If something can tell a story, chances are that it can tell your story
July 8, 2024 11:18 AM   Subscribe

“You must not talk about the future. The future is a con. The tarot is a language that talks about the present. If you use it to see the future, you become a conman,” says Alejandro Jodorowsky, maker of cult films El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre, and the unmade psychedelic Dune; writer of the legendary graphic novel series The Incal; and practitioner of the tarot. from Untold Fortunes: A Reading List on the Creative Uses of the Tarot [Longreads]

Your card is ... The Previously
posted by chavenet (20 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
wild cards
posted by HearHere at 12:26 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

You are going on a long journey and will meet a tall, dark, and handsome man...
posted by Czjewel at 12:35 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

The tarot is an interesting tool for self-reflection and exploration. The symbology is vague enough and Jungianly universal enough to lay over just about any fears and concerns you have. A self-controlled mirror isn't a bad thing.

Oddly, I was just repacking my books to a new bookcase the other day and ran across my old copy of Nova by Samuel Delany. Should re-read because in that I know the Tarot is considered to be supremely accurate and important to running the affairs of the world.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:40 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

Now I kinda want to start mapping out how tvtropes pages correspond to all the upright and reversed interpretations of cards.
posted by Avelwood at 12:53 PM on July 8 [10 favorites]

I can recommend Tarot for Change by Jessica Dore, a licensed social worker and Tarot reader. I'd especially recommend it for the Tarot-curious that would like to avoid possible "woo."

I pull a card every morning--or roughly so--and just ask, "What energy or vibes am I working with today?", or "It's gonna be a stressful day; what should I remember when I get overwhelmed?" I do larger spreads on New or Full Moons, solstices and equinoxes, but everything doesn't center around divination. I mean, I did a spread recently while focusing on the tumult in my family right now, and damn if the cards pulled weren't more or less of "yeah, hold steady, it will even out" variety. (Lotsa cups, y'all.) Even if it's just my brain saying that, the cards help me emotionally by seeing it spread out.

Anyway: this month's deck is the Not So Mystical Tarot.
posted by Kitteh at 1:18 PM on July 8 [15 favorites]

I've got Calvino's Castle of Crossed Destinies, mentioned in the article. It's actually two different works (Castle and Tavern of Crossed Destinies) both using the same conceit. The characters aren't just picking up cards and showing them around to tell their stories. They're laying them out in a grid, and each row or column represents a different character's story, so characters coming along later have to make use of cards already laid out by other characters and adapt the meanings to their own purposes. I'm pretty sure that Calvino's process for both was to deal out the cards into the grid, and then try to work out what stories they could be telling.

Does it work? Eh, sometimes, sometimes not so much. But it's an interesting idea, very in keeping with the Oulipo stuff that Calvino was into.
posted by Naberius at 1:45 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]

The post title (a quotation from GennaRose Nethercott) is amazing. It's like the Church–Turing thesis for human imagination.
posted by aws17576 at 2:20 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Jodorowsky based the plot (such as it is) of his film The Holy Mountain on the cards of the major arcana, starting with The Fool and ending with The World. (This is pretty much the same progression found in the graphic novel The Incal.) He also made a great short film about the major arcana (in support of the film) which you can watch here [slyt].
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 4:21 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I actually just finished illustrating my second deck. It's themed around cryptids doing fiber crafts like knitting and weaving. I've never been into "woo" but doing a tarot reading is more like improv storytelling. You don't want to take it too seriously, but on the other hand, when it really resonates it's almost spooky.
posted by rikschell at 4:36 PM on July 8 [13 favorites]

I just attended a six week class on tarot for creatives by Danielle Tegeder, which involved a number of guest speakers including Jessa Crispin who is as incisive and witty in real life (well: via Zoom) as she is in her writing. Lot of cool insights from many artists and writers. My favorite thing was the suggestion to carry around a deck and just start asking it about anything that happens or you encounter. Saw an interesting bird? Draw a card. Go for a run and draw a card about it. Draw a card about this plant you saw. Etc. I think it’s a really cool way to put the brain in creative, storytelling or art-making mode when one is predisposed to rush around not doing that. A mindfulness practice I can get behind. I need to get a deck I’m not too precious about losing, though. I have one mediocre deck but it’s my deck for at work (I draw a card when I’m overwhelmed with tasks to decide what to do next).
posted by brook horse at 5:11 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

Leonora Carrington taught Jodorowsky the tarot?!?! I LOVE THIS
posted by queensissy at 5:26 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

including Jessa Crispin who is as incisive and witty in real life (well: via Zoom) as she is in her writing.

