Tag Archives: Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

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.

Featured Poet: Evelyn Deshane

Editor’s Note: This year, I am featuring one poet from Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology each month. For November, Evelyn Deshane has generously submitted an essay on poetic adaptation and Tarot tattoos. Without further ado, I turn the blog over to Evelyn.

When I write poetry, I think of it as an adaptation process. One of my poetry teachers, Gordon Johnston, once told us that there were some poets who believed that the work was already out there, hanging in the air. The poet’s job was to find it and lay it down in the best way possible. This advice is quite similar to the way in which sculptors insist there is a masterpiece under the stone that they will find through carving. Something beautiful hides in everyday life and it’s our job as poets, artists, or writers to search it out and find it. We did not create it, not wholly or completely, but our own process of adaptation leads to something unique.

Adaptation, then, can become a process of finding oneself as one does the work. When I write poetry, I’m retelling stories I’ve overheard at coffee bars, or I’m updating myths to something modern. I’m not under any illusions that what I’m doing is brand new or unique (nothing ever is anymore), but I’m conscious about how I tell the story and what perspective or point of view I take. When I started to view my poetry as adaptation, I learned to go with my ideas, acknowledging that they come from other places, people, books, and practices later on. That way, I could let my mind spiral out like a mandala without worrying I’d become lost.

I decided to write about tarot cards because I was in the middle of a transformative period, and I turned to tarot cards as a way to process what had happened to me. I would try to do a weekly spread, and if I didn’t do that, I would write about the deck itself. I picked up books by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell so I could understand the power that I could potentially hold in my hand. One of my girlfriends began painting tarot cards, so I started to sketch them in between reading spreads for my family and friends. I also began getting tattoos of tarot cards as a way to mark down each year’s progress. I currently have four main tarot card tattoos, one for each year I was in my undergrad, starting at age 19 and ending at 22.

My poem included in the collection, “The Chariot” is one of the many products of that time period. At its heart, the poem is about making a decision. I’ve left my own meaning vague, as all good poems and art remains, so that the reader can find whatever interpretation in it they’d like. And who knows, maybe they can adapt it for their own purpose, too.

As a sign off, I would like to share my tattoo of the Chariot tarot card.


There’s a lot of line-work going on here, deliberately to mimic the Rider Waite deck. In all four of my tarot pieces, there is one section shaded in yellow. For my Hermit tattoo, the light is yellow. For my Tower piece, it’s the lightning bolts. For my Death card, the sunrise over the hill. But the Chariot was different. It was my last card in this small symbolizing mission I had undergone, and since this particular card was about a decision I had to make, I decided to have three symbols shaded in yellow. So the moonbeams on his shoulders, the star in his chest, and the sun on his crown are all in colour. I wanted this to represent the fact that no choice is either/or. There are never just two options; sometimes there are three. Even if, as alchemists say, tertium non data–the third is not known, it can still be an option with patience and practice. There is no original; all is adaption.

Thank you!

Below is Evelyn’s poem that appears in the anthology:

The Chariot

golden hues, red and blue,
hanging from a canopy on a chariot
the charioteer, beside the wheels
is in a war and waiting for a race.

a good man knows his duty:
leaving his destiny malleable,
he steps behind the reigns.
with two great sphinxes before him,
he pulls back to be carried away.

to get from one place to another
in the darkest mystery of night
he accepts that the enemy is sleeping closely
and forgets his fear for faith.

with moonbeams on his shoulders
he bears the final weight of prophecy
two ways, two urges, two decisions
locked in one armoured body
to decide is a suicide of one fate.

while the stars stay exactly the same,
he constantly shifts and changes.
in the driest and most forbidden terrains,
he decides and makes a small sacrifice.

the only way to fight, but not give up life,
is to run parallel to the enemy
bound to be pushing you astray.

You can check out Evelyn’s bio–and the bios of the other poets in the book–on the Contributors Page.

And you can order Arcana: the Tarot Poetry Anthology on the publisher’s website.

Words as Symbols: Another Way to Read Tarot Books

I believe that words expand rather than limit our understanding of images. Some Tarot readers argue that definitions found in books can limit how cards are read. However, the words found in Tarot books are themselves just symbols and signs—they can be read like the pictorial symbols found in Tarot decks.

Consider the word apple. I can spend pages describing an apple—detailing its color, shape, size, texture, taste, and so on. But you can’t bake an apple pie with those words. When you read the word apple, your mind links the letters on the page (or screen) with your concept of an apple.

To put it another way, your brain turns otherwise random markings (the squiggles that make up the English language) into meaningful things. The word apple is a sign of the actual fruit.[1]

Both words and pictures are signs or representations. Consider the Magritte painting below:

this is not a pipe It says: “this is not a pipe.” I would add that the word pipe is also not a pipe. You can treat the word pipe just as you would treat a picture of a pipe.

This becomes complicated when we read explanations of what the apple or pipe means. In a Tarot reading, we don’t say, “hey, look, there’s an apple” or describe the apple. We explain what the apple symbolizes—forbidden fruit, knowledge, making a pie. The more associations we have with apples, the stronger our readings of symbolism can become.

Many Tarot books define symbols found on the cards, which makes it difficult to remember that the words of these definitions are merely symbols themselves. We can divine meanings from the word-symbols; words are meant to be generative.

Take an example from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and Waite’s book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot: The Tower (XVI). Waite writes:

There is a sense in which the catastrophe is a reflection from the previous card [The Devil]…one is concerned with the fall into the material and animal state, while the other signifies destruction on the intellectual side…The one is the literal word made void and the other its false interpretation.

Waite states what the card signifies—intellectual destruction. Tower and bookHis idea that words can be interpreted falsely leads the reader to think there is a singular correct meaning, and Waite’s words reveal that meaning.

However, the words themselves—“destruction on the intellectual side”—are symbols, and as such can generate several meanings. For instance, intentionally breaking down a problematic thought process (e.g. unlearning sexism) is very different than the involuntary biological loss of one’s mental capacity (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease). Both can be said to be intellectual destruction, and a Tarot reader could glean either meaning from the same card as well as the same words.

To decipher Waite’s text, we have to bring in our understanding of “destruction” and “intellect.” The word intellect, which is a sign like apple or pipe, is connected in our mind with a multifaceted concept. Is intellect problem-solving capacity, rhetorical prowess, and/or critical thinking skills? Is intellect the opposite of emotions or part of our emotional sphere? Dictionary and philosophical definitions of intellect are varied and change over time.

The more we read, the more avenues of inquiry open up. And intuition can help us select from the multiplicity of meanings found in Tarot texts. Reading words about Tarot cards will only expand our understanding of them—books help us build new mental bridges to delve deeper into symbolism.

[1] If you are interested a more in-depth discussion of the process of signification, check out the works of Claude Levi-Strauss and Ferdinand de Saussure.