Creative Witch: Using Tarot as a (Song)Writing Tool

A flashing cursor. An empty page. A blank canvas. Just staring at you like “Are you a genius, or not?”

Well. Apparently not. ‘Cause you’re stuck af.

Reading tarot and doing witchy craft projects, you may be surprised to learn, is not my day job. In fact, it’s wayyy down the totem pole of day jobs that I’ve lovingly carved out for myself, right after Children’s Book Illustrator and Stationery Designer. And above those, right at the top? Songwriter. (Yep. My parents didn’t see the need to encourage any fiscally reliable life goals.)

Over the last 10 years of working as a writer and recording artist, I’ve been in my fair share of super awkward co-writing sessions. Sometimes you know your writing partner(s) for the day, and sometimes you just met them, like, 4 minutes ago, and now you’ve got to write a hit. Like, right now. So hurry the f*ck up and be brilliant.

Anyone else paralyzed with anxiety just thinking about that? Can’t afford that feeling when you’ve got 6 hours to write the next killer bop. Or a manuscript. Or your thesis.

I talk a lot about overcoming writer’s block, most recently on the Middle Class Musician podcast where I describe my method of free-journaling, which helps me immensely in songwriting sessions. But there’s one other anti-block method that I’ve come to rely on lately, and it always breaks the ice and piques curiosity in writing rooms — the Tarot.

Because the Tarot is essentially a narrative in and of itself — the Fool’s journey — the cards lend themselves especially well to story crafting in all forms. Whether you’re writing a song, a stage play, a novel, or a TV show, the Tarot has a way of providing you with literary fodder for days and getting your creative pipes unclogged and flowing freely. In this post, I’ll show you how I use a simple 3-card pull to craft miniature stories that I take with me to songwriting sessions, so that I always have an idea (or twelve) in my back pocket.


3-Card Story Building

Before an especially nerve-wracking songwriting session, or just whenever I have some free time, I’ll sit down with a journal and do a few 3-card pulls. Yes, you could absolutely do this with one card. Or two. Or five. But I feel like three is just enough cards to reveal a situation with some sort of conflict or turning point, and just few enough to allow me to fill in the blanks with my own imagination.

And, no, you don’t need to be a Tarot expert to use this method. There are plenty of Tarot “dictionaries” out there to help you translate the cards’ meanings. (I suggest Biddy Tarot on a desktop, or Golden Thread Tarot if you prefer an app for on-the-go.) Just pull three cards, look up their meanings, and let the story unfold.

Let me show you how it’s done.

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1. Pull your cards

First, we’ll pull three cards. Let’s say we get the the Two of Pentacles, The World, and The Knight of Cups.

2. What could each card represent in the story?

You could think of your three cards as “Beginning, Middle, and End,” or perhaps as “Character 1, Character 2, and The Conflict,” or “The Scene, The Incident, and The Outcome.” Or, perhaps each of these cards represents a character within your story.

But, most of the time when I use this method, I don’t assign a function to the cards at all. I just pull the cards and see what they want to tell me. If you wanna play this game fast and loose like me, just skip this step and ask yourself…

3. What do the cards themselves mean?

Lay out the cards and take a moment to meditate on the messages and meanings of each card. You can look up their traditional meanings or simply intuit their message based on what they look like. For example, the Two of Pentacles typically signifies multiple priorities, time management, prioritization, and adaptability. But maybe it reminds you of your Great Aunt Edna who was a stunt juggler at the circus, or a water nymph who gifts lucky onlookers with enchanted coins. Cool. Go with that.

3. Weaving the thread between the cards

Now, let’s craft the story. Take a look at the Two of Pentacles, The World, and The Knight of Cups and imagine how they might be stitched together:

This trio of cards could be painting the picture of a new love story. Imagine the exciting start of a new relationship, one that we know is truly special (signified by The Knight of Cups). Our lovers are hooked! But — and there’s always a “but” in a good story — both partners have insane work lives (a’la the busy Two of Pentacles) that keep them traveling constantly (The World), passing each other by like ships in the night, sometimes meeting briefly in a foreign city for one star-crossed evening together. Mmm. Sounds like a sexy pop song to me. (And it is. I’ve already written it.)


tip: don’t be afraid to mix it up

If a story is not unfolding for you right away, try shuffling the cards’ positions. Or flip them ‘round, as each card’s meaning is slightly different depending upon whether they’re upright or reversed.

We crafted a sweet little love story earlier, right? But maybe we’re not in the mood for sweet. If we reverse just one card — let’s say the Knight — the story changes.

Ruled by the heart and not the head, sometimes the Knight of Cups can get a bit ahead of himself. He can’t control his feelings, and his emotions are running the show. So, we have what looks like a perfectly balanced pair (Two), but one of the people in this seemingly-flawless couple is getting a little too hot-and-heavy (Knight in Reverse), and scares their would-be lover far, far away (The World).

Or, we could go even darker. Maybe this hot-headed guy (a.k.a. The Knight) becomes irate that his Juliet is too busy jet-setting (The World) and running her super-sick business empire to make time for their relationship (like the struggling juggler, Two of Pentacles). So, Dude Bro is thrown into a highly unflattering and deeply inappropriate rage. Eek. Scary novel, maybe? Female empowerment thriller starring ScarJo? Run, Juliet! Cancel that guy.

So, that’s my method! I hope you’ll give Tarot as a writing tool a try, and feel free to make it your own for whatever creative project you’re working on. It’s also a great way to ease in to learning Tarot. At the very least, whipping out a Tarot deck in the writing room and scaring the shit out of the Muggles is an excellent ice-breaker. You’ll definitely have a story to tell at your next cocktail party.

Let me know in the comments if this helped you banish your writers block!

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Holley MaherComment