When the topic of tarot comes up, you might flash back to that teen phase when you wore all black, were obsessed with that movie The Craft, and pulled cards from a deck by candlelight because it seemed edgy.
In reality, the tarot has been used for centuries to help people navigate the human experience, including relationships, career, and major transitions like illness and death. In her new book, The Creative Tarot, writer and professional tarot card reader Jessa Crispin illuminates a side of the practice that hasn’t been explored before: the tarot’s ability to help with the artistic process.
“Clients usually come to me for a creative problem when they’re blocked in some way,” says Crispin, who is also the editor and founder of two literary magazines, Bookslut and Spolia. After rediscovering the tarot in her late 20s (she, too, had been briefly enamored with it in her pubescent years), she realized it was more than a way to divine the future; it could also be used as a powerful creative tool—or as an excellent way to get out of a rut.
Though most standard tarot guides are inflexible on card meanings, Crispin found room for interpretation, especially as it applied to artistic challenges. As an imaginative person herself, she had been hard-pressed to find a tarot card reader who could fully understand the link between her creative work and what came up in readings—so she set out to do it herself, and developed her own style while doing readings for fellow artsy-types. “For creativity issues, it’s just a different way of looking at the tarot with an open mind,” she says.
Read on for 5 of Crispin’s tips for using tarot to get your creative mojo going, accompanied by cards from the Spolia tarot card deck.
1. Get a reading from a trusted professional tarot card reader.
Before delving into a pack of tarot cards on your own, Crispin highly recommends visiting a reader to get a sense of how a professional interprets the cards to tell your story. How do you find the right reader? Simple: Ask around.
“I think there’s kind of a shame attached to going to a tarot card reader, but so many people go to them and never talk about it! It’s a chemistry thing, too—like finding the right therapist,” Crispin says.
But follow your gut instinct if you feel like something’s off. “There are a lot of hacks out there who just want to tell you what you want to hear and take your money.”
2. Choose a deck and draw cards—even if you haven’t memorized their meanings yet.
“When you’re sitting down in the tarot reading, you’re trying to see the story in the cards and how it aligns with your own life,” Crispin explains. To start, she recommends pulling a single card each day and looking up its meaning if you don’t remember it off the bat (The Creative Tarot has a great guide to card meanings, and there are many others online). Then, compare the subtleties of how your day actually played out to what was in the cards you drew.
Once you feel comfortable drawing single cards, move on to more complex card draws. “Past-present-future pulling is the easiest, and you can fill in the blanks of how things fit together.”
3. Be open to seeing things another way.
“The gift that tarot can give you is an entry into your intuitive and emotional spaces that bypasses the thinking part of your brain,” says Crispin.
Believing, however, in the mystical side of things isn’t necessary for a successful reading. “I work with the unifying sense of synchronicity. Part of it is that you’re unconsciously guiding the cards, and another part is that you’re going to see what you need to see. No matter what the card is, it will draw something out of you.”
4. Don’t be afraid of the “dark” cards in the deck.
The cards are just what you put into them, Crispin says. “If you’re looking for a kind of mystical conduit to the beyond, there are plenty of books to tell you how to do that. But if you’re not looking for that door, you’re probably not going to invite darkness into your life.”
For those who are creeped out by the more overtly “dark” cards like the devil card, Crispin reminds us that those cards are simply reflections of the darker parts of ourselves, such as fears and failures.
“Sure, there are days when I’ve drawn a dark card and I’ve redrawn the card because I just didn’t want to deal with it,” Crispin admits. But if you keep drawing dark cards day after day, you might want to examine what that could correlate to in your life.
5. Be patient.
Like anything, the key to mastering the tarot and its power to dissolve creative blocks is patience and consistency. “The standard deck has 78 cards and that’s a lot of information to hold in your head,” says Crispin, who confesses that she gave up on tarot the first time she tried it (back in her teenage, wearing-too-much-black days). Years later, she delved in deep with the help of a skilled reader. “Don’t be embarrassed about having to go back to the book to find out what the cards mean. Even if it’s taking a long time, don’t give up.”
And remember: Reading the cards is a storytelling exercise, in a way, with the cards on the table giving you the who, what, where, and when. It allows you to look at your life in a different way, and over time you’ll get much better at telling your own “story,” Crispin says. “It’s not necessarily about telling the future. It is about retelling the present.”