I grew up wearing a pentagram, and so I think about the five metaphysical elements that correspond to a lot:
I also think about the tarot a lot. You might not know this about me, but along with being a writer and writing coach, I’m also a professional tarot reader. One style of reading that has deepened my understanding of the cards has been through these elements.
As I grew into my writing practice, I saw the correlation between these same elements that I use in the tarot, and the creative process.
That’s what this week’s episode is about. I want to tell you about how you can #WooYourWriting through the lessons of the tarot, but specifically, though the five elements.
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Gendered Language is Outdated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.
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
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.
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:
Card 1 represents Earth: home, the tangible world, how your MC makes money, health, etc.
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 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 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:
Card 1 represents the mothering figure themselves.
Card 2 represents how your MC responded to this mothering/nurturing/soft guidance.
Card 3 represents an important lesson learned from this figure.
Card 4 represents something challenging this figure left with your MC.
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:
The first card will be a card to represent this Emperor influence on your MC.
The second card you pull will represent how the MC governs themselves.
The third card will be a key take-away from this figure in your MC’s life.
And finally, there will be a card for something challenging this figure left your MC with.
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.
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.
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.
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