Tarot readings for fictional characters

Ken's picture

This is a little bit 'out there' but I wonder if any other GW writers have tried doing a tarot spread for one of their characters?

I've recently (and belatedly) begun following along with JMG's generous monthly discussion of Eliphas Levi's, 'The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic'. Therefore I now possess an appropriate tarot deck, as advised. I have long used the I Ching for divination but found myself not relating as well to the Confucian hierarchical system of advice as I once did; too much focus on stability at the expense of individual creativity and intuition perhaps? So I have this deck of tarot cards and I figure I'll try reading cards, since I have them anyway. With this tentative and somewhat inauspicious beginning, I started doing a celtic cross spread every morning before breakfast and before reading the news of the day, checking email, etc. - trying to stay in that symbolic-dream-image-place state of mind. And... WOW!

I realize this might sound somewhat offensive to people who are struggling right now, but the truth is my life is wonderful at the moment and I simply don't have enough honest queries to need a spread every morning for myself. So, with some caution about overstepping my bounds, yesterday I tried doing a spread with the query: "What is REALLY going on in Ukraine?" The results were not what I expected but obviously what (at some level) I already knew. Essentially, Vladimir Putin is attempting to build a genuine empire for the next millennia and the Ukraine is essential, as it is the feminine balance to the Russian masculine energy. Take it with a grain of salt, but that's what I got...

More pertinent to this post, this morning, again having no real questions for myself, I had the novel idea to try a spread for the protagonist in my current novel. To my delight and amazement, it worked like, well, magic! The story has been 'stuck' at an intermediate culmination point in the plot, essentially one third of the way through, and I've been doing research for the next third. While I know where it needs to get to, I have been unsure of HOW to get there. This reading was like a hot bronze knife through butter. Or maybe like the Five of Swords slicing through my petty vaporizing to the core of the story!

At any rate, I urge any of my fellow scribblers that use divination in their lives to consider applying their system to plot or character issues in their stories!

You can also give your characters traits that fit into astrological patterns, or use the Tarot or I Ching to choose what kind of plot incident comes next when you feel stuck.

Ken's picture

GKB - I have thought the same thing! What about a story that uses the mythic/symbolic meaning of each of the cards to create a cast of characters? You still need a good story, of course, but it would surely give an author some characters to work with!

David Trammel's picture

I am active on a couple of FB groups and we often get people new to a spiritual path that is not mainstream. The discussion almost always turns to developing their divination skills. Personally, I feel that is one of the top three skills a person needs to develop. Not just for the people into alternative spiritual paths, but honestly for people in all religions.

I know for some Christians and such, reading cards smacks of "evil magic" but divination, either by prayer or by reading cards is about establishing a two-way path of communication with higher powers. And about learning to trust the messages you receive back.

Divination with cards means imprinting onto your subconscious the meaning of each card, so that either higher spirits or your own precognitive abilities, have a method of transmitting information to you. It's the same with stone runes or coins like the I-Ching. That's why I often suggest that new practitioners spend a few minutes each day, just looking over their decks. Then ask something simple like "What should I be aware of this day", and turn over a random card. Over the course of several months of daily practice, that internal language gets established, allowing you to begin larger spreads or deeper divinations.

Now for fictional characters...

I think the idea of a character using divination themselves, or a side character who has a relationship with the spirits is a great addition to a story. It's not one though I see much. Or when seen done well. The potential is ripe.

David Trammel's picture

(I'm posting this as a writer's tutorial to consider for any of your characters who use magic and divination in a story.)


"Sometimes an Omen is an Omen, and sometimes its just random stuff that happened..."

If you are new to the occult and dealing with Hekate or other Spirits, then one big problem you have is telling when those Spirits are trying to tell you something. Unless you have a close relationship with Hekate, and even then, She won't normally just come out and say what She want you to know. Often, I would say more than often, the communication will be subtle and confusing. One of the skills you need to learn then, is how to interpret the signs She send us.

There is a name for this, Augury.

This is the type of divination where you look for signs and messages from the Natural World. This could take place in the animal or plant world, with the appearance of unusual types or numbers of either, or signs can be of unexpected weather or natural occurrences. Earthquakes or eclipses were seen as messages from the Gods in ancient times. We know more about science and how the Earth behaves now but still, while the Gods and Spirits have the power to cause things to happen that scientists would attribute to natural occurrences, a skilled occultist knows they have a deeper meaning.

