Tarot readings are generally supposed to be conducted with some approximation of mental stillness, a focused willingness to sit down and quietly examine what comes to the surface when you throw the cards. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to sit still and think at the same time. For me, this is where story maps come in.
There’s something satisfying about mapping when you’re feeling a little manic, when you want to keep your hands busy instead of doing something more meditative. It’s a way to use the tarot when you’re more invested in playing with thoughts than with doing a regular reading.
I’m a writer currently working on a novel, and the past week I’ve been totally stuck on a plot point that’s keeping me from moving forward into the next section of story. When I tried to write, clicking between the manuscript and my notes as if that was going to accomplish something, I kept getting distracted and wandering away from the computer. So I decided to do a map with my cards.
You don’t have to be a writer to use story maps in your tarot practice (but they do work really well for dislodging half-formed plot details out of the gummy recesses of your brain). If you’re a beginner, a story map built from a book/movie/show you know well can help you play with the cards, getting a feel for how they interact in a spread. Story maps can also help illuminate real-world situations. They’re basically just spreads you make up as you go along, starting with a few initial cards and working out, choosing the cards intentionally rather than at random.
My map today was easy to start: I knew right away what cards I wanted for my three main characters, and I knew I needed to place them in opposition around a central conflict card, to represent the place in my book where I’m currently stuck. After that I started flipping through the deck, looking for other images that suggested my supporting characters. I separated out the major arcana to use as internal, abstract motivations.
One of the keys to making a good story map is not to get too attached to a certain pre-set idea of what your spread should look like. Just pull out cards and stick them somewhere they seem to make sense; you can move them around into a cohesive pattern as your ideas start to solidify. If something doesn’t work, remove it. In my case, I’d thought I would need to pull several minor arcana cards to represent character actions. Once I got going, though, I saw this map was really about the characters themselves, and the cross-currents between them. So I put back the numbered cards and picked more court images to assemble my full major cast.
In the end, I cracked my writing block! Which was pretty cool.
Story maps can help find sense in disorder, taking something that feels chaotic and blocked and giving it a form. Instead of using the pre-selected structure of a spread and making meaning with shuffled images, you’re approaching the issue from the other direction. You’re shuffling the spread, not the cards, building on what you know to discover something new. It’s an interesting reversal that can open up all kinds of unexpected ideas.
*Maybe not really this one, but I do think we all look lovely today