Diane Wilkes' Tarot and Storytelling Prentation - Advanced Class

Storytelling to Improve Tarot Readings--Preparation, Telling the Tarot Story, Editing and Revising                                                               


Cherokee Indians called pages from a book "talking leaves"--imagine the cards as "talking leaves," with the readerís job to communicate the messages

If you have never read for anyone but yourself, start with a "safe" audience: a parent, sibling, spouse, or good friend

To get experience, volunteer to read for free at parties and new age and other bookstores

Translate the powerful Tarot images to word-pictures, with metaphor, examples from movies, books, myths, television shows, history and politics.

Having a selection for each card will "hook" a clientele with diverse educations, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds

Accumulate a reference library for symbolism--books on mythology, folklore dictionaries, individual and collective symbols. Cast your net wide: any pop culture phenomenon can become a part of your mental library

Another great resource for multiple card views is multiple Tarot decks; you can either spend lots of money accumulating various decks, or make a study of various decks on the web (there are several excellent sites in the appendix); alternatively, Volume III of Stuart Kaplanís Encyclopedia of Tarot is a veritable treasure trove of pictures from thousands of decks, along with brief card interpretations

Appeal to all the senses: associate smells, sounds, sights, tastes, and textures with each card--for each querent resonates with different senses

Welcome multiple meanings for each card--it enriches your story

Personalize your stories--you have life experiences matching each of the 78 cards and use them as examples in your readings; rummage through your mental store of family anecdotes and stories and match them with cards

Practice your stories--find a way to make them meaningful to the querent, not an exercise in egotism; tape record a sample reading and review it for various storytelling components--were your images vivid, did you speak plainly, clearly, loudly enough, did you use Tarotese and confuse the listener, did you miss connections you could have made, etc. Also, try to find the positive parts of your reading--empathic responses, creative card combinations. Learn your strengths and weaknesses so that you can play to the former and minimize or eliminate the latter

Utilize your journals as a breeding ground for ideas and connections

Donít limit your resources to guided learning; stay aware of possible card connections every day; the stewardess pouring your water from another glass can be your Temperance card for the day. Museums (art, natural history, science, cultural, and ethnic) can expose you to alternative and visceral archetypes and day-to-day card connections

Telling the Tarot Story

Set the stage--get the "audience"--and you--readySpecial space--candles, crystals, pictures, incense, smudge stick, special table covering of velvet, lace, or silk

Find what works with your style

Outfit should expresse your storytelling style. That might mean a suit if your specialty is reading for executives; a funky but chic outfit if youíre reading at a gala event. Your comfort is key--nothing thatmakes you feel awkward or uncomfortable in any way

Begin by developing a relationship of trust. Prepare the individual for the tarot story to come by discussing expectations--yours and his. If possible, try to find common ground, ways in which you can identify with one another

Discover what subject(s) the querent wants the tarot story to address prior to the reading--your tale isnít made to order, but the querentís needs should be addressed

Before you start your story-reading, take a look at the entire spread--see if you can recognize the story elements, especially the climax, before you start addressing individual cards; see if you can synopsize the reading into two sentences in your mind (donít do it aloud--you donít want to give your story away before you start it, right?); what kind of ending does the story have

Know where the story is going before you begin, so you can flesh out your tale with the card combinations that lead to your conclusions, but donít be afraid to offer alternative descriptive or plot possibilities as they present themselves; donít let your story get "stale"--you want a reading that lives and breathes, not one in stasis

Clear communication--use natural oral language--use words organically--no pretension...tarot as specialized language--translate for the querent (they donít know what it means to be a Queen of Cups or have a Nine of Swords day)

Be specific--saying "Oh, these cards have a lot of fire energy" is a bit nebulous to the tarot novice; instead, "This card represents you. Itís the King of Wands, which speaks of the highest ideals, someone who knows how to make their ideals and passions manifest" will be more helpful to the querent

Avoid pat solutions and cliches; we all know "time heals all wounds"-- that isnít what the querent is paying to hear

Try to avoid rote memory--while you have seen the Queen of Cups in 20 readings, you havenít seen it in this particular combination of cards; keep your mind open to connections, new avenues. "Knowing your craft can help you tell a story. But only by taking risks can you make art."--Marion Dane Bauer

Remember your audience of one and direct your words to the individual in front of you

Elements of story: place, character, timeframe, plot, conflict, climax, anti-climax.

Your story should address at least four needs of the querent: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual (disks, swords, cups, and wands). Try and read each card in the spread on all four levels

For a story to matter to the querent, it has to be about something; donít waste your or her time focused on details; use details to buttress your story, not for superfluous and scattered digressions or inconsequential predictions

A picture is worth a thousand words--and you have an illustrated story with Tarot--continue to reflect back on the card images so that the querent can see as well as hear what youíre saying--and possibly see something you donít, which can enrich the reading and empower the querent. The cards are your "storyboards."

