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!

Developing Your Main Character with the Tarot (Pt 1)

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

Designing Your MC with the Fool through the Hierophant Natural Writer Podcast

Developing your Main Character (MC) can sometimes be a bit of a drag. There are a plethora of spreadsheets to help you get to the nitty gritty of what you’re character is about, though they usually involve delving into what your character’s favorite color or ice cream topping is.

The Tarot can provide some insightful prompts to help you work through the deeper parts of your MC, specifically, using the Major Arcana.

Even more specifically, the first six cards: the Fool 0, the Magician I, the High Priestess II, the Empress III, the Emperor IV, and the Hierophant V.

Each of these cards can provide a different consideration regarding the Fool, who will act the part of your MC. Everything from their internalized skillset, to the parental figures in their life, to how they learned about the world.

However, before we get too into this, I want to take a moment to address the gendered language of the tarot.

Gendered Language is Outdated

Many tarot enthusiasts and historians have debated just how long the Tarot has been around, and where it originated. I am not going to get into that. However, the most concrete evidence puts it back at least a few hundred years ago.

As a result, there are a lot of aspects of the Tarot that just don’t quite fit into our modern society. Gendered language is one of those aspects.

However, thanks to authors such as Cassandra Snow and her book Queering the Tarot, as well as many other talented and insightful tarot readers and writers, tarot is evolving away from this. I want to take a brief moment to talk about how to get around gendered language in the Tarot, since some of the cards we’ll be discussing heavily rely on “gendered” energies.

Traditionally, tarot is spoken about in terms of masculine and feminine energy. These are actually representative terms for active and passive energy: masculine energy being active and feminine energy being passive.

Active energy is seen as something that is more external. Or, at least, it something that might come from within but has the ability to alter the external, or directly influence it. Air and Fire are the external, active elements in the Tarot.

Passive energy, on the other hand, is seen more internal. This is the work that is done within, from healing to nurturing, to feeling. Water and Earth are the passive elements in the Tarot.

Neither energy is above the other. Both energies are necessary, and the goal is always to seek

I mention all of this because there will be cards throughout the Tarot that deal with gendered terms such as the High Priestess, the Empress, and the Emperor. These deal with parenting figures as well, which I’ll talk more about when we get to the designated cards. But veering away from gendered language is essential, since male or male representing figures can absolutely signify the High Priestess roll, as well has embody the HP’s qualities, just as a female or female representing figure can embody the qualities of the Emperor.

Major Arcana & Character Development

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in the tarot, often starting with the Fool, which is numbered 0. This is because the Fool represents the natural protagonist of the journey through the Major Arcana.

Thus, this is where we’ll start with building your MC.

The Fool:
The Carrier of Your Story

Rider Waite Smith Fool

The traditional depiction of the Fool in the tarot, is someone who is about to walk off a cliff. Their head is tilted up into the sky, and they seem happy, and completely unaware of what is before them. They carry a stick with a bundle at the end of it over their shoulder, while a little dog barks at their feet.

The fool represents the openness to move forward into the journey. They trust what is ahead of them so much that they know that staying where they are is not an option.

Your MC is the Fool.

Whatever it is that compels your MC to go along the journey is a greater reason to trudge forward into sometimes unwanted experiences because the option to do nothing can’t stack up against the reason to carry on. Even if your character is kicking and screaming the whole way, they know that they cannot stay put.

This signifies that there is some small level of trust. Trust that no matter the danger that might lay ahead, it is worth more than not doing anything. Even if they die in the process, it is still worth more than doing nothing, even if it’s only worth more by a hair.

This indicates your MC’s values. What they hold to be a truth that is strong enough to carry them forward.

The question is, then, what does your Main Character believe in so whole-heartedly, that they can’t turn down the threshold?

The Tarot Pull

If you have a tarot deck, shuffle while you focus on what you know of your MC, if you know anything at all. Either way, put your thoughts toward what it is that they hold true.

When you’re done shuffling, flip the deck over and find the Fool card.

