Tag Archives: poetry

Review: Ordinary Magic by Alison Stone

stone-poetry-bookI fell in love with Alison Stone’s poetry in early 2014, when she submitted three pieces for inclusion in Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology. In August of 2016—one year after Arcana’s release—Stone’s book of 78 Tarot poems, Ordinary Magic, was published by NYQ Books. I am delighted to recommend her collection to lovers of Tarot, myth, and language.

Each card of the Tarot deck is represented poetically in Ordinary Magic, and the book is split into five sections: the Major Arcana and the four suits of the Minor Arcana (Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles). Stone’s poetic renderings—essentially one-card readings in verse—give the reader a deeper understanding of each card, which makes her book a wonderful resource for novice and experienced cartomancers alike.

In the Major Arcana section, archetypes and symbols are given voices, become the “I” of their respective poems. The Empress is embodied with sensuous details; she says the “languid sun / honeys my skin” and “fingering / the pearls and planets draped / around my neck, I recline.” The Charioteer speaks: “I am a language without adjectives, a diamond / in the setting of itself.” The reader hears a confession of the High Priest, as well as the voice of the coiled snake in the Lovers card and the voice of the Tower itself.

Alison Stone

Alison Stone

Stone utilizes both free verse and formal structures throughout Ordinary Magic. For instance, her use of the ouroboros-like pantoum form beautifully reflects the Wheel of Fortune’s peripeteia, and the entire Major Arcana section comes full circle to include the same line—“zero is an egg that holds all numbers”—in the first poem (“0. The Fool”) and last poem (“XXI. The World”).

In the Minor Arcana section, mythical stories are cast alongside memories. One example is the story of a retired Hercules as the King of Wands placed a few card-poems away from a story about the narrator’s brother in the Ten of Wands. This juxtaposition shows how a reader can draw meaning from both modern and mythical storytelling; many experienced Tarot readers categorize quotidian stories as cards (“well, that was a Ten of Wands kind of day,” a Tarotist might say). Stone explicitly writes about this connection in her Six of Cups poems, titled “6. Missing”:

Memory’s turned you
mythic. The only one
to find the lake and show how wind
makes one rock’s ripples infinite.

This connection is also found in the theme of matrilineal bonds, which is threaded throughout the Minor Arcana poems. Lilith and her daughter appearing as the Queen of Pentacles and the Queen of Wands, respectively, are juxtaposed with the narrator’s daughter, mother, and grandmother appearing in poems about the Queen of Swords, Nine of Swords, Seven of Wands, and Four of Wands. The title of the latter, “Tether,” speaks to how the women are bound together, and Stone uses umbilical cord imagery to tie the metaphorical with a literal maternal link. She expands on this theme in her Nine of Pentacles poem, “My Mother Graduates from ‘Model Mugging’”:

I am back in childhood, the same person
as my mother, one woman
with two names.

Two of Cups 18x12

Two of Cups from the Stone Tarot

In addition to storge (familial love), eros (romantic love) flows throughout the book, although this love is often fraught. When the Ten of Cups turns up in the poem titled “Tenth Anniversary,” love between the narrator and her husband “crouched just out of reach.” In the aforementioned Six of Cups poem and the poem about the Six of Pentacles (“First Pomegranate”), the narrator speaks of queer love, saying she “always thought” she “didn’t fancy women” but “no one is that heterosexual…your voice, your hair. / My hunger.”

In the non-mythic or modern-as-mythic poems, the narrator is a mature woman, aged “Forty-Seven” in the Four of Cups, who saw “Divorce Court” in the Three of Swords, and has lost her 92-year-old grandmother as well as her much younger mother. This is a welcome and uncommon narrator; we need more stories from women who are no longer twentysomethings, because the media is oversaturated and obsessed with women in their twenties.

Ordinary Magic is a beautiful collection of spiritual poems that are both lyric and narrative, just like the Tarot. If you are looking for a unique gift for the winter holidays, you can pick up Alison Stone’s book at Small Press Distribution.

Also, you can hear her read Tarot poems that appear in both Ordinary Magic and Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology in the Listening Corner, and read more about Stone in her Featured Poet blog post and on her website.

A Conversation with Sierra Nelson

Happy August! This month, Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology celebrates its birthday. In honor of this occasion, I chatted with Arcana contributor Sierra Nelson about Tarot in Italy, teaching Tarot poetry workshops, familial Tarot traditions, and more.

Marjorie Jensen: How are you doing this morning?

