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Reflection On

Reflection On: Northwest Tarot Symposium (NWTS) 2023

My last in-person divination event was the UK Tarot Conference in 2019, with plans to attend The Readers Studio in New York in 2020 before COVID meant it was rightly cancelled.

Post-COVID, the UK has reopened in-person events with both the UK Tarot Conference and TABI Conference reconvening, though with the addition of live streams and recordings for people unable to attend in person.

But the first post-COVID divination event I attended wasn’t in the UK; it was in the USA, thanks to a direct flight from Heathrow to Portland, Oregon.

The North West TAROT SYMPOSIUM is a Tarot, Oracle, and Lenormand Conference held annually in Portland, Oregon. This year, it was held from Friday, 29 September to Sunday, 1 October, 2023.

There were three Keynote Speakers, one Special Speaker and a Featured Artist slot, along with choices between two speakers over three hour-long slots each day.

I’m so glad that recordings are supplied for a limited time. Not only because I can go back to update my notes and check out the slides but also because I can watch the speakers that I missed out on seeing live.

Aside from learning from the presenters, it’s also a chance to hang out with fellow enthusiasts.

It’s terrific seeing people you talk to online in person, either for the first time or to reconnect with those you’ve not seen for a while, but it’s also wonderful to meet new people. And I did that, too.

Being there in person was a powerful thing – and it reflected my reason for going – connection.

And it will surprise no one that I got the 2 of Cups as part of my opening reading.

If you’ve never been to an event like this in person or online, seeing how others approach their practice and how they work with their tools is thought-provoking and potentially life-changing. I highly encourage you to find one that suits your circumstances and attend.

There were 23 presentations. I attended 11 of them in person and made copious notes throughout.

I want to share a few thoughts on each as a reminder for me of my experience and to give you an insight into what it was like.

Friday

Tarot, Healing and the In-Between  – Chris-Anne

The first Keynote speaker and creator of the Light Seer’s & Muse Tarots and the Scared Creator’s Oracle set the weekend up perfectly.

Chris-Anne had us focus on the liminal space created when doing a reading and how a subtle shift of intent, along with visual and physical cues, can change our experience and the experience of our clients.

We experimented with sending and receiving energy from our table partner, and I found that I pretty quickly wanted to ground the energy being sent. Not because it was harmful in any way. Instead, it felt that I wanted to be in control of my space.

Tarot by Number: Meaning, Movement, & Magic – Laura Tempest Zakroff

Laura is not only the Featured Artist (she designed the Star card image above) but also a conference speaker.

Laura asked us to connect magic & maths in our reading. She sped through all seventy-eight cards, looking at the equations behind them that we could access to enhance our readings.

It wasn’t just thinking about 3+4 making seven but also how we move from 12 to 17 (e.g. 17 – 12) and what five could mean in terms of our question. For example, if we go from feeling stuck (The Hanged Man) to having hope (The Star), we’re going to need some faith in ourselves and the world around us (The Hierophant).

Lots to think about and play with.

I believe Laura Tempest Zakroff is writing a book on numbers and the Tarot, and I’m excited to see her ideas expanded.

Queering the Tarot for a World Beyond Binaries – Charlie Claire Burgess

Charlie Claire Burgess is the creator of the Fifth Spirit Tarot and the just released Radical Tarot: Queering the Cards, Liberate Your Practice and Create the Future.

They introduced us to several ways of looking at the cards through a queer lens.

For example, take The Emperor. Is there a way of taking the hardness of the card and softening it? Can we expand our ‘domains’ in a way that doesn’t require dominance? How do we gain authority without power?

Another example is not seeing the courts as stepping up levels but instead seeing ‘learning’ as valuable an activity as gaining ‘authority.’

I have a notebook and pen ready to start reading Radical Tarot and explore these ideas further.

Kick Butt Oracle Card Readings – Heather Agosta 

I will readily admit that most of my oracle decks are gathering dust. Heather shared several methods as she advocated adding oracles into our practice.

I want to try using oracle cards to set the intention and create a liminal space for a reading.

I also want to have another try at making my own Oracle cards.

Introduce “Divination Stations” – V. & Kristine Gorman

This was not a presentation but a live experience with stations set up with different forms of divination. The idea was to visit each station with a partner and try out new forms of divination. I divined using stickers, music, fabric and pendulums.

I was so enamoured with the pendulums that I practically ran (well, waiting until I had time) to SoulTopias’ stall to pick up a Pendulum Palooza book (it contains different boards to use) and a crystal pendulum (my thanks to Roger for helping me get the right one)

The readings I got from my partner were highly pertinent, especially as it was also their first experience with the methods.

It was a good reminder that we are the diviners and have multiple tools and gifts to convey messages to us and our querents.

Saturday 

The Emotional Tarot: Listening to your body and all its metaphors – Siddharth Ramakrishnan

This talk picked up the baton from Chris-Anne and ran with it to the lab. Siddharth made this a very interactive presentation.

He explained the science behind our emotions and how our bodies may not be aligned with our brains; our bodies tell our brains one thing, and our brains can tell us another.

We explored our emotional reactions to some cards and how our bodies changed as we experienced them. I need to carry on this on and look at other cards. It was fascinating as it is very much head vs heart territory.

Our reactions are likely to be different to our client’s reactions, but what was fascinating was the experiment I did with my table partner. I experienced how making myself more powerful and dominating changed my partner (not in a good way) – and when I opened myself up they relaxed.