  • The card in front of it is what they trust
  • The card behind is what they don’t trust

Another way to look at these two cards are:

  • The card before them can be their compelling reason to move forward
  • The card behind them can be their reasoning not to act

Internal or Personal Tools Counterparts

The first few Major Arcana couple up nicely. The Magician is the active counterpart to the passive High Priestess; the Empress is the passive counter part to the active Magician.

The Fool is going to look at themselves for the skills or tools they have within them to navigate their journey.

The Magician

| The Fool |
| The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

Rider Waite Smith Magician

As mentioned in the description of the Fool, they carry a bag on a stick over their shoulder. The question is, what is in that bag? This is what the Fool chose to bring with them, knowing they would need whatever is in there. It is very small, so whatever is in it, is essential.

The Magician is here to reveal what is in that bag, showing and reminding us of the tools we already have at our disposal, that which we use to manifest or make happen.

The traditional depiction of the Magician is a person stood behind a table with representations of each of the suits or elements on their table: Wand for Fire, Cup for Water, Sword for Air, and Pentacle for Earth. Each of these suits or elements represents different aspects of life, and thus, different strengths our MC has to navigate through the world.

The Tarot Pull

As you consider what skills your MC might have, shuffle the deck. When you’re ready, draw four cards:

  1. Card 1 represents Earth: home, the tangible world, how your MC makes money, health, etc.
  2. Card 2 represents Air: communication, logic, thinking, truth, legal systems, education
  3. Card 3 represents Fire: desire, will, passion, sexuality, drive, career, creation
  4. Card 4 represents Water: emotion, intuition, relationships, subconscious, spirituality, magic

Not all of these things for each element needs to be found in the one card drawn for that element. Though, if you’d like, you can pull a card for each quality of that element if you really want to get into it.

However, don’t overthink this. Each card that you draw represents a strength in that elemental realm that the Fool carries in their bag of tricks.

The High Priestess

| The Fool |
| The Magician |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

Rider Waite Smith High Priestess

The High Priestess is the counterpart to the Magician. She represents what goes on internally. While the Magician shows what skills your MC uses to navigate the external world, the High Priestess reveals what skills they have to navigate their own internal world. This card will bring forth the lessons of looking within in order to find answers and guidance.

The High Priestess is a Water element, which means that while they represent the passive energy of water, they also represent creativity, emotions (how we form relationships and navigate them), love, intuition, and any magical aspects or spirituality your MC might have.

The Tarot Pull

Spend some times shuffling and focusing on the essence of the High Priestess, and the qualities that could be bestowed up on your MC in this realm.

When you’re done shuffling, find the High Priestess Card.

  • The card before it will be a known inner strength
  • The card behind it will be an unknown strength, perhaps something that can be called up on later in the plot, or developed throughout the plot

External & Close Counterparts

The Magician and the High Priestess represent what the MC somewhat develops themselves within. The Empress and the Emperor are external influences on your MC, generally in the form of a parental figure.

Neither of these figures need to be the actual parents of your MC, but rather, those who taught these qualities, or revealed these qualities.

Again, the Empress does not need to be a female-identifying figure, just as the Emperor doesn’t need to be represented by a male-identifying figure. These are just qualities of these archetypes.

The Empress

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

The Rider Waite Smith Empress

The Empress represents “mothering” qualities. They are the support that a person needs in order to grow. They represent a nurturing nature.

For example, a seed needs certain things in order to come to fruition. The Empress is the tender of that seed, providing nourishing soil, water, and ensuring that it gets enough sunlight. The Empress also knows how to give that seed the space it needs to grow on its own.

This is what I mean when I say “mothering” qualities.

The Tarot Pull: Pt 1

The question is, who has been a nurturer for your MC? Who has acted in a “motherly” roll for them?

While you think about this question, shuffle and pull three cards to show how this embodiment of the Empress has helped your MC to grow in mind, body, and spirit.

Side Character Development

A note about characters other than your MC.

We all only know a piece of a person. We know what our experience is with that person, and what they choose to show us. Likewise, we often see parts of ourselves reflected back at us through other people.

When we learn what one person is to another person, we are learning about both people simultaneously.

