Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Northwest Tarot Symposium. This annual event is focused on cartomancy, including Tarot, oracle, and Lenormand. It consists of a series of talks and workshops, alongside a really entertaining metaphysical fair full of vendors and readers that’s open to the public. This was my first year attending any of the talks, and I learned some interesting stuff and new techniques – oh yeah, and there were skulls.
The symposium, called the NWTS or more affectionately NeWTS, is packed full of lectures and workshops. Three tracks ran for three straight days, offering 27 different opportunities for education and instruction. On top of those, NWTS was opened by a special keynote from none other than Tarot legend Rachel Pollack, and the event was followed by a business development course focused on divination professionals. I didn’t attend the keynote or supplemental course, but I went to a lot of talks.
Lenormand, Astrology, and Qabalah
Lenormand is a form of cartomancy which uses a special 36-card deck. This method of divination was developed by Marie Anne Lenormand in the late 18th century and is completely different from Tarot. While I had toyed with Lenormand in the past, I’d never really gotten the hang of it. I was really delighted to get to take a class on reading these cards from Emily Rose, a professional Lenormand reader. She explained some key concepts really clearly and by the end of her lecture, I was able to give a pretty clear reading – with a cheat sheet.
There were a number of talks that covered aspects of Tarot correspondences with both astrology and Hermetic Qabalah. Two really stood out. The first was T. Susan Chang‘s excellent lecture, The Four Great Stories of Tarot, which related various astrological correspondences to well-known myths. It was a blast to finally meet Susan in person. Since she appeared on my podcast last year we’ve been discussing lots of various Tarot topics, and meeting in person led to some great conversation.
I also attended a talk by Anastasia Katsikaris on using astrological correspondences in Tarot to predict timing and pacing. This class was also really insightful, and I learned a lot about the relationship between the cards and the calendar. While I’m not a big fan of trying to actually predict the future with Tarot, I did use this technique in a client reading right after the conference and it was surprisingly helpful. You can expect to see me incorporate some of these techniques into future Tarot readings.
A New Technique: Card Counting
Callie L. French, the artist of the Rana George Lenormand, taught a class on a method of card counting in a Tarot reading. In this method, which is too complex to be related here, cards are giving specific values and then related to each other by counting through all the cards of a Tarot spread as if they’re in a mutable finite field. If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is!
I loved this class. The complexity of this technique was like a strange dance back and forth across the spread to extract more and more meaning from each card, sometimes relating to cards in unusual and surprising ways. Callie explained the technique clearly, which was nice, because it was the first session on Sunday and everybody was suffering from the Daylight Savings Time change. I really enjoyed learning this brand new technique, but it was complex, so it will take practice before I’m ready to use it in my own readings.
Embracing Leadership Roles
Perhaps the most unexpected lessons I learned at NWTS came from Tarot for the New Age: Five Pillars for Spiritual Leadership, a presentation by Liz Worth. Liz talked about how important it is for Tarot to remain sacred, and that as cartomancers we understand that not only is Tarot a lifestyle, but we represent that lifestyle and Tarot itself in our everyday life. She pointed out that it’s not easy for customers seeking a Tarot reading to know how knowledgeable a reader is, nor how to evaluate them. It’s our responsibility as Tarot readers to communicate the work that Tarot requires and to accept our role as spiritual leaders. This means we need to focus on ethics, integrity, and responsibility.
Liz spoke with wisdom on many topics, including methods for recognizing bias, understanding our own level of experience, and being comfortable with the level of commitment and discipline that Tarot asks for. Her lecture gave me a lot to think about, and the Tarot reading at the end really helped emphasize areas that I need to work on myself.
And Let’s Not Forget the Skulls
A last minute change in the line-up brought in artist, author, and naturalist Lupa of The Green Wolf to teach a class on skull scrying. This class was a trip. Lupa led us through an understanding of using animal remains as sacred objects, approaching them respectfully, and then gazing through the foramen magnum into the cranial cavity, using the darkness as a scrying surface.
This technique is wild. I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try it since there weren’t enough animal skulls to go around, but it made me think of so many strange things, such as Frater Ashen Chassan’s work on summoning a familiar spirit into a human skull, to the summoning of a peredros into the skull of an ass in the Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri.
Takeaways from the Northwest Tarot Symposium
This symposium was a really great event, and not just because of the educational opportunities. I had the pleasure of connecting with old friends as well as meeting people in person that I’d only known via the internet. The lessons were amazing. It was a reminder that no matter how much experience you have with Tarot and cartomancy, there is always more to learn. It was really worth it to be more deeply connected to the broader Tarot community. You will certainly find me there next year.