Sierra Nelson: I’m doing pretty well. It’s sunny but not yet too hot in Seattle. How are you doing?

MJ: I’m doing ok. I remember Seattle being beautiful when I visited last summer.

SN: It’s true — summers here are great! Not that rainy, long Northern clime days. I’m happy to have more summer here to enjoy.

MJ: Was the weather nicer in Italy? Or about the same this time of year?

Niki de Saint Phalle's Tarot Garden - The Tower, photo by Sierra Nelson

Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden – The Tower, photo by Sierra Nelson

SN: Much hotter in Italy! And the sun seems more powerful. But somehow in Italy I don’t mind it. Maybe it’s the gelato and siesta that make it seem more civilized. If it gets that hot in Seattle it seems unbearable. Even with ice cream.

MJ: Ah gelato and siesta! Where all did you get to go in Italy? You were based in Rome for the writing program, correct?

SN: Yes, Rome was the home base for the program (a creative writing intensive), with classrooms at University of Washington’s Rome Center. But we did some field trips outside of the city as a group, and also independently during a midpoint break. With the group I got to return to Il Parco dei Mostri (Park of Monsters, the late Renaissance garden of Bomarzo) in the Lazio region. And with my poet friends co-leading the program, Rebecca Hoogs and Johnny Horton, we visited Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden in Tuscany during our break. (Which I had never been to before.)

MJ: This all sounds lovely! I’m fascinated by everything Italian (my Italian-American mom is the first generation in her family to be born in America). What was the Tarot Garden like?

SN: The tarot garden was interesting — like being able to walk around inside someone’s dream inspired by the major arcana. Niki de Saint Phalle was a French artist but she befriended some Italians who gave her the land to build her giant tarot-inspired sculptures and buildings. She began the project in the late 1970’s and built for decades. Her career began to take off in the 1960’s and I think you can feel that aesthetic in the work, especially in the colors. And the 1970’s too, with so many mirrors!

Niki de Saint Phalle's Tarot Garden - The Sun and The Hierophant in the forefront, photo by Sierra Nelson

Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden – The Sun and The Hierophant in the forefront, photo by Sierra Nelson

MJ: Ooo, the mirrors make me think of the Tyldwick Tarot. Do you bring a deck with you when you travel? Did you do any tarot readings in the Tarot Garden or other places in Italy?

SN: I do often travel with a deck, in case. Some trips I use them more than others. I actually didn’t do any readings at the tarot garden — it felt more like I was receiving a reading just by walking around the grounds. I loved how being there emphasized the journey and encounter aspects of the tarot. Exploring the grounds, you would suddenly come upon a strange building or large-scale figure and think, “Oh hello! Who is this? What are you trying to tell me?” It puts you in the role of the fool. (Maybe that’s why it felt joyful, even as some of her imagery was intense, and reading more about her and her life afterwards added to that sense of intensity.)

I did a few readings on this trip with the deck I had brought, but as a class we also made a deck together, divvying up all 78 cards as blank pages, and writing our own text (with optional drawings) while exploring the Parco dei Mostri and other field trip sites.

Then the group could ask questions of our collective set of cards / little poems throughout the program. It was fun.

MJ: How cool! I very much like the communal oracle as creative project! Which deck did you bring?

SN: This year I brought two decks — the Hanson Roberts deck (which I’ve had for quite awhile and am fond of) and the Wild Unknown, which I am just getting to know. When you travel do you bring a particular deck? And when you teach tarot poetry workshops, what are some of your favorite ways to approach the tarot-poetry hybrid space?

MJ: When traveling, I generally bring the Wizards Tarot and a second deck. I’ve been sending Tarot letters with single cards from the Wizards to my family and friends, and they like it when I come and read with the whole deck in person.

SN: What happens in a tarot letter? Do you send the actual card in the mail?

Judgement cards, photo by Marjorie Jensen

Judgement cards, photo by Marjorie Jensen

MJ: Yes! I originally had two copies of the Wizards deck, and one copy I split up and have been mailing with handwritten one-card readings. I taught this epistolary technique in one of my tarot writing workshops. But I think the best activity I’ve come up with is bringing in a bunch of decks and having students compare different versions of the same card to inspire their own poetic version of the card.

SN: Woa! That’s exciting, to receive the physical card itself in the mail. So eventually the split up deck depletes? The pack unfolds its story throughout time and the people you write to, until it’s all told?

MJ: Yes!