The problem for us is that neither we, nor the Gods like Hekate necessarily see the World in the same way. How then can we help cut down on the confusion?

We need to establish a common language between us.

"Sailing Ships and Messages at Sea":
Humans have sailed the oceans and seas of the World for thousands of years, and yet radio has only been available for a little over a hundred years. Before that we were left with primitive methods like lamps, torches or shouts across the waves. As ships got bigger and nations developed navies, the need to be able to send complicated messages and commands between ships became very important. What developed was a system of brightly colored flags, each of which meant something specific, which were displayed among the rigging of a ship and could be seen from far off through a telescope, or just by a sharp eyed lookout.

What we need to do, is come up with our own "colored flags" which both the Gods and we can use to make our communications clearer.

Consider the Tarot Cards. If you are like most of us, you have a set of cards which you use to do divinations and figure out what influences are going to affect you and your future. Depending on which cards you turn over, will have different meanings and foretell different situations.

You can't just pick up a deck right out of the box and expect to get good results, can you? It takes time and practice. One of the important things I suggest to new occultists, is be sure to read the book of card meanings you get with your cards. In fact read it several times, and let the meanings soak into your unconscious, or if you are good at memorizing, your conscious mind.

You want to do this because having a common understanding of the meaning of each card, allows the Spirits to pick what they want to tell you. And more importantly, allows you to understand what they mean. Just like the signal flags of old navies, both of you then have a common language, even if you must do some personal interpretation. Reading up on the original creator's choice of meanings for each card is especially important if the deck is a non-standard one.

"First Step, Get In Touch With What Is Normal":
Now the Natural World around us doesn't come with a simple instruction manual. What you will need to do is write your own.
Consider this, if you stepped out of your door tomorrow morning, and found two crows watching you, what would this mean? What if one flew away, and one stayed?

Would this be unusual?
The animal world, especially of birds, offers a good way for Spirits to communicate with us, through a wide variety of messages. Whether you are in a city, in the suburbs or out in the country, birds are all around us. Bird augury is one of the easiest to start with. Once you learn how to see signs and omens via birds, you can adapt the methods for other animals, or plants, or weather and other things around you.

How do you start then?
Well the only way to tell what is unusual in the environment around you, is to know what is not unusual. That means getting out there and studying Nature around you.

Finding out what birds are native to your area. Finding out what their habits are. Do they show up first thing in the morning, or do they favor the afternoon or evening? Do they come in groups, or are they solitary? Try and identify the birds who are in your neighborhood. Take a few pictures. Sometimes you can identify individuals who come back on a regular basis. Read up on the Internet. These will be your messengers from the Spirits.

Remember those two crows I mentioned earlier? Supposed my neighbor came out of his house one morning and saw them, what would he think? Crow is associated with magic, and with warning. The number Two, can signify harmony and balance. With one crow leaving, and one staying, perhaps the message is a warning that your balance is out of wack, or faces problems soon.

Or it might just mean that I had changed the time in the morning when I feed the birds in front of my house. Which I recently did. I found that I was staying up until 2 or 3am, and then waking late in the morning. I began to intentionally turn in around 11pm, and rise at 6am. While I'm having my first cups of coffee in the morning, I put out a variety of bird seed and nuts on my driveway. My cats and I then get to watch which birds show up. I get to see black birds, doves, finches and sparrows, along with those crows on a daily basis.

I also occasionally see a pair of cardinals, the male bright red mostly and the female less so. And once a hawk decided that all those other birds might make a good snack, though she didn't get one. In the evening its not uncommon to hear owls, and in the Summer, hummingbirds in the garden.

Along with the many birds, I also have squirrels, a woodchuck who sometimes sleeps under the neighbor across the street's side porch, very early morning possums, nighttime raccoons, and the occasional deer at sunrise. Knowing how and when the wild life in my neighborhood come by, lets me know when something is out of place and deserves my attention. Then I can see if they have a message for me.

BTW, feed your local wildlife. Not only does it encourage them to come by and visit, but its polite and shows respect for Hekate as well as for Nature and the Spirits who are using those animals to communicate. Start doing it, please.

