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Tarot and the Writing Process

This article was written by Stephen Walter Sterling
posted under Tarot

In a towering Gothic cathedral, a young artisan, clothed in a white tunic, pounds his chisel into glistening gray and white marble. With each strike he thinks of Mary, the Virgin Queen of Heaven, and in his focused determination, chips away at the statue's tiniest imperfection. A bishop and priest look on, amazed at the exquisite precision and aesthetic sensibilities in the young sculptor.

I am currently working on my second book, tentatively titled Tarot and Your Life Mission. While I was researching various methods in the construction of a Personal Mission Statement, the central focus of the book, I came upon the Three of Pentacles, in this case from Lo Scarabeo's Universal Tarot by Roberto De Angelis. At the time, I was designing a visualization to go along with the Tarot meditations and readings that I had written for Part One of the book. I wanted to create a way to enter the card and gather information about the themes and directions of my own life mission. In both my first book Tarot Awareness: Exploring the Spiritual Path, and most especially this new one, I use my own psyche as a laboratory for the initial experiments.

THE PERSONAL MISSION STATEMENT

I had already constructed some Tarot spreads to help fashion the various elements of the Personal Mission Statement, and now I wanted to utilize a different guideline for exploration. Ernest Holmes says, "In visualization, our thought creates a mental picture of our desire and presents this image to Mind with the full expectancy that its accomplishment is now a fact." [1] In the Three of Pentacles, I conjured the image of myself as that sculptor, chipping away at the marble, determined to reach my inner Source, and in that light, finishing the writing of my second book.

I knew that to reach a heightened awareness of my soul's mission here in the Physical Plane, I would have to thoroughly work on myself and explore the far reaches of my psyche. Next, I would have to openly test my methods on my Tarot students in order to see how and if these approaches would work. As a side note, I promised myself that whenever I let my mind wander into the territory of if, I would return my consciousness to the image of the young sculptor diligently working on his statue. I knew that this idea of perfecting one's craft was resonating with me in an important way, and I needed a positive picture to counteract any doubt that might intrude on my completing a successful endeavor such as this one. I learned that through honestly examining my needs, my goals, my strengths, and even my recklessness, I would eventually be able to construct a more viable Personal Mission Statement.

In my contemplation of the subject I came to realize that I would best be in alignment with the deepest desires of my soul if I could excel as both a writer and a teacher. I understood that if I could work with enterprise and with pleasure in the experience of my craft, the more likely I would become a pure channel for the soul energy within. I wanted to express myself with symmetry of thought and integrity of intent so that the work would come together in a vibrant, cohesive whole. In Tarot and Your Life Mission, I refer to this aspiring toward excellence as the Ideal.

Yet with all this striving and these virtuous intentions, the Universe will still load the path with the most cunning of pitfalls. Double-edged indulgences, questionable behavior, fatal attractions, and a multitude of distractions — all of them trials and temptations designed to blur our vision of the Ideal. In my case, I noticed that my writing style was veering off kilter and heading for the skids. Further, I was uneasy with some of the titles in the Table of Contents: Chapter Five. Recurring Issues. Nah. Heard it before. Maybe I should delve deeper into the visualization process and come up with something more original. The more I continued to wrestle with the subject matter of the book, the more I kept thinking of the understandably startled figure in the Seven of Cups.

Instead of a persevering young sculptor working on his project in the Three of Pentacles, I realized that I more resembled the man in the Seven of Cups. In the illustration, the seeker confronts seven strangely filled cups that appear in the midst of storm clouds above him. Dragons and snakes, jewels, and wreaths. The imagination is activated here all right, but in the Seven of Cups we are reminded of the dangers of overdoing it. Too much fantasy and the words become incoherent. The piece loses its symmetry. Looking at the card through the eyes of a writer, I could see the warning that if the author indulges him or herself in highly personal imagery and symbolism, then the work could wind up speaking to an audience of one. I viewed the Seven as encouraging me, to a certain extent at least, to visualize myself as grounded, and then to make sure the threads of the piece I was creating related to one another in interesting and imaginative ways.

To emphasize the point, I decided to create a visualization centering on the Seven of Cups. I saw myself facing a myriad of choices as I crafted the structure and content of my new book, oddly reminiscent of the choices in the Seven. Here is an adaptation of that visualization taken from some notes I made in my Life Mission Journal.[2]

I shut my eyes and took a few slow, deep breaths with the intention of gathering information about my direction. I let my mind and body relax and could sense my consciousness going into a light trance. Then the scene of the Seven of Cups began to come into focus... I lift up my inner eyes, and in my mind I see a pale human head sticking out of one of the cups hovering above me. It opens its eyes and speaks to me through pasty lips: "The title of Chapter Two is weak. It's going to make your reader yawn."