SN: It is fun to compare versions of a card. It feels like etymology — each word carrying its typical usage, and historical threads, and sometimes new spins as well, reclaiming.

MJ: I feel like it puts the writer in the role of tarot artist — connects the visuals with language. And language springs from the visual — so etymological too!

SN: Which connects to my (admittedly biased) opinion that poets give the best tarot readings. Maybe because of the emphasis on image, rather than just interpretation. Poets create a little world from the symbols so that you can feel the details, and connect them to your own question or difficulty.

MJ: I agree! The best tarot readings are poetic.

SN: Yes! The poetic reading — the unfolding of the images is also part of it. I’m not saying I give the best tarot readings — but I’ve enjoyed more deeply readings from tarot readers I know who are also working poets.

MJ: There’s a lot of overlap! I’m interested in how some of the Arcana contributors primarily identify as tarot readers and how others are primarily working poets. Do you consider yourself primarily a writer or tarot reader?

Sierra Nelson, photo by Rebecca Hoogs

Sierra Nelson, photo by Rebecca Hoogs

SN: I definitely identify as a writer more than a tarot reader.

MJ: When did you start identifying as a writer and when did you start studying tarot?

SN: I started writing poetry when I was about 7 and have always loved language. I studied literature as an undergrad with a creative writing emphasis, though it was probably not until after college that I thought of myself as a writer. For tarot, my aunt does readings for people and it’s always been something I’ve been curious about, but I think it wasn’t until college that I found a deck that I really took to and started to find it easier to do readings for myself and others. But I don’t know if I would identify myself as a tarot reader in the same way.

What about you — how did writing and tarot come into your life? When did they feel like they were more a part of you?

MJ: I like that tarot came to you through your aunt! It seems to often be a female tradition and one of the few fields dominated by women. My mom and (paternal) grandmother both read cards. Mom read tarot; grandma read playing cards. But my grandmother gave it up quickly after accurately predicting someone’s death (my mom kept it up somewhat after accurately predicting a death).

I’ve been writing little poems and things for as long as I can remember. Mom gave me my first tarot deck at 14. I think I really started to identify as a writer when I switched my major in college from dance to English (creative writing). This is kind of funny now, because I’m teaching choreographed ballroom dance instead of creative writing at the moment.

SN: There’s a lot of connection between dance and poetry too. Have you considered choreographing a series of tarot dances? That could be exciting!

MJ: I actually wrote an experimental piece using dance choreography that will be published this month! It’s coming out in the lit journal run by another Arcana contributor, Shloka.

I don’t want to take up too much of your time! But I would like to hear a little more about how you created one of the poems that’s in Arcana — “The Fours” — in the Italian Park of Monsters. Was this experience like the Tarot Garden in that the statues were your oracle?

SN: I’m looking forward to your experimental dance piece!

And yes, the imagery in each of the sections of “The Fours” came from a different statue or area in the Bomarzo Park of Monsters. Keeping in mind each of the suits’ elements, I walked around the grounds until I found a statue that intrigued me and seemed somehow right. I then wrote about it, describing what I saw and considering the suit I was connecting it to, and from there I whittled down my notes to just one small moment or image. For example, the Four of Wands was inspired by this exciting sculpture: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Bomarzo_parco_mostri_orco.jpg

MJ: Very cool!

SN: I’m not sure if you can see it in the picture but on the upper lip of the giant’s mouth it says in Italian, “All Thoughts Fly.”

Bomarzo Parco dei Mostri - Sierra exiting the mouth of the giant (a.k.a. Orcus), photo by Christopher Weber

Bomarzo Parco dei Mostri – Sierra exiting the mouth of the giant (a.k.a. Orcus), photo by Christopher Weber

MJ: That’s amazing! I love that.

Thank you so much! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

SN: It’s been lovely getting this chance to talk with you too. Thank you for putting together such an inspiring anthology. It’s an honor to be a part of it.

MJ: It’s been such a wonderful experience for me to create the book! I’m going to commemorate it by getting a tattoo of the logo I’ve been using for it (my Twitter avatar, part of this image). Thanks again for being part of the book!

Here is one of the poems Sierra contributed to the anthology:


Bomarzo Parco dei Mostri - The Elephant (one of the statues that inspired "The Fours"), photo by Sierra Nelson

Bomarzo Parco dei Mostri – The Elephant (one of the statues that inspired “The Fours”), photo by Sierra Nelson

Four of Coins
You have stepped down from your niche
to compose a poem of shadows
while your fellow statues
work on their decomposition.