"You Knew There Would Be A Journal, Didn't You?":
Seems like every time a beginning magician takes up a new skill, someone is telling them to start writing things down. Learning to read omens and signs is no different. As I opened this post sometimes and omen isn't an omen. It may be days or even weeks before you understand what a message sent to you by Hekate means or understand the situation you've been informed of. She doesn't have the same sense of Time as we do.

Second, you'll want to see how accurate your interpretations are. Different messengers can have different meanings. Crow is thought of as an indication of magic in your life, but it can also give warning. Most of the omens you receive will only be understood in hindsight. Its only as you gain experience that you will start trusting your intuition as to what a sign is, and make the correct interpretation. Its going to take some time and a lot of writing things down before then though.

Third, a dedicated journal for your work with omens, will save you time. If you come across a messenger today, which you remember encountering 6 months ago, you can go back to that entry and see what possible meanings it had for you then. Even see if your interpretations came true. Remember we are coming up with a shared language between Hekate and ourselves. Some signs will be reused and you want this.

Pick up one of those blank books from the occult or specialty goods store. There are dozens and dozens of nice ones out there. I prefer one that is pre-lined but get what works for you.

You'll want to have some space for general notes and comments, so thumb back 20-30 pages to start your recording of omens and signs. We'll talk more about just what notes in a moment.

Begin writing down the signs you see today. You don't have to wait until you have a better handle on the process, in fact, starting when you are still unclear is better. You approach it with less preconceptions. I typically date the entries, then first list the omens I see, followed by any thoughts I was on how I felt at the time. Then later I look up online or in books, what meanings others have found correspond to those signs.

One of the better books I've found in understanding what signs mean, is Ted Andrews' "Animal Speak". I've taken much of the techniques I've described here from that book and use it as one of my first references when trying to figure out the messages Hekate is trying to send me.

"Understanding the Messages":
There is more to a message than just what species of the messenger. An unusual animal or situation in itself is important, but more than that, how the sign appeared, its actions and the environment are just as significant.

Here are some of the ones I note.

1) Number: Magicians have long thought that numbers hold a special magical meaning and the number of messengers can hint at the correct interpretation of what Hekate is trying to communicate to you. I normally only count up to 9. If its more than that, or I'm unsure of the number in total, or it varies as I watch, say its a flock of birds in the sky, or on the ground, then I consider the message is in flux. I often go on to seek more clarification with a divination.

That is always an option. If the message you receive in an omen is unclear to you, consider doing a reading afterwards and ask for more information from Hekate.

2) Sex and Age: In some animals it is easy to see whether the messenger is male or female. Deer are a good example. A large buck, with antlers has a different meaning, from that of a doe and perhaps young. Birds or small animals can be harder to identify the gender but with study you can. Same with the age.

3) Color: Bright colors can reveal the intensity of the situation, though many animals have a subdued color so they can blend into the environment. A brightly coated animal, or one that stands out from its background can signify to you how important the message is.

4) The Landscape: Where did you see the omen? A large deer at the edge of a stand of trees is a different message, than one casually walking across a parking lot. So too are the plants and features of the place the messenger appears. Is it standing on a prominent stone or is it in the branches of a distinctive tree? A squirrel on a statue might mean something different than if its watching you from the branch of an oak.

Also, is this a natural environment for the messenger? Urban landscapes by their nature are limited, but then omens can come on you while you journey through your day.

5) Direction and Distance: Each of the major directions, East, West, North and South, have traditional spiritual meaning but beyond that, did the messenger appear from the right or the left of you? That can change its meaning. So too if the messenger appears in front of you, or approaches from behind. So too in how far away the messenger is when you notice it. Did it appear at your feet as you exited your home in the morning, or was it far off but noticeable?

6) The Activity: Whether the messenger is standing still, or is in motion is also important and can tell you things about the message. Unusual activities especially.

Recently on one of my morning walks, I came across a English Bulldog. My neighborhood is suburban and of houses, duplexes and apartments so pets are a common occurrence. I often have dogs bark at me as I walk, which I take as a sign from Hekate that she is watching me. In this case though, the bulldog was in the front yard, and was sitting in a chair. It watched me as I walked past without barking, then watched me as I walked past again on my return. This was out of the ordinary. The next day, the bulldog was again outside, but this time it was standing on the driveway. It watched me pass, but was gone when I returned.

