What I learned from two days of tarot workshops

Um. A lot.

Where to start?

Last weekend’s Northwest Tarot Symposium – the first of this now-to-be-annual Portland tarot conference – packed a LOT into the two day schedule. From storytelling with tarot to the psychology of the major arcana, consciously living each card to a publishing panel, the NWTS (or Newts) covered such a wide range of tarot topics my mind was buzzing by the end.

I wasn’t only there for the learning.

One of the very first people to make contact with me when I started my blog all those years ago was Melissa – so, in the spirit of the ta-road trip, which is all about meeting those internet friends and making those relationships *real*, she came all the way from St Louis and we did indeed meet and it was fabulous!

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We met – where else – in the impressive metaphysical section at the infamous Powells Bookstore in downtown Portland, and fellow tarot reader/teacher and all-round ball of energy Jaymi Elford kindly drove us out to Clackamas where the conference was held.

More on these beautiful, generous people another time!

Here are some fun things I learned at Newts:

“All of us are all of the cards, all of the time”

James Wanless (who created the Voyager Tarot) presented on ‘Tarot and Psychology’ and although I was already down with the premise of his talk, I’d never felt so energetically engaged in being each of the major cards.

James took us through ‘face up’ card picking, where we consciously choose a card to represent a specific moment in our lives, and ‘face down’, where the deck decides, and empowering exercises to be, manifest or move through the energy of the cards we drew.


Anyone can write fiction using the tarot as a prompt

I regularly encourage people to use the tarot as a storytelling tool, but the truth is, I’ve never successfully used it for fiction writing. Why? Because I have never believed myself capable of writing fiction. Jaymi Elford proved me wrong in 50 minutes, guiding a bunch of us through three simple exercises to construct a premise, a plot and a lead character for our story. By the end of the workshop I had a story I actually thought would be worth reading! (It’s about this Ukranian ex-journalist who has to hide out on a farm in Odessa because… okay another time.)

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Gina Thies pretty much wrote an epic novel in this workshop

Barbara Moore is the most engaging, funny and brilliant speaker I’ve ever seen

The tech let her down but this didn’t stop Barbara delivering one of the best interactive presentations I’ve ever attended. Her workshop on using the cards to ‘find your soul’s true purpose’ was a thought-provoking riot from start to finish and encompassed an alternative fool’s journey, several new tarot spreads and some solid advice on what querents really want.

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Wish I had a better picture.

Symbols and surprise are ‘why tarot works’

Another gem from James Wanless’ workshop, which in part looked at how or why tarot has such a profound effect on people.

The soul never thinks without a picture – Aristotle

James explained that the human mind is geared to visual clues and prompts and retains information far better when concepts are explained via symbols rather than words.

He also quoted from recent neurological studies which have shown that the ideal condition for most humans to remember/resonate with stuff is that of surprise – and what is a tarot reading but a series of surprises as each new card is revealed?

So between the symbology/imagery and the continual potential for surprising us, tarot has this unique power to really resonate with people, to really mean something, which is part of why we all love it so damn much.

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My novel. Seriously!

What querents are really asking

One of the best things about Barbara Moore’s ‘what’s my soul’s purpose’ workshop was how she focused in on the essence of so many questions professional tarot readers will be familiar with. ‘What kind of job should I be doing?’, ‘I’m at a crossroads and I’m not sure how to move forwards?’, ‘How can I work out what I should do with my life?’ and so on are all ways of asking ‘why is it so hard to find my soul’s true purpose?’.

The answer can be found by looking at what Barbara termed the ‘stories and lies’ that surround us – the stories being external forces, socialisation, unhelpful-things-your-parents-taught-you and so on, and the lies being the undesirable internal voice we all hear sometimes, the inner critic, the barriers we create for ourselves.

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In Barbara Moore’s workshop I found myself sitting between two tarot bloggers, Kim at Evergreen Tarot and Runes (top) and Cameron at The Tarot Parlor. Which was amazing!.

There was more. Much more.

I’m writing this because I don’t want the energy of the conference to slip away, but in the coming weeks I hope to explore some of these learning points in more depth, to share with you some of the enlightening exercises I participated in. For now, I’m still processing, my brain is still spinning and, since I’m still on the road, who knows when my thoughts will have a chance to settle.


Northwest Tarot Symposium was a huge success and Jadzia DeForest and her team are already planning and booking next year’s. To be kept in the loop, get on their mailing list here.

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  1. Jadzia DeForest says:

    It was nice to meet you at the event and thank you for sharing your experience. Wonderful highlights of the weekend! I’m so glad you had a great time and learned so much.

  2. Elisabeth says:

    This sounds so amazing! I wish I had been there! I’m really looking forward to posts exploring all of these things, especially the soul’s purpose stuff. I feel like I’m constantly dancing around this with my cards, trying so hard to frame questions and spreads to get this answer.

  3. Ahh, this sounds amazing. I am particularly intrigued by the “All of us are all of the cards, all of the time”. Also the writing fiction! I love writing fiction and have been itching to try it out with the cards. Your storytelling exercise in the tarot course was one of my favorite exercises!

    I can’t wait to hear more!

  4. This sounds amazing! NWTS success stories have me amped for my first conference at The Reader’s Studio in April. I’m inspired by your taroad trip Beth! If you need a ride, connections to Tarot community, tea house recommendations, or anything when you hit Austin, lemme know.

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