Editor’s Note: This post is by Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology contributor Tabitha Dial. Without further ado, I turn the blog over to her.
At TarotCon Denver in June 2015, James Wanless called tarot the gps of the soul. And what is poetry — or intuition, which connects with tarot for many who encounter it — but an act of mobilizing the soul?
We may not consider gps as a tool of locating where we are, but rather, we use it to understand where we are going. Tarot and poetry give us both these perspectives.
Tarot helps us see our patterns and seek the future. Tarot returns us to times past, with card images that recur in readings or that bring to mind dreams, stories, or other diversions, or that spark memories of that woman who looks like the Queen of Swords.
Poetry makes us pause and reflect. Within the first few words of a poem, we may be able to recite the rest. As we read or listen to a poem, we might smell our grandfather’s cigar smoke, as if he were sharing the words again himself, though he has long passed.
Like gps, tarot and poetry comes from everywhere and can point you anywhere. Especially when we do the hard work of creating our own poems, our own futures.
While thousands of decks are available, some with modern twists, and trends, and other more traditional, the archetypes in each deck of 78 tarot cards glow with a universal light. Like poetry, they may be treated playfully or with reverence and seriousness.
Psychology, Archetype, and Tarot
Tarot is a worthy tool for creatives and psychologists. With their rich language of art, symbols, and associations, tarot cards are ripe for both Jungian psychological work and the art of composing poetry.
Carl Jung is noted for his groundbreaking work in depth psychology. He spearheaded active imagination (examining and exploring one’s inner landscape) and the exploration of archetypal figures and images. He called tarot “an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life” in a seminar on March 1, 1933.
A prominent, classic layout for tarot cards is the Celtic Cross. A number of readers use their own variations, but within this layout of ten cards are typically positions to depict what might block you and your situation, forces that may be subconsciously working against you, how you view yourself, and how others view you.
In Holistic Tarot, Benebell Wen wrote “The Celtic Cross spread is to tarot what Beethoven’s Minuet in G is to learning violin … or the sonnet to poetry.” It was used by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn before being published by one of its members, Arthur Edward Waite, in 1910.
Over a century later, the Celtic Cross helps beginning tarot enthusiasts learn how to use its archetypes. Example: The Hermit represents what blocks you and your situation. The Fool subconsciously works against you. The Sun is how you view yourself. The King of Swords represents how others view you.
In name alone, the answers within each archetype have considerable transparency.
The Hermit is a desire or need to be alone, to possibly gather wisdom. The Fool is about a subconscious lack of responsibility or awareness. The Sun indicates that you seem to feel you’re radiant and life-giving. But that perception of yourself doesn’t harmonize with how others see you: The King of Swords can be cold, serious, and distant.
Be Free! How to Write Poems from Tarot
A few things first:
1) Poems and card readings allow for entertainment as well as personal expansion. Write for fun.
2) The design of the tarot deck — or the format of the poem — is purely up to you, the seeker. Both represent personal tools. My personal preference for this work is a deck rich with images, rather than one, like the Thoth deck, which features pip cards that don’t depict detailed situations.
3) Writing tarot poetry allows you to become more intimate with cards you have a relationship with, whether clear or complex. Pick any card that draws you in. Or puzzles you.
4) You may choose to select a card at random or you may walk yourself through the images of the deck until you find a card that interests, irritates, or alarms you. Where there’s a strong reaction, there’s plenty to work with.
To begin writing:
Some of the best advice on how to approach the creative writing process is in Mary Greer’s Tarot for Your Self: Revelations aren’t immediate. Expect more and more understanding about your growth and insights as you return to your writing, and don’t be concerned with what you put down, she wrote. It doesn’t matter if it seems “simplistic or silly … its significance may only be apparent later.”
Don’t censor or criticize yourself as you write. Who’s going to judge you? With a therapist, you are invited to speak freely. Do the same with tarot poetry therapy. As a poet, you can make it all up! Test those waters, too.
More sound advice from Greer: “If you get stuck, write the last word over and over again until a new thought presents itself — and it will.”
Three Ideas for Writing Tarot Poetry
Ideas for writing from the card illustrations include:
1) Record one or all of the five senses the card’s archetype may experience.
2) Voice thoughts from the figure in the card.
3) List the items you see in the card.
Examples of all three, using The High Priestess from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot:
Sense of the High Priestess
My feet should be cold against this floor,
but I am wearing my favorite boots:
fox fur-lined, deer skin, hidden
for their price, their luxury.
Tonight, one sole against the crescent moon.
Thoughts from the High Priestess
I’d rather read
this old scroll
alone, curled up with the cat,
and leave this heavy headdress at the temple.
But this job keeps me
off the streets,
and the pomegranates
are ripe, and free, and plenty.
The High Priestess: List
First, the thrift shop find: a tapestry from a tropical getaway
Second, and unavoidable: the holy woman in blue and white, holding a scroll
Third, a triple goddess headdress hiding a bad hair day
Fourth, a yellow crescent moon (or very big pecan crescent cookie)
Fifth, a well-behaved pool of water
Sixth, unfinished algebra: B + J
Seventh, two columns, one of each end of the color spectrum
Let your humor, and your own life experience, come through. Please remember that modern poetry does not usually rhyme. Don’t worry about rhyme. It often leads to forced writing. As Greer suggests, use “short word pictures”.
Bring More Cards to the Party
You may also enjoy writing from more than one card at once. Consider choosing a predetermined number of cards, with each card inspiring one line of poetry. The tarot cards can be drawn with intention or taken out of the deck randomly.
You could grab a few cards, and write one line each based on how they spark your imagination. Then you may repeat the pattern with the same cards as many times as you like.
The Magician, the Therapist, and the Poet
Poetry is a magician’s art. It’s part creation and part escapism. Letting your creativity run away with tarot archetypes can stir up feelings or ideas that are unexpected or have been buried.
Consider using tarot poetry as therapy. Use it to wrestle surprising feelings or ideas, or situations you are already aware of. Any old struggle can be interpreted — and unraveled — by tarot and poetry.
If you are struggling to find strength in a situation involving work or family life, you may want to select cards that represent this to you: Possibly Strength, Justice, the Devil, and a King, Queen, Knight, or Page or two.
Work with those images and write everything that comes to you.
It’s not expected that your writing flow like a polished poet’s from the get-go. Established wordsmiths revise their work multiple times before it is ready for publication!
Edit later into lines that appeal to you. Cast your words, and your magic spell will be heard.
Tabitha Dial is a tarot, tea leaf reader, and creative mentor in Lexington, Kentucky. She facilitates the Create your Fate (Tarot and more) Meetup and teaches seminars at the Mystical Paranormal Fair once a month. Her poetry has appeared in articles on SpiralNature.com, in “Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology“, and in “Tarot in Culture” Volume Two. You can hear Tabitha read her poems from Arcana in the Listening Corner. Visit North Star Muse for her blog and more.