Welcome! This post is part of the Tarot Jam blog hop. You probably got here by way of Benebell Wen’s post. When you’re ready to move on, you can hop over to Ashley Oppen’s post. If you’d like to see a master list of allllll the participants, click here.
My Tarot Story
My first tarot deck was a Rider-Waite-Smith from Spencer’s Gifts. I was in middle school and Spencer’s was cool. Plus, it was the only place I knew that carried the off-beat ephemera I wanted — like the oujia board my mom bought me during my light-as-a-feather-thick-as-a-board phase. I lived in middle-of-nowhere South Jersey and I didn’t know metaphysical shops were a thing. Online shopping wasn’t a thing then, either.
What drew me to tarot? To be honest, I think I read about it in a book. One of the YA fantasy novels I picked up probably used it as a foreshadowing device. Even back then, I was a poet at heart. The symbolism called to me. I also had a book on different forms of divination, and its reproductions of cards from the Visconti-Sforza and Marseilles decks intrigued me — the figures seemed to be frozen in time, in the middle of actions I didn’t quite understand.
I studied the cards, the little white book, and The Pictorial Key to the Tarot with zeal. I locked myself in my room, lit some candles and an obscene amount of incense, and journaled about the cards. Eventually, this led to a meditation practice. Then, it led to me being interested in Buddhism, modern Paganism, and Jung and the collective unconscious. Ah, tarot — the gateway drug, the impetus to my hodge-podge spirituality.
But as the stressors of late high school hit (and my artistic tastes developed), the RWS illustrations dropped in appeal. The people no longer seemed frozen but static, and I became frustrated. And then I convinced myself that I was being irrational all along. So when I entered the hallowed halls of university, I decided to put all that silly fortunetelling behind me.
It sucks to suppress a magical world view. College was not an easy time for me, and looking back on it, I think abandoning my tarot practice was certainly a contributor to the chaos. I didn’t pick the cards back up again until I was in grad school and my mental health was dangerously close to the precipice. Oddly enough, it was literature that brought me back to the cards. I was writing a review of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, in which tarot features prominently. I thought, hey, maybe I’ll give tarot another shot. I did tons of research (because that’s what I do now) and decided that Patrick Valenza’s Deviant Moon tarot was the deck for me. I was hooked all over again. Valenza’s deck is pure magic. I’ll probably write about it at length in the future, but I’ll say this now: The images are weird and gorgeous and appeal to my twisted sense of humor. His vision of the tarot felt much more cohesive to me than the RWS deck every did. When I picked up this deck, I experienced a return to self.
And herein lies the paradox of tarot: Although it may seem a bit nuts to other people, nothing has ever made me feel more sane.
I’ll be honest with you: I don’t know how the cards work. I have my theories. Some of them are more rational than others. They’re mostly based on the power of archetypes and storytelling — We’re constantly telling the stories of our selves, and I think tarot challenges us to revise those stories. In this way, tarot is an excellent tool for introspection and even therapy.
On the other hand, I also have a healthy respect for chance. We don’t have knowledge of a set future (well, maybe not all of us do), so in this respect, I tip my hat to the higher powers. We’re not always in control, and that’s OK. During a tarot reading, it doesn’t matter what cards are dealt, I can always do something with them.
A Poet’s Tarot Spread
Lately I’ve been working on consciously integrating my tarot and writer selves… hence this shiny new blog! On most days, I meditate on a single card, but I’ve found it difficult to write a poem prompted by that card. The words on the page end up crap, cliche, or just plain gibberish. It happens to the best of us, I suppose. (Please tell me I’m not alone).
The trouble is that a tarot card doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It thrives on socializing with the other 77 cards in the deck. As a solution to my little problem, I’ve created a 3-card spread to kick start the poet’s creative process. It’s quite simple:
- The Noun – This card should prompt you to choose an initial object of focus. For example, if you pulled the Knight of Pentacles, perhaps your poem would start with a steady, reliable horse.
- The Verb – This card will tell you what the noun is up to. For example, if you pull the 3 of Cups, perhaps the horse is waiting outside while its owner is celebrating.
- The Turn – In the sonnet, it’s called a volta; in a haiku, it’s called a kireji. Basically, it’s the point where the poem shifts or cuts away from the established pattern. If you pull an 8 of Cups, perhaps the horse chooses to wander away from its post outside the party. You could also look at the Turn card as the Obstacle or Challenge. Maybe the 8 of Cups is a patch of grass just out of the horse’s reach… (This has turned into such a weird example! FYI, I almost never write poems about horses).
This spread is really flexible. Follow the cards’ imagery, follow your instincts. If you write any poems with it, please feel free to share in the comments!
Well, that’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed your stay here. Please hop on over to Ashley Oppen’s blog for some more tarot fun.