Four of Cups
Like a fish with human teeth
chomping merrily through the sea
your cup runneth over
the whole world.

Four of Wands
Everything you whisper inside the giant’s mouth
is amplified to everyone partying in the garden.
Not such a bad fate, my dear.
The giant’s tongue becomes our dancing table.

Four of Swords
Your ideas carry you like a dutiful elephant.
But look again:
how powerfully a trunk now has wound around you,
how ready to trample.

You can hear Sierra read “The Fours” here.

To learn more about Sierra, check out her website: http://songsforsquid.tumblr.com/

You can purchase Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology through the publisher’s website, Elliott Bay Book Company, Amazon, and other stores.

A Brief Meditation on Rhyme and Magick

Linestrider Tarot by Siolo Thompson

Linestrider Tarot by Siolo Thompson

Why do spells and other rituals use rhymes? Rhymes, especially rhyming couplets, feature prominently in existing magical texts and are recommended in books and classes that teach spell-craft. However, many modern poets writing in English avoid rhyme and some literary journals even specifically request that submissions do not include rhyming verse. Despite this disparity, there are pagans and magicians who are successful poets (including contributors to Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology).

Musicality is one reason why magick contains heavy rhymes. Spells and rituals are generally oral performances, and their words can often be sung as well as spoken. Rhyming couplets, which are scarce in the contemporary literary community, are abundant in song lyrics. For instance, “That Old Black Magic”:

Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

That old black magic’s got me in its spell
that old black magic that you weave so well
those icy fingers up and down my spine
the same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.

The same old tingle that I feel inside
and when that elevator starts its ride
darling down and down I go
round and round I go
like a leaf that’s caught in the tide.

Here are four rhyming couplets (AABBCCDD) plus an extra rhyme at the end that calls back to an earlier couplet (C). Immediately I notice that “spell” itself is the first word that spawns a rhyme; love’s “black magic” is aurally like rituals that use couplets.

Poetry’s roots are oral—historically, the line between poetry and song was often muddled or absent. Rhyming verse helped with memorization and performance. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, renaissance poet Thomas Campion published his poems with sheet music. Another famous renaissance poet, Edmund Spenser, created the Spenserian stanza with an interlocking rhyme scheme (ABABBCBCC). Here’s a stanza from his long epic, The Faerie Queene:

Ne let it seeme, that credence this exceedes,
For he that made the same, was knowne right well
To have done much more admirable deedes.
It Merlin was, which whylome did excell
All living wightes in might of magicke spell:
Both shield, and sword, and armour all he wrought
For this young Prince, when first to armes he fell;
But when he dyde, the Faerie Queene it brought
To Faerie lond, where yet it may be seene, if sought.

In addition to sharing the spell/well rhyme with “That Old Black Magic,” Spenser draws on Arthurian legend (Arthur is still a “Prince” in the Faerie Queene), which also figures heavily in some rituals tools, like the Tarot. The Ace of Swords and the Ace of Cups share the symbolic language of Arthuriana—Excalibur and the Holy Grail. Thousands of rhymes that describe Arthur’s world are embedded in the visual medium of Tarot, as well as in actual swords and cups that are used in ritual.

photo 1

Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr

The use of rhymes in magick combines the traditions of song and literature. Stories and music illustrate archetypes that can fuel ritual and connect us to timelessness. Modern poetry, on the other hand, often seeks to embody its specific moment and sound conversational rather than ritualistic. It’s also difficult to come up with unique rhymes in English (as opposed to more naturally rhyming languages, like Spanish or Italian).

When crafting poetry/spells with the Tarot, one could consider a single-syllable rhyme written on the cards: Priestess and Empress. How does the rhyme (-ess) draw parallels between these Major Arcana? How do the High Priestess and Empress complement each other? Would they make a couplet (AA) or fit into an alternating rhyme scheme (ABAB)?


You can purchase Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology through the publisher’s website, Elliott Bay Book Company, Amazon, and other stores.

A Collection of Fools

Happy Fool’s Day! Here are some of my favorite Fools:
FoolsThe decks pictured are (left to right, top to bottom) the Rider-Waite-Smith, Tarot of the New Vision, Wizards, Orbifold, Goddess, Impressionist, Paulina, Black Cats, Shakespeare, Visconti, Tarocchi della Corte di Merlino, and the Witches Tarot (by Ellen Cannon Reed).

