Circus and Side Show Storytelling With Tarot

‘Running away to the circus’ has been a constant in our 250 year history. Performers, directors, writers, visual artists, musicians and even academics have been attracted in Paul Bouissac’s words (in his book The Meaning of the Circus: The Communicative Experience of Cult, Art & Awe), like‘moths flying to a candle in the night’.  As Katie Hickman put it, recounting a year spent in Mexican circus:

The circus is full of the enchanted: many come here for love, both girls and men; others are orphans, runaways, or simply nomads, such as myself. Our presence occasions neither comment nor surprise: it is expected; because it has always been so.
from  Running Away to the Circus

Those who have run away with the circus say the adrenaline rush of a post-performance standing ovation, the chance to travel the world and family-like relationships with everyone (and everything) from contortionists to zebras can make it worthwhile. But it is not all glamour! Those who ran away with the circus (possibly even many different circuses) wake up one morning and wonder why they’re running?

The path of a circus performer is often similar to that of a touring theatre actor’s career. In other words, it’s tough. There are the dynamics of life on the road, fierce competition to secure limited and temporary contracts, constant self-promotion and auditions before directors who seem to specialise in harsh opinions. Added to that, performers must be physically fit at all times. They must also continually sharpen and enhance their skills to remain competitive, especially if they didn’t go to circus school.

Of course, if like me, you love to write, rather than run away you might be content to travel back in time in your imagination. There are a host of characters in this deck just waiting to tell their stories.

To find a starting point I did a simple spread that involved three cards.

  • Who is the main character who wants tell their story?
  • What stage of the story are they in?
  • What action is the highest and best for them take?
The Popess, Georgina McClure, emerged as the Circus character who wanted to work with me. She has called upon my skills as a purveyor of creative stimuli and artistic midwife to help her write a memoir.  I suggested that she pour herself a nice cup of herbal tea and begin by writing letters to someone close to her. I also suggested that it might help if she used the Circus and Sideshow cards and did one of those challenges that appear on the internet. She seemed very comfortable with this idea. You can find Georgina’s online journal here.