There are a lot of prompt books and
lists for creative writing but once I discovered how to use a tarot
deck, I have never needed any other tool to get warmed up or to break
writer’s block. Using a tarot deck to generate writing prompts works
by providing just the right amount of structure to provide a
springboard without becoming routine or too confining.
For today’s prompt, I will be using the
Everyday Tarot which I bought specifically for creative writing. It
is a mini-deck, which is something important when I’m doing larger
spreads or when I want to write on the go. It also comes with a
meaty, compact “little white book” (purple, in this case) noting
basic and common associations with the cards.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
One of my favourite spreads is to lay out an Aristotelian 3-act plot using a simple three-card spread.
What you will need:
-A deck of tarot cards
-Writing tools (computer, paper and pen etc…)
Step 1: Spend a moment centering yourself. This will help you clear your mind and focus.
Step 2: Shuffle the cards. Everyone has a favourite method.
Step 3: Draw three cards face down.
Step 4: Turn over the first card on the left. This is the beginning of your story. Take a moment to analyze the card.
Step 5: Write. I like to set a timer for about 3-5 minutes.
Step 6: Turn over the middle card—this is the middle of your story. Take a moment.
Step 7: Write.
Step 8: Turn over the last card and discover how the story ends! Take a moment.
Step 9: Write.
Timers are useful to bypass our urge to edit. Sometimes I like to place all of the cards face up from the start, other times I will draw one at a time. Experiment with it. You can also add cards to align with Freytag’s Pyramid if you want to go deeper.
NB: Remember, you don’t need to be literal with these prompts. The accepted meanings are just to get you started. There’s no right or wrong here.
I’ve done a spread for you to use today! Give this a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below.
Continuing the series of indexes, we have another book by Louise Baldensperger and Grace Crowfoot: Arab Folk Stories from Artas published by Birzeit University. Artas is a village four kilometers south-west of Bethlehem and has a richly recorded folklore. It is home to the Artas Folklore Center.
Among the stories themselves there are brief discussions of folklore, such as this ritual adoption illustrated below:
Artas an adoption. A widow engaged a young shepherd to work for her and she made an adoption of him with the same formula [used for ‘making brotherhood’] “You are my son in the book of God, if you betray me may God betray you” and he repeated the same to her. Then she had to open her thoab (dress) and let him pass through (like a birth).
Today I’m working with one of my all-time favourite folktales, and my favourite Palestinian folktale. Like all Palestinian folktales, it doesn’t have a traditional name and so I call it the Story of Francesco or Francesco and the Carpenter-Rabbi. It has a sequel: Francesco and Azrael, the Angel of Death. That brings us to the image for today’s post. Francesco is a Roman gambler, a kind soul who gets thrown out of the Legion because of his hobby (which was very taboo at the time).
Anyway, Francesco is a charming example of a picaresque hero: children love him, he becomes a bandit who wins his loot fair and square in dice games. The twist in his tale comes when thirteen men come along the road–a very odd number… After entertaining Jesus and the Apostles, whom Francesco recognizes, Jesus offers him a wish (well, this is a fairy tale, after all!).
This is where the sequel begins. Francesco helps himself to a whopping four wishes, all of them just so he can play pranks on Azrael. Jesus patiently points out the childishness of his request but agrees to grant them with a fifth wish thrown in, gratis, once he realizes how silly he is being.
It’s such a delight! What are some of your favourite fairy tales or folk tales? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear about them.
From Cedar to Hyssop is one of my favourite books of Palestinian folklore, and certainly one of the least racist. Following this blog for any amount of time will show that finding sources such as this is a rare treat, excepting contemporary works by Palestinians. You have to take the rough with the smooth when you follow this path. The work is focused on plant lore specifically gathered in and around the village of Artas, just south of Bethlehem.
