Monday, December 18, 2006


the following is something i wrote for a magazine. i don't think they're running it, so i decided to post it here.


Nine years ago things were going great with my writing career when I decided to visit a psychic who'd just opened a little shop downtown. Let's go see her. Won't that be fun? Would I make any bestseller lists? USA Today? Maybe even the New York Times? The psychic did a combined tarot and intuitive reading, informing me I would soon come upon rough times. I would lose my job, but after a period of hardship things would turn around and be better than they were before. I told her she had to be wrong, my career was fine. (I'd just received an unexpected and large royalty check. Things were good. And what kind of psychic gives such bad news?)

Weeks passed and I began to relax. Then I got the call. I'd been dumped by my publishing house. Had the psychic really been able to read something in the cards? Or had she gotten lucky? Was it just a coincidence?

I went on a quest for a deck of tarot cards. I lived in a small town and could only stir up one set -- the Dragon Tarot. I've seen more attractive cards, but I bought them and over the years we've bonded. I guess I felt if I read them on a daily basis there would be no more surprises. I also think I subconsciously felt I could somehow control the uncontrollable.

At some point my luck turned (as the psychic said it would, but such are the ups and downs of a writer's life), and I put the cards away until last winter when I attended a writers' meeting and heard about using tarot cards to help with plotting and characterization. The speaker had a list of techniques and spreads she used for various problems. If she gets stuck on a plot she will sometimes do a whole spread. For a character issue she will pull one card.

I was intrigued by the idea of writing with tarot cards, so back home I dug out my deck. Instead of using it to plot, I once again found myself fascinated by the otherworldly artwork and the cards' evocative darkness. Suddenly I was doing readings, this time online rather than face-to-face. I prefer the online format because I like the lack of distraction and the fact that I can take my time, usually spending a hour or two on readings, most of which are done for writers. Once the reading is complete, I post it on my Madame Sosostris site where everyone is welcome to visit the dark corners of his heart, where no coin is accepted for readings, and no card is ever reversed.

Are tarot cards a door to the past, the present, and the future?

I want to say no. Don't we really just take note of the valid statements and throw out the rest? But I can't ignore or deny readings that seem far too accurate to be simple coincidence. One explanation could be a collective unconsciousness. At one point in our long line of human history, we communicated without words. Is tarot a way to tap into an early method of communication? Or do some people somehow give off an imprint of the future? I've had life-altering premonitions that have come true, so I must acknowledge an unknown element. Not everything can be explained. And how many times can something be a coincidence before it's no longer a coincidence? Still, I'm more skeptic than believer.

For non-believers, what can tarot cards do?

Most tarot readers stress that the cards don't tell you what to do with your life, but they can help guide you. A strong spread can clarify personal problems. People find reassurance in a reading that zeroes in on their situation, analyzes it, points out the recipient's strengths, and brings encouragement in dealing with an unstable future. Some people use tarot cards as meditation and a discovery of the authentic self. The cards themselves tell the enduring story of a protagonist's journey complete with obstacles, lessons, hardships, love, family, and strength -- stories so universal that tarot has survived for centuries and has enjoyed a renewed popularity in the past two decades.

The mystery of history

A massive amount has been written about tarot, but most is speculation and theory. There are few clues and little evidence when it comes to the origins and various personas of tarot. The following appears to be true, although many statements are still argued.

1375 -- Regular playing cards enter Europe.
1420-1440 -- Tarot originates in northern Italy. At this time, the cards weren't used for divination but for a card game called triumph or trump, which is similar to bridge. The oldest existing hand-painted decks come from this period. Art historians have dated them to the reign of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan from 1412 to 1447.
1530 -- The Italian word tarocchi was used to distinguish tarot cards from trump or triumph cards. The French form of tarocchi is tarot.
1589 -- Records from a trial in Paris indicate tarot may have been used in witchcraft.
1781 --- Occult writers began discussing and writing about tarot.
1909 -- The Waite-Smith deck was created.
1909 -- Tarot cards first used by gypsies.

Whatever you believe, there's no denying that tarot has made a powerful and mysterious journey though history. It has touched cultures and subcultures and been spread upon the tables of gypsies and kings. It has left behind myth and secrecy and questions that will never be answered. Some might call that magic.

Saturday, December 23: a drawing for a madame sosostris reading.

leave a comment right here to let me know you're entering the drawing. this can also be given to someone else as a Christmas gift. Madame will come of out a stupor long enough to read the cards and post the reading on the Madame Sosostris blog. These readings -- which are a combination of cards and intuition, take Madame about two hours, so please don't enter the drawing unless you're really interested.

madame sosostris


Heather Harper said...

I'm really interested. :)

anne frasier said...


your name is in the bowl.

stay_c said...

Anne, I'm interested too.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Oh what the hell. I'm in.

Probably tell me my dessicated corpse'll be found behind a Riverside gas station. Just like that fortune cookie.

Jaye Wells said...

I've already been lucky enough to have a reading, so I won't enter.

How does one get started in learning tarot? I have a friend who is taking an intensive several-week course in it, but is there a good book or other way to learn the basics?

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Oh, and I almost forgot. Very nice article. Tarot's an underrated writer's tool. I think it can be a very useful way to figure out character traits.

Jaye, I'd suggest foregoing the books. Just pick up a deck. Find one you like. They'll have a short thing on the meanings of the cards and spreads, usually a typical 10 card with a signifier.

Then play with them. See what they make you think about, what thoughts they trigger.

As to books, you might want to consider Stuart Kaplan's "Encyclopedia of Tarot" (ISBN: 157281506X).