Certain decks are more graphically revealing than others. You may want to select deck(s) that wonít turn off your audience, ie, Barbara Walker Tarot, whose Princess of Swords has a toothy vagina; Brian WilliamsíRenaissance Tarot/Stevee Postmanís Cosmic Tribe have extensive nudity

Conversely, you may want to bring the Halloween Tarot or Day of the Dead Tarot for a Halloween event; take the Baseball Tarot out to a World Series gathering

Some querents learn best visually, others learn best via oral means; still, others understand things best kinesthetically; try to communicate in all three ways and observe which style seems to be most accessible and meaningful to the querent

Bring the querent into the reading; there are several ways to do this. As you explain an individual card/part of the tarot story, ask for feedback; ask if a particular card image strikes a personal chord; use the breakthrough process where the querent chooses the cards that create an affirmation; offer the client several alternative interpretations and ask which resonates the most for him; ask the client what a card "says" to him before you tell him your interpretation; you can even have the client hold a crystal for healing or serenity as a way to engage the querent in the reading

Donít forget the importance of pacing. The story will intensify as you tell it--donít begin it with a shock (unless thatís your style--and even then, use it judiciously, because not all querents handle shocks easily). Ease into difficult or delicate subjects and pace yourself with the abilities of your listener. Pay attention to your segues. If the querent asks about her career and also the continued health of her older parent, make sure you donít confuse the answers to the two by talking about the strands simultaneously. Make each point distinct, even if you want to discuss their influence on the other, and create transitions between the two. Make your points clearly.

Throughout the reading, keep checking in to see how your audience is responding to your story--are you losing him with a long description of the Egyptian and Greek goddesses that correlate to the High Priestess? Is she perplexed by your Kabbalistic references? A good storyteller is more concerned with reaching his audience than dazzling them with his brilliance

Donít confuse the story with the storyteller--or the Tarot with the reader; youíve been given a gift, but if you start to identify yourself as the Next Big Swami, you may find yourself out of an audience--or worse, with a cult

Try to approach a card in different ways so that the querent can see it from multiple angles. If you know that a particular author or reader sees something differently and uses a great metaphor for the card, share it with the querent--giving credit to the author, if possible. (storytelling ethics) It might be that querents resonate with another authorís interpretation so deeply that they buy that individualís book and begin their own Tarot journey

Again, play to your strengths. If your gift is creating a poem out of the reading, do so. If youíre naturally humorous, express the tarot story leavened with levity (as appropriate). This tarot tale could only be told by you, so sprinkle your story with particles of your self

Frequently, a storyteller is given a specific time to tell his stories. Often, that is also true of a Tarot reader. Donít feel you have to cover every period of the querentís life or answer every question they have in fifteen minutes

Again, remember pacing--if you have only 15 minutes, donít start talking very quickly in order to cover everything. Youíll leave the querent confused and theyíll get less from the reading than if you cover what you can in a given time period thoroughly and distinctly

Relax. Your audience of one will respond to your ease--or lack thereof.  If you make a mistake, ie., confuse a spread placement or see the Queen of Cups, but interpret it as the Queen of Swords, address it immediately and donít get into a tizzy about it. Move on, or both you and the querent will be lost in the morass of your mistake instead of the wonderful tarot story you have to tell

All these techniques are just that--techniques. They are meant to serve the tarot story. Donít lose the story in a barrage of technical details


Every good story is made better by a good editor. Emphasize and reiterate the most important things in a reading, but try to avoid repetition until you get to the all-important summary portion of your reading.  Remember, thatís a time for weeding out the extraneous and concentrating on the big picture.

Just as all of Aesopís fables had their moral, you can help the querent create an affirmation that moves her towards the most promising future suggested by the cards. Be sure the affirmation is phrased in the present, andcontains no negatives, as the mind doesnít hear the "not" or "un." In other words, say, "I am as full of creativity as the Empress," not "I am not hungry like the Empress." Your mind hears that you are hungry.

You may want to give a distressed client a little extra time, but donít confuse yourself with a doctor, lawyer, or therapist. It is wise to maintain a list of phone numbers to which to refer a querent


If you find yourself making repeated mistakes during readings, it may be time to make a tape for yourself of a sample reading, and review it in the dispassionate and stress-free atmosphere of your home

Periodically, go over your notes for each card and add things youíve added to your mental Tarot library. Remove old interpretations that no longer ring true to you. As you grow and change, so should your Tarot vocabulary

Try to exchange readings with other readers, preferably ones at your level; notice other storytelling techniques to incorporate the ones you feel will be a natural assimilation--and to experience that the same story can be told in many different ways and voices. If you donít know any in your area, there are always online readers with whom to arrange a trade

Handout and Page © Diane Wilkes 2000