Thursday, September 12, 2019

Developing my Short Story "Sacrifices" with Tarot


When I first began learning tarot, my first impression of the major arcana was simply, "Oh! I recognize this! It's the hero's journey. These are archetypes." To be fair, I work as a writer and my degrees are in English, so it was a quick jump for me to recognize the cards for what they were. As I learned, it was the moment I realized that reading the cards was a form of storytelling that my readings all snapped into place. The side effect of this realization, however, was that I then wanted to try my hand at writing an actual story with tarot cards.

Using the tarot for story building isn't an unheard of method. Authors such as Stephen King and John Steinbeck purportedly used tarot to build their stories. In addition, teachers such as James Ricklef use storytelling to demonstrate how to connect the cards in readings for actual people. Clearly there is a tight bond between tarot reading and fiction.

I attempted a tarot challenge once in the past, but it was a huge exercise of planning, and I never completed it. When one of the Daily Tarot mods stepped forward to lead a free-form tarot story challenge over the course of the month, I was excited to participate. There were no guidelines. Use tarot anyway you like to develop a story, and share. I liked this much better, because I feel storytelling is a very intuitive process much like tarot. Sure, there are those who like to plan every fine detail, but there's always an alternative approach. I felt like this was my opportunity to make it simple and actually finish a story!

I went classic tarot and decided to use the celtic cross to develop the plot of my story. I'm currently leading a series of discussions about the celtic cross, so I figured this would be a great overlap project.


Planning the Plot with a Celtic Cross

Why reinvent the wheel? The Celtic Cross is a spread which gives great general readings when you want to dig into the overall "plot" of someone's life right now. Why not use it to tell a story? Here's how I connected these cards into "Sacrifices."

1 Self/Present Situation

The particular meaning of the 5 of Swords that really stuck out to me here was being overwhelmed, opposition, and lack of support. Ursuline is completely alone against an army of angry shades. She has successfully held on to her sense of self and maintained some firm protections against the shades, but it really isn't enough. There's a lot of disappointment, and it's not just in the shades that have been successfully turned away.

2 Problem

The Queen of Pentacles in the problem position made me feel like Ursuline's problem needed to something human. And not just human, female. I used the queen's representation very literally to present another character, the witch, who would be extremely problematic for Ursuline and ultimately be her downfall.

I also tend to associate this card with a female friend of my own. Appearing in this crossed position brought to mind the ways her friendship had been problematic for me. It grew into a larger theme of the toxic feminine sacrificing other women to survive.

3 Past

Ursuline has experienced or partook in a misuse of power. The King of Swords shows up reversed, and it's this unethical king that she constantly bemoans. According to Ursuline, the shades are asking for more than they are owed. As the central figure of the story, we have to trust her judgement. However, it's unclear if Ursuline has abused her own power and not given proper dues to those who have supported her, or if she has made some unwise decisions on where to gain her power.

It sets the stage for the uneasiness of the present in the 5 of Swords. Is Ursuline the girl clutching the two swords or is she the disarmed and disappointed knight walking away? There's a bit of flow in her character to be both. And I wanted that to be there since the beauty of tarot is that the subjectivity of each card is up to the reader.

4 Future

The future position in a celtic cross spread throws off a lot of readers, and though it informs the outcome, it is not the outcome. It is what happens tomorrow, next, leading up to the outcome. And though Judgement is a card about resurrection, rebirth, and fresh starts, it is exactly this step forward that brings Ursuline toward her ending. It's impossible to say if she could have held the shades away forever on her own, but she definitely moved toward the dark outcome of the reversed Moon by looking for a new opportunity.

5 Conscious

I often interpret this position not just as consciousness, but higher consciousness -- a message from the higher self. The 4 of Swords is another card of the mind. Ursuline's current state is one of constant conflict. She lives in the back and forth of turmoil in the 5 of Swords. She needs rest. She knows she needs rest, but it's her unconscious desires that inform the method she chooses of finding rest.

6 Unconscious

There are only two places that cups show up in this reading -- in this position and hopes and fears. I think there's a very clear line drawn here. The 9 of Cups is incredibly hopeful, and I feel informs who Ursuline is as a person. There's an underlying warmth to her, a deep ability to love and be loved. The unfortunate truth about our unconscious influences, however, is our tendency to project ourselves onto others. When we don't recognize the reflection as our own, we make the mistake of believing we see the better parts of ourselves in others.

7 Emotions/Personal Influence

Urusline truly believes her situation is unjust. This sense of unfairness comes from Justice reversed. Perhaps her situation is truly unfair, but there is a greater cosmic sense of justice that is beyond her. She is dealing with cosmic/spiritual beings that are by nature greater than her, but she's doesn't seem to  recognize them as divine. She has a strong sense of what she believes to be just, but who is she to decide?

8 External Influences

The Knight of Swords rode into this position reversed, and that's when I knew there had to be a steely, stabby influence in the story. The reversed knight here is one who is bitter, resents the happiness of other, and disrespects women, but how would this come into play? Our heroine is certain that her own divinity is equal in value to that of the shades. Though they have clearly provided her with something she wouldn't otherwise have, she is resolute that she has paid them fairly for it. So, whatever it is that she has given is either being overvalued by her, or undervalued by the shades. 

I personally believe we all have a piece of divinity within us, and I think the end of the story finally lends some insight to the conflict between Ursuline and the shades. In exchange for something they gave her, they took everything.

9 Hopes & Fears

The Page of Cups is such a happy, loving page, but the poor little reversed page fears neglect. The fear of being alone was heavy enough to motivate Ursuline to a seemingly uncharacteristic act. She's been so cautious, so why does she let down her guard for the witch? Ursuline's unconscious self combines with her fear of being alone, of not being recognized for who she is, and a need to authentically express herself with others overrides her caution. Her last act is an act of desperation and love.

10 Outcome

For those who saw my Instagram post prior to the story, you probably suspected some deceit would come into play for the ending. The reversed Moon is a card of hidden intentions, lies, and betrayal. The ties to lunacy also played in as I wrote the story as well. I didn't want Ursuline to appear as a perfectly well-reasoned character, and I wanted the world she lived in to be somewhat fantastic. I do feel I missed some opportunity with this card, as the story tied to it is the one of Blodeuwedd and the Lake of Maidens

After Initial Planning

Describing how these cards tied to the story after the fact is all well and good, but if I were to be honest, it took me a long time to tie it together. In fact, I toyed with a lot of ideas and none quite fit until the name Ursuline popped into my head. Unfortunately this only happened after I procrastinated writing by doing another spread to try to understand the character the events outlined in the Celtic Cross were happening to.

It definitely made me realize that perhaps those long arduous challenges which outline the millions of little details weren't so frivolous after all. By the end of it, I had planned a plot and worked on character development which I'll be covering in a future post!

If you would like to receive a Celtic Cross reading, they are available for purchase in my etsy shop!

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