In my Tarot Writing Workshops, I encourage students to compare different versions of the same card. For instance:

-Which Fool do you like best?
-Which Fool do you like least?
-What aspects are shared by several Fools?
-Are there elements from different Fools that you would like to combine?
-What Fool stands out from the rest of the group?

You might consider the colors (a lot of yellow in there), symbols (such as the sticks, bags, and various flowers), characters (white dog, cat, bunny, etc, as well as the humans), landscape (cliff or no cliff), and light (moon or sun).

Now, in honor of Fool’s Day and National Poetry Month, I recommend trying to create your own Fool card in the form of a poem. Describe your ideal colors, symbols, character(s), landscape, and light. Is your Fool caught in motion? What feelings or memories does your Fool have?

There are several fantastic Fool poems in Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology. For example, you can hear Shloka Shankar‘s piece “The Fool’s Dog” in the Listening Corner. And you can purchase the book through the publisher’s website or Amazon.

Tarot and Poetry: Your Inner GPS

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.


Tabitha Dial, photo courtesy of the author

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.

Celtic Cross sketch by Tabitha Dial

Celtic Cross sketch by Tabitha Dial

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:

Photo by Tabitha Dial

Photo by Tabitha Dial

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.

Photo by Tabitha Dial

Photo by Tabitha Dial

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.

Breathing in Words: Silent Breath in Poetry and Tarot

If you’re stuck in a poem or Tarot reading, try this: breathe. Just breathe. Let’s talk about how silent breath—breathing in words—can help break through writing blocks.

Poetry and Tarot are often performed with breath—read aloud. Some scholars have deemed that spoken poetics are “lesser” than poems on the page. In Dancing at the Edge of the World, Ursula Le Guin writes:

The poem that works better orally can be dismissed as a “performance piece,” with all the usual disparagements of oral texts: primitive, crude, repetitive, naïve, etc.

Tarot, like poetry, is sometimes dismissed for the same reasons. Within Tarot, however, spoken readings are privileged over written readings (such as reading for yourself in a journal or email readings). So, while I think that oral poetry deserves more respect, I’d like to focus on silent poetry and Tarot readings for now.

Poems and Tarot readings that are on the page can be enhanced by breath in a way that spoken language cannot—words can be breathed in. Generally speaking, it’s difficult to clearly articulate with your mouth when inhaling. One must breathe out to give words life, and the importance of inhaling when reading aloud is the importance of silence, the spaces between words.

When reading (Tarot or poetry) silently, one can pronounce words clearly while breathing in. Some popular meditation programs, such as those offered by Deepak Chopra, use a silent mantra. Chopra explains that the silent mantra creates a “mental vibration that allows the mind to experience deeper levels of awareness,” which can also aid readers of Tarot and poetry.

Breathing in is a way to infuse and channel words as well as a way to dwell in words. Mary K. Greer discusses breath in her section on purification with the elements in Tarot for Your Self—breathing in is associated with “drawing” in or recharging fire, earth, water, and air (exhaling is associated with releasing and radiating out).

Silent breath allows for repetition; the reader can inhale and exhale the same words to experience them in different ways. Breathing in words is a way to take language into the self, while breathing out is a way of giving language to others.

Exercises to develop silent breath in poetry and Tarot

Part 1. Try reading the following lines from W.B. Yeats’ Blood and the Moon once while inhaling and a second time while exhaling:

Upon the dusty, glittering windows cling,
And seem to cling upon the moonlit skies,
Tortoiseshell butterflies, peacock butterflies,
A couple of night-moths are on the wing.

Did the words sound different in your mind when read while inhaling and exhaling? For instance, did you feel like the butterflies clung to you when breathing in and like they fluttered their wings in response to your exhalation? Did you see the inside and outside of the window by changing your breath?

Write your personal responses in your Tarot journal, and pay attention to which words you write while breathing out and breathing in. What (different) thoughts come into your mind about the poem when you exhale and inhale?

Part 2. Write about the same set of Tarot cards while inhaling and exhaling. I pulled three cards from Paulina Cassidy’s deck: Six of Swords, Ten of Pentacles, and The Magician (reversed).

tarot breath

I recommend writing based on the timing of your own breath. Write while inhaling. Stop, and pick up your pen (or lift your hands from the keyboard) between breaths. Then write while exhaling.

Here’s what I wrote while breathing out: intellectual communication for decent pay can reorient performance.

