Monday, April 10, 2017

Storytelling Practice for Tarot

Many of the beginner approaches to tarot out there focus on learning card meanings. There's a good reason; 78 is a lot of cards to learn, and the basic meanings are foundational to reading the cards. But I find comparatively few resources out there to help us practice synthesizing meaning. This is frustrating if you are somebody who struggles to "just use your intuition" around the cards. In other words, it's hard to find beginner resources for the storytelling aspect of tarot.

The exercise I'm sharing today works even if you have zero knowledge of card meanings; you can do it with your first tarot deck, fresh out of the box, with no background! It's also an exercise I still find useful even after reading cards semi-professionally for the past few years. Long-time veteran cardslingers, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

The first step is to take your deck and pull two cards.  Lay them side by side.  I'm using the Tarot of the Magical Forest today, and I pulled the knight of wands and the nine of pentacles.

Now, I want you to tell a story about these two cards.  Forget that they are tarot cards; view them as adjacent illustrations in a children's book. Don't worry about associating them with tarot meanings.  Write or say a few sentences about what is happening in a way that connects the two pictures into a cohesive narrative.  Here's my "story" about these guys:
Sir Swampington is a young noble, famous for his ability to tame wild frog-steeds. He has pined after Patricia Pentacles, a dashing young fox woman; however, she has taken a vow of silence and celibacy. She lives content tending to a wildlife refuge. Sir Swampington has decided that the heartache is too much, so he leaves to seek a new adventure. 
Is it silly? A bit over the top?  Heck yeah. That's kind of the point here; creativity and storytelling are skills that require practice, and this exercise is the basic version of it (think of it as practicing your scales on the piano so that you can play a sonata later). Also, ignoring the tarot meanings for awhile gives you the freedom to get a bit silly with it, and whimsy can be a great tool for allowing yourself some creative freedom.

Once you're comfortable with this exercise, you can try another permutation.  Pull three cards, but this time assign them a specific role. The first card is your main character; the second is their best friend, and the third, their antagonist. I pulled Judgement, the three of pentacles, and the High Priestess:

I'm doing the same kind of children's-picture-book storytelling here, but I've added more structure with the roles.  I'm still not thinking about tarot-related meanings. Here's the story I came up with:
Lucretia Flufflywings is a sheep-angel who is in charge of leading a band, but she is nervous about being in charge.  Her best friends, Foxypants and Weasel-nose aren't good enough musicians to be in her band, but they know she is stressed out, so they invite her over to their weird church-house so she has a relaxing place to stay. Their landlord, Queen Owl, doesn't like this; she makes it her goal to keep Lucretia from staying with Foxypants and Weasel-nose, and even tries to break up Lucretia's band. However, it only galvanizes Lucretia, and with the support of Foxypants and Weasel-nose, she leads her band to win all the Grammies the next year. 
Guys, that story was so silly that I was almost embarassed to type it out. This brings me to another point: obviously, our querents are in a vulnerable position when we read for them, but we are also vulnerable as card readers. That is to say, we are exposing our own intuitions, instincts, and values. This story-telling exercise not only helps us practice connecting cards together, it helps us practice letting go of the inhibitions that prevent us from really tapping into our intution.

These two exercises will help you get used to joining multiple cards together in narrative. Whether you use the simple two-card version, or the more structured three-card, you'll get to work on an important tarot skill without the pressure of "doing tarot."  This exercise should also work with any non-abstract deck (I don't necessarily see it being super useful with a Thoth deck, but hey, I could be wrong).

Do you think this exercise would be helpful for you? What are other ways you practicing combining cards? What story would you tell based on the cards I pulled here?  Let us know in comments!

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