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Pick a Card, Any Card

Last month I pointed out that two blogs seemed like one too many, until I realized that the actual writing is so different from what I normally do, this new addition is going to be fun.  Since then I’ve realized that having a different subject entirely for my Red Room blog posts might be intriguing.  I’m often asked about the writing process itself, or my writing process in particular, but those questions are not especially what readers of my website blog want to explore.  This seems like the perfect place instead.  So at least once a month, I’m planning to do just that, right here.

I just returned from a writer’s gathering in Sarasota, Florida.  Not a conference, not a workshop, but a brainstorming group with four close 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.  I’ll tell you more about what we do and how we do it another time.  But the purpose of brainstorming, as opposed to critique groups--which I have never been part of--is to stimulate new ideas for works in progress, and to test out old ideas on valued colleagues.

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.  The day I no longer have to order my ideas by viability is the day I’ll turn off my computer for good.  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 other people’s ideas, but to move our own to an entirely different level.

Several years ago one of our brainstormers, Casey Daniels, brought her tarot cards for the week.  For fun  one night we decided to do a reading for a character from one of the ideas we had brainstormed that day.  We were amazed by what we turned up, and the experience transformed all the weeks to come.  Now reading the Tarot is one of our favorite events.  Once during each week together, each of us chooses the character we feel we know the least about, or sometimes 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 meant to be 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 Joker or the Wheel of Fortune.   I won’t go into history here.  There’s plenty available on the Internet, along with pictures of the cards so that you can get a closer look.  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 used to ask 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 are not tarot readers so 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 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 the readings we’ve done, almost never have we 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?


5 Comment count
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The best tarot cards I've ever seen...

had Wizard of Oz characters. I can't remember what each symbol meant, but it was great to see.
What a great idea for a group! Sometimes I feel stuck and I don't want a writing group/workshop, rather an idea group. All of us feel stuck and it's a great idea to get unstuck.

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The Magic's in the Card Readers

Oh, what a terrible picture of me! But what a great explanation, Emilie, of our tarot readings for character. It is, as you mentioned, always an interesting and eye-opening experience. And (not incidentally), I do writers' workshops on reading for plot, character, etc. If anyone's interested, drop me an email at casey@caseydaniels.com

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I have those cards!

Jennifer and the esteemed Casey,

First Jennifer, I have that deck. I'm looking forward to learning them. I spent so much time in Oz as a child, I think they'll come naturally.

And Casey, I highly recommend your workshops! And your collection of cards, too. Casey has great decks. (And she is much more fetching in real life, too, I agree.)


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Emilie's Tarot Comments

I am in the writers' group that is blessed to have Casey Daniels and Emilie Richards in it. At first wary of doing a Tarot reading for one of my characters, within five minutes I was asking, "Are we taping this?" And we were.
The Tarot reading regarding a character's motivation, downfall, greatest strength, etc., were absolutely invaluable when I returned home and delved deeper into the story, always asking, "What's really going on here? What's Goldy's real motivation? How can she use her strengths to solve this crime?"
I wholeheartedly give the highest possible recommendation to Casey Daniels and her Tarot readings. One way she explained it was, "It's very Jungian." And that, too, helped me understand the way the symbols work.
Before I started writing, I did publicity for a church conference center. One of our week-long conferences was "Jung and Christianity." Part of my compensation was that I was allowed to attend the conference, and at various points, we were given symbols and asked to say what they meant to us. The most startling revelation of the week was that I didn't read those symbols; they read me.
It is the same with Casey Daniels' Tarot readings. They offer symbols that help you go deeply into yourself and your characters. What a gift this is.
Diane Mott Davidson

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Tarot and Jung


Great point about the Jungian nature of the cards.  We pull what we need, and sometimes surprises, too.  Anyway, thanks for emphasizing what a great tool this can be. 

When my husband was in seminary--a very different and innovative one in Berkeley, California--I attended a presentation on using Tarot cards in counseling.  Of course they would do much the same work in that environment, serving as a great shortcut to the unconscious.  I don't know if any of the participants who went on to the ministry ever used this with parishioners, I know my husband never has, but I clearly remember the session.  At the time I thought this was just more Berkeley madness (this was the early seventies, after all) but now I actually understand what she was saying.