Here is a sample to show the depth and delight of this work but also the sensitivity to the anti-Blackness of one of the anecdotes she reports from the field. It is also noteworthy that she lacks the usual condescension; I would expect the author to ridicule the reverence the Palestinians showed the grain. Instead, she tells us this is “not strange” to her:
WHEAT is noble, wheat is holy. Wheat came down from Heaven wrapped in seven napkins (El qamh nizil fi sab’a manadil). Bread made from it is holy, too; a crumb of it should never be dropped on the floor and trodden on. If a bit falls accidentally it should be picked up at once, kissed, and pressed to the forehead, and ‘dustoor’ is sometimes said. It is told that a black man once picked up a bit of dirty bread from the floor, kissed it and ate it. For a reward, one cheek became white, a somewhat agitating blessing to our way of thinking.
Oaths are sometimes taken on the holy thing. Bedouin use the “Wahyat el honta,” the Oath of the Wheat, saying “By the life of the wheat” (bi hayet el honta), and another oath runs “By bruised corn and flour” (El duqq w el daqiq). The binding power of the eating of bread and salt also must not be forgotten.
“Wh0 eats bread and salt together will be true to each other” (Ille akal ma’ak malh a ‘esh ma behunak), as they say in Artas. We regret that another common proverb is: “He ate our bread and salt and went and cheated us” (Akal ‘eshna w rah w rashna), but such unfaithfulness is reckoned a great sin.
That wheat should be so honoured is not strange; what is rather surprising is to find that in local story wheat figures as the forbidden fruit of Paradise. Mothers will show a grain to their children and point to the furrow in it, telling them, “See, that is where Eve put her two thumb nails in it, when she divided the grain and gave Adam half.” A similar story was heard by Dalman from a Bedouin in the Judaean wilderness; according to him the Wheat of Paradise, like the primaeval garlic of the Milkman’s Story (p.44) grew as tall as a tree, and its grain was “as large as an Ostrich’s egg.”
The book also contains a photo of a “Blessing of the Wheat,” an amulet of woven wheat which was hung indoors, similarly to the famous St.Brigid’s Cross, but triangular.
And here follows the table of contents:
The Peasant’s Year in Proverb and saying.
Corn, Wine and Oil.
The Olive Tree.
Roots and Bulbs.
Plants with Folk Uses.
Fuel and Tinder.
Plants with amusing names, proverbs or uses.
Dead Sea Apples.
Of Sweet Scents.
Dye Plants and Soap.
Miriamiya (Sage of Vertue), and other Aromatic Herbs.
Continuing the series of contents from the various works of folklore about and from Palestine, here is the lengthy contents of Legends of Palestine, by geographer Zev Vilnay. His preoccupation with geography is, I think, obvious from his arrangement and selection of tales:
You can download Tales Told in Palestine by J.E. Hanauer in several formats (including pdf, mobi, epub, and plain text) from the Internet Archive Open Library link here. The following is a list of the tales included in the volume along with categorizations:
A quick update on the project: most of my time has been devoted to trying out concepts for the illustrations. There are so many styles that I would like to try but I need the right fit for the work. Some of the sources do have illustrations, but I don’t want to imitate their style, however pleasing.
So far I have only worked on monochrome concepts and the ol’ pen and ink seems to be the most favoured so far.
My test piece is a series of fox sketches. The project is going to be a collection of Palestinian animal tales and fables, of which there are a few starring Fox.
One of the problems with illustrating this book is how to render the people. Most of my sources are from the Ottoman era of Palestine, with only a few post-Nakba works which delve into lore at refugee camps. Fairy tales are usually in a timeless neverland but should I really freeze Palestinians in the 1800s? It’s something I still haven’t committed to. In the concept above, the man’s clothing is based on the half-urban, half-peasant wear common among the men in my father’s village circa the 1930s.
In other news, and this is quite exciting news too: I have sent in my first short story for consideration for publication in Little Book of Fairy Tales by Dancing Bear Books in the UK! The story is called ‘Adib and the Witches of Ashkalon,’ based on a short anecdote I found while researching Palestinian folktales. You can support the publication of Little Book of Fairy Tales by donating here to their Indiegogo campaign! Dancing Bear Books is a much needed small press devoted to uplifting the voices of emerging writers, especially from marginalized backgrounds.