Each of these clues will have a positive aspect and a negative aspect. You may not be able to tell which applies at first but you should consider as you ponder the message, is Hekate offering me a suggestion or is She giving me a warning? Sometimes it can be both.

I have written small tables of each of these in those first 20-30 pages in my journal. Not huge entries but shorthand notes to remind me of their meanings. Field notes if you want. Later as you become more experienced with the occult, there may be times you have your journal with you, and come upon a suspected message you want to interpret at that moment. These field notes can help you do that.

Remember, the journal is for you and you can put what ever helps you in there. If you run out of room in front, then don't hesitate to add sections elsewhere in the journal.

"The Most Important Thing":
All of these points won't make you the next Oracle of Delphi unless you make a conscious effort to invite Hekate and Nature into your life. Just as a deck of Tarot cards are meaningless in the hands of someone mundane, but a precise tool in the hands of a skilled magician, the signs and omens that She puts before you will fall on deaf ears and blind eyes unless you want them to have meaning.

No amount of book learning is going to do you as much good as getting out of that house and into the natural world outside. Take walks and see what you come across. Visit parks and just sit. Keep a cunning eye out for the ways Nature interacts with the creatures in it, and how it interacts with YOU.


One thing about opening your eyes to the signs around you, and developing your skill at reading the omens that Hekate sends you, is that this communication is not just one way. A skilled magician can use the language they develop to not just passively listen but to also actively ask.

Ted Andrews, the author of "Animal Speak" gives the example of his relationship with his Totem Hawk. That when he drives he can sometimes gain information about road conditions and situations like where the police are waiting, by sending out a mental message and asking for a sign. A hawk on the side of the road, which flies off to the left, may warn Andrews of a situation ahead, where one that flies off to the right may tell him that the road is clear.

This is a bit out of my level of skill right now, but it certainly makes me want to work at developing it.

As always, opinions or comments are encouraged. Thanks.

Ken's picture

Very good piece on Augury! Being a sailor, I especially like the analogy of marine signal flags as a symbolic language.

I have my doubts as to how much the Divine is actually interested in what matters to me and frankly, I'm wary of asking for help from other entities as they undoubtedly have their own plans which may or may not be in my best interests. Reading Greek mythology shows the complexity of higher level beings getting involved at our level and the frequently unpleasant results of being 'noticed' by the 'gods'. Job didn't have a great time being bet on either. Admittedly I do have a bas-relief of Artemis on the sweetpea arbor next to the front door... so I suppose at some level I am asking for her protection for the house and residents.

I see the tarot and other divination as primarily, but not exclusively, a way to bring our own subconscious knowledge and information into the light, so to speak. And by having a random aspect, allowing whatever energy that is out there to influence things... a bit.

I used to read a randomly selected bit from Bartlet's Quotations every morning and the aptness of the quotations were sometimes shockingly pertinent to my day. The one common quality of all systems or non-systems seems to be a quality of attention to the environment and to our own intuition. Especially as you say with watching animals for signs. If you're not looking you surely aren't going to see...

Thanks, David!

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David Trammel's picture

One of the things that I have incorporated into my worldview, based in a large part on my readings of Greer on TADR, then Ecosophia, and his Dreamwidth blog has been the idea that spirits (and even the Gods) evolve and grow. We accept that humans reincarnate and use their individual life experiences to grow their mental bodies so that they eventually move past a physical form. It's not unreasonable then to assume that the spirits we interact with, both the smaller ones like place spirits or spirits of animals and plants, also learn from their experiences to move on themselves into the realms above the mental or the divine.

So accepting that, then it's not unreasonable to believe that what we understand as gods or major Spirits is a job title, not a reference to an individual specific entity. Do we really believe the entity that was Hekate or Artemis when they were local guardian spirits of a region or city, is the same spirit that ruled over and was prayed to when their worship covered Empires?

Incorporating this into your story's World means that the spirits and gods your characters interact with have different personalities, common perhaps to people, and not the all-knowing wise and benevolent (or malevolent) ones we associate with historical views of how the Gods are.

To add a plot twist, what happens when the spirit entity that is filling the role of a God, for that person, moves on, and the character now must get used to the personality of the new officeholder. Or even moves out of the region or locality that is in the purview of a specific spirit?

