When using tarot for creative writing, I find that it’s most effective when you work from a deck that is rich, complex, and open to interpretation (see my post How to Choose a Tarot Deck for more detail on this). For this particular exercise, I chose my Voyager Tarot deck, a deck that employs the art of collage to evoke emotion and symbolic meaning.
Draw four cards from your well-shuffled deck and place them face-down in a row. Turn them over one by one, left to right, absorbing the details of each image before moving on to the next.
Create a short written work (poem, flash fiction, etc.) that draws from the images on the cards. You don’t have to use everything you see in the card; one image will do. For instance, in my first card, the Child of Cups (depicted below), I focused on the rainbow near the card’s top. The images must appear in the written work in the order the cards were drawn.
When I saw the first card I had drawn, I admittedly felt overwhelmed. There was so much activity — so many children! — that I didn’t know where to begin. But after examining the card more thoroughly I began to notice other details — the rainbow and the water — and decided that this would be the starting point for my story. Someone sees a rainbow, and wishes to swim in it.
If you try this exercise yourself, sometimes the image that speaks to you will jump out immediately. Other times, like in my case, you will have to spend a bit more time with the card before you find something that connects.
With an idea for a beginning, I turned over the next card.
This was another card I had to meditate on before I knew which image I wanted to use, although it took slightly less time now that I knew I was starting with a rainbow. I eventually saw a connection between the rainbow and the medicine wheel in the Woman of Wands, and knew that this would be the perfect metaphor for describing the way a rainbow looks, both in terms of color and curve.
Satisfied, I turned over my third card.
When I saw that I had drawn the Hanged Man, I immediately knew that I wanted to convey the sensation of a downward spiral. I realized that someone swimming up a rainbow must come down the other side, and I would use the image of water churning down a drain to communicate this feeling.
I moved on to the final card.
I had been hoping for a slightly more evocative card for my fourth and final draw. I didn’t see very much in the image at first: it seemed static to me. But there was something compelling about the crystals’ glimmering. How could I use that in the rainbow story?
After pondering this for a minute or two, I realized that the Two of Crystals could represent the fabled treasure at the end of a rainbow. Someone who found this treasure would be very happy indeed. But if someone sailed down the rainbow and fell upon it…?
I was ready to write my piece.
It began as a poem, of which I did at least four drafts. But I’m not naturally a poet, and I was frustrated with the end result. I considered admitting defeat and forgetting all about the card exercise I had done. However, the next day I found myself turning over the images in my head (rainbow, medicine wheel, spiral, crystal) and I suddenly saw how the whole thing could become a surrealist flash fiction story. I eagerly began writing, and this time I only needed one solid draft with a few read-overs for small revisions. And here it is, in its final form:
Look, he said. A rainbow.
She squinted. Where?
There. If you tilt your head like this.
She tilted her head.
Ah, she said. How nice.
Shall we swim up it? he said. He was already untying his shoes.
Rainbows are just water, he explained. Just light in water. So I don’t see why not.
They undressed and stepped into the rainbow. It was cool and shimmering, and now they were shimmering too. They leapt and kicked their way up its taut arc painted bright like a medicine wheel.
It’s like flying, she cried with joy.
It’s like swimming, he corrected her.
When they reached the top they were spiraled promptly down the other side, two dizzy drops in a drain.
What a view, he shouted.
She couldn’t see very well on account of the glittering spray in her eyes.
Everywhere, he said.
I trust you, she replied.
It was a beautiful falling, but when they landed they did so with a crash of pain. They had forgotten all about the rule of rainbows: there is always treasure at the end. Sharp golden shards of it, not designed for falling upon.
Why did I watch the view? he moaned.
Why did I trust you? she sobbed.
There was no one else around so the treasure was theirs and they ended their journey rich, rich, rich.
(Copyright M. Hummer 2019)