Several years ago, I discovered StoryWorld, a create-a-story card set designed by Caitlin and John Matthews, both of them Arthurian scholars/mystics and noted Pagan authors. Intrigued, I decided to give the main set a try and purchased it at my local bookstore. When I got home, I took a quick glance at the user/player manual, then spent an hour happily flipping through the cards and losing myself in the intricate illustrations. Many of the cards featured overlapping imagery such as framing arches, animals, flowers, bones, umbrellas, tools, and more. I found myself building stories just by trying to link the repeated images together in a coherent narrative.
Happy with the results, I ordered two of the expansion packs: Fairy Magic and Quests and Adventures. (Three more expansion packs that I have not picked up yet are Christmas Tales, Tales From the Haunted House, and Legends of the Sea.) By mixing all of the decks, shuffling and re-shuffling the cards together, I ended up with a very fat pack of inspiration.
And, considering the nature of the cards, many of the stories that I have generated with them are Pagan/polytheist-friendly. Actually, most of them have been explicitly Pagan/polytheist in focus.
Here’s an example of my creation process. Shuffle the deck. Draw five cards off the top and lay them down in no particular order. In this case, those cards are “The Healing Charm,” “The Fairy Queen,” “The Charm of Finding,” “The Fairy Ring,” and “The Squire.” How might these cards go together to create a narrative? Well, let’s suppose the Squire has a particular gift for working with horses; he understands them in a way that other people do not. One day, he finds an injured Fairy Horse. The Squire nurses the Fairy Horse back to health, protecting the animal from discovery. When the Fairy Horse is recovered, the Squire leads the mount into the woods and there, under the full moon, he finds the Fairy Ring. The Fairy Queen is leading the dance and, when she discovers what the squire has done, she promises him one favor in thanks. Some time later, the Squire’s favorite horse falls ill. Desperate, the squire calls on the Fairy Queen to fulfill her promise: he asks for a cure. In her own way, the Queen fulfills her vow: she gives him a charm of finding. This leads him on a series of adventures involving humans, monsters, and fairies, and eventually to the healing charm. He returns home and his beloved horse is cured. In the years to come, the squire will attain knighthood and he and his horse will have many grand adventures — some secretly in service to the Fairy Queen.
Let’s try another draw. Five more cards: “The Key,” “The Seekers,” “The Green Stone,” “The Castle,” and “The Keeper of Dreams.” Creating a coherent story with these cards is a bit trickier, as they don’t flow together very well. But that’s the fun part. We can use some of the background imagery — the birds, the moon, the castles — to work it all together. So, how about this? The Keeper of Dreams gathers up the best dreams from mortal minds and stores them in his green stone. He takes them to his castle, where everyone who has died before their time lives until the moment of their natural death; the dreams he brings back in his green stone maintain the castle and provide entertainment for the residents, who can no longer sleep or dream. When he is not collecting these dreams, the Keeper stows the stone safely away in a chest, which he locks with a special key. And then the key goes missing. Without new dreams, the residents of the castle will grow increasingly bored and agitated and eventually go mad; the castle itself will begin to break down and fade away, leaving the souls homeless. Two children vow to find the key, unlock the stone, and save the castle. They go on a wild adventure involving flocks of cloud-geese, nightmare-mice, the moon’s hare, and a pair of cowardly magpies. They eventually find the key and race back to the castle, where the Keeper unlocks his green stone and hops off to collect new dreams.
StoryWorld is just one kind of story-generating card deck. There are many others, and even whole games, such as The Storymatic, Once Upon a Time, The Oracle Story Generator, The Hollow Woods, and The Endless Odyssey, and even magnetic poetry!
These are just tools, though. Images and words and links meant to spark your imagination. So go. Have fun. Create.
[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]