Tarotviews | Finding Strength in Portland

Perhaps it’s because I purchased my first tarot deck on vacation, but I find some of my greatest revelations come through the tarot while traveling.

Travel forces a new perspective by taking us out of our ordinary environments. By putting distance between our everyday problems, we become more receptive to new experiences and ways of being. Through my column Tarotviews, I’ll show readers how I combine travel with tarot to facilitate deep growth and healing.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed when I learned that my partner was surprising me with a birthday trip to Portland. I had been hoping for Sedona or Santa Fe, some magnetic place that would spark a spiritual awakening. I’d been to Portland once before and it didn’t fit my preconceived notions of what a magical portal should be. I love the show Portlandia, but the city’s manic pixie charm didn’t translate for me. I knew the region lacked diversity and worried that I wouldn’t find familiarity.

I decided to get over myself and to take on the challenge of finding beauty and magic in the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest. I knew that as long as I remained open, Portland would teach me the lessons I needed to learn.

We arrived the day after my birthday, in the height of Aquarius season. Portland was thick in its version of winter and predictably raining when our plane landed. The first thing I noticed during the car ride to our Airbnb was the fluorescent moss that covered the entire city. It grew between sidewalk cracks and snaked its way up tree trunks, like crumbs left to help me navigate the city. Trees stood barren, their branches outstretched in hopeful sun salutations. Dense clouds obscured the sky as a steady stream of rain pelted the windshield.

After we got settled, we explored Alberta District – the hip, working class neighborhood we were staying in. As we ambled down the main drag, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the boutique galleries and coffee shops hung signs boasting their acceptance of all patrons, no matter what race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Storefront windows were littered with Black Lives Matter and other posters that proudly proclaimed liberal political affiliations.

I perused the Wild Unknown retail shop, and as the cashier rang up my purchases, I pointedly asked about their current tarot deck inventory and whether they had plans to feature more artists of color. Instead of getting defensive as I’d expected (and secretly hoped), she eagerly revealed that they would soon be expanding their selection and quickly picked up a pen to jot down my suggestions.

My hackles were raised, but they needn’t be. Despite their homogeneity, Portland residents were genuine and warm, much more so than the strangers I was used to encountering in LA. Even when I prodded people with uncomfortable conversations about race and privilege, few were put off. As our trip wore on, I was forced to confront my own assumptions about the city.

I realized that I’d gotten so used to my familiar spaces in LA, where I could easily blend into just about any multi-ethnic crowd, that being in a majority white city was triggering me.

Suddenly I was transported back to elementary and middle school, where I was the only Black kid in all of my classes and extracurricular activities. Not only was I less valued than my white classmates, but it felt like being Black came with weighty responsibilities and harsher consequences than I could comprehend. I learned to shrink myself, to blend in where I could, but that meant always watching my back and performing to some degree.

As I entered adulthood I gained more control over the spaces I traveled through and spent more time with people who looked like me. I learned to show up authentically, but there was still a part of me that bristled when entering majority white spaces. It took a second visit to Portland for me to begin to confront those fears.

Intentional safe spaces provide a necessary reprieve from dominant culture, but it’s also important for disenfranchised folks to learn how to take up space. I was no longer the girl who was bullied into quitting gymnastics by her racist coach. I didn’t have to acquiesce to others’ expectations in order to belong. I could show up exactly as I was and accept that if I wasn’t welcomed, it wasn’t the place for me.

As I meditated on the tarot medicine for Portland, Strength kept coming up. Perhaps it was because we were approaching a super bloody blue moon lunar eclipse in the fiery sign of Leo – the astrological ruler of the Strength card and opposite my Sun sign Aquarius. I don’t have much Leo in my chart and it can be difficult for me to embody that bold, courageous energy.

In my Motherpeace deck, the Strength card is depicted as the copper-haired goddess Brigid. She sits nude on fertile grass with animal friends gathered around. A wolf approaches her outstretched hand, but she does not recoil in fear. It is this calming feminine force that tames the would-be predators, turning them into allies.

For much of my life I focused on fitting in, and if I didn’t think I could fit into a place, I wouldn’t go. It saddens me to think of all the experiences I talked myself out of, spaces that were begging to be stretched and shifted. It was in Portland that I learned belonging is not something you find in a place, but keep with you. It was there that, by showing up as myself without apology, I began to witness my inner Strength.

That’s not to say that the city is without problems. Oregon was, after all, founded as a racist white utopia and there’s no doubt that some of those beliefs have been passed down. All I can speak to is my own experience. In the end, it was not just the residents’ kindness, but my ability to embody the confidence of the Strength card that allowed me to navigate the city with ease.

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5 comments

  1. Alis K. says:

    I appreciate your perspective on Portland, as a longtime resident. The racial imbalance and gaps (often large ones) of inequality along racial lines remains one of my biggest challenges to living here.

    Yet I’ve also found so much improved health and spiritual growth here. Ultimately I believe that the best work I can do is to work to change Portland into the urban area I believe it should be, and never stop working towards that goal.

    I’m glad you had an uplifting trip, though! There’s much to love here. The Northwest Tarot Symposium, held in a suburb of Portland, was a couple of weeks ago, and it was amazing to share space with so many practitioners.

  2. Cello says:

    Thank you for writing about taking up space in a place where you are the minority. I often feel that way for many reasons, and am still learning how to create space for myself and others like me in the places that isolate me. Your experience is inspiring, and I am looking forward to more articles by you!

  3. Luci says:

    “I learned belonging is not something you find in a place, but keep with you. …showing up as myself without apology…”
    Lessons for all of us – Thank you!

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