Guest Post By Alayna Williams
I’d been wanting to write a story about a criminal investigator using the Tarot to solve crimes for some time. In DARK ORACLE, Tara Sheridan swore off criminal profiling after narrowly escaping a serial killer who left her scarred for life. By combining Tarot card divination with her own intuition, she must help an intense federal agent find a missing scientist who has unlocked the destructive secrets of dark energy. The agent, Harry Li, draws her out of her self-imposed exile and back into the world.
I wanted Tara to have a deeper connection to oracles, a sense of history. I knew that Tara’s mother belonged to a secret society of Oracles. Research in Greek mythology led me to stories of the Delphic Oracle.
The Delphic Oracle is probably the most famous oracle of the ancient world. The priestess of the Temple of Apollo, the Pythia, wielded a great deal of political influence over leaders who sought her advice and the priestesses who served the temple. The Temple of Apollo was sited over a crevasse in the earth emitting noxious vapors, leading to modern-day speculation that the Pythia’s visions were not sendings from Apollo, but toxic hallucinations. The Delphic Oracle operated from roughly the eight century BC until 393 AD, when all pagan oracles were ordered to be dismantled by the Emperor. After that, no one knows what became of the priestesses.
I decided to pull that ancient society into the modern world, as a secretive group called Delphi’s Daughters. In mulling over how such a society of women would operate, I pulled out my trusty Tarot deck. Throughout the writing of DARK ORACLE, I kept a Tarot deck handy for story prompts and help with characterization. I shuffled and drew a card.
The first card I drew was The High Priestess. The High Priestess wears a severe expression and heavy robes, seated between dark and light colored pillars, representing knowledge of good and evil. She holds a scroll in her hands, symbolizing esoteric knowledge. She’s the embodiment of feminine wisdom. This card was easy for me to interpret. The head priestess of the Temple of Apollo, the Pythia, would have these qualities. As the leader of Delphi’s Daughters in my story, she would be powerful, insightful…and that power might make her inflexible.
I drew another card, wanting to know about the strengths of Delphi’s Daughters. I picked the Four of Rods, which shows two women gathering flowers underneath maypoles, with a castle in the background. This card represents society, harmony, and inheritance. Since Tara’s mother was involved in Delphi’s Daughters before her death, it made sense that Tara would still feel the pull of the fellowship of that group of women. In DARK ORACLE, Tara has excommunicated herself from Delphi’s Daughters, blaming them for her mother’s death.
The last card I drew was to suggest the weaknesses of Delphi’s Daughters. I picked the Moon, which shows a woman’s profile in the moon. Below her, a dog and coyote howl at the moon, while a crayfish rises from the water to gaze at her. Traditionally, this card represents intuition, but also deception and ulterior motives. This suggested to me (and to Tara) that Delphi’s Daughters are not what they seem. They may have insincere and hidden motives that could mean danger for Tara.
And Delphi’s Daughters were built on those cards, representing what Tara wants but can’t have: being part of a larger whole. Delphi’s Daughters, under the direction of the modern Pythia, also draws Tara into danger by drawing her out of her exile and into a mystery involving a missing scientist and shady government operatives. I deliberately didn’t draw a card for the outcome. Will Tara follow in her mother’s footsteps, be reintegrated into the order, and follow Delphi’s Daughters to her death?
Even Tara’s own cards aren’t clear on her fate. But I enjoy watching her search for it.
Alayna Williams has an MA in sociology-criminology (research interests: fear of crime and victimology) and a BA in criminology. She has worked in and around criminal justice since 1997. Although she does read Tarot cards, she's never used them in criminal profiling or to locate lost scientists. She recently took up astronomy, but for the most part her primary role in studying constellations and dark matter is to follow her amateur astronomer-husband around central Ohio toting the telescope tripod and various lenses. Like the Pythia in Dark Oracle, she's been known to belly dance. Unlike the Pythia, she'd never consider herself a professional.
"Alayna" is also known as Laura Bickle, the author of Embers from Pocket Juno.
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