Chapter Two? I am at first stunned by the cutting tone of its critique, but a little later, I realize that I agree. However, almost before I can make a mental note of the remark, I hear a roar coming from a gold cup just above me. I can see green scaly claws gripping the rim of the cup as a frowning dragon hoists himself up. He has bulging eyeballs and dagger-sharp teeth. Scowling at me, he spits out the words: "It stinks!"

Fortunately, I instinctively knew that the inner critic can take on many forms, and that I was welcome to take heed from any of his or her pronouncements, if I so chose. However, I was also aware that we must never allow ourselves to feel inadequate or guilty or any less the divine being we are as we experience our human and spiritual unfoldment.

Then I hear a hissing sound above me, and I forget my own advice. Jolted for a moment, I hesitate a bit before looking up. Through dripping fangs and a darting tongue, a golden snake in a cup above me begins to speak. In my imagination I heard him saying something like, "Maybe I can be of some assistance to you in your writing, like helping you to get down to the core of your subject and theme." I started to feel at ease again, letting my mind relax into the apparently kind vibrations. I decided to concentrate on the snake's gentle eyes and golden body. "You can always refine your imagery back to the Three of Pentacles once again," he continued. "Let your attitudes of doubt and your feelings of inadequacy merely drift down the stream of your passing thoughts, never to be heard from again."

With a benevolent smile, the snake dissolved into a golden mist. In his place I was left looking up into a new cup beginning to form, this time with a glowing figure covered by a white satin cloth. The being seemed to be holding out its arms to me in a kind of welcoming gesture. I was taken in by the nurturing vibrations from the scene, and I started to feel even more relaxed, more at peace.

Then, from underneath the sheet, a male voice spoke: "Though you are distracted by the interruptions, you can always bring your thoughts back once again to a sincere trust in your inner Source — and once there, you can be sure that the central point of clarity will not be far behind." I stared up at the figure, and felt that I was in the presence of an angel, a divine being delivering a sublime message to my heart as well as my mind.

Though in awe, I got the compulsion to reach up to the white satin-draped figure and pull off the sheet. Then he said, "Embrace my Ideal, and worlds will open up to you." I pulled off the sheet.

In a cup just above me, I recognized the young sculptor from my earlier visualization. He smiles down at me. Now the image I had lost earlier returned to me in full force, and I felt a surge of confidence. I knew as I looked into the young artisan's eyes, my work must follow the Ideal that he represents. As his face faded from my consciousness, he spoke to me of that Ideal again as his voice trailed off: "Work with perseverance and joy, and you will eventually experience the essence of Quality." From that moment on, his last sentence became one of my mantras, highlighting, I felt, the power and aspiration infusing De Angelis' Three of Pentacles.

When I returned to work on the book I immediately began to hone and perfect the design of my outline and the content of my first draft; even my syntax and my sentence structure began to improve. I was determined that my writing reflect the Quality within and decided to revisit my visualization into the Three of Pentacles. After entering into a light trance, I let my consciousness return to the cathedral again.

Once I was standing in the aisle of the great church again, I saw the sculptor and his patrons up front near the altar. This time, however, my attention focused on the two older men. As I went deeper into this mind scene, I could feel an energy, a powerful presence, filling the cathedral. I had the fleeting impression that this force came from the reader — embodied in the person of the priest and bishop experiencing and evaluating the merit of my "statue."

I took Ernest Holmes at his word and visualized the finished product, a book sparkling and filled with Light. In my mind I was Bringing Forth the Ideal, the title of the first chapter of Tarot and Your Life Mission.

I let my consciousness draw on the energy of the Three of Pentacles, and I saw once again in my mind the personification of Quality and the striving toward perfection. I knew my attitude, my point of view, and my determination were crucial tools in my advancing closer to the Ideal that I describe in Chapter One. In my imagination, I visualized the young man putting down his chisel and turning to me, his face beaming and shining with sweat. He says, "You must enjoy the process and dig down deep to find the virtue in the stone. The Ideal hides from view, but it lives and breathes within the stone, and you must chisel away at the raw material to discover the perfection beneath. If this process is a chore for you in any way, the treasure will elude your grasp."

I love writing. To write in the realm of metaphysics is, I believe, one of the most important directives of my life mission. I know that my energies must focus on the process of writing clearly and in an entertaining fashion. The priest and the bishop expect nothing less.

The Tarot functions not only as a superb tool for spiritual transformation, but, as I have been saying, can be used to enhance the creative process as well. As seekers, we all want to speak our own truth and discover for ourselves what it is that we want to accomplish. Contemplating the imagery of certain cards has been invaluable for me in clarifying my direction as a writer and helping me to choose the most effective themes, tone, and style for my new book.

