I’ve been using tarot to get to know my characters. The method is simple: while shuffling the cards, I close my eyes and address the character out loud. “Mildred — what should I know about you?”
For Mildred, I drew the Hierophant reversed, which immediately felt like the key to her character.
Some facts I already knew about Mildred:
She is born in 1900, the daughter of a well-to-do industrialist.
In 1919, she sets out to fulfill her dream of becoming an architect, earning a degree in engineering from MIT and eventually opening her own firm.
In 1927, she builds herself a house made of glass.
The Hierophant is a religious figure who represents tradition and conventionality. The card shows him raising his right hand, bestowing a blessing. Upright, this card speaks to doing things in a way that conforms to rules or societal expectations.
Reversed, however, the Hierophant represents a person who has chosen not to conform. They are not afraid to question traditions or cast off conventions. The card comes with a warning — all those institutional trappings are still there, and those who go their own way will likely face judgment and pressure to be like everyone else. But this is the card of a true individual and innovator, someone who makes their own rules.
Of course Mildred is the Hierophant reversed! She’s becoming an architect at a time when only a handful of women achieved success in that field. She’s opening her own business decades before women could even open their own bank accounts. The buildings she dreams up are unusual and beautiful.
Drawing this card tells me that I need to explore further the friction caused by this character’s iconoclastic lifestyle. Who disapproves, and how do they show it? What does Mildred do with that disapproval? How does she turn it to her advantage? This direction feels promising; there is some juicy conflict here. Now, to take it to the page.
The card pictured here is from a Waite-Smith deck given to me by my amazing friend Heather Hogan. Heather was the one who told me about Pamela Colman Smith, who did the 78 illustrations for what is probably the most recognizable of all tarot decks, more commonly known as the Rider Waite tarot. Colman Smith’s life story also has a lot of Hierophant reversed energy. ✨