Finding novel inspiration through the tarot
A few years ago, I was writing a novel that wasn’t working. I had a main character that I loved, but the story wasn’t high concept enough to get the attention of an agent or a publisher. I needed a big idea – and luckily inspiration came to me through the tarot.
It was on a tarot course, run by Maddy Elruna in East Sussex, that I discovered the myths and magic of Norse legend.
Odin in the tarot
I’ve always had an interest in tarot, and love the symbolism depicted in the cards. Much the same way that mythic stories explore archetypal roles and themes central to the human experience, tarot speaks of the 'big things' - birth, death, love, betrayal, and yet it can also be incredibly nuanced thanks to the way the cards fall in a spread.
One card that really captured my imagination was The Hanged Man. I admit I’d never really liked the card much before. I always thought it signalled a time of waiting around (and who likes that?!) but this card has a much deeper meaning. The Hanged Man is associated with Odin, the Allfather, who hung himself from the world tree Yggdrasil. Odin is the god of many things, including poetry, wisdom and magic. In his wanderer’s guise, he traverses the nine worlds, seeking out knowledge – and even plucked out an eye to drink from Mimir’s well of wisdom.
In the tarot, the Norns are represented by The Wheel of Fortune.
(The card shown is from the Mythic Tarot deck. Of course, Greek mythology has its own trio of women who weave fate!)
In his never-ending quest for knowledge, Odin knocked upon the door of the Norns, wanting to learn the secrets of fate. Older and more powerful than the gods, these are the three women who weave destiny in the great tree Yggdrasil.
When the Norns would not give Odin the answers her sought, he hung himself from the tree for nine days and nights. Neither food nor water would he take, and he stabbed himself with his own spear. Nearing the point of death, he at last saw the runes rise up from the well - and cut himself down with a cry.
The meaning of The Hanged Man
When the Hanged Man appears in a tarot spread, it can signal that sacrifice is required. It asks what you are willing to give up in order to achieve your goals. It may be a physical thing, or letting go of a particular belief or outlook that no longer serves you.
Odin didn’t embark on an outer quest to learn the secrets of fate – he was still and went within to find enlightenment. The Hanged Man challenges us to stop ‘doing’ and listen to our intuition – in the card, the figure depicted literally puts his heart above his head.
In this way, The Hanged Man can be a call to surrender. If we relinquish control and are willing to look at things differently, then the answers we seek may come to us – and we’ll get our ‘A-ha!’ moment (standing on your head optional!)
New inspiration for my story
Learning about The Hanged Man inspired me to stop trying to ‘fix’ the novel I was working on, and look at the story from a new perspective. What if I drew directly from Norse myth, but kept the character I loved and the contemporary setting?
What if there was more to the story of Odin hanging from the tree... what if his actions all those years ago had repercussions today. How might a 17-year-old girl deal with the themes of fate, sacrifice and death?
It was this change in perspective that led to a breakthrough and a re-working of my novel, which became The Twisted Tree – a ghost story based on Norse mythology.
About The Twisted Tree Martha can tell things about a person just by touching their clothes, as if their emotions and memories have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma's cabin and became blind in one eye. Determined to understand her strange ability, Martha sets off to visit her grandmother, Mormor - only to discover Mormor is dead, a peculiar boy is in her cabin and a terrifying creature is on the loose. Then the spinning wheel starts creaking, books move around and terror creeps in . . .
Set in the remote snows of contemporary Norway, The Twisted Tree is a ghost story that twists and turns - and never takes you quite where you'd expect... Published by Hot Key Books, The Twisted Tree ebook is out now, and in paperback on 10th January, 2019.
About the Author
Rachel Burge is an author and freelance writer.
She lives in East Sussex with her partner, son, and black Labrador Biff. She is fascinated by Norse myth and swears she once saw a ghost.