Monotheism, aka the prevalence of religions that only "One True God" is the truth, has only been a recent attitude. For most of human history, the belief that there was a whole universe of spirits and deities, and that it was customary to pray to those as well as your patron god when visiting other lands was the norm. Writers can have a lot of fun, and add color to their stories by embracing that.

David Trammel's picture

Ken, you might want to look at this post as well.

"Story Circle: Creating Minor Characters In A Short Story"

Might give you some ideas on how to personalize and humanize the interactions with the story's spiritual characters.

Ken's picture

Thank you for the story circle link! I really like the deliberate way you approach writing. Too frequently, writer's groups that I have been involved with get lost amongst the poppies of inspiration and genius and forget their toolkit. I actually gave up writing short stories when I realized that A. There is no money in it, and B. It's WAY trickier than novel or even novella length fiction. When I want to write at that intensity, I go to poetry. BUT, the advice about secondary, tertiary or even quarternary characters is just EXCELLENT no matter the length of the tale! Thank you for that.

I recall an example of creating memorable/highly effective minor characters from Stephen King, who, even if you don't care for his work, is indisputably successful and is a master of getting interesting characters across with a minimum of verbiage. "M. O. O. N. - That spells Tom Cullen!"

The trick he describes is to find that essential core aspect to the character and present that in a form that is NOT just 'telling'. One example was a traveling salesman, who kept his satchel of samples next to him in the booth of the diner "like a small beloved pet." THAT kind of critical detail, is what I am striving for with my characters.

I actually get such a kick out of writing minor characters that I have to remind myself, as you say, that if it doesn't move the story forward, it's fluff and must be cut! Especially those 'really, really, evilly evil bad guys' that are so much fun to write and throw in all kinds of allusions to the forces that made them what they are that really get me going. I suppose you could psychoanalyze the author and say that I always believe there are reasons for the way that a (once) innocent babe wound up being a Torquemada or a Trump. Not to say that I don't think they ought to have been drowned in a gunnysack while small... But the stories behind the characters, IF you can get them in without bogging down the main story, add so much texture that I find them irresistible. And thus, I'm a serial novelist rather than short story writer!

David Trammel's picture

My focus on the practicality of skill sets, as opposed to the creative side of writing (yeah, a lot of writer's groups are all about the "feelings" rather than the mechanics of getting published), can be traced to the genre I first worked in, erotica and adult magazines. I've mentioned before that my first published story was in Penthouse.

It paid well, which for a poor student was a great motivator. The restrictions though are severe. The usual story length was 3000 words. That's incredibly short, so you learn to cut everything not directly related to moving the story forward, as well as how to craft the mood in one sentence. It's better now that you self-publish in online forums but you still have to be relatively short. The typical attention span now is 5-8K lengths, though you can do multiple parts if you want. You do have to adopt the 15 minutes to a commercial mindset and end each part with a cliffhanger, lol.

I know writing smut isn't for everyone, but you can always use a pen name to provide some plausible deniability.

America is a weird place when it comes to sex in our literature. You can kill, torture, or maim hundreds if not thousands but don't you dare show a bit of honest passion or skin. Sex and Death are two of the most primitive and powerful motivations for humans (and sometimes non-humans as well) and yet few writers explore the first, and over-rely on the second. Even if you don't add it to your more public stories, getting in touch with your inner fetishes is IMO very good to break writer's block or get past writer's stagnation.

On a broader subject, we often speak about coming to grips with your inner demons, especially if you decide to study the occult as some do here. Sexual issues are a big one for most people and are some you should address if you want to be a better person in general, a competent magician or a person who can lead people in times of stress like the Long Descent will sure to be.

Ken's picture

Complex, confused, conflicting emotional states are difficult to write well in my opinion and what is more complex than the coming together of people emotionally, psychically and physically? A good friend, who is also a stellar writer, once told me that writing a good sex scene, one that isn't either silly or pornographic, is the toughest writing she ever tried.

Personally, just as I don't think it's a good idea to be physically intimate with anyone that you are not also emotionally and psychically intimate with, I don't want my characters misusing sex either. I think there is a good reason why FUCK is our 'worst' swear word. It is because it demeans and sullies what ought to be the best and most meaningful sharing of our lives in time and space. Or maybe I'm just an old romantic?