One of my students, Sue Anne Foster, director of the Mandala Labyrinth Center in Carmichael, California where I teach Tarot and metaphysics, used my approach to Tarot contemplation in an effort to explore her life mission. I include a few excerpts from her Life Mission Journal in order to illustrate how some possible mantras could arise from contemplation of various cards of the Tarot:

On card XXI, the World, she says, "While the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, I choose to focus on the many things that are coming together."

On V, the Hierophant: "The Hierophant within helps me to read between the lines."

On III, the Empress: "I know my creative juices are alive, alert and always churning."

And, finally, "I, Sue Anne, am the Fool. I willingly step off the edge to see how much I can experience in this lifetime. I trust that I am guided from within and from without."

In the fashioning of her Personal Mission Statement, Sue Anne goes on to say, "I believe my mission is to work more closely with my husband as we build our vision for this space we share." This space she speaks of is an incredibly beautiful spiritual center enhanced with a garden labyrinth, koi pond, waterfall and an aviary with African gray parrots and cockatoos. The classroom, which Sue Anne and Gary built with their own hands, is a lovely hexagonal structure nestled in the trees at the outer edge of the Center, looking out on the labyrinth. Sue Anne calls it her healing hut.

We can also use the Tarot to help us discover the most important principles our soul intends to use for guidance. High moral standards of performance also make up aspects of the Personal Mission Statement, which leaves us to ask, "What pursuits contribute to my wholeness and to my integrity?"

Like the Three of Pentacles, another card, the Eight of Pentacles, speaks to me with a similar voice. It shows a blacksmith hammering away at his product and putting the finished pentacles on display for the world to see — and evaluate. An aspect of the card that I particularly relate to is the relaxed way in which the blacksmith is working. Some of my best writing comes when I am in a calm state of mind, though the fiery energy of Mars in Major Arcana card XVI, the Tower, keeps me going as well.

I see myself in this card hammering away at the pentacles, too, and that one of those pentacles hanging on the wall is my first book, Tarot Awareness. It took me four and a half years to write, and though there were times when I stumbled, when my thoughts got repetitive and dull, I often meditated on the Eight of Pentacles to help me get my bearings. I pounded away at the obvious surface thoughts, determined to keep going, to keep digging deeper. Like the man in the Eight and the boy in the Three, I learned that steady determination always pays off. Even in my earlier writings in the time of my life when I had not yet been published, I always treated my rejections as practice. Like the other pentacles of accomplishment, that earlier work belonged displayed on the wall right along with those that were publicly recognized.

After considering these cards, I wanted to continue my exploration into the uses of the visualization as resource to gather information for the Personal Mission Statement. So I decided to visit another dimension in the Tarot experience: The Major Arcana.

In the Three of Pentacles we looked at the spirituality of the work ethic. In the Eight we saw a continuation of the process — and the exhibition of our accomplishments. With Seven of Cups we considered the need to be grounded as well as imaginative. Next, I wanted to explore a particular level of spiritual consciousness and the obstacles it might impose. I decided on XVI, the Tower, because, at times, as I writer I deliberately connect with my Mars energy, the energy that breaks down forms in order to get the superfluous out of the way. I also experimented with XVIII, the Moon, because I really wanted to understand the challenge in this card and to see how meeting it could help me illuminate an aspect of my life mission. Here is my experience with the Moon:

As usual with the Tarot, you can go into a reading with a very specific intention, but the inner wisdom you find there may encourage you to look at your inquiry from an oddly different angle than you were first expecting. I chose XVIII, the Moon, because I wanted to see myself as a writer going beyond the last outpost of the known and exploring uncharted territories, as suggested by the two towers in the background of the card. Instead, however, my thoughts immediately jumped to images of the Twin Towers in New York City, triggering feelings all over again of the grief I felt at that time.

I had been back to work writing for a few weeks, just about the time the word anthrax was becoming part of the national lexicon. I was finally recovering from my loss of concentration due to the events of September 11, but thanks to my meditation on the Moon, my thoughts jolted back to images of the horrifying attack. Fiery explosions, clouds of dust crashing down on screaming people, the sobbing wife unable to find her husband.

I didn't let myself dwell on these images for long, however, and I looked back to the card of the Moon determined to consider a more traditional meaning. I wanted to move beyond the residues of distressing pictures the towers initially evoked in me, and transmute this harrowing portrayal into something less emotionally draining. Various thoughts entered my consciousness, this time as I contemplated the crayfish crawling out of the pond: There's no time to lie sinking in the muck as the path to the unknown awaits your emergence. The challenge in the card for me involved mellowing the dominance of my emotional self (I am a Cancer Rising) and letting my thinking self move ahead for a new and exciting adventure (Sun in Sagittarius). The idea was to have my mental atmosphere benevolently influenced by my feelings. I came to understand that I was not to let my emotions (grieving ones, in this case) interfere with my need to express myself in writing (walking beyond the towers, eager and clear-headed). The path in the card of the Moon, ascending as it does from the pond off into the horizon, became for me a metaphor for the writing process.

