Tarot and Storytelling: The Blind Leading The Blind.
Published 2022-06-02 // 02 June 2022.
I am, perhaps, unqualified to write an article of this nature. I've merely dabbled in tarot personally as a hobby and a curiosity, but don't take it particularly seriously or have any interest whatsoever in paying for a reading from a stranger. I have felt moderately attacked and fully seen by the one-card pull I was guided through by a family friend, though. Five of Swords (upright), if anyone's curious. To me, a spread works out to be a Rorschach test of sorts with a few more rules. You "see" what you're inclined to. The cards and their configurations allow for a wide range of personal interpretations, and there is no "right" answer when approaching them. They are a vehicle for communicating a deeper narrative, and with that in mind, I'd like to share a very nifty little method of card-based divination that I've come across.
I simply shuffle the cards and ask them to tell me a story about no one in particular.
I'm a fan of the classic Celtic Cross spread because it can do precisely this, but I've been trying to create my own methodology that suits my ends. I've done "studies" of NPCs from an old D&D campaign of mine with tarot spreads for insight into the roles I was trying to have them play. That's a fun little exercise that I would strongly recommend to any DM/GM looking to develop the major characters in their stories.
When I'm just screwing around, though, I tend to place the cards I draw into a rough facsimile of a three-act narrative arc. I am not particularly experienced and still need a guide to interpret most cards, but I really love doing a "spread" this way, and usually take whatever story I spin from the given "prompts" as nonspecific insight into my present feelings and roadblocks. I prefer this approach to asking more direct questions or addressing more narrow problems, and have found that it's very fun to play with the cards this way. It works out to be a creative exercise and a "guided meditation" of sorts, and again, I'd recommend it.
I'll do an example spread to sort of illustrate what I mean. This setup can be adapted to tell longer and more complex stories, but we'll just go with six cards for a simple fable: two introductory (1-2), a rising action (3), a climax (4), a falling action (5) and an "ending" (6). I’m using this website as a guide for interpreting each card, but as I said, there is no right answer for a lot of this stuff. You could come to a completely different story from the same cards in the same configurations simply because you and I are different people who latch on to different things narratively.
#1 - JUSTICE [XI], UPRIGHT
I love it when I pull a Major Arcana card this early on. The theme of our story seems to be… well, Justice, and perhaps balance, or cause and effect.
#2 - PAGE OF SWORDS, INVERTED
I also like when I'm able to take this placement in as the “character” we'll follow, so in this case, our hero is the Page of Swords - generally regarded to be an inquisitive and determined type. Since our card is inverted, we're going to consider concepts of manipulation and deception (in my imagining, distortions of determination) as we move forward.
#3 - TWO OF PENTACLES, UPRIGHT
This is our "inciting action", or something that explains it. The card illustration here tends to show a pentacle in either hand of the central figure. We'll consider this to be indicative of balance again, or maybe more specifically a "balancing act"… I've got this idea in my head of a "crossroads" for our hero that requires a choice in assignment of priorities here.
#4 - FOUR OF SWORDS, INVERTED
It seems the height of this narrative arc reflects a moment of transition, restlessness. Contextually, I see it as a choice to adhere to the "inverted" path of determination by our hero - a failure to shift from boundless and dangerous ambition despite having the chance to.
#5 - THE EMPEROR [IV], INVERTED
Our "falling action", possibly the consequences of the prescribed "climax". The inverted Emperor fits right into the narrative we've developing here - our hero has grown despotic and vicious in her goals and ends…
#6 - THE TOWER [XVI], INVERTED
I believe this represents, in a few words, threatened foundations. Within the ending of our little tale is the suggestion of fragile footing, of a fall to come, or perhaps of repeated folly.
So that's it, then. I wrote myself a season of prestige television with a deck of cards, my imagination, and a little help from the internet. This is about the most simplified formula for this kind of reading, but plenty more can be done with the concept. For example, resting horizontally oriented cards on top of certain vertical ones to represent conflict is something I've considered but never done in practice with a custom spread. Some stories told this way are stronger than others. I personally like when they involve Cups and Wands.
I won't delve too deeply into my personal feelings about the reading I arrived at. Ostensibly, this is because I feel like that sort of thing is too revealing to just write up on the internet (such is the nature and danger of divination) but it's also because I want to encourage you, dear reader, to interpret the story I "wrote" here for yourself. The meanings I derive from it may mean nothing to you, and may cloud your head with nonsense...
I also generally don't do readings for others unless I'm really in the mood for it. If I know you, I'm too direct about the story I think you should be hearing, and if I don't know you, I know I probably can't tell you anything about yourself that you weren't already aware of, so I just talk in circles, or my reading ends up reflecting more about myself than about you. That's why I like this approach as an individual, really. It's a method of introspection, not through the direct request of information from the cards themselves or from a professional, but through the way you personally interpret stories, themes, and characters.
I'm interested in learning more about tarot, though, and talking to people who practice it and other forms of divination. If you enjoyed this little exercise and would like to share what you thought or things you know, consider sending me an e-mail!