I like reading poetry, I like writing poetry, and I have memorized more than one poem as part of my devotional practice, dispensing them like blessings throughout my day. It is incredible how a simple collection of words, ordered in an uncanny or fantastically simple way, can spin open a heart whether written by someone last week or a thousand years ago.
I think that Tarot is a poetic art and inspires us to get honey-tongued with our interpretations so that we might illuminate our depths and help others do the same. The ordering of words in the art of Tarot could be seen as the choice or creation of a spread. Many a tarot reader (and herbalist) will tell you that it is less about what cards are cast (or what healing imbalances are readily observable) and more about what questions are asked (and not asked). It can be difficult to determine what questions will be the most appropriate and revelatory, but feeling inspired to form a foundation on which to cast our cards can help us spark to life the right questions for us to be asking. The journey with Tarot (and our plant kin) asks us to expand the playing field of possibility and our ability to interpret our surroundings and inner landscape with inquisitiveness, courage, and confidence. The patch of scraggly trees on the corner of your block can become a sacred grove when our perception is rearranged and so it is with poetry that every day words take on new depths of vulnerability and consequence when they are arranged in ways to break us open, pull us together, and help us feel something that normally such words would not inspire for us.
If you haven't noticed yet at this point, I think the art of tarot and herbalism inform one another. Check out my free Tarot Herbal Wisdom series to learn more about the healing art of plant medicine and the power of casting cards.
So, clever one, if you're looking to stretch your card spread creating muscles and find new ways of discovering wisdom-rich questions, I've created the following poetry-inspired activity for you!
First, gather your deck of choice (it can be a Tarot or Oracle deck or similar divinatory tool that you can use with spreads), a pen, piece of paper, and a poem of choice.
As an example, I've chosen the following short poem from the collection of the Zi Ye (or Songs of Ziye) which are poems and Chinese folk songs typically said to be written by women from the 6th - 3rd centuries BCE.
All night I could not sleep
because of the moonlight on my bed.
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere, Nothing answered "yes."
It's an intriguing poem, describing restlessness and yearning but great possibility. Who hasn't felt spiritually restless on their journey, staring into the dark and yearning for answers? So let's translate the wisdomspark of the poem into a Tarot spread.
There are a number of ways to create a poem-inspired spread. If the poem is short enough and it makes sense to do so, you can make every line of the poem a different card position. So I could create a spread asking the following four questions:
- A description of my current state of spiritual restlessness. This first card acts like a mirror helping the querent understand what they are experiencing.
- The source of my spiritual restlessness. Just as the moonlight in the poem distracts them from sleep, we can find our own source of spiritual distraction.
- What messages are trying to get through that I am ignoring and/or confused by. In the poem there is a voice calling out from the great vastness of Nowhere and it is named as Nothing. What is calling out to the querent? Alternatively, you could ask What is preventing me from listening to my inner wisdom and/or the wisdom of my guides, God/dess/es, ancestors, etc?
- The card of possibilities. The impossibility of Nowhere becoming Nothing and saying "Yes" is the power of this poem so it feels appropriate to cast one card that allows for possibility and unexpectedness.
That is just one way of interpreting the Zi Ye poem into a spread. If you've chosen a much longer poem where a line-by-line spread would prove cumbersome, you can still identify the overarching themes of the poem. Certain words or lines may stand out to you more than others - follow those to the questions you might ask. The following is a longer poem by Hadewijch II, an unidentified 13th century Christian female mystic (side note: my little witch-heart fell deeply in love with the writings of female Christian mystics in junior high school and I consider Hildegard von Bingen to a vastly important but too often unrecognized source of wisdom in the Traditional Western Herbalism lineage - let's change that).
are too small
to hold me,
I am so vast
In the Infinite
for the Uncreated
it undoes me
wider than wide
is too narrow
You know this well,
you who are also there
Her words make me think of an energetic combination of the Hanged One and Tower cards in the Major Arcana of the Tarot. For me, she describes something coming undone, chaotic but utterly still.
There are a couple of themes that stand out to me in Hadewijch II's poem. First, the idea of growing out of your current situation and life choices so far. Then there is the effort of reaching for something that has not yet come into being but it is still having an effect. Finally, there is an undoing of loneliness as Hadewijch II identifies with you or her community or her God as being on the journey as well. Four (maybe five) cards might be cast then, with the following inquiries:
- What have I grown out of? or What is coming undone?
- What am I reaching for that is still coming into being?
- Another card you might pull at this point could be: How is what is still coming into being affecting me now?
- hat restricts me from reaching and needs to be released?
- Who is on this journey with me? or A message from my inner wisdom, guides, God/dess, ancestors, etc. The last question depends on your spiritual framework or the note you want to end the spread on. You might be seeking solidarity with what is coming into being and want to know who is along with the ride.
Ok, ready to work with your own poem? Read through your chosen poem a few times, jotting down themes and reflections that come up for you. It may take a few rounds for the questions to emerge. Just write down whatever comes up for you - flow is better than restriction at this point. Once you feel like you've gathered enough themes from the poem, begin to transform those themes into questions. So, if longing is a theme of your poem you might ask "What am I longing for?" Arrange the questions into a spread and cast your cards. You might find that in your first casting that you find more nuance in the questions or even the ordering what is asked - the cards can be very helpful in letting us know that if there were to be cast just a little differently - and therefore opening up more space - that more insight might emerge. Play, be poetic, and experiment, clever ones!
I hope that you are inspired to play with your own spread-skills having read through how I create poetry-inspired Tarot spreads. If you do end up creating a poetry-inspired tarot spread be sure to share your experiences and links in the comments. You can also use the #PoetryInspiredTarot to share your creations via social media (I hang out on instagram most often). Most of all, enjoy the process and happy spread creating!