The Potential and Power of Narrative

Joseph Kosuth “One and Three Chairs”

As many of you know, I am totally and completely enamored of Enrique Enriquez. His approach to the tarot and to oracles, divinatory arts, and the use of language are intertwined in a fascinating dance that often leaves me equal parts frustrated and ecstatic. Yes, it is love. I have been working with EE for about a month now, and it has been a wild and enchanting ride. My ideas about tarot are in flux and my mind is being washed in a bath of alchemical, ‘pataphysical, provocatory and confounding ideas, viewpoints, and schools of thought. The closest I can compare it to any sort of formal education experience would be my idea of what a medieval apprenticeship might look like if it were suddenly transported into the age of Facebook and get-rich-quick schemes, somehow stripping away the tacky gore of our modern culture while maintaining the integrity of a time when teaching was passed down orally through storytelling, life experience, practice, and constant reflection and exchange of ideas.

I preface this post by way of that explanation because today’s post was inspired by another of EE’s ideas that recently surfaced in one of our conversations. EE focuses a great deal on the aspect of narrative in tarot reading, and has also opened me to the world of conceptual art and how it relates to tarot, literature, and life. The ideas I’ll express here are my own, but I wanted to give credit to my teacher for inspiring me to think more deeply about this often overlooked topic.

Someone that EE would probably tease me for reading is actually the first author who inspired me in terms of the healing power of storytelling. That author is Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a Jungian psychotherapist who wrote the influential book Women Who Run With the Wolves. I have no qualms about sharing that this book was brought to my attention by a brilliant Jungian psychotherapist that I had the privilege of working with as a client when I was struggling with a very, very difficult personal crisis about three years ago. This book, at the time, literally changed my life. I know that might sound like a lot of hyperbole but truly, I find great value in books that open my mind to new ideas that either give me permission to see myself in a new, healthier way, or books that introduce me to principles that I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.

In this book, the story of the fundamental psychological needs of women in general is interwoven with myths that correlate to the individual topic being touched on in each chapter. I basically wore my copy out, and then lent it to a dear friend. I now have a copy in Italian as well. This was the first book in my adult life that opened my eyes to the importance of story and myth as a valid way for modern adults to recapture some of the wonder of childhood, while also finding new meaning and wisdom in stories that are oftentimes dismissed as “just for kids.”

Another book that I’ve found empowering and enlightening as regards storytelling and myth is Joseph Campbell’s “Myths to Live By” (I also want to eventually read “Pathways to Bliss.”) Ok, so Campbell is probably best known in pop culture for having coined the phrase “Follow your bliss,” which has become an Oprah-fied rallying cry. In fact, this kind of conveniently leads me into why I wanted to write this post.

Why is narrative important in our modern lives, and what kind of narrative are we searching for?

A cursory Google search turned up a Huff Post article (The Healing Power of a Personal Narrative) by a licensed clinical social worker, May Benatar. Clearly, narrative is being touted more and more in the realm of therapy for its healing potential, especially as it regards “rewriting” a fragmented, inaccurate, or incomplete personal narrative, ie, one’s own “life story.”

Another article turned up the The Art of Medicine in Metaphors, which discusses an emerging field called narrative medicine. Before you dismiss this as new age psychobabble, you might take a look at Columbia University Medical Center’s program in Narrative Medicine. Today’s culture still urges us to substantiate the validity of methods and techniques with the official “stamp” of science. That being the case, I find it rather groundbreaking that there’s an actual program in Narrative Medicine.

I was recently discussing the art of storytelling and its therapeutic value with a dear friend of mine. She and her husband own a very popular eco-B&B here in Rome, and graciously have offered me their space for when I’ll be ready to start doing free readings there (my approach with face-to-face readings is going to be a direct result of my work with Enrique, and as such, it’s a work in progress at the moment). I mention this because Linda, my friend, launched a “storytellers” evening series at The Beehive. The next one is coming up in a couple of weeks here in Rome. There’s no profit motive involved. It’s simply an initiative to build community and to allow whoever would like to, to come forward and tell a story, and whoever would like to, to sit in front of that person and listen to the story they tell. There are a few limits to allow for a smooth functioning of the event; for example, if I remember correctly, the stories have to be contained in the space of 10 minutes. However, the underlying objective is rather revolutionary in a world that often restricts itself to witty 140-character soundbites and drive-through “10 Ways To…” blog posts. The idea is to give time and space to the lost art of live oral storytelling, and its power to unite and enrich both individually and collectively. In fact, eventually when I become more fluent in the tarot de Marseille, my intention is to engage listeners in a spontaneous narrative that can explore the visual and oral impact of storytelling inherent in the tarot.

I agree with Enrique that tarot is a powerful narrative device. As I understand it, tarot allows us a vehicle from which to launch ourselves or allow ourselves to be launched, into possible choices and potential solutions. Why is this so satisfying? I believe it’s because as human beings, we long for connection to something larger than ourselves, and we long to relate to other human beings and their experiences. Also, and perhaps even more importantly, I believe that we desperately desire a way to make sense of our own individual journey through life.

It goes without saying that life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. So, perhaps tarot is one of a variety of ways to live out a temporary personal myth from which we can derive valuable individual meaning–meaning that we can then choose to put into concrete action in our physical world, in the hopes of creating positive change or dynamic personal growth.

I’m very curious to know what you think: Why do we crave narrative? What kind of narrative technique is worthwhile? What are the values in mass-marketed (Oprah-like) calls for creating positive personal narratives, and what are the pitfalls?



  1. Sparrow Tarot Shelley,

    Storytelling truly is the most popular vehicle for reflecting on life, lessons, and as such, Tarot. Humans seem to be hard-wired to respond to narratives with a beginning, middle/challenge, and and end/conclusion. Much like classic scientific inquiry and the philosophical structure of Hegel’s dialectic, many of us move through the three phases of change, thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

    My educated intuition relates this classic pattern to the way I imagine our brains process information, bouncing back and forth between the two sides of our lateralized brain, until new concepts are developed. Our brains are hungry for new information, for which the story is food.

    And…it’s just fun! We can share stories, find commonality in their challenges, learn new ways of relating to life. Is not that why we are drawn to Tarot….to learn new, hopefully better ways of relating to our life situations?

    I thank you for sharing your story and supporting us all in our continued evolution.

    In Spirit,

    • Tamara, that book looks amazing! Thanks for sharing! I’d never heard of it before. And thanks for your kind words and for reading! I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like, due to lots of other commitments 😦

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