Using Tarot in Writing

Part 1, Introduction

Angel deck, The Lovers, I write romance after all.

I was introduced to using the Tarot for writing last year during Coyote Con by the amazing Jenna Reynolds.  While I doubt I’ll ever use the Tarot for divination it has been a fascinating tool for brainstorming.  So I thought I’d do a little series on using the Tarot for your writing.

To get started, you should invest in Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner (one of my Recommended Reads).  It has a little bit of everything and will set you on the right path.

If you don’t own a deck, that would be your second step.  Invest in a set that speaks to you, is visually appealing, and has images on all the cards not just the Major Arcana.  Aeclectic Tarot is one good site for Tarot cards.  You can view hundreds, if not thousands, of decks on Aeclectic Tarot.  I found my first set on Amazon.

The Tarot deck includes 22 Major Arcana (secrets) representing major events, life’s journey, archetypes, etc. and 56 Minor Arcana representing everyday events, everyday people, etc.

The Minor Arcana is broken down into suits (just like a regular deck of cards) and you’ll want cards with pictures on the entire suit.

  • Wands correspond to Clubs, represent the element of Fire (wood burns), and symbolize spiritual experience.
  • Cups or Chalices correspond to Hearts, represent the element of Water, and symbolize emotional affairs.
  • Swords correspond to Spades, represent the element of Air (swords cut through the air), and symbolize thought and communication (swords and spades “have a point to make”).
  • Coins or Pentacles correspond to Diamonds, represent the element of Earth, symbolizing physical, material, and financial realities.

And just like a regular deck of cards you will find court cards within the suits:  King, Queen, Knight (Prince), and Page or Knave (Princess).  You will come across some differences — the most common being the switching of Wands and Swords elements — between various decks so read the little booklet that comes with your cards.

Take a look at the two above cards.

The first is from my Angel deck by US Game Systems, the 3 of Cups,  and you can see the heart imagery from a regular ol’ fashion deck of cards on the card.

While the 3 of Cups card from my Celtic deck by Lo Scarabeo has an image. With an image you can get inspiration for a scene (or even an entire story), a location, a plot twist, a character’s physical description or background, or insight into a character’s goals and motivation.

  • What do you see in the 3 of Cups card?

Tarot Card Worksheet is great for writing down impressions, keywords, and whatever else comes to mind.

And I love Raven’s Tarot Site for definitions and such.  This site is awesome for the elemental aspect of the cards, she shows which pairings strengthen vs. which weaken, the passive and active cards.  My favorite piece is on each card she indicates the Drive behind that card, the Light (which I read as the straight forward or upright reading of a card), and the Shadow (which I read as the reverse or upside down reading of a card).

Celtic deck: The Lovers

Jenna Reynolds created some Tarot spreads and has graciously granted me permission to reference them. Currently, you can download them from her Yahoo Group. My plan is for each part of the series to focus on one of Jenna’s spreads.

Part two, Plotting and Brainstorming
Part three, Character Circle
Part four, Character Creation
Part five, The Hero’s Journey
Part six, Creating a World
Part seven, Tarot 101
Part eight (addendum), Elements

For Fun:

  • What story do you see in The Lovers card?
  • What does the card tell you about the character?
  • Is this the hero and heroine?
  • Is that the antagonist looking over the man’s shoulder?
  • What’s happening in this scene?

Update: There’s been some interest in a Q&A and/or Tarot 101 post. What I’ll do is gather up all the questions y’all note in the comments on any of the Tarot posts and write up a post at the end of the series. Thank you for the interest and support of this series.

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38 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. D.B. Smyth
    May 05, 2011 @ 06:10:57

    Fascinating! I never would have made a connection between Tarot Cards and writing, but your post is very compelling!


  2. Erin Brambilla
    May 05, 2011 @ 06:19:05

    How fun! I find Tarot to be fascinating, though I’ve never used them. Maybe I’ll give it a try.


