't lose anything, many of Procrustes's other 'guests' do.)

Okay, that's it for today. I'll go through stages 6 through 10 on Monday.

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Personally, I don't put any stock in numerology or the tarot, but I love stories and it seems to me that the cards of, for instance, the Rider-Waite tarot deck, tell a story. Also, I'm intrigued by the possibility they could be used to help us create our own stories.

In any case, since this blog is about anything and everything to do with story--anything that will help us create better, more inventive ones--I thought I'd share!

Good writing, see you Monday. Cheers!

Photo credit: "RWS Tarot 00 Fool.jpg" by Pamela Coleman Smith (published 1909) via This image is not under copyright in the US.