NWTS 2023 Reflections
A LOT has happened of over the last year and a half in my personal story: The passing of two beloveds, the transformation of a long-term partnership as our paths diverged, travel to an ancient place that calls to me in my dreams, accompanying my daughter on her first international trip, a new stage emerging in my dream practices and circles, forging new connections in many worlds, and so much more. All areas of my life have been consumed, leaving nothing out. Even my place of work and employment for over a decade has changed hands in this time, and is reconfiguring physically and digitally.
I have taken much time to heal and adapt to this new life. Through it all, tarot has been a tool and companion to help reflect and guide me. So I count this year's pilgrimage to NWTS (Northwest Tarot Symposium) particularly significant, and a continuation of my journey. It bookends a particularly intense 42 days and nights, beginning with a week of deep dreaming and connection at Mosswood Hollow with Robert Moss and fellow dream teachers in late August.
I arrived in Portland to the new location (yeah, NWTS changed, too!) with excitement and a sense of welcoming what would come my way. After a delicious dinner at Frank's Noodle House (I highly recommend the hand-pulled noodles!), I turned in to recharge after the seven-hour drive from Boise.
I liked the organization of this year's presentations, with a single-track keynote and one other callout session in the morning, then an option between two other presenters for each the three afternoon sessions. I also like that the sessions were recorded while being live-streamed, so I can go back and reference each session to check my notes, or to watch the sessions I did not attend.
Tarot and Healing from the Liminal - Chris-Anne Donnelly
Friday's keynote was with Chris-Anne Donnelly exploring the liminal spaces between reader, querent, reading space, and the cards. This really set the tone for the conference for me. It helped to keep my focus relaxed and leaning into the liminal throughout the weekend, which had phenomenal results. Beyond being a wonderful presenter, Chris-Anne is a deck creator and her decks are gorgeous.
Tarot by Number: Meaning, Movement, and Magic - Laura Tempest Zakroff
Next was Laura Tempest Zakroff, the featured artist for this year's poster/cover image. Laura walked though building associations to cards (particularly the majors) by breaking down the card's number into arithmetic combinations using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For example, one could look at the Hermit (9) through the lens of 6+3 (the Lovers + the Empress) as a choice to walk a solitary path in search of the fruits of the earth. 8+1 (Strength/Justice + Magician), 7+2 (Chariot + High Priestess), 10-1(Wheel - Magician), etc., would each reveal other possible associations that one could use in a reading. Interesting stuff that I'll consider for future readings.
Keystone to Cartomancy - Brandy Rochelle and Jennifer Steidley
In the first Friday afternoon sesssion, I attended Jennifer Steidley and Brandy Rochelle's Keystone to Cartomancy. Brandy and Jennifer host the podcast Keeping it Symbol that explores symbolism for everyday life.
This session had us work individually and in groups to quickly build databases of associations for individual symbols. It was a great exercise in group research, and a particularly interesting way to build readings from individual symbols. In just a few minutes, my seemingly unconnected symbols of comfrey, salamander, and Venus had the beginnings of a story about the appearance of the Morning/Evening star, resurrection, and the return to Eden. Powerful stuff!
Handling Sex-related Questions in Tarot Readings - Jen Sankey
Next, we got into the juicy stuff with Jen Sankey's Handling Sex-related Questions in Tarot Readings. Jen's talk was a great walk through this sometimes tricky area for readers. Sex-positive and ethically-informed, I appreciated the practical and compassionate advice that Jen shared. And the puns.
The Modern Fool: How Artifical Intelligence is Paving the Way for a New Era of Spiritual Awakening - Stephanie Cecchini
The final Friday session for me was Stephanie Chiquini's discussion of AI. Definitely the zeitgeist of the moment, I was happy to see this topic discussed amongst visual artists and authors. Stephanie approached the topic from an optimistic perspective that emphasized working with AI to help automate more mundane tasks and enhance human creativity.
Friday Night Fabulousness
After dinner, I stopped by for the last few minutes of the "Divination Stations". Each station offered a different kind of divination: some familiar, like bibliomancy (using passages from a book), and some exotic to me, like using the qualities of food (appearance, smell, taste) to divine. I didn't get through all the stations, but what I did was a blast!
Friday evening wrapped up with a great gathering at the hotel's watering hole catching up with friends old and new. Dramatic readings of bibliomancy in various styles, discussions of dreamwalking to other worlds, hexes, reality tv, and old-fashioned BS-ing were all on the table. Loved it!
The Emotional Tarot: Connecting Brain and Body - Siddarth Ramakrishnan
Saturday started off with a bang. First up was Siddharth Ramakrishnan presenting on emotions and tarot. Siddarth is a neuroscientist by trade and training, and took an embodied approach to readings. We looked at the subjective experience of emotions rising in the body (both reader and querent), while also looking at current neurophysiological perspectives of what might be going on in what we call an emotional response. Fascinating and a great reminder to consider all the information available to us during readings. As I've spent the majority of my life engaged in embodied practices, I really appreciated this talk.
The Tarot Lovers - Mary K. Greer
Mary K. Greer is a fount of historical knowledge and direct experience in working with tarot, and her work is constantly at the top of my list of recommendations when people ask about tarot. In a presentation about a single card--The Lovers--Mary walked us through the history of the card and how its representation and associations have changed with social and cultural contexts from the early Italian decks until now. We worked with short readings using each of these historical periods/contexts and saw how they informed interpretations. It was absolutely fascinating and something I will be incorporating in my study and practice of tarot.