Let’s talk a little about Legends of Palestine, by Zev Vilnay. This isn’t a review, per se since the work is out of print. It can still be found relatively cheaply from second-hand booksellers. Mine cost approximately $5.00 CND. It is an English translation of his earlier Hebrew work Agadot Erez Yisrael from 1929.
In short, it is a surprisingly dry collection of brief, almost encyclopedic entries on the features of the landscape of Palestine with note of any correspondences to Jewish history, primarily. Here and there, the native people and their daily lives peek out, but it’s not the author’s aim to record the living oral tradition without sifting it for only the pieces he finds useful for his project. His background as a geographer is difficult to ignore; he treats Palestinian folklore as a means of gaining knowledge of the land. And so it reads as part travelogue, part encyclopedia rather than a collection of fantastic literature from an oral tradition.
the cover copy is lost on my volume. The preface, provided by the
publishing committee of the Jewish Publication Society of America sets
down what is the most warmly inclusive statement about the role of
native Palestinians in the work that can be found, and is at odds with
the author’s dismissive and at times condescending treatment:
“These Legends are almost entirely derived from Hebrew and Arabic sources both literary and from the spoken word. They cover the entire period of Jewish history, being adaptations of biblical, talmudic and midrashic stories and coming down to modern legends which grew up as late as 1929. In his preface to the Hebrew original the author indicates that, prior to the modern settlement, the legends concerned themselves mainly with the description of grave of patriarchs, saints and holy men. These were gathered from the old Jews of the Synagogue, from the Arabs, especially the fellahin who live in villages, and not infrequently from the Bedouins, whose memories breathe the ancient Hebrew spirit.
It is hoped that the illustrations supplied by the author will add to the vividness of the book and thus bring from Palestine a message to those who see in the tales of simple folk the real spirit of the land.”
Legends of Palestine, iii- iv.
A few examples will illustrate the author’s general attitude. Strictly speaking, the illustrations are landscapes. Where Palestinians appear in them, they are sometimes indistinguishable from stones and craggy trees. In a few, Palestinians appear as small figures without apparent features. The only exception to this is an account of the village of Zarnuka. In this illustration, you can make out that the natives have features, although you can’t make them out distinctly. The accompanying text asserts the antiquity of the village’s name, and an allusion to its local claim to fame but also derides the “ignorant masses” for their apparent belief in the tale he has just related.
It is telling that the only people who appear in the illustrations close enough to discern facial features and expressions are a group picture of three Jewish pilgrims. This dichotomy of rendering Jewish pilgrims, the landscape, its flora and fauna (native people excepted) and even recent colonies, with detail and care and the dismissive and sketchy depiction of native people in the illustrations reflect the author’s treatment of them in the text itself.
The contents are divided
into the following categories: the Center of the World, On the Mountain
of God, Ancient and Modern Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall of the Jews,
Graves and Caves of Jerusalem, About and Around Jerusalem, On the
Mountains of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Its Surroundings, Hebron and
Machpelah, the Valley of Jericho, the Desert of Judah, Jaffa and Its
Surroundings, the Mountains of Judea, the South of Judea, the Plain of
Sharon, the Mountains of Samaria, haifa and Carmel, Acco and Its
Surroundings, the Plain of Jezreel, Tiberias and Her Shrines, the Sea of
Galilee, Safed and Its Surroundings, Meron and Pek’in, Galilee and Her
Towns, In Transjordania.
13. THE HOLY NETTLE TREE
In addition to the olive and cypress trees which grow on Mount Moriah in the Temple area, there are also a few nettle trees (Celtis australis). They are lofty, with handsome crowns and longish pointed leaves. Their fruit is small and grape-shaped.
The first foundations of the Temple as laid by King Solomon were destroyed by some hidden hand. This puzzled the King sorely, and only after much investigation did he discover that the evil eye rested upon his work, and that evil spirits were wreaking vengeance upon him. He sought for means to keep these at a distance from Mount Moriah, and by planting nettle trees round the area he succeeded in driving away the demons: for such trees ward off the evil eye.
