Review by Bonnie Cehovet
I was incredibly excited when I heard about this project. What a gift for a writer to be offered a nifty new tool to work with! As Kenner notes, the Tarot cards are an excellent tool for writing and creative thinking. They can be used as a storyline in and of themselves, or they can be used as a source of creative inspiration for developing plot lines and defining characters.
I feel that the use of the Tarot as a writing tool is certainly coming into its own. From the perspective of work being done in the Tarot world we can reference things like Episode 61 (Writing With The Tarot) of Tarotist Leisa ReFalo’s Tarot Connection Podcast, which features Susan Gold and Evelyn Pine (The Magician’s Table); Tarotist/author Stephanie Arwen Lynch, who holds online workshops for writers, as well as offering consultations focused on writing creative fiction; and Rachel Pollack’s excellent article on Tarot and writing on the Meta Arts site. There is much more being done – these are just examples that immediately come to my mind.
“Tarot For Writers” has as its intended audience two classes of people – writers, and Tarotists. Sometimes these come together in the same person, and sometimes they do not. For this reason, Kenner has included an entire section (Part I - Tarot 101) on working with the Tarot – from the structure of the deck to spreads and layouts. Included in this section are short descriptions of how the Major Arcana figures represent archetypal qualities. (From the book: “The High Priestess is the enigmatic keeper of spiritual secrets. Secretive and guarded, she knows the secrets that life holds – but she shares them only with the wise.”)
Each of the four suits is briefly described, as are the four Royal families. (From the book: “Pages are young and enthusiastic. They are students and messengers, children who must learn the fundamentals of the family’s rule. During the Renaissance, Pages were the youngest members of the royal court. It was their job to study – and to run errands, like ferrying messages from one person to another. The concept lives on in our everyday language even now, congressmen use pages as messengers, and we can page other people when there is an important message. When pages show up in a tarot reading, they typically represent young people, students, or messages.”)
A template is set out for formatting questions, and for performing a reading. Suggestions are given for describing the images on the cards, and for working with numerical associations, colors, symbols, and drawing cards for clarification. There is also a nudge here to “speak freely” – IOW, for the reader to not censor their interpretation of the cards.
In layouts and spreads, Kenner covers one, two, and three card readings, the Horseshoe spread, and the Celtic Cross spread. With each layout and spread there is a “Writing Practice”, which acts as an exercise to put the spread or layout to work.
Part II (The Writer’s Tarot) focuses on the mechanics of creating a story, beginning with the creation of characters. Kenner breaks the characters down (antagonist, protagonist, foils, supporting characters, and stock characters), and presents both “writing practice” exercises and specific exercises to define and develop each character. She goes into physical appearance, personality, personal life, personal history, and favorites.
There is an example given, using “Romeo and Juliet” as a foundation, as to how the twenty-two Major Arcana cards would show up as characters. Another exercise that I really liked was “Typecasting”, where Kenner went into archetypes, such as the Alchemist, the Anima, the Animus, the Artist, and the Fool.
Those who have studied the Tarot know that it has many associations. Kenner does a nice job of associating astrology with the cards, including a highly usable elemental reference guide, a glyph of the wheel of the Zodiac, the Zodiac houses (with their rulership, ruling sign and ruling planet), along with an example of the Zodiac spread.
From here Kenner moves into storyline and plot. She references Aristotle, and the three basic elements of literary plotting: beginning, middle, and end. She then moves beyond this and shows how to develop a Three-Act structure that is very easy to follow. Freytag’s Pyramid is something else that I found very interesting. It is the pyramid pattern that German novelist Gustav Freytag noted in the storyline of successful books. There is also a presentation of a writer’s version of the Celtic Cross that can be applied to the development of any standard plot.
Subplots, multiple story lines, storyboards – they are all addressed. A very good three-card spread is presented regarding the movement of a story. Using the position definitions Thesis (Action)/Antithesis (Reaction)/Synthesis (Movement) a scene can be easily advanced. I have worked with this spread for some time now (I came across it in Mary Greer’s work), and find it to be quite useful at breaking through blocks.
There is an excellent chapter on the Fool’s Journey, and its association with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Here we see a small sample of the 3x7 theory, with the Major Arcana laid out in three rows of seven cards each, with the first row representing youth, the second row maturity, and the third row mastery. The Hero’s Journey spread provides great insight into both character and plot.
Anyone who writes at all has come up against that elephant in the living room – writer’s block. Kenner presents several methods for using the Tarot to “start the words flowing”. Flash fiction and alternate points of view are just two of the methods presented – each method is fun, inspiring, and moves the writer beyond where they are on all levels.
“Tarot For Writers” speaks to the individual writer, but also to writers groups, addressing things that can be done within a group setting. In “Games For Writing Groups”. One section was devoted to games that can be played as a group – including “Checking In”, where each person draws a card for the next week, and “Instant Inspiration”, where each person draws a card to be used as inspiration for a paragraph, scene, or story.
“Tarot Card Writing Coach” addresses using the Tarot as a source of wisdom in an individual’s writing life. Suggestions are given to pull cards on questions such as “Are you retelling an ancient myth or legend”, “Which sections of your story should you delete?”, and “What details should you add?” You can also create your own advisory board through the Major Arcana, or use the Tarot as your own personal assistant, asking yourself “What should I work on today?” or “What should you hold back?”
Part III – A Writer’s Guide To Tarot Cards, journeys through all seventy-eight cards, with detailed descriptions of the images and symbols, as well as mythic, astrological, and literary correspondences. The deck used as reference in this section, and throughout the book, is the “Universal Tarot”, by Roberto De Angelis (Lo Scarabeo).
As an example of how the cards are presented, I chose the card Temperance. Temperance here is associated with the Archangel Michael, and is listed as one of the five cardinal virtues. Kenner indicates that Temperance is asking us to temper and harmonize our spiritual and physical realities. The key symbols listed are those of balance, mix and match, when worlds collide, body adornment, shore-footed, floral design, alchemical magic, and immortality. Keywords are listed for both upright and reversed positions.
Under myth and legend we have the Archangel Michael cutting wine with water, the iris flowers symbolizing Iris, the goddess of rainbows, and water flowing from the lower cup to the upper cup. The astrological association is with Sagittarius. Literary archetypes include the alchemist, the artist, the creator, the destroyer, and the enchantress. Under Temperance and your writing practice, Kenner indicates that a writer’s art is all about balance. Writing prompts include the Prohibition movement, an alcohol and drug addiction counselor, a guardian angel, and a marshy shore.
Included at the end of the book is a Glossary of Tarot Words and Symbols, along with an index (which was not quite there in the uncorrected proof that I reviewed).
I found this book to be well written, easily understandable, and something that could be of use to writers who already worked with the Tarot, as well as those who had never picked up a deck. The “Writing Practice” exercises allowed the reader to put to use the information that was presented in a meaningful manner. This is an excellent book to use as a reference for all writers, no matter what topic they are writing on.
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.