And here’s what I wrote while breathing in: sending transient thoughts into the fully formed earth can show what you perform for your self.

Some variations include writing while only breathing in and pausing while breathing out (and vice versa).

Once you become aware of your breath and how it affects your silent readings, you can draw energy from breathing in words when you get stuck. Just breathe. And allow breath to guide you back to your flow.

Classic Tarot Poems You Can Read Online

Over on the Tarot Poetry Twitter account, I’ve occasionally posted links to websites that feature classic poems about the Arcana. Here is a collection of those links:  Petrarca_Francesco-The_tryumphes_of_Fraunces_Petrarcke-STC-19811-348_20-p44

In another post, I wrote about Petrarch’s connection to Tarot. You can read his Trionfi, or Triumphs, here.

There are a couple English translations of Teofilo Folengo’s tarocchi appropriati scattered around the web: one is on Tarotpedia and another is on Folengo.com. The latter is the full text of the Chaos del Triperuno—Tarot sonnets begin on page 139 of the PDF.

William Blake has been connected to the Tarot by many authors; some connections can be found in his poems “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and “The Four Zoas.”

W. B. Yeats is at the nexus between Tarot and poetry. Some of his works that use Tarot imagery are “Blood and the Moon,” “The Tower,” and “The Fool by the Roadside.”

The co-creator of the most famous Tarot deck, and one of Yeats’ contemporaries, wrote a number of poems and edited an anthology of fairy poetry. A. E. Waite’s poetry can be read on the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

“The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot is one of the most famous poems that references the Tarot. An interesting hyperlinked version can be found here.

Robert Creeley wrote a few Tarot poems, including “Zero.”

And Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy” references “Taroc,” as do some of her other works.

This is certainly not a complete list, but just a few classic Tarot poems for your reading pleasure.

Feminine Arts with Male Superstars

I mused in an earlier post about the number of women who read cards. Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin assert that 88% of Tarot readers are women, confirming my suspicion that the field is “feminine,” in the sense that it has considerably more women than men. 1800155_10200670506004243_428732006_o

Similarly, I suspect poetry is a “feminine” art as well. I have not conducted the kinds of surveys that Katz and Goodwin have, but I do have a good deal of anecdotal evidence from being a student, tutor, and teacher of poetry in the college setting for over a decade. I find that English classes tend to have more women than men.

Beyond simply the number of women involved, I think that Tarot and poetry are perceived as ”feminine” arts by society—they are linked with stereotypically female traits such as intuition, emotions, and imagination. However, both Tarot and poetry have male superstars.

While women have been writing verse since the Hellenistic period (my Greek art and poetry class included Sappho alongside Homer), the biggest names in poetry tend to be male. Arguably, Shakespeare is the most famous English poet—people who don’t know of any other poets can name the bard. But how many people can name a female contemporary of Shakespeare? Admittedly, Queen Elizabeth I is a pretty famous figure, but few know that she wrote poetry, and even fewer have read her verse. poetry and TarotSimilarly, the most famous Tarot deck is referred to as the Rider-Waite for its male printer (William Rider & Son) and inventor (A.E. Waite). A standard box calls it “The Rider Tarot Deck Known also as The Waite Tarot and The Rider-Waite Tarot“; while it does list the female artist’s name (Pamela Colman Smith), she is not a titular figure. Tarot enthusiasts know about Smith but—like scholars who know the poetry of Sappho and Elizabeth—they do not represent the general public.

People who become poets and Tarotists are sometimes derided, disowned, or dismissed for pursing these “feminine” arts. However, few people who choose more “masculine” paths encounter the same reactions. When was the last time you heard someone say, “you’ll never get a job with that law degree” or “you’re wasting your time studying medicine?”

While women struggle for equal pay and respect in “masculine” fields, men are generally successful in “feminine” arts. In response to the statistic Katz and Goodwin posted on Facebook, Mary K. Greer noted that about 50% of Tarot authors are male, despite the high percentage of female cartomancers. The traditional canon of poetry includes more men than women.

One interesting connection between Tarot and poetry is collaboration between men and women. Modern poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell had a famous friendship that included writing poems for each other, and a recent play was based on their letters. Likewise, many modern Tarot decks have male and female authors, such as Kim Huggens and Erik C. Dunne creating the Tarot Illuminati together.

I would argue that women are more welcoming to men in their arts than men are to women in “masculine” fields. And, perhaps, this too upholds a stereotype about women: that we are kind and accepting rather than exclusionary and competitive.