Using Tarot to Write Poetry

Inspiration comes in strange forms. And often seemingly out of nowhere. While I don’t usually write in any form other than pros, the idea came to me to write a poem. But in a very specific way: using Tarot cards. Because, why not? After all, if I can use them for everything else, why not for a poem?

As soon as the idea hit, so did all possible complication I could think of:

  • How many cards should I draw?
  • Should I draw one card per stanza? Per line?
  • If I need to figure that out, then I need to figure out the form of my poem ahead of time, wouldn’t I?
  • What if I drew one card as the topic of the stanza, and then a card for each line?
  • Maybe a card for the beginning of the line and the end of the line?
  • What if the start of the stanza was the topic card reversed and the stanza was about how to right the card?
  • Etc.

And of course, how would you decide what that card has to say? After all, you’re not doing a reading. This is a poem. The cards can say so many different things based on the cards around them, the prompt or question, or simply the feel of the reading. Could I read a card in the form of a poem rather than as a reading as a whole?

K.I.S.S.
Keep It Simple, Stupid

Then I realized I was making this way too complicated.

Writing, like divination, is about feeling it out. It’s about tapping into that water aspect of ourselves, our creative, intuitive self. It’s about diving deep into our wells and oceans and seeing what we pull from the depths.

In other words, it’s about going with the flow.

So I tried it out, letting the cards tell me how many I was to draw.

I took a deep breath and sank into my body, letting my hands do what they knew to do: shuffle the cards , letting my fingers feel the directions of them. I stopped thinking, and instead simply felt. And when the time was right, I began putting cards down without too much thought.

The Process

I chose one per line, and each angled row of cards was a different stanza.

Here’s what my process looked like:

  1. I breathed in a drew a card at a time, letting the deck dictate where to put each card and when to stop.
  2. I assigned each card on word.
  3. I looked at each stanza, writing down the word per line, then spent time writing the stanza itself, incorporating the essence of the meaning of the word.
  4. I moved on to the next stanza, repeating the process until I was finished.
  5. Add up the cards in each stanza to get a theme for the stanza in the form of the Major Arcana.

While I’m not going to share what I wrote (I am certainly no poet), I wanted to share the essence of what each line revolved around, to give you an example of how you might play around with this method.

Title

Okay, so I didn’t intentionally pull a title. I happened to have a card that popped out when I was moving the deck, and thought I would stick it at the top and see if that card came into play at all.

In my opinion, it did.

It was the 8 of Swords – self-bound.

Dreamkeeper's Tarot: 8 of Swords

The 8 of Swords is a reminder that while the situation might seem difficult, you are the one who holds the ends of your ropes. You have the ability to change your perspective. You can untie yourself, remove your blindfold and obstacles, and get yourself out of the situation that feels so impossible. You have this ability.

Spoiler alert, this played nicely, given the last line of the first stanza, which focuses on resistance.

Furthermore, the 8s, in Tarot, correspond to the Major Arcana card, Strength. This is about finding the difficult parts within ourselves and approaching them with compassion. We don’t fight against them, instead confront them with understanding.

And thus, this was what my poem was about.

Stanza 1

I flipped over the first line to get the following cards:

  • XIII Death – Transformation
  • 9 of Cups – Embodiment
  • XI Justice – Truth
  • VI Lovers – Highest Choice
  • 9 of Wands – Redundant
Dreamkeeper’s Tarot: Death, 9 of Cups, Justice, Lovers, 9 of Wands

I wrote these down in my notebook, then then began to write what I thought about death in terms of transformation. For me, it is a moment of stepping into transformation, whether we intend to or not, and not being able to go back. The process has already begun.

So what choice do we have? That of examining our wants, our goals, what would make us happiest and set us on cloud 9. That’s what the 9 of Cups is about, and that is what we have to embody. If we have to transform, why not embody what we want to transform into?

And how do we know how to do that? We must look inward to find our own inner truth, our personal Justice.

When we know this, we will take the higher path, the one that will lead us to our inner growth, our divine evolution. This is the card of the lovers. This is what this line is about.

Except, perhaps, there is resistance. And what is the cause of the resistance other than ourselves? We have fought so hard, and we continue to fight. But perhaps, just maybe, if we see the battle is won, that we no longer need to be on guard, then the energy we seek, that we need for our transformation, can flow freely.

Adding Up the Cards

As I mentioned before, I add the cards to convert them to a corresponding Major Arcana. If you’re not familiar with the Tarot, this might sound very strange and kind of confusing. I’ll walk you through it:

  1. Add up the number of the cards
  2. If the number is higher than 22, add the digits together
  3. The resulting number will be a corresponding Major Arcana

The reason we take an extra step with numbers over 22 is because there are only 21 number Major Arcana cards.