Using the Empress character as an example, looking at how someone was a mothering figure to the MC, we’re learning not only about what this figure gave to the MC, but what the MC was willing to receive. This will influence their development, how they thin, how they feel, how they react. It will influence how they view self-care, or the care of others.

Similarly, it shows what the other character was willing to give to the MC, or not give, as the case may be. It’s also an invitation to look at what this side character might not be giving to others in their life because of what they’re giving to the MC. This can help to create a more rounded character profile.

The Tarot Pull: Pt 2

Pick your deck up again and begin considering your MC’s relationship to this nurturing figure while you shuffle. When you’re done shuffling, you’re going to pull four cards:

  1. Card 1 represents the mothering figure themselves.
  2. Card 2 represents how your MC responded to this mothering/nurturing/soft guidance.
  3. Card 3 represents an important lesson learned from this figure.
  4. Card 4 represents something challenging this figure left with your MC.

Emperor

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

The Rider Waite Smith Emperor

The Emperor represents active energy. Often depicted as an older man on a throne, with ram heads for the arm pieces, with colors of red prominent in the card, the Emperor represents authority and structure.

While the Empress represents internal nurturing for growth, the Emperor helps to create the structures one needs to hold themselves up. If we think of a seedling, the Empress is the water and soil while the Emperor is the thing it climbs up, or even the wind that might encourage the stalk to strengthen so it can hold itself up.

The Empress is about allowing supported space in order to grow. In contrast, the Emperor teaches to be unapologetic for the space that our character takes up, for that is their space and thus their space to govern. This is an external card, but this also is a card about how we govern ourselves.

In this light, when we are looking at the Emperor in regard to your character, we are considering who it was that taught your character how to take up space in the world. Do they take up space at all? That is, do they try to make themselves small, or are they content to exist and know their place?

The Tarot Pull

As you consider your Emperor’s qualities that were taught to your character, shuffle the cards. These four cards you pull will be similar to those of the Empress:

  1. The first card will be a card to represent this Emperor influence on your MC.
  2. The second card you pull will represent how the MC governs themselves.
  3. The third card will be a key take-away from this figure in your MC’s life.
  4. And finally, there will be a card for something challenging this figure left your MC with.

Broader External

So far, we’ve looked at the personal, and the first bare bones of community for the Fool, or your Main Character. We’ve considered what the Fool has at their disposal both internally and externally, and what the external world has done to teach their base lessons.

However, we are never done learning, and our parents, or parental influences, are not our only source of understanding of the world.

In comes the Hierophant.

The Hierophant

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| FREE Workbook |

Rider Waite Smith Hierophant

This figure is about the educational structures that help us understand the society we were born into. This can be literal schooling, a teacher, or a religious foundation which helped to shape morals.

The best way to look at this card, is to understand how it was that the MC understood how to function in the “normal” society and be “one of them,” them being a functioning societal member.

This card is sometimes called the Story Teller, which I think I like better. Someone who carries the understandings and views of the community. In those stories are lessons to be learned, morals, and a history, in some extent.

Knowing what this figure or system is in your story, to your MC will help to better understand the foundation they’ve built their understanding from regarding their community. This can shape how they act and respond to situations, how they think, and how they make their decisions based on their understanding of right and wrong.

This also sets up the MC for the following card, which is the Lovers, a card of choice. I won’t go too much into this card, since that was never the intention regarding this particular discussion. But I will say this: the Lovers is a card of choice, of being presented with an option, and deciding which path to take.

When we consider this in following the Hierophant (because each card builds off the last), then we understand this is a choice in deciding which norms and lessons we’ll leave behind, and which we will develop for ourselves. This is essentially the choice: what do we choose to believe and carry with us, and what do we reject.

Thus, when we look at the Hierophant, we are setting our MC up to solidify their code of ethics, so to speak, as well as setting them up to be presented with options later down the line, during their character arc.

The Tarot Pull

To figure this out for your MC, shuffle the cards before flipping the deck over so you can see the pictures, and find your Hierophant.

  • The card in front of the Hierophant is a teaching that your character agrees with and will carry with them.
  • The card behind it is a teaching that they aren’t sure about, that might come into question.

