Tarot Tells the Story
An Exploration of Tarot and the Creative Process
On Feb. 2, Argo bookstore hosted a workshop by Phoebe Tsang—playwright and author of the recent short story collection release Setting Fire to Water.
Tsang ran a creative writing class with a twist: adding Tarot into the mix. Tsang’s goal was to teach writers how to integrate Tarot into their writing practice—be it to cure writer’s block, advance plots, or provide information about a poetry collection or character.
The event attracted writers from virtually all mediums–including poetry, prose fiction, video games, teleplays. Everyone brought something different they’d been working on to experiment with.
Tsang is well versed in tarot: “Tarot is something that entered my life a decade ago,” said Tsang. “When my father died I wanted to know [where to turn for answers], that’s where the tarot came in.”
The participants at the event had varying degrees of experience. “I have a deck, but I’ve never done a guided workshop,” said Talia Amaru-Kapantais, one of the writers. Genny Methot, another writer at the event, had a little more experience in tarot. “I have a few decks. I’m so fascinated, especially when they’re woven into books,” she said. While she had heard of using tarot for literature, she had never tried it herself.
Tsang began the evening by inviting the writers to use tarot in order to explore their personal relationship with writing. The first exercise began with Tsang instructing participants to draw one of the major arcana cards and brainstorm as many associations with it as they could in two minutes. “The goal of this is to loosen your mind,” Tsang explained. This exercise was meant not only to prepare participants for writing, but also to warm up the deck.
Tsang then proceeded to ask the participants a series of questions. The writers were encouraged to use the same card they had picked for the first question and observe its details. Tsang explained that this exercise was meant to slow participants down. “We’re so focused on the end result that it makes us freeze, but the single card deep dive makes us feel that there’s no pressure,” she said. She encouraged participants to not only apply this concept to this exercise but to the art of writing as well.
Tsang explained that tarot can help writers solve difficult problems in their work. “Ask the cards open-ended questions like: what kind of poem do I need to round out my collection? Or, how can I make my antagonist more sympathetic?” she said.
In the second activity presented by Tsang, writers could use their whole deck—including both major and minor arcana cards. Participants were encouraged to shuffle their cards until it felt as if the cards were speaking to them, then choose the card that stood out the most when answering each individual question as prompted aloud by Tsang. Some participants drew two cards, others only one. In either case, the writers answered questions surrounding their personal relationships with writing and how the way they think of writing influences their practice.
Writers of all types agreed that Tsang’s workshop was helpful to their creative processes. “It’s not really difficult to get into. We were all there with our cards and suddenly we were writing non-stop,” said Methot.
Amaru-Kapantais also had a positive experience. “I think I’m always looking for new sources of inspiration, and I like that this overlaps and intersects with something that I had an interest in. The intersection between creative writing and tarot: both things that I’d like to learn more about and do more with,” she said.
The final activity was given for the writers to take home with them and specifically addressed writer’s block. The exercise explored “How to unstick your story” and prompted writers to reach for tarot to answer questions such as “What is the main obstacle? What is the root? What or who can support me? How can I take action to unstick my story?”
Tsang encouraged participants to seek out literature involving tarot and writing. “When I started doing this three or four years ago, there weren’t really any books on tarot for writers out there,” she said, “now there’s so many great options.”
Tsang’s book Setting Fire to Water is available for purchase online and at Argo Bookstore.
This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 11, published February 7, 2023.