What does a tarot deck, an athame, a grimoire, silver and a cross have in common? I’m sure you can guess. They all are tools used in the paranormal trade that are staples in any number of different manuscripts. But how do your characters use them, and how can you as a writer find authentic information that will read true within your characters? Some tools you’ve probably read or heard about come from perceived truths based on lore passed down from generation to generation. Others stem traditionally from religious practices, be it Christianity or Paganism.
I am Christian, not Catholic, but the first symbol of Christianity besides Jesus and the cross that comes to mind is the rosary, a string of beads used specifically for prayer and meditation. It’s an important part in the daily lives of a Catholic. But what about those that are not practicing Catholics? Did you ever wonder why someone dangles a rosary from a rearview mirror of his or her car? Or why they might place a rosary on a mantel next to a picture of a deceased loved one. At some level that persons mind has a powerful connection to the rosary. It gives him or her some assurance that God is with them. It’s a visible reminder of something greater than they are, seated deeply in their faith.
Near the opposite end of the spectrum is Paganism, not to be confused with an Atheist who doesn’t believe in God. Definition no. 2 on Dictionary.com lists a pagan as a person that is not Christian, Jewish or Muslim. The definition of a pagan I like most is, “a follower of any various contemporary religions that are based on the worship of nature or the Earth; a neopagan.” Do they have something similar to the rosary?
What am I alluding to here exactly? Consider the creation of a talisman. A talisman, an object with special meaning for its owner, used by a witch or Wiccan, is no different from a Catholic that clings to their rosary. I know some might think differently, but in both cases, each person believes the items hold power based on their faith, so it’s important to understand how it holds that power for the character you are building.
Even if you’re not developing a witch or a Catholic, what if the girl next door carries a worry-stone in her pocket because her mother said it would lesson her anxiety. Would a blue-eyed, glass broche pinned to a baby’s onesie help ward off evil? Could the mother of the baby become obsessed in her quest to hide her baby from evil, the broche being the catalyst? Would she do something drastic making future events spin out of control?
A very mundane character could be similar in my own beliefs. I occasionally wear stones that have meaning for me. It’s not because I believe in witchcraft, it’s because when I wear a stone it has a purpose–besides looking nice—placing a specific intent in my mind as to where I should focus my creativity or thoughts. It acts as a reminder. The photo on the right shows a tiger-iron stone I purchased from Earth Lore in Plymouth, MI, that I made into a necklace. Defined by the expertise of the owners of Earth Lore the stone brings the bearer confidence, strength, and insight of the tiger-eye with the grounding energy of jasper and hematite, or it can boost creativity.
The use of a talisman, a tarot card or rosary gives the writer a different avenue, draping their characters in thick layers of back-story. They add elements that are significant to the characters helping move them toward his or her goal, enriching your story.
Even looking back on the way I used the Hermit tarot card in my last post, the paranormal tool used, helped flush out a purpose or path to get around writers block for character development. Still that same use, drawing a tarot card, could be something a witch, a psychic, a telepath, uses to gain knowledge for his or her goals.
Developing a ghost story where the protagonist is hunting ghosts might add a very long list of technical and scientific tools, but the key word is scientific not supernatural. But what if your character were sensitive to ghosts, what tools introduced could press the tension up in the story?
In this case, might the tool be his or her body or consciousness? Could it be the ghost becomes the tool in your manuscript? The main character is a medium in this case, channeling the spirit of the ghost. On the other hand, the ghost could be malevolent, similar to a poltergeist or one that possesses, controlling your character. Maybe he or she becomes your antagonist instead and the ghost becomes his tool to terrorize because of a symbiotic relationship. The outside source or tool, the ghost, can give you a vast number of options for developing a characters mannerisms, flaws, and idiosyncrasies.
Another great example of a tool in a paranormal world (this one is fantasy) is the ring in Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s one of the most iconic tools in a fictional world. Many scholars could go on and on about the symbolism of the one ring, fashioned for the most evil being in Middle-Earth, or a king, or a Hobbit, and let’s not forget Gollum. If you look at all of these characters, the ring did something different for each of them, driven by Tolkien’s imagination and words.
It’s fascinating to me, the idea of a talisman. Look to your own lives, your surroundings. What’s on your desk, your nightstand? Did you have a box filled with little things you’ve collected over the years, each having a memory attached to it? We all have them in some form or another, a necklace, a coin, a stone. Maybe we don’t know why we carry them, but the need is within us, even if it’s on a subconscious level.
If I give a character a particular item, how does it move them through a story, does it corrupt, does it help, and does it give him or her power? Does an enemy want it for his own, and what happens to your hero or heroine then? So many things can cascade into something else, when you give a character a tool. But be careful. If you see it throughout a story, it has to have meaning, a past, a present, a purpose. All you and I have to do is choose what that purpose is.