A temporary feeling of sadness could just as easily give way thoughts that focus on the heroic rescue workers as they left behind their own safety and comfort to forge ahead with the purpose of sacrificing for others. I realized the message here was that it is better to think of our fellows rather than obsessing on loss. Then another thought came to mind: Never forget your roots but move on to new territories to discover what you must. Again, I mustn't let my emotional self sink into grief (an overly sensitive Cancer Rising) and overshadow my need to experience the uncharted land as I complete the manuscript (Sagittarius).

I felt confident that my thoughts had moved on, but another aspect of the Moon card crept into my mind: Fear of the unknown. Terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, body bags — I immediately drew my mind back to the positive aspects of the card and tried to lead myself out from those darker thoughts. I knew it was essential for us to live a normal and creative life in spite of that foreboding sense of the barbarians at the gate.

At this point, I decided to contemplate card VII, the Chariot, because I wanted to move away from the challenges presented by the Tower and the Moon. I had just experienced plenty of lightning bolts and towers, and now I just wanted to take a ride in the Chariot. I reviewed the meanings of the card in my head and let my mind relax again. I thought about how the Charioteer possesses an ability to integrate the various dimensions of character and awareness and blend them into a beautifully functioning whole. The Charioteer is the soul more visible as it shines through the personality. As for behavior, the Charioteer is a being of Love and Light, and a stellar example of the Examined Life. Though this image is, of course, an Ideal, I wanted to create a visualization which would allow the seeker to really enjoy the experience.

I took a few slow, deep breaths, and let my mind relax even further. Sandalwood incense, solitude, and the music of Enigma played in the background to enhance the relaxation effect. Here is another visualization, again adapted from the notes I recorded in my Life Mission Journal:

Suddenly my consciousness is looking out on the landscape through the eyes of the Charioteer. To my left, I see the remnants of battle smoldering on a field, and I remember a victory I had over excessive emotionalism. To my right, I see an orchard of apricots, and I am startled by the fragrance from the bright orange fruit. Awareness and appreciation, yin-yang. Dark, light. I see rocks break off from a mountainside and fall to the river below. Then, as I turn my Chariot, I see a spectrum of colors sparkling on a waterfall. Other images pop into my mind: Red-faced finches and bumblebees. A mangy cat. A country road winding through the greenest of hills.

I know there is some secret for me as I ride my inner landscape in this Chariot, and I ask, "What is the blessing for me in this atmosphere that will add beneficially to the overall picture I am trying to create in my Personal Mission Statement?" Then this thought came through: Stay receptive to the influences of your Inner Source, and, at the same time, hold dominion over excessive emotion, chaotic thinking, and selfish sensate gratification at the expense of others. This made a lot of sense to me, especially since the Chariot has Cancer (my Ascendant) as its correspondence in the zodiac. I was born with a very active imagination, and I learned that to make the best use of it, I needed to harness this ability and work with it through the medium of words. All the cards I was using seemed to follow this thread in one way or another.

In this article, I wanted to show how knowledge of different levels of one's life mission could be enhanced by utilizing the meanings and imagery of the Tarot. I touched on contemplation and visualization as well as bringing forth the Ideal in order to get a better picture of the Personal Mission Statement. With my current writing of Tarot and Your Life Mission, I explore these methods in depth as well as others, such as Tarot spreads designed specifically to help construct various aspects of the Personal Mission Statement: Life theme, direction, creative expression, and goals.

Through this process, I learned that I must contribute a work of quality and depth as the ultimate goal, realizing that my Ideal had shown itself to me most vividly in the Three of Pentacles. I also learned that as a writer I have a choice: I can exhibit a loss of concentration (card XVIII, the Moon) and become distracted like the man in the Seven of Cups, or I can be focused and industrious like the man in the Eight of Pentacles — and as confident and victorious as the Rider in the Chariot.

NOTES
1. Holmes, Ernest. Concentration and Visualization, "Science of Mind" Vol. 74, No. 11, Nov. 2001, p. 17.

2. The Life Mission Journal: In my forthcoming book, Tarot and Your Life Mission, I strongly recommend that the reader create a spiritual chronicle of impressions from Tarot meditations, spreads, and visualizations, all of which are designed to help the seeker formulate an effective and inspiring Personal Mission Statement.


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