[Long post. Sorry about that. If you want to skip to my advice on keeping a Tarot journal, and ignore all the anecdotal stuff about what a terrible journal-keeper I am, you can start below the Bridget Jones poster.]
When I first started to get serious about studying Tarot, I kept a journal. Keeping a Tarot journal is pretty common advice, and I think just about every introductory Tarot book recommends some kind of journaling exercise. No surprise; it’s a straightforward and effective way to learn Tarot. In my first-ever Tarot journal, I had a detailed page on each one of the cards, describing things like:
- Name of the card
- Prominent symbols
- A keyword
- A figure or scene from pop culture that I connected with the card
- Elemental and numerological significance
Along with other stray observations. For a little while, I even tried to sketch out each one of the Major Arcana, until I was (painfully) reminded that I can’t draw any more than a pigeon can sing opera. I also recorded every practice reading I did, noting the spread I used, the cards that turned up, and the interpretations I provided. (For daily draws, this is simple enough, but if—like me—you make the mistake of using a ten-card spread for every reading you do as a beginner, it can be grueling.) I cannot emphasize enough how helpful my Tarot journaling exercise was, and I absolutely, unequivocally think that keeping such a journal is the best way for a beginner to familiarize herself with the Tarot.
But then once I’d reached a basic level of familiarity, there came an uncomfortable question: Now what?
I have never been a journaler. It’s just not in my nature. As a kid, I used to travel internationally with my parents,* and my mother always insisted that I write a journal for each trip. The only problem? I hated it. I’m not proud to admit this, but I was a turd when it came to journaling. We were on vacation, spending our days going places and doing things! I saw absolutely no reason to take time away from the going and the doing to sit down and write about places I’d already gone and things I’d already done. Journaling was a chore, something I was forced to do, and I never found the joy in it that some other people seem to have found.
I admire people who are dedicated journalers. (Journalists?) Really, I do. One of my favorite books is Dracula, and I always thought it was the coolest thing that all the characters in that book kept such a detailed log of their lives. I have friends who journal religiously, and who talk about how transformative it is for them to document their growth as individuals, to be able to express all of their emotions and thoughts in a way they’ll be able to look back on in the future. Really, I think that’s awesome. I wish I were that kind of person. But I’m not.
Over the years, I struggled to keep a Tarot journal. I would keep at it for a while, recording daily draws or whatever, but eventually the practice would start to feel stale, and I would stop. On again, off again. On again, off again. I knew it was something I was supposed to do, but, well, I just didn’t get anything out of it.
I do, however, keep a Tarot journal currently. Well, sort of. From day one, I have considered my blog a journal of sorts, and I’ve managed to keep it going successfully for the past three years.** This is the place I come when I want to think about, write about, and interact with the Tarot in new ways. When I first started the blog, I was terrified that I would only write half a dozen posts and then tire of the exercise, or that I would get disheartened by inevitably low readership and decide to stop writing. Now, three years later, that’s not a worry, and even though my blog is very small as far as the internet is concerned, I’m tremendously proud of what I’ve accomplished. Of course I would prefer to have more readers rather than fewer ones; no one likes screaming into the void. But ultimately, the reason I write this blog is for myself. This is the place where I commit myself to working with the Tarot, once(ish) a week, no matter what else is going on in my life. This is where I experiment, where I try to look at the cards from new angles and perpetually try to deepen my relationship with them. And yes, it’s a place for me to log my evolving relationship with the Tarot, so that I can look back and see how much I’ve grown.
So here (finally, 900 words into the post) are some thoughts about Tarot journaling, what works for me, and why I’ve been able to stave off ennui in working on this blog over the past couple of years. I’d like to imagine these tips might also be relevant for keeping any kind of spiritual or magical diary, but maybe I’m deluding myself on that front.
1. Don’t Waste Time Writing What You Already Know
Sure, if you’re an absolute beginner with Tarot, it’s helpful to write down what the four elements are, what they signify, and which suits connect to which elements. That’s information you need to learn. But if you’ve been reading Tarot for a little while and you already know that Cups correspond to Water, what’s the point of writing it down? That’s not going to teach you anything new, and if you’re anything like me, it’s just going to feel like drudgery. One of the biggest reasons all of my past Tarot journals failed is that I felt like I was supposed to write out all of the basic Tarot 101 information over and over and over again. In each journal, I wrote an introductory “What is Tarot and how does it work?” section I never intended to read again, a page on the basic meaning of each of the cards, tables of correspondences with elements and numbers and other things that I already knew by heart. I had zero intention to reference any of this written information at any point in the future. But I felt like my journal was supposed to have all of it.
Incidentally, I’d give the same advice for things you can easily look up online. Sure, I haven’t memorized all of the perfumes that correspond to the Major Arcana in Liber 777, but if I ever need that information, it’s an easy Google search away. (Also, I genuinely can’t imagine any situation in which I’m performing a Tarot reading and find myself possessed of a sudden and urgent need to know that the Lovers correspond to wormwood.) For me, a Tarot journal is not a place for rote information that I can access elsewhere; it’s a place for reflection, insight, and discovery.
2. Seek Variety
I love daily draws. I think they’re a fantastic way to get reading experience, and even for experienced readers they can provide useful insight into the goings-on of each day—as well as broader trends that emerge over time. But do you know what daily draws are? Boring. And when I was keeping Tarot journals that pretty much amounted to nothing more than a log of my daily draws (after I’d gone through and entered all the basic intro-to-Tarot stuff I thought I was supposed to have), I wanted to scoop my own eyeballs out with a melon baller just to get a little variety.