Lovers Spreads: Layers of Meaning – Mary K. Greer

This Special Speaker session was a history lesson and reading exercise wrapped into one. Mary taught us to take a simple 3-card spread (with The Lovers card at the centre) and reevaluate it as she guided us through how the concept of the Lovers card has changed over time.

The nine layers started at the Visconti-Sforza and went through the Marseille, French Occult, and up to the present.

But pausing on how the cards interacted with questions at the different layers was another powerful example of the space we’re creating when we read – how what we bring of readers can completely change the reading – even if the reading is one we’ve just done and are reassessing.

The Heart of the Question: Simple Spread Design & You – T. Susan Chang

Sussie is a consummate professional. There were issues with the live-streaming tech that reduced the time for her talk, but she left me with lots to think about.

Again, the topic of setting up space came up. Before you pull cards, do you have the right question? Play with how you shuffle (Do you cut or wash? Hold your breath? Keep your eyes open or closed? Play hide a card, and seek it?). What about your spread? Are you going to create one for this reading?

I believe the intention was to spend more time designing our own spreads. Susie talked us through spreads she’d created as part of her The Living Tarot course and how they were inspired. She then had us create our own.

I created one based on The Hanged Man. I wanted it to be a three-card spread but could only come up with two positions (1 What’s keeping you suspended? 2 What you need to be released?), but I’ve just thought of another one (3 Where you’ll fall?). That’s one I need to try out.

A Witchy Journey through Tarot History – Rissa Miller 

Rissa reminded us that history is a point of view, and one of her views is that she’s sympathetic to Witches, which isn’t always the case with those writing about history.

She led us through a pre-and post-tarot timeline outlining key concepts and events. She also touched on the future of the cards.

I came away with some new insights and thoughts about the placement of Tarot – for example, were Tarot and other fortune-telling cards chosen as it was cheaper than spiritualists? Rissa seemed to think so.

I must read Working Witches: Fortune Tellers, Clairvoyants, and Astrologers in the Golden Age of Spiritualism by Grace Kredell Sarah from Lawrence College.

Sunday

BORN THIS WAY: Reclaiming the Power of Symbolism over Fatalism – James Divine

This was the one that I wasn’t sure was for me, but I’m so glad I went. James specialises in Palmistry and talked about how it’s still very traditional – it’s used to expose your problems, but often it doesn’t provide the remedy. James explained this is because Palmistry (and astrology) were combined with Hinduism. It was Hinduism that helped ‘fix’ whatever the problem was.

James also provided a severe reminder when doing any form of reading:

Our clients belive us

James Divine

We were guided through examples of Palmistry and astrology where the ‘fatalism’ was transformed into something more neutral, balanced and something that held space for our client.

James pointed out that it wasn’t just negative cards (or planets or lines) but also positive ones that could be subject to ‘fatalism’.

He then provided three steps for us to use when we slip into fatalism, and I’m going to add them to my toolbox.

Lenonnand’s Hidden Story: The Other 36 Cards – Callie L French 

Callie guided us through looking at the playing card inserts as if there were piquet (the French trick-playing game) and liking them to the four classes of Medieval society:

  • hearts for the clergy;
  • spades for the nobility or the military
  • diamonds for the merchants
  • clubs for the working class

But extending that into seeing the Kings, Queens and Jacks also being part of a hierarchy and who they might represent within their class.

Luckily, she handed out ‘cheat sheets’ so we could all play with this new lens – Callie described it as, ‘the bigger picture is now being your background focus’.

I think it will come in handy when looking at the people cards, but also at the context of the card in regards to the question.

Tarot Saves the Day – Jennifer Steidley

This was so much fun. I honestly hadn’t thought of tarot cards as having superpowers, but now I’m obsessed with the idea.

Jennifer led us through four different methods to identify our card’s superpower, not only did we have to come up with a superpower, but we then had to pull cards to give our superhero origin story and our weakness (I now wonder if I could use the same techniques to create a supervillain?).

After we created our hero, we were told that our table partner’s character was our archnemesis. We had an odd number on our table, so the person in the middle became the archnemesis to me and the person on their left.

The spooky thing about this session was that the two of us heroes pulled the same power and weakness cards, but our different origin cards completely changed not only our powers but our motivations.

It was an excellent session, and all the more impressive as it was a last-minute change to the timetable to cover the slot.

In addition to the pendulum & pendulum board, I did some extra shopping. Jennifer Steidley is the creator of Tarot Disassembled and the Tarot Assembled decks, and I was lucky to get both of them direct from their creator.

Portland local Theresa Pridemore, had a stall in the open-to-the-public Psychic Fair that accompanied the symposium, and I picked up three of her mini decks:

  • The Mojo Deck: Spell-Casting Cards & Oracle
  • Atomic Wisdom Oracle Deck
  • The Sovereign Oracle with the Creative Visions & Spirit Business expansion cards.

Oh, I also won a copy of Finding the Fool by Meg Jones Wall at one of the raffles held over the weekend. Ethony gifted every attendee a copy of The Tarot of Muses as part of her talk – I need to watch the replay of her Tarot and Mediumship presentation as it clashed with another one I attended.

These events often bring themes and threads to the surface without the conscious intentions of the speakers or attendees. They are just like readings in that sense; the liminal holds space for these things to occur.

Thank you to everyone who presented and all those behind the scenes make it look effortless. It was truly exceptional.

I would love to attend NWTS 2024 – hopefully, the Stars will align so I can!

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