If you want to further develop this baseline, keep shuffling the cards, flipping the deck back over so you can’t see the faces, and pull three cards:

  • The first card will represent their standard education.
  • The second card will represent their religious lessons.
  • The third card will represent what their immediate community holds true.

When I talk bout the immediate community, this could be the small village your character lives in, their group of friends, their neighborhood, their ship, and so on. What is a philosophy of those who closely interact with your MC have?

If you want to delve into this more, you can ask yourself whether or not your MC agrees with this philosophy.

Keep It Going

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

The Tarot is an extremely helpful tool when it comes to your writing, or any creative practice for that matter.

One of the things you can use it for is to help your own development as a writer, by looking critically at where you are right now. What is your mentality? Where is your drive? What are you missing that would make your writing practice easier?

Celtic Cross Spread for Writers

I’ve created a 75+ page workbook called The Celtic Cross Spread for Writers, which includes journal prompts to accompany each card of the Celtic Cross.

This workbook is designed to help you better understand yourself so you can focus on the needs of your writing, pinpoint where your writing blocks might be, and move forward with more confidence.

This workbook is completely free, my gift to you, dear writer.

Fill out the form below and get yours!

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Happy Writing!

3 Act Story Structure & Tarot

For those of you who outline, or for those who are in trepidation about outlining, you might be considering using the 3 Act Story Structure as a starting point. Tarot, whether you read the cards or not, can be very helpful in this.

The banner for the blog post reading : 3-Act Story Structure and the Tarot. Finding Direction for the 3 Acts and the Them of your WIP

What is the 3 Act Story Structure?

In a nutshell, the 3 Act Story Structure is, in its most simple form, the beginning, middle, and end.

But anyone who has actually looked into the 3-Act system will tell you it’s a little more complex than that. In a later series, I’ll dive a bit deeper into what the 3-Act system looks like, but for now, here is a brief overview.

Act 1

Act 1 of the 3-Act system is comprised of introducing your main character, showing their world as it currently is in some way, and the inciting incident. This leads you up to your first plot point.

The first act is often referred to as the Set-Up, for obvious reasons: You’re setting up your story. This is where a problem is presented and your MC has to step forward to resolve it, whether they want to or not.

The first act maybe consists of a quarter, at the very most, of your story.

Act 2

Act 2 of the 3-Act system is the largest part of the story. This is the bulk of your book. It’s where you have the confrontation of the problem presented in the book. This is your middle build all the way up to your climax.

In this section, you’ll have the try-fail sequences, you’ll have the complications in the love life, the obstacles that get your heroine has to overcome in order to slay the dragon, the difficulties in learning to fit in in order to become the champion—whatever your plot is, this is going to be what happens after your MC says yes to making changes (the inciting action) all the way to the climax.

The middle or middle build is where your character grows the most.

Act 3

Act 3 of the 3-Act system is where your MC’s growth is challenged. This is the point during which they can show that they truly have learned/changed/matured/excelled, or, they can show that despite all this learning, they failed (which would make the story a tragedy).

The climax happens in Act 3, and then, from there, the resolution of the problem presented in the first act, and the conclusion.

This section of the book is also quite small, maybe 15% of your book. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule to this, but that’s generally the standard.

3-Act Story Structure and Tarot

You can use the 3-Act Story Structure with Tarot, or rather, you can use Tarot to determine what happens in each of your Acts. Very simply (though I’ll go over this in more detail), you draw a card to represent each Act of your story.

In my first post about Tarot and writing, I talked about how in order to read the tarot with your writing, you only needed to look at the pictures and write about what you see. You don’t need to know the meaning of the cards.

The same concept applies.

Here is a spread to assist you with your 3-act stories, as well as a way of upgrading your system in order to help you develop your theme.

Please Note: This is a spread that I created in 2019 and published on my Tarot blog, KarmaStar Tarot. If you have seen it before, I assure you that I’m not stealing it. I own that blog, I own the spread (to my knowledge).

