Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creating Fantasy Storylines: Dream Interpretation with The Tarot

I recently found an interesting method to develop a spec fiction storyline, tapping into the rich symbolism of dreams. After I read an article by Karen Hollis on using The Tarot to interpret dreams, it quickly occurred to me that this could be a useful technique for fantasy writers. I’ll briefly explain her method and work through an example with one of my own dreams.

The procedure may be done with any Tarot deck that you feel comfortable with, but it’s important that you are familiar with the meaning of the cards. I’ll use my Mystic Dreamer deck, which I have connected to for a couple years. When used for dream interpretation (rather than divination), The Tarot cards are used like prompts for triggering connections that help you understand what you experienced in the dream state.

5 Steps for Dream Interpretation with The Tarot
  1. Write down the dream exactly as you remember it. Divide your dream into segments that make sense to you. You might call each segment a ‘scene.’ Be brief and simple. One or two sentences are all you need.
  2. Shuffle the Tarot deck that you prefer to use to inquire about the dream.
  3. Pull cards for each segment of the dream as shown in the vignette.
  4. Read the sentence aloud, and interpret the Tarot card as it relates to the sentence you wrote for each scene or segment.
  5. Piece together the meanings of the cards to form a story of what your dream may have meant.
My Sample Tarot Dream Interpretation Vignette

Before my mother passed and was staying at an assisted living facility, I had many dreams and nightmares that my counselor had me record and use for therapy. This was one.

In the dream, Mom passed away while I watched. Slowly, her lifeless body came back to live and started to move, with strength and agility. She sat on her bed and talked coherently, but not fully in connection to my presence. It was as though she knew I was there, but couldn’t hear me. Her mood shifted wildly from happy to violent. Her moodiness scared me and I edged toward the door. When she became upset, I left and she followed. An alarm started to go off as I left the locked memory unit of the facility. My mother easily opened the door, which she was unable to do when alive. Residents and staff were running everywhere and screaming. When I got outside, an aide called my mother’s name. I turned to see my mother turn into a wolf, snarling with teeth bared and looking directly at me. The aide screamed and ran back inside for help. I was left alone with my mother as a fierce wolf. She edged toward me, growling. In a panic, I did the only thing I could think of to save myself. While the wolf crouched to attack, I slowly reached down. I moved with caution to not upset the wolf’s spirit and rubbed the ears. Grudgingly, the wolf calmed…between intermittent growls. I was no longer in danger.

My Dream Segments & Tarot Interpretation

Scene 1.  I’m in my mother’s room in the assisted living facility as she passes away and comes back to life, experiencing violent mood swings.

Card Drawn: reversed King of Cups

Interpretation-   I deny problems or issues that my mother displays rather than addressing or accepting them and move away.
Scene 2.  I’m in the hallways of the assisted living facility, leaving the locked doors of the memory unit and my mother follows.

Card Drawn:  Temperance (major arcana)

Interpretation – On the card, a woman sits peacefully in the midst of rapids of a stream. Despite chaos around her, she remains calm and carefully pours water from one chalice to another. In my dream, I remain perfectly balanced and centered, even though residents and staff members are running in all directions and screaming while an alarm sounds.

Scene 3.  Outside of the assisted living facility, my mother transforms into a snarling wolf, ready to attack me.

Card Drawn:  Tarot Card – reversed King of Wands

Interpretation – I view my mother’s illness with dementia as a demanding and impatient tyrant, who is prone to emotional upheaval, with periods of pouting and jealousy as well as serious anger issues.

Scene 4. Panicked and working on gut instinct, I kneel and pet the angry wolf and it calms.

Card Drawn:  Tarot Card – Ten of Swords

Interpretation – On this card, a woman crouches on a stony beach, ten swords stabbed into her back all along her spine. She looks like she has been trying to get up or just unwilling to fall all the way to the ground. Sunlight shines through the clouds over a still and peaceful ocean, symbolizing calmness of emotions that seems at odds with the destruction on the beach. This card says, in no uncertain terms that, finally, it’s over. In my dream, I have fought through my frustrations in dealing with my mother’s ravaging illness and merely accept her life as it is, finally knowing that I cannot change her situation.

Analysis of the storyline

Although I’ve worked with the tarot deck I used (Mystic Dreamer) with uncanny insight for a couple years, I’m always amazed at the connections the cards draw for me. I was actually considering turning this dream into a paranormal short story, but I struggled with the internal conflict. After this tarot exercise it’s now clear to me! 

Obviously, this method is useful to work through personal issues, which my dream was filled to the brim with. On that note, I was further impressed how the tarot cards added the exact meanings my counselor posed when I worked with her. 

I know many writers work from dreams and keep a bedside notebook just for that purpose since dreams are easily forgotten once you’re fully awake. This method of dream interpretation seems like a fantastic way to connect the dots of the dream action to create a compelling emotional storyline. 

Do you get writing ideas from your dreams? Do you ever attempt to interpret your dreams?


Tarot by Arwen I took an extended workshop with her about helping writers read the tarot. I highly recommend her courses.

Karen Hollis

Catharine Chapman – Decoding Your Dreams with Tarot

DeterminingDream Meaning with Tarot 

~ ~ ~
Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. Read her ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGENDS for adventurous epic fantasy romance: Book One, SEEKING A SCRIBE, and Book Two, HERITAGE AVENGED. She has also authored the Ciel's Legacy series, with fast action mermaid/pirate storylines: TEARS ON A TRANQUIL LAKE and TORTUGA TREASURE.  For a FREE ebook download, read her historic fantasy, LE CIRQUE DE MAGIE, available at Amazon and Smashwords.


Ella Gray said...

I've always thought about interpreting my dreams, or keeping a dream journal, but I never made the commitment. This seems like an amazing technique, and I love your Mystic Dreamer deck - so beautiful. Very inspiring, thanks for sharing it.

Marsha A. Moore said...

Thanks, Ella. I was amazed how well the technique added meaning and developed the internal conflict of the story. Mystic Dreamer is a lovely tarot deck. I often flip through the cards to enjoy the illustrations.

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