To-day you still find Arabs plucking small twigs of the nettle trees and making charms out of them. The most effective of them is the one plucked after sunset on the twenty-seventh day of the fast-month of Ramadan. The twig is usually placed in a blue bead and hung as a charm round the neck of man or beast.
At night you sometimes see an Arab traveling over a forsaken road with his ass, wearing a bead containing such a charm. And should sudden fear seize him and he imagines that demons are coming after him, he recites these words: “Oh Demon! Oh Demon! Dost thou not see the bead and the twig of the nettle tree?”
Legends of Palestine, pp.29-30
[The citation for the above is as follows:]
According to T. Canaan, Aberglaube und Volksmedizin im Lande der Bible (1914), p62. The end I heard from an Arab round Bethlehem.
For the first time, I’ve rounded up all of my books of Palestinian
folktales in one place. It’s quite an experience. I have longed for just
one such book for most of my life. I remember walking through the
stacks in university libraries looking for just one and being
disappointed every time. Now I own seven volumes, and more besides on
First impressions are fleeting but the ones I have for these new friends are peculiar. For each one, there’s the purest delight which is often followed by sadness or disappointment of some shade or another. The books run the gamut from collections by Orientalists and missionaries, to a Zionist geographer, to Palestinian collectors and poets.
Leafing through each preface, reading over
the cover copy, each one prompts a flurry of questions in my mind,
hardly able to give them all direction. If I were still active in
academia, no doubt I would begin the work of digging in for some
extended analysis but as it is, I will have to leave that up to others.
For my part, I can’t forget that my own position and approach to this
work will have a great affect on it. For all that I could say about the
racism, bias, the gendered angles and so on of these sources, I find
myself turning to reflection.
The rough draft of the book is
finished, but there is still time for reconsidering just what my aims
are. This book will be in a conversation with these sources, after all,
even if I didn’t read them beforehand; they are part of the story. I
find myself defining this work negatively: what it won’t be is a shrine
for relics, a museum, a political pamphlet, a memoir, a display of
cleverness. I believe in the mutability of the oral tradition, and I
intend to keep in mind that this is a living thing I’m working with and
not dead material I’m shaping or preparing for display.
This has been a long-winded way of saying I have a lot to talk about here, on ye olde blogge.
I did not expect to have something to say so soon, but today has surprised me…
A few days ago, when I was asking if there was interest in me blogging about this project, I reflected on one of my favourite childhood books which fixed in my mind this desire to have a book of Palestinian folktales. It was Favorite Folktales from Around the World by the prolific author Jane Yolen. Coincidentally, as I browsed twitter a few minutes later, someone had retweeted a comment from Yolen:
It made me hope that it was a good omen, and that the ‘magic’ was happening. Which brings me to today: waiting for a bunch of antique books of Palestinian tales from the 19th century, books that I was assured would not arrive for weeks. Subsequently, inspired by Susan Muaddi Darraj’s ‘super-secret, super-authentic hummus recipe,’ I was trying to make my own.
Something called me away, and I ended up checking the mail with my fingers sticky with roasted garlic and still smelling a bit like freshly ground cumin (which smells amazing, btw). The mailbox was literally bursting with books. I haven’t opened the packages yet, but it feels like Christmas.
Sometimes, when I’m cooking, I like to pretend I’m an alchemist. I had a friend who was a chef and would sometimes call herself a “mustard mystic.” I’ve played Kingdom of Loathing where there is a mage class known as the Pastamancer (“with her mastery of the arcane secrets of Noodlecraft, the Pastamancer is a force to be reckoned with. She relies on her Mysticality to get ahead in the world. Most Pastamancer skills are learned from The League of Chef-Magi. All Pastamancers begin the game with Manicotti Meditation and Spaghetti Spear.”).
I think I whipped up some hummus magic which summoned my books, and no one can persuade me otherwise.