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How to Use Tarot for Writing with a 2-Card Spread

Tarot for WritingI’m not just a tarot reader, but I’m also a writer. Writing always has and always will be my number one passion. Tarot, on the other hand, has been with me my entire adult life and before, guiding me many steps of the way over the last 15 years. I thought I might share how my two passions came to ‘be friends’.

I’m by no manner the first person to think that tarot and writing go hand in hand. When I was in high school and reading about the characteristics of the court cards, I had the recurring through that I should use the cards for writing prompts. I didn’t know that anyone else was doing so, and thought that I’d stumbled on something unique and original in my 17-year-old hubris (of course I hadn’t).

A few years later I came across Corrine Kenner‘s book, Tarot for Writersand immediately purchased it (Side note: If you follow the link attached to Corrine’s name it takes to her ‘About’ page of her website, which is a website to her store in which she sells haunted antiques–how cool is that??). I won’t lie, I don’t have the book any more, and I don’t remember much about it. I loved to write at the time, but I wasn’t as disciplined about it at that time. However, the point is, other people have marketed this opportunity to use tarot as a writing tool–and rightly so!

Tarot and Lenormand readings have cropped up in my writing from time to time, though I try not to use it all the time, as it might just sound redundant, and I find that people who aren’t into tarot generally skip over those parts, or find little interest in it (thanks for the feed back, dear beta readers (the unsung heroes of creative writing)). But it doesn’t mean that you can’t use tarot for writing prompts.

Personally, I can gain a lot from a small reading of just two or three cards when it comes to a writing prompt. One could map out worlds by using the Celtic Cross, but I find that for me, it puts too specific of a point on the story, and doesn’t allow for my own creativity to build between the cards, so to speak. So I keep it simple.

I thought I might outline my method of writing prompts via the cards.

Tarot as a Writing Prompt

The Method

Signifier

I never used to be one for selecting a signifier card, though recently it’s grown on me. However, regardless of your stance on signifier cards, I do highly recommend you use one if you’re using tarot as a writing prompt.

Me, personally, if I’m starting a brand new project, I’ll select the Ace of Wands for my signifier. It represents the beginning of new ideas and new creative endeavors, which seems perfect for what I’m after.

However, there are other considerations that might appeal to you more:

  1. If you have a story idea revolving around a theme (unrequited love, oppression, greed, etc.), you might select a card based on that.
  2. If you already have a character in mind, select a card that best resembles your character.
  3. You might select a card that best resembles you if the story is meant to be related to your own experiences, or if you want to tap into your own creative unknown.
  4. If all of the above seem equally apt for your signifier, select a card for each, then add the numbers up and select a major arcana card that corresponds with that number. If you select the 3 of swords for option 1, The Empress for your character, and you personally connect with the Page of Cups, you would add 3 (3 of Swords), 3 (Empress) and 11 (Page of Cups) together to get 18. Your card would then be The Moon. If your tally is more than 22, then reduce to a single digit and consider the two cards it corresponds with. For example, if it was 34, it would reduce to 7 (3+4). In the Major Arcana, 7 corresponds to VII The Chariot and to XVI The Tower (1+6=7). You could select either one of these cards to represent your story, or you could further add the two together and create another card (7+16=23, 2+3=5, the Hierophant). Let what feels right work for you.

The First Operation

There is a method called the First Operation coined by Paul Foster Case, though I learned about it in benebell wen’s amazing book, Holistic Tarot. Performing this before a reading allows for the reader know the theme of the reading before going into it.

Once you’ve decided on a signifier card, you shuffle the cards, and with your left hand, divide the deck into two piles, leaving space between the two piles for another pile of cards. You do this right to left.

  1. The whole deck is divided into piles 1 and 2, moving RIGHT to LEFT
  2. Pile 1 is divided into two, which will then be pile 1 and A
  3. Pile 2 is divided into two, which will then be pile 2 and B
  4. The pile layout will be 1 A 2 B, with the numberd piles being the first cutting of the deck, and the letters being the cuttings of the numbered decks.
  5. But because you are moving RIGHT to LEFT, the pattern of the decks will actually be B 2 A 1.

There are Hermetic Kabalistic reference regarding these piles, and are the reason that we move from Right to Left in this operation, though I won’t go into it. I highly recommend obtaining a copy of wen’s book and reading about it in detail there. However, the basic gist of the meanings of the piles are as follows:

  • Pile 1 (on the far right)
    Represents career, work, and foundation. This is how we move through the world, that which we build our lives, or throw down our roots. It is our premise, if you will. This corresponds to the suit of Wands (Fire).
  • Pile A (the second pile in from the right)
    This represents our emotions, relationships, love, and family. This pile represents our interactions with people on a more personal level, and how we relate to them. This pile corresponds with the suit of Cups (Water).
  • Pile 2 (the second pile from the left)
    This pile is community, politics, ambitions, communications and the intellect. It is where problems are shown and the resolutions, and where disappointments might be found. It corresponds to the suit of Swords (Air).
  • Pile B (on the far left)
    This is the pile of finances and material concerns. This is where money concerns are, focusses of weal. This corresponds to the suit of Coins (Earth.

Once you have your piles, go through each and look for your signifier card. The pile that it falls in will indicate the theme or the problem that needs to be addressed in your story.

2-Card Spread

Selecting the Cards

Pull the signifier out. There are two ways you can do this: you can pull from the pile you found the signifier in, or, you can shuffle the full deck again. I personally don’t like the former since I will have just looked through the cards, and thus have a sense of what’s in there.

Instead, I put all the cards minus the signifier together, shuffle them, and cut the deck into four piles again, using the same method as above. Instead of looking for a card, I will pick up the corresponding pile that I found the signifier in, fan it out, and select two cards.

So, for example, if I found my signifier in the B pile, I’ll put all the cards together, shuffle, create the piles again, select the B pile, and fan them out to select two cards from there.

Card Placements

Like I said, I usually do a 2-card spread.

  • Card 1 Response
    In a normal 2-card reading, the first card would be the response to the question. However, as we’re looking at this for a writing prompt, I look at it as what the story is about, the setting or the main character if it’s a court card or a relative Major Arcana.
  • Card 2 Obstacle
    I put Card 2 across Card 1, as it’s the obstacle  or the considerations that are influencing Card 1. In the context of the story prompt, this is your problem that must be overcome, or your protagonist.

There are of course other layouts you can do, such as the 3-card lay out which could be Past, Present, Future, or could be Mind, Body, Spirit, or even each card could represent a different act of your story (if I remember correctly, this was one of the suggestions used in Tarot for Writers). However, I feel that there is a lot that can be gained from just this 2-card spread plus the First Operation.

Additional Context

Even though there are only two cards, you can gain a world of information by considering different aspects:

  • What are the literal and figurative interpretations of each card?
  • Do the cards represent situations or characters?
  • What Elements are strong in the spread? What are weak?
  • What do the numbers corresponding to the cards reveal?

With these things in mind, I plan on giving a weekly writing prompt by drawing two cards and providing them for you, dear readers. Let me know what you think. Do you have any suggestions? Do you use tarot for writing or any other creative practices? Let me know in the comments!

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