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Thoughts on Reversals


Reversed cards have always been a controversial topic in the tarot community. Beginning, and often even experienced, readers are faced with many questions regarding this issue. Should I use reversed cards in my readings? If so, what do reversed cards mean to me? How can I integrate them into my concept of tarot?

As a beginning tarot reader, which I still count myself, I struggled immensely with these questions. Early on, I had jumped right into incorporating reversed cards into all my readings because I was eager to learn. In Wands-like fashion, I always plunge headfirst into anything. In the voracious reading that accompanied my new interest in tarot, I read The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals by Mary Greer. This is an excellent book which I recommend to anyone who wants to learn about reversals. (Review forthcoming on this site.) I was soon able to spout off the meanings that I had learned from my books and to have a general idea of how the energy of a card was blocked by its reversal in a spread. But something was still missing.

The missing piece was my own own unique internalized view on the subject of reversals. Until I have personally thought through a topic, I often have trouble truly understanding it although I can happily quote fact after fact. The same was true in this case. As I did readings, simply using the book concepts did not content me. It felt empty. