The Tarot Muse
Carolyn R. Guss
Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Teacher


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Cards, Book, and Pen (Plus, a Candle Is Nice):  
Tarot and Journaling

by Carolyn R. Guss, The Tarot Muse ©

  This article first appeared in The Journey, Fall 1996

Pablo Picasso wrote that “Painting is only another way of keeping a journal,” an aphorism evident in his works—particularly the still lifes—as he “chronicles” a romantic relationship from its first ripe lushness to the tired, rotting quality of a spent affair. One might say the same of using the Tarot—that reading the cards is another way of keeping a log of one’s life. Laying out the cards reflects our moods, concerns, questions, triumphs, and so on; information gained from interpreting the readings can help us enhance the quality or change the course of our lives as we are living them. When combined with the journal-keeping process—a Tarot journal—the result is a useful personal tool that offers us insights into and records our progress on the paths of our lives.

As a participant in and teacher of both journal-writing and Tarot, I find merging the two disciplines a natural union. And although I am mostly a “monogamous” journal keeper (one volume for everything: musings, thoughts, lists, creative inspirations, gripes, etc.), I do maintain a separate Tarot log of all the readings I do for myself. (I also keep a separate, although highly sporadic, dream diary.) In addition I use my Tarot journal as a forum for my evolving thoughts and feelings on the cards, so I divide my notebook into two sections: readings and miscellaneous Tarot observations.

I strongly urge Tarot students to begin and continue a Tarot journal, tailoring its format to their own needs. Particularly for beginners, the Tarot journal is an effective way to develop a relationship with the cards—to learn their meanings and your personal responses to these. As with my philosophy of journal-writing, there are no rules to keeping a Tarot journal. You can record every reading or only significant ones; you can maintain the journal on your computer or tape-record it if you prefer those forms to handwriting. And because the Tarot is such a visual medium, drawing often captures one’s impression of the cards even more precisely than writing. In creating her Shining Woman Tarot (now Shining Tribe, Llewellyn), Tarot scholar Rachel Pollack envisioned many of the images she ultimately used on the cards in her journal: sketching them out, making notes, etc. She originally intended to commission an illustrator to execute finished versions of the cards; she was advised to go with her original images, even though she had never drawn professionally before.

Although I occasionally tape-record my readings for myself, I prefer to keep my Tarot journal handwritten. I also record almost every reading I do, although I do not reread and refer to each-and-every one, unless specifically looking for patterns. As with various forms of divination, such as interpretation of dreams, reading the Tarot cards over a set period of time illuminates a personal pattern. Just as one can experience recurring dreams, certain cards will occur and reoccur during a span of several weeks or months, then disappear entirely when a matter has been brought to a conclusion or run its course. The Tarot journal is an excellent method of noticing such repetitions and tracking their progress (much as Picasso’s still lifes tracked the course of his romantic relationships, whether he consciously intended them to or not). As with dreams, some readings will be especially significant; others will be marginal or less meaningful. Any miner would advise you that one goes through a lot of silt while panning for gold.

The Tarot journal is especially useful for gauging your progress in reading the cards. In Traveling the Royal Road, the final book of her Tarot trilogy (Berkley Books), Nancy Shavick states, “You can test your card-reading ability through your journal, which holds the history of correlations between what the cards say and what happens in your life on a mental, spiritual, emotional, and practical level” [just like the four suits of the Tarot!].

A good way to keep track of these daily developments comes from another noted Tarot practitioner, Mary K. Greer, who details in her earliest volume, Tarot for Your Self (Newcastle Press), a basic three-card spread that is useful for keeping in touch with oneself, and is easy to chronicle in journal format. You briefly meditate to center and clear the mind, shuffle the cards, and—with your non-dominant hand—split the deck into three stacks, representing Body, Mind, and Spirit, choosing the top card from each. The stacks can be determined by the order in which they fall or be selected by using a sensitivity in the hands, to “feel” which is Body (warm and “tingly”) and which is Spirit (“lightest, most ephemeral,” according to Greer. She suggests that it is also helpful to leave a fourth column or space to add notes regarding “Events of the Day,” which may have some bearing on the three cards you have chosen. Of course, three-card readings can also be done on a myriad of subjects.

Keeping a journal of these “mini” readings—as frequently as you choose to do them—can be a useful tool in demonstrating cycles, patterns, and themes, especially if you review a cluster of readings a month or six weeks later, and make notes about anything that seems pertinent.

Even if the concept of doing and recording small readings a few times a week doesn’t appeal, by all means keep track of the larger readings you do, no matter how infrequently. Be sure to write down the specific question or subject you bring to the reading, if there is one. In The Royal Road Shavick advises, “Much self-discovery will occur through your Tarot journal as it teaches you about the workings of your subconscious, because the cards so eloquently illustrate your personal story, with its ups and downs and inexplicable twists of fate.”

I close with an anecdote. During a move some years ago—halfway across a state to get married—I was panicking at the end, trying to shove everything leftover and valued into my fiancé’s car (the moving van having already departed, brim-full). I said goodbye to my three fat Tarot journals (having just packed five full cartons of regular journals). They just didn’t seem that significant, given my desperately crammed situation; more than a little sadly, I discarded them. At least six months later, I reached under the passenger seat of my husband’s car, ostensibly to find a rag with which to wipe the fogged windshield. My fingers touched those three lumpish journals, as my mind asked, “How?” I carried them into the house greedily. During another move a few years later—to a house we bought together—I mused, “Well, I was obviously meant to keep these Tarot journals,” so pack them I thought I did (despite now seven cartons of regular journals). And I have never found them, in all the years since. What I learned from them however, about the Tarot and myself, remains.