I'm so sorry I slept on Jessa Crispin and Jen May's The Spolia Tarot deck.
posted by Kitteh at 5:34 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I've been following updates on The Conqueror Worm, a tarot-based RPG by Josh Mcroo for a while, and it's supposed to come out this summer. It replaces dice rolls with drawing from a tarot deck, and uses the suits as an overarching framework for character actions and development. Even though I doubt I'll ever have a chance to actually play it, I'm hoping to pick up a copy when it comes out.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:35 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Blood Meridian has some great tarot symbolism and imagery.
posted by table of malcontents at 6:57 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I think it would be appropriate to talk about the modern Persona games, which have a structure based on the major arcana of the Tarot. I could write pages and pages about the games, but I'll try to be as brief as possible.
(Which is, not very brief, since these are massive games).

The modern Persona games (3, 4 and 5) are japanese RPG where the player (the protagonist) plays a second year highschool student who has recently been transferred to a new school (all three games start like this). The games have two main parts: a "life simulator" part and a dungeon crawling part. In the "life simulation", the player has to decide each day what to do from a wide choice of activities (studying, training, shopping, hanging out with other characters). In the dungeon crawling part, the player and the characters he befriends jump into the collective unconscious and fight shadows created by the distorted cognition of humans.
(The games also make use of some ideas from Carl Jung's writings).

Now, the player has the Fool Arcana assigned to him at the beginning of the game, and every other major character also has an Arcana assigned (Magician, Chariot, Lovers, and so on). These major characters can be befriended, and there is a mechanic where friendships can be "levelled up". With every level, the characters reveal more of their stories to us, and provide us with advantages in combat. When we reach level 10, the characters overcome their weaknesses and become "best friends forever" with the main character.

The Tarot is also used in combat. The main mechanic is that, to use magic, the characters summon their "Personas", which are figures from the human collective unconscious. A Persona can be a literary figure, or a god from mythology, or even a famous person.
Every character has a Persona that matches their temperament and their Arcana. Ryuji, from Persona 5, is a headstrong brawler with a big heart, so he has the Chariot Arcana, and his Persona is Captain Kidd. Mitsuru, from Persona 3, is a rich heiress to an industrial conglomerate, and is intelligent, strong, beautiful and distant, so her Arcana is the Empress and her Persona is Penthesilea, the Amazon queen.
The characters with the same Arcana have also similar characteristics across games: the Chariot are usually a strong, reliable friend to the main character, and a sports ace. The Priestess are hardworking, intelligent women who have to deal with an inferiority complex.

The main character is the "Wildcard": the Fool Arcana allows him to use multiple personas (instead of just one, as most other characters). Every Persona (there are over a hundred in each game) has an Arcana assigned, and have different abilities and spells, but Personas of the same Arcana have similar properties.

There is some anime sillyness in the Persona games, and this may put some people off. And adult players may be annoyed by the highschool setting. But there are some very serious topics being dealt with in the games beneath the anime patina: loneliness, life regrets, disability, abuse (sexual and otherwise), being able to match societies' expectations, old age, death, and others. This is the reason why the games have a cultish following, and have become quite popular in the last few years.

I need to remark that the main theme of the Persona games is how important it is to create bonds with other people, and how the main character is very limited in what he can do alone, but he has no limits when he befriends other people: the more people the main character befriends, and the deeper the bonds with those people, the more powerful the main character becomes. And this power is used in the end to avert an apocalypse and try to make society better for everyone.

(I've always found interesting how all Persona games urge the player to make friends, in the game and in real life, while the games are fundamentally lonely experiences: they are very long single player games).

One last thing: as an "easter egg", one of the teachers in Persona 3, Mr Edogawa (who is actually the school nurse) delivers a lecture on the Tarot at one point in the game: explaining the Fool's path through life using the 22 major Arcana as stages in life. This is a not-very-subtle reference to what the main character is actually doing in the game.

I have only scratched the surface of these games and the topics they deal with, and I hope you found this overview interesting. For me, these games were my first encounter with the Tarot as a storytelling device.
posted by LaVidaEsUnCarnaval at 1:59 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]

Blood Meridian has some great tarot symbolism and imagery.

That is so obviously true, and yet it had never crossed my mind. Thanks!
posted by chavenet at 2:08 AM on July 9

It's actually two different works (Castle and Tavern of Crossed Destinies) both using the same conceit.

Also worth noting that the two stories use two different decks, the Visconti deck for part one, and the Tarot of Marseilles for part two.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:34 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]

A plug for MeFi fave Rachel Pollack's Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. I got turned on to it from this obit post and the writing surrounding her passing and have been really getting into it after being away from Tarot for a long while. Looking forward to this article.
posted by the sobsister at 10:57 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]

Aw, glad you liked the obit post! Pollack was a titan in Tarot circles and we shall not see her like again.
posted by Kitteh at 12:08 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]

Mod note: [Oh, hi! My reading indicates that this post will be featured on the sidebar and Best Of blog!]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:38 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]

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