It's better as an historical examination of tarot, the background of the cards, their meanings and where they come from, and not so much on the divination aspects, but it delves into those as well.

It's pretty well laid out and in a pinch you can beat an attacker over the head with it. I swear you could brain a buffalo with the thing.

anne frasier said...

stay-c and stephen -- you're in.

jaye -- what stephen said. basic instructions usually come with the cards.
i would say i don't know much beyond the basics. tarot is something a person can continuously study and never know all there is to know. there are just so many levels and ways the cards can connect. plus you have the old meanings versus the new. i probably know 10%. no, probably 5 if that. BUT i do experience an intuitive event when i read them -- and that's really why i'm doing the readings. i'm trying to find out if these intuitions are real or just a guess. usually these feelings have no solid connection to the cards. i recently did a reading for someone i knew absolutely nothing about. she just appeared and asked for one. i had the feeling she was getting a divorce and her teenage son was giving her a lot of grief. also she worked in some high-stress corporate job. all turned out to be true. when i used to get these "feelings" i wouldn't say anything about it. now i'm asking people even at the risk of being completely wrong. it's an experiment.
:D it's the intuition that comes with the cards that i'm really interested in.

stephen, thanks for the book title and ISBN. i might have to look that up myself.

angie said...

Oooh! Me! Me, me, it's all about l'Angie! You give great card. :o)

Nicely done article, Anne. As a fan of Carl Jung's theories, I also leaning toward the collective unconscious idea. BTW, not sure about tarot, but I know Jung used the I Ching as a tool in his analytical work.

I just plain get a kick out of cards - I also like Froud's fairy cards. Plenty of good fairy/bad fairy fun. I've used tarot to help with writing, pulling cards for specific characters and directions to look in for interesting inner/outer conflicts.

Six months before I quite my day job, I went to a psychic. Between the cards and her intuitive stuff, she knocked my socks off. I told her my name and my birthday and that was it. The rest was right on the money in a pretty damn freaky (as in, dear god don't tell me this) kinda way. I don't know how or why it was so right on, but it made me think about some of the choices I had.

anne frasier said...

angie, you're in the bowl. :D

i'll have to look up the fairy cards. thanks!
and your post made we realize i said consciousness, rather than UNconsciousness. all fixed!

like i said in the article, i lean toward not believing in this stuff, but when a psychic hits so many right notes you really have to wonder if we're missing something hugely important.

anne frasier said...

oh, and i appreciate the comments about the article. i'm awful at that kind of writing. really awful. it comes across as stiff -- and i don't even believe it myself. :D

i think next time somebody asks me to write an article i'm going to pass. i could probably learn to write articles, but i really have no interest in it. i find the process extremely tedius and boring.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Tarot has always fascinated (and frightened) me. I had a friend who did quite a few of those scarily accurate readings... yet I never did ask him to stop.

I'd love to enter the drawing. :-)

The article was fascinating. Thanks for posting it here! For some reason I thought tarot, especially the Waite-Smith deck, was much older.

Jaye Wells said...

Thanks Stephen and Anne. I thought there might be more of a science to the way certain cards work together. Maybe I'll find a deck I like and see what happens.

anne frasier said...

S.W. -- you're down!

jaye -- the cards do work together. everything starts to tell a story when you have certain cards that really relate. where they appear in the spread is also a big thing.

Alex Adams said...

My aunt can't take a pee without consulting her tarot cards. :D

I find them fascinating and it never occurred to me to use them in my character development. Now I'll have to hunt down a pack. (A pretty pack, since I'm a Libra)

Sign me up, Matey! Arrr.
(Sorry, just been watching Pirates of the Caribbean)

anne frasier said...

alex: lol!

gotcha in there.

Kelly Parra said...

Wow, this article is great! And I can say Anne trips me out with her readings. I always find meanings and connections in everything she tells me and they always make me feel great! I also find Tarot really cool and have wanted to pick some cards up, but almost afraid too. haha. Maybe I will someday. =D

Bernita said...

I'm all for inspiration.
I'm in.

Helen Brenna said...

Anne, put me in the bowl too! And I don't know why you think you don't do articles well. I loved it!

Anonymous said... some people somehow give off an imprint of the future?

I'm fascinated by that concept. Perhaps. Or is it the skill of the reader in predicting the pattern of a person's life? I don't know.

I used to read Tarot for fun years ago, but have long since forgotten the cards. Put my name in the hat too, Anne. I'd be intrigued to hear what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

How exciting! Please throw me in -I love your readings.

Hulles said...

Please toss me into the bowl as well. And if you could also toss in some goldfish food that would be great, I haven't had lunch yet.

Seriously, I'd like to be in the contest.

And it was an exceptionally well-written and articulate article. You may not enjoy doing articles but you do them well. To paraphrase somebody above, you give good article.

Nice job.

And I'll have to remember to use the Tarot for character development if I ever bother to develop any characters.

anne frasier said...

kelly, i really enjoyed doing the couple of readings i did for you. i remember something came up and i thought it didn't seem like you, but you admitted it was true! :D i love when that happens.

bernita, you're in. you too, helen. and thanks!

jason, what's really been interesting and totally unexpected with the online readings is that people i know zero about -- they just email me -- have had pretty accurate readings. or maybe nobody wants to make me feel bad and they just say it's really on target. :D

anonymous, hmm. never done a completely anonymous one before. i wonder what that would be like!!!

hulles, you're in along with a pinch of fish food! and thanks for the kind words about the article.

Anonymous said...

I have always been interested by tarot cards, I do not know anyone that does this I wish I did, I think we all can use a little help in the road we take.

anne frasier said...

anonymous, that's certainly true!