- by Emilie Richards
I just returned from a writer’s gathering in Sarasota, Florida. Not a conference, not a workshop, but a brainstorming group with four writer friends. We began this journey together several years ago, at first attempting to meet twice yearly but more sensibly cutting down to once when our writing—which is, after all, the point—got in the way.
Every writer is asked where his/her ideas come from. The question comes with the territory; it’s epidemic. My answer is always simple: everywhere. For most writers, ideas have to take a number. They have to stand in line. We see them everywhere.
But ideas can grow stale, or predictable, or have flaws we don’t recognize. That, of course, is the point of brainstorming. Not to take and use other people’s ideas, but to move our own to an entirely different level.
Several years ago one of our brainstormers, Casey Daniels, brought Tarot cards with her for the week. One night for fun, we decided to do a reading for a character from one of the brainstorming sessions that day. The experience transformed all the weeks to come. Now reading the Tarot is one of our favorite events. Once during our week together, each of us chooses the character we feel we know the least about, or alternatively, a familiar character whose motivations aren’t clear to us, and we do a reading.
So what exactly are we doing? Telling a character’s fortune? Asking for advice from above? Expecting, perhaps, the long departed Mark Twain or Agatha Christie to come forward out of eternal darkness and solve our plotting dilemmas?
Contrary to popular belief, Tarot cards are not really used to tell fortunes. Answers to most of the questions we ask are within us. Tarot simply helps us get in touch with them.
Have you ever looked closely at a deck of Tarot cards? The Rider-Waite deck, created in 1909, is probably the most common in the US, since for years it was the only one available. The deck is made up of the major and minor arcana. The suits are wands, swords, cups and pentacles, and each card has a different picture. The major arcana cards have no suit, but rather “characters” or “images” with names like the Empress, or the Tower or the Wheel of Fortune. There’s plenty of history available on the Internet, along with pictures of the cards. But the images are powerful, evocative and moving. And anyone with an imagination should have a field day going through them.
Having once studied Gestalt Therapy, I understand the power of images to reach into our unconscious. Years ago I asked clients to choose and describe an image in the room using the word “I.” I am the lamp, I give light to all those around me but I am at the mercy of those who choose not to allow me to shine.”
Tarot has the same effect. The cards are shuffled, cut, then dealt into a spread. Each place on the table has a different meaning. What does the Knight of Wands say about the motivation of this character? We know little about traditional meaning, only that wands are generally cards representing energy, growth, enterprise. We pass the card around and quickly expound on what we see. Knowing the story in question, some of us see the character charging ahead, allowing “her” creative vision to overtake her good sense. Another sees the character on a journey of discovery, trying hard to hold herself back (the horse is rearing) but still aware that she must move forward. We move deeper in and begin to ask what she has to fear and why, and whether charging forward will be her downfall.
In all our readings, we’ve almost never been stopped in our tracks. Each card seems to make sense; each card tells us something important. We’ve clawed our way deeper into understanding, using the multiple images on the cards and Casey’s expertise, to find whatever is meaningful for us. We leave the readings with more and better ideas.
However, did I say that there’s NO fortune telling involved? Last week, when my character had her reading, a man showed up, and showed up, and showed up again. He could not be ignored, but who the heck was he? By the time the reading was finished, I saw, without a doubt, that this time the cards really had taken my character in a whole new and better direction. Was the idea there all along? Had I simply ignored it until the cards reminded me?
Does it matter?