3-Act Story Structure Spread

A visual depiction of the 3-Act Story Structure Tarot Spread. There is the signifier card to the left, three vertical cards next to it, number 1 at the bottom, 2 in the middle, and 3 at the top. There are two cards on the right, vertically lined, reading card A at the bottom and Card B at the top. To the far right it reads S: Signifier, 1: Act 1, 2: Act 2, 3: Act 3, A: Theme 1, B: Theme 2

Your first three cards will each act as a single act:

Card 1: Act 1
Card 2: Act 2
Card 3: Act 3

This can be helpful if you have a signifier card.

What is a Signifier?

A signifier card is a card that you choose to represent your MC if you know who your MC is at this point.

When you pull this card from  your deck prior to laying down the cards, you can use it as a focal point as you shuffle. This can be a visual representation of your MC, that is, someone who looks like the MC, or it can be a picture that you feel depicts the spirit or the journey you plan to send your MC on.

Traditionally, the Court Cards of the Tarot were used to represent people. Because I’m encouraging you to set aside what you might know about the Tarot already, I strongly suggest that you look through the whole deck for your Signifier. It’s alright if you choose a Court Card, but just know that you don’t have to.

Using the Spread

Once you have your Signifier, if you’re planning to use one, then you can focus on it and what you know of your MC while you shuffle the rest of the deck. When you feel ready—and there is no wrong time—stop shuffling and draw three cards.

As mentioned before, the first card is your first act, the second card is your second act, and the third card is your third act.

I suggest that you lay them down face-down and turn them over one at a time. Spend some time on each card with a journal in hand, ready to write down what comes to mind. Don’t focus on it too much, just let your pen go. You can always shape it how you want it later on.

You can write what you see in the scene in the card, you can write down a feeling that you get from the card. This is for you. There is no wrong way to do it, unless you’re doing something that doesn’t feel right. Even then, trust yourself.

Spend at least 5-10 minutes on each card, really letting yourself free write on each card.

Adding 2 Cards for the 3 Acts

Once you’ve drawn the cards for the 3-Act Story Structure spread, you can draw a further two cards for the theme.

While there will be an all-over theme that your story will have, there can sometimes be a point in which the theme seems to switch, or at least, alter. For example, a story that starts out about surviving a war can then alter into a story of surviving in a new society. The overall theme of survival is there, but there is a switch in what the MC is surviving.

Draw two cards, A and B, one to put between the first and second act cards, and one to put between the second and third act cards.

Again, I encourage you to read the cards one at a time. Flip card A over and read it, spending time with it, and then looking at it in relation to how it relates to cards 1 and 2. Spend some time journaling what you think. Try looking at the cards in the order of 1, A, and 2 like they’re a story on their own. How does A act as a transition between cards 1 and 2? Or, you can read card A and look at cards 1 and 2 as the details of card A. How does this shape your story?

Do the same with cards 2, B and 3. Look at how they shape each other. Play around with this in your journal.

You can do this first, or you can do this after playing with cards 1-3, but another combination you can try is looking at cards A and B together to see what their combined meaning might be in terms of an overall theme for the story.

After the homework assignment, there will be an example if you’re interested in seeing how this might look.

Homework

If you have a deck of tarot cards, try this spread out, either on an existing concept for a story that you have, or completely from scratch.

If you don’t have a deck of cards, check out www.Serennu.com, using the 3-card reading feature. Use the three cards to represent each of the 3 acts. This isn’t an optimal site since it uses the Rider-Waite Smith deck (which I personally don’t find the best when reading for creative writing, though that’s a personal opinion). However, you can explore other sites that let you pick cards at random, or follow the hashtag #tarotreadings on Instagram, where you can find people posting their 3-card readings, and use those as inspiration for your 3-Act Story Structure Spread.

Example Reading

For this sample reading, I am using the Light Seer’s Tarot by Chris-Anne. I love this deck, and totally recommend it for creative writing prompts. There are many, many others that I could recommend, but that’s a post for another day.

Signifier: the Sun

I picked the Sun because it represents a woman who ha it all. She’s free-spirited and has a pretty contented life. If anything, she can be a little cocky, which is a downfall of hers, but Tasha feels like she has been touched by the sun.