The numbers we’re working with for this stanza are 13, 9, 11, 6, and 9.

13 + 9 + 11 + 6 + 9 = 48

This is a number higher than 22, so we add the two digits together: 4 + 8 = 12.

So the corresponding card is the Hanged Man. However, we can take it a step further and reduce the number down by adding the digits together again:

1 + 2 = 3
the Empress.

This guides me a little more, should I want to. I can start with the message of the Hanged Man and end the stanza with the Empress, or I can aim to elevate the poem from the Empress to the Hanged Man. I won’t go into these card meanings, but it’s just and added something fun to play around with if you’re like me and like complicated things.

Stanza 2

  • High Priestess – Intuition and Secrets
  • Ace of Swords – Inspiration
  • Empress – Nurture
  • Ace of Cups – Nourishment
  • 3 of Wands – Expansion
Dreamkeeper’s Tarot: High Priestess, Ace of Swords, Empress, Ace of Cups, 3 of Wands

How do we find what we are resisting? What we are fighting for? We call upon the wisdom and energy of the High Priestess, who helps us to navigate our intuition and our inner secrets. Settling with her will show you what you need to know.

Armed with a sword, the Ace of Swords, you can cut away what is no longer needed to make way for inspiration. The new ideas are endless. Like cutting away weeds that have overgrown and smothered what you need so desperately to grow.

The Empress then teaches you to nurture what remains. She tends to your inner strengths, to the new aspects of yourself that will aid your transformation.

What’s most important, with the Empress and High Priestess combined, you’ll learn how to care for yourself, your first true love, teaching you how to find and nurture your self-compassion, to fill your own cup.

From there, you expand. Into the world, into new forms of expression, you expand. You transform.

Adding Up the Cards

For this stanza, the numbers on the cards I’m working with are 2, 1, 3, 1, and 3.

2 + 1 + 3 + 1 +3 = 10

Since it’s below 22, I don’t need to reduce it down. This card is the Wheel of Fortune. Though, it is a two-digit card, which means I can reduce it further to 1, the Magician. Personally, I find both of these cards go superbly with the cards drawn for this stanza.

Stanza 3

  • The Star – Hopes
  • 10 of Cups – Fulfillment
  • Kind of Swords – Wisdom
Dreamkeeper’s Tarot: Star, 10 of Cups, King of Swords

The Star provides you wishes, hopes, and a direction to take aim. She promises you success, if only you’ll let her help you aim your bow into the stars.

The 10 of Cups shows your success, your brimming cup so full it fills ten of them. Your heart is content, and there is no further joy. The water flows. There is no more resistance. You have given up your stance. There is no more fighting.

Therein lies the wisdom of the King of Swords, master of his art. Master of his words. Master of his passion that is your expression, dear writer. Therein lies the wisdom.

Adding up the Cards

For this final stanza, we only have three cards to work with, and thus, three numbers: 17, 10, and 4.

17 + 10 + 4 = 41

4 + 1 = 5
the Hierophant.

One could go further and add all the stanzas up to see what the corresponding Major Arcana card would be for the whole poem. However, since I drew a title card, I don’t feel it’s necessary.

The Result

It was shocking how well it turned out. I loved the flow of it, though, again, I won’t share what I wrote. I’m not a poet, after all.

However, I loved the play with it. While I do sometimes write poetry, especially if I’m reading it (which I do get into some poetry kicks from time to time, which you might have noticed if you follow me on Instagram), I generally let it flow. However, some of my favorite poems I’ve written have been somewhat calculated as I tried to fit them into a form. Finding a form like that helped me to get creative with my words and pay attention to the rhythm. I found different an unique ways of expressing myself within the form’s parameter.

This is what I experienced while trying to write a poem this way. It also tapped into a different part of my brain, one that I certainly feel that I should be using while I’m writing. After all, in the Tarot, creativity and intuition both fall into the same element (at least, the way I read the cards they do). So why should I be surprised at how well using my intuitive part of my mind worked when applying it to my creativity?

I truly recommend giving this a go. Even if you don’t read the cards, getting a creative deck that speaks to you, that you find inspiration in, and writing down a key word that floats to mind as you look at the card can be a great way to tap into your creativity.

My Question to You

Would you be interested in a cheat sheet with a keyword for each tarot card, as well as perhaps a few “classic” poetry forms to play around with? Let me know in the comments. Also be sure to let me know if you played around with this method, or any similar method. I would love to hear all about it!

Published by

Nicola Thompson

Born and raised in the Pacific North West (Washington State to be specific), I'm currently living on a farm, raising chickens, and writing in North Yorkshire. A former editor of Durham University's online magazine, The Bubble, I also write for the magazine Carpe Nocturne, and have several short stories published in a variety of anthologies.

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