    • Raelyn Barclay
      May 05, 2011 @ 06:27:49

      Thanks for stopping by Erin. I was in the same boat before Jenna opened my eyes :) now I can’t imagine NOT having that tool in the ol’ writer’s toolbox. I hope you enjoy the series.


  3. Jenny Hansen
    May 05, 2011 @ 09:08:02

    Very fun, Raelyn! One of my critique partners is an experienced Tarot reader and it’s fascinating when she breaks out the cards.

    Now I’ve got to go tweet this post!


    • Raelyn Barclay
      May 05, 2011 @ 09:18:51

      Thanks for stopping by and the tweet. I’ve only been playing with the cards for about a year but it’s always fascinating (and sometimes spooky) when I pull them out. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series.


  4. Maria Zannini
    May 05, 2011 @ 13:13:42

    I’ve always been fascinated by Tarot, but I never thought to use it in my writing. I might have to look into that.

    PS Have you changed something in your settings? I’m not seeing your posts on Google Reader anymore. The only reason I saw this one was because of Facebook. :(


    • Raelyn Barclay
      May 05, 2011 @ 17:48:25

      Hi Maria! Hope you’ll find the series fascinating :)

      Ref: Google Reader
      No I haven’t changed any settings but I’ll double check to make sure I didn’t do something by accident. Glad you at least caught it through FB.


  5. Liz Fichera
    May 06, 2011 @ 06:23:52

    Tina Whittle is another writer (she wrote a great book called THE DANGEROUS EDGE OF THINGS) who’s into Tarot and has written some really cool posts about it. You can follow her on FB too. Cool post!


  6. Corrine Kenner
    May 06, 2011 @ 08:54:47

    Thank you for recommending my book! I’m really happy that you like it.


  7. marykateleahy
    May 06, 2011 @ 19:26:29

    I don’t “do Tarot” but last winter I was hanging out with some of my cousins and one of them had just started doing Tarot so I let her tell my fortune. I had JUST finished writing my first full length ms, Love’s Fine Wit. (It’s a contemporary romance). I thought it was the best.thing.ever. (It most definitely is not but at the time I was over the moon). Anyway my cousin does the magic whatevs and I get the following cards. An accomplishment in my past, a book in my present, romance close by and success in my future. Needless to say I was very pleased :)


    • Raelyn Barclay
      May 07, 2011 @ 13:22:09

      LOL, Mary Kate, you’re one up on me, I’ve never had a reading done. Like I said in the post I can’t see myself using them for divination but they are a great tool for writing.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the series :)


  8. Janice Hardy
    May 16, 2011 @ 13:27:27

    How cool! I used to do Tarot readings for my characters years ago. I found it an interesting way to think outside the box and let my mind come up with all kinds of ideas for their backstory. Just asking questions to fit the Tarot spread gave each character study it’s own flavor and wasn’t so police blotter formulaic.


    • Raelyn Barclay
      May 16, 2011 @ 15:52:51

      I love using the Tarot for characters and in fact my favorite of the spreads I’m featuring in this series is coming up on the 19th. Thanks for stopping by Janice :)


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  16. loriwrites
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 23:54:58

    I’ve wanted to try this for a while, even picked out a deck, but had no idea how to start.

    Can’t wait to read more!


    • Raelyn Barclay
      Jun 25, 2011 @ 09:09:42

      Welcome Lori, I hope the series helps you get started. You may want to jump to the Tarot 101 post before moving into the spread posts. And feel free to drop me questions in the comments…who knows, perhaps you’ll inspire a second Tarot 101 post.

      Thanks for stopping by :)


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  26. Lee McAulay
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 13:03:17

    It’s been ages since I broke out the cards, but they seem to pop up in my stories quite often. I’m always amazed at the creativity (and stamina!) of Tarot artists to paint all those pictures. (I suppose that’s why I’m a writer and not an artist…)
    Bookmarked this post for later ;-)


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