Act 1: 3 of Pentacles

3 of Pentacles Light Seer's Tarot

Tasha is a part of an artistic group, and she’s somewhat the boss in the grope. The guy, Daniel, is in love with her, and then he asks her out. Tashia, however, knows that her sister, Rebecca, sitting on the floor there, is in love with Daniel. While Tashia has harbored feelings for a while, she has respected Rebecca’s feelings and kept them to herself.

When Daniel asks her out, in front of her sister, everything changes. What was once a tight-knit creative group of friends has now become a place of hurt.

Act 2: 10 of Swords

10 of Swords Light Seer's Tarot

With her sister blaming Tashia for Daniel’s feelings and Tasha not wanting to confront her own feelings, she leaves. She can’t stick around for this. She needs to figure out what she wants in life. Is it Daniel? Is it family? What means the most to her?

She knows that she can’t stick around to find out, and so she leaves, getting them both out of her daily living so she can learn about herself.

Act 3: Queen of Wands

Queen of Wands Light Seer's Tarot

What Tasia learns is that life is precious and must be celebrated. She knows that she loves Daniel and Rebecca equally, and she would rather love Daniel as a friend and keep him in her life as well as keep Rebecca in her life by not betraying her and going for Daniel.

She has gone and come back with her heart-centered answer, and was humbled during the experience.

Card A: Death

Note: If ever you draw the Death card in Tarot—IT DOES NOT LITERALLY MEAN DEATH. I feel like since I’m talking to writers that we can all understand the idea of symbolism. Death is a symbol of transformation and growth, of shedding that which is no longer needed in order to move on to the next thing.

Tarot Spread. Far left card is the Sun, showing a woman spreading her arms and looking up at the sun, as if she's been spinning and stopped to pay homage. Three cards are next to the left card, lining up vertically. The bottom card is the 3 of Pentacles, showing a woman sitting and knitting on the floor, working on the wall hanging in the center of the card. A man is holding the wall hanging up, looking down and smiling at a second woman, who is standing with her back to the reader and looking up at the man. The middle card is a woman walking away along dry, sandy ground, with ten crows flying over head. This is the 10 of Swords. The top card is a woman sitting cross-legged, smiling with joy, with a cat curled up at her feet. There are candles all around her. She is smiling at a ball of light in one hand, and in the other hand she holds a staff straight up in the air. This is the Queen of Wands. There is a third column of cards, made of two cards. The bottom card is Death, a hooded face that reveals a night sky over dark trees inside the hood. The top card is a person suspended by a ribbon, bent

That being said, I’ll move on.

There is a hooded figure in the Death card, and a center of light, with tells me there is a journey within. It’s a night time setting within the hood, which tells me that it’s a journey into the unknown. This is the theme of the first part of the story, is helping Tasha look within, which is something she hasn’t done before.

The Death card is a contrast to the shiny card of the Sun which is her signifier, which says to me that the lessons she has to learn will balance her.

With this card falling between card 1 and 2, there is a transformation in which she has to think of other people. Her social sphere has changed when Daniel told her that he cares about her, and when Rebecca overheard it. She’s forced into the changed sphere. If she wants to fix it, she needs to change is further.

Card B: Hanged Man

The Hanged Person is confident and comfortable enough in their position that they can close their eyes and reach into the pools of messages and meaning. Tasha grows comfortable with her ability to sink within to find meaning, to remain still and listen to what her inner wisdom has to say. She can remain suspended in this place for as long as she needs to.

It is through this sitting with herself that she recognizes the need to act from a place of love, in its truest and purest sense, in order to make things right between her, Daniel and Rebecca. From this, she comes back with the answer.

Combining A and B

The first part of the story is about delving within. For Tasha, she’s not comfortable with this because she’s never done it. Because she wants to find answers and keep her sunshiny existence as loving as peaceful as she can, she has to get uncomfortable in order to grow.

She finds that the discomfort isn’t so bad, and even begins to find comfort in it, and from there she grows.

The overall theme then is finding growth in discomfort.


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