When I started this blog, I made a point to be doing a variety of different things, because boredom is Public Enemy Number One. (Or at least Private Enemy Number One.) I make new spreads, I do deck reviews, I write (unnecessarily lengthy) essays about individual cards, and I explore the mechanics of Tarot-reading techniques I like or don’t like. I’ve even done a couple of satire posts, and honestly, those are some of my favorites of all the ones I’ve written. The point is that I work to keep myself engaged by doing new things. More than anything else, I want to avoid letting my blog—and my Tarot practice—fall into a rut. There is such infinite variety to explore in Tarot, and ultimately the purpose of my blog is to explore that variety and to drive myself to a better understanding of what Tarot has to offer. The best way to do that, in my experience, has been to avoid focusing too narrowly on any one way of engaging with Tarot.
3. Set Realistic Expectations—But Meet Them
People get busy. Life happens. And we can’t spend all our time writing and thinking about Tarot. For me, it’s important to have a firm sense of the kind of commitment I’m making to my Tarot journal-blogging. There’s a reason I generally only post once a week. I know that if I tried to post more often than that, it simply wouldn’t happen. Each of these posts takes me several hours to complete, and I just don’t have the spare time to sit down and blog multiple times per week. One post per week is a realistic goal to which I can actually hold myself without disrupting the rest of my life as a normal, functional human being.
However, there’s a flipside to this advice. Having set the once-a-week goal, I have to make sure I stick to it.
Yes, journaling can be a chore sometimes. I still feel the same way now as I did when I was kid. But chores are important. I almost never read for other people these days. That’s not a matter of principle or ethics or anything like that; it’s just that I’m a full-time graduate student, most of my friends look (politely) down their noses at Tarot, and I rarely have occasion to read for someone other than myself. As a consequence, blogging is sometimes the only connection I get to Tarot in a period of weeks or even months. If I want to hold onto my relationship with the Tarot, I need to work to cultivate that relationship. For me, that means regular blogging (although it will certainly mean something different to other people).
I’m not always consistent about my one-post-per-week aspirations. If I have a big deadline, or I’m exceptionally harried, or I just can’t think of anything interesting to write, I’ll miss a week. But I always force myself to come back. I think there may be a total of two times in the past three years that I’ve gone more than three weeks without activity on the blog. I usually fight like hell not to let it go even two weeks. Consistency is important. If you’re keeping a Tarot journal and you can’t commit to writing daily, I don’t blame you. If you can’t even commit to writing weekly, that’s fine. But whatever commitment you do make—biweekly, monthly, even quarterly—I think it’s important to stick to.
4. Draw Connections
The single most rewarding thing I have done with this blog has been the set of compare-and-contrast posts where I talk about the relationships between certain cards. Sometimes, these relationships are obvious; other times, they’re less so, based on astrology or just some intuitive connection that I draw. These are the posts that take the most time and care, and ultimately, they’re the ones I revisit most often.
Sure, I can write an essay about the Five of Wands. In fact, I have written an essay about the Five of Wands. I could even write another essay, or maybe two or three. But there comes a point where in order to go deeper, you (or at least I) need to stop considering each card in isolation, and start thinking about how they link up with each other. What are the themes that dominate the deck? Which cards are like each other? Which are dissimilar? How does one card balance, mitigate, or strengthen the energy of another? These are the thoughts that occupy most of my time, and most of my wordspace, when it comes to this Tarot blog and/or journal.
Ultimately, I think this bit of advice has to do with the concept of “advanced” Tarot in general. There are tons of introductory books on the market that’ll give you the basics of what each card means and how to lay out a spread. Then once you have a handle on that, you can learn how to make your own spreads, acquire a couple of extra decks, and maybe start looking at the Tarot through the lens of the Fool’s Journey or the Qabalah or whatever. But then what do you do after that? What constitutes advanced Tarot, and how do you learn it?
The answer to that question is different for every person and I’m really not trying to say what other people should do or how they should learn. But for myself, working on “advanced” Tarot really has meant diving into the relations between the cards: Seeing each arcanum not only as an energy unto itself, but also as a node in a complex web. Exploring that web is the single most beneficial thing this blog has allowed me to do, and I think the sheer number of potential connections is part of why I’ve been able to keep the blog going and feel like it’s still fresh.
This has been a long post, and it’s probably at least a little disorganized.*** Eh, so be it. Nobody actually reads all the way through the long posts, anyway. There’s probably a lot more to say on this topic, and there’s certainly advice that I would never think to give, so I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the matter. Do you keep a Tarot journal? If so, what works for you? What have you found helpful in keeping it going, and what hasn’t helped keep you on track?
Next week’s post will be less talky, I promise. I’ll do a spread or something. Nice and simple. Easy to read. Fewer than 2500 words. Until then, have a good week.
*My parents still do travel, and I’m always welcome to come with them, but we’ve hit that devastating stage of adulthood where I’m financially independent and expected to pay for my own trip. Such woe.
**Holy crap, I’ve been running this blog for three years. A child born when I started this blog is now old enough to dress itself. That’s wild.
***Also, looking back at my “Tarot Blog Tips from a Lillipute” post from two years ago, I’ve said some of the exact same things here that I did then. In a way, it’s comforting to know that I’m consistent, but I’ve given a lot of lip service in this post to the idea of tracking one’s growth over time. I admit, it would be nice if things looked just a little bit more growth-y.