The Heart of the Question: Simple Spread Design and You - T. Susan Chang
Saturday afternoon started with T. Susan Chang's Simple Spread Design. This was another great resource for readers as many of us are coming up with spreads all the time. Each of us created a two- or three-card spread based on a card drawn from our deck, using the symbols and composition of the card to create the spread. I drew Temperance (from the Waite-Smith), and created a spread called "Transform My Situation" (yeah, not super imaginative, but informative). Here it is if you want to give it a spin!
I also picked up a signed copy of Susie's latest book The Living Tarot. Yay!
Introduction to Mediumship in Tarot Readings - Ethony Dawn
Oh, Ethony is a character. Love her stage presence! Ethony graciously gave all attendees a copy of her The Muses of Tarot deck, a deck to invoke various powers as we work with tarot. After an opening discussion of the representations of mediumship in pop culture media, we called on the deck to help facilitate our own exercise in mediumship. As soon as we opened the space, I immediately had goosebumps and felt someone nearby. This remained throughout the remainder of the session until we closed the space. The exercise had us work in groups, and seemed to work really well for our querent. I'll definitely be exploring this deck more, especially if setting up a reading for a specific purpose.
Wisdom from the Ancestors - Ellen Lorenzi-Prince
Saturday sessions wrapped up with a series of automatic writing exercises using tarot as prompts guided by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince. Each time we drew three cards and wrote a letter addressed to ourselves by a well and beloved ancestor. I had some pretty profound, timely, (and mysterious) messsages come through. I recommend this practice if you are called to do so, especially if you are already working with benevolent ancestors.
Saturday Night Masquerade and Karaoke
Then there was Saturday night, the night of the big social event. This year it came in the form of a Masquerade and Karaoke dance party. It was a mashup I wasn't sure would work, but it did! I guess that's what happens when you have great people gather. Tarot folk know how to get dressed up and get down! So much fun. When I wasn't dancing, I was talking dreams and making new friends. I was living in the center of now with kairomantic bliss.
On a side note, tarot and dreaming harmonize and blend so well together for me. When I'm at dreaming retreats, I find myself offering tarot readings; when I'm at tarot events, I'm having conversations about dreams and doing impromtu dreamwork with people. Both work with living images that speak and sing, wail and warn. I might just have to offer a presentation someday!
Born this Way: Reclaiming the Power of Symbolism Over Fatalism - James Divine
The Sunday morning keynote kept the dance party going. Yep, we danced to Lady Gaga to get things started! James then moved into a talk about reframing difficult aspects written into our palms, astrology, and tarot. The Devil! Oh, no! Saturn in Aries! Dang it! A great discussion on a topic every reader encounters, usually quite often.
Dancing with the Shadows - Charles Harrington
Oh, shadow work. Shadow work, shadow work, shadow work...My next session was Charles Harrington's Dancing with Shadows. After a high-level look at shadow work from a Jungian perspective, we worked some spreads with partners who were ready to dig in with us. Yep, I definitely have some things hanging out in the shadow.
For our first spread, Charles directed us to choose a card from the deck to represent something that really triggers us. I thought for a second, then knew exactly which card I was going to draw. As I found it and started pulling it from the deck, he says, "...the Five of Swords." Yeah...the card in my hand. It was a useful exercise, and a very accessible way to start a conversation with shadow for integration.
Tarot Saves the Day! Discovering The Hidden Superpowers in Tarot - Jennifer Steidley
Sunday afternoon saw Jennifer Steidley present again, this time filling a session slot for Chris Onereo, who unfortunely couldn't make it this year. Jennifer presented the talk she gave at TIDE a few months ago, and one that I hadn't seen yet. It looks at tarot (particularly the majors) through the lens of superpowers as we see them in comic books. For example, if one sees the Fool having Flight (the power to fly), it could be a suggestion to look at aspects of the reading from a higher/broader perspective, or to create some distance to deal with the aspects in a different way. This is a super fun class, and recommend it if you have the opportunity to attend it.
Understanding Trauma Through Tarot: Wandering Through the Minor Arcana - Irene Lo
Finally, we had Irene Lo present on trauma and tarot, or how to use the minors and court cards as ways to identify or address different forms of trauma and defense mechanisms. There was a lot here to consider. To be honest, my analytical brain had melted by this point, so I probably missed a bit. Luckily, the sessions were recorded and I can go back and watch them later!
Some of the bits and baubles I brought home from NWTS. Woohoo!
Wrap Up and Thank You
There were many moments of synchronicity, guidance, and confirmation this weekend that I haven't written about, but am happy to speak about in-person whenever you see me. It was wonderful to meet so many new tarot enthusiasts and reconnect with others. It has certainly played a significant part in this time of transformation, and I'm excited to see what comes from it!
A special thank you to Michelle, Roger, Samantha, Rose, Andrew, Kylie, Mary, Liz, Kathi, Addy, and all the staff and volunteers I may not know about for making this a great event. Thank you to the presenters and attendees for playing in the magic with me. I'm already looking forward to next year!
- Tim :-)