I am new to the tarot. Over the past few years, some of my friends and acquaintances have started to study / read the tarot, and my initial skepticism turned into curiosity as their approach showed me that it doesn’t have to be about “predicting the future.”
You can take the tarot as seriously (or not) as you’d like. It can be a vehicle for storytelling. It can be fun. If you don’t “believe” in it, that’s fine. If you do believe in it, that’s fine too. In The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life, Jessa Crispin provides a well rounded guide that can serve as both an introduction to tarot for beginners and skeptics, or a fresh approach and interpretation for tarot veterans.
As Crispin puts it:
“It is not necessarily about telling the future. It is about retelling the present.”
“We give things meaning by paying attention to them, and so moving your attention from one thing to another can absolutely change your future. Exactly who or what is doing the work here — whether fate is choosing the card, or your unconscious, or random chance — doesn’t matter as much as the act of seeing, sensing, and paying attention.”
I think the tarot is a fun (and sometimes incredibly useful) way of looking at things in a new light. You can think of it as pulling thought prompts that contain symbols and meanings, and using them as a base for exploring your thoughts and feelings from an angle you might not have thought of on your own.
Crispin begins by walking through an introduction to the tarot: its history, the artists who have created some of the most commonly used decks, and her own history with the tarot and how she began to use it with a creative lens. Why is creativity a good topic for the tarot?
“Nothing kills creativity faster than anxiety: worrying if you’re doing things “right,” worrying that no one else is going to like when you’re doing, panicking about how it’s all going to turn out.
Almost every time, the solution is listening to and honoring your intuitive sense of not what you think you need but what your project needs to come to fruition. Maybe that is the greatest thing the cards can do for us: quiet down our worried thoughts and our expectations for how it’s “supposed” to go and help us get back in touch with our imagination.”
She then walks through each of the cards in the deck. She begins with a short introduction to the imagery and the traditional definition of the card. Then she she layers in the creative approach to each card:
“I’ve taken stories, from biographies, from my clients, from the worlds of film and literature and music, of how artists have dealt with problems in their process. How musicians battled their record companies for the right to record their music their way. Or how a writer overcame losing everything he’d ever written when his wife left their suitcase on a train. Or how a composer dealt with the humiliation of a riot at his opera’s premiere.”
“These stories should also give the reader wider meaning to the cards, to show how they can work in the real world. How people respond to these quandaries can give you ideas on how you might respond to your own. And they help relate the cards more directly to the artistic experience.”
And finally, she lists recommended materials to further explore each card. Movies, books, music, artwork, poems, etc. I love this idea, and I think each reader can begin adding to these lists with examples they’ve encountered that bring a deeper personal meaning to each card. Each card represents an archetype, and once you’re familiar with the cards you can start to identify them everywhere. For example, Auntie Mame is the perfect representation of the Nine of Cups. “The self-contained happiness and pleasure of that card is shown in the world-traveling, party-throwing, joyful, and wise spinster aunt.”
I bought myself a Rider deck (I love Pamela Colman Smith’s artwork), and Jessa Crispin is quick to debunk the idea that your first deck needs to be a gift. (“It is absolutely ok for you to buy your first tarot deck. That is one of those mystical mumbo-jumbo things designed to make beginners feel inadequate and unwelcome. I have a Virgo moon; I have no time for such nonsense.“) You don’t need to have a tarot deck in hand while you read it. There are black & white reproductions of the Rider deck included with each card’s section, and you can always google full color images. But I did enjoy having a deck to refer to as I went through each of the cards in the guide.
Bottom line: if you’re curious about the tarot, this is a wonderful introduction. Creative work doesn’t need to be your full time job either, if you only work on creative projects in your spare time I think you’ll still enjoy learning about the tarot through the lens of creativity. Even if you’re incredibly skeptical about the tarot — if you’re interested in the subject of creativity and the art of creation, you may end up enjoying how this guide approaches the creative process, and how artistic stumbling blocks can be rethought and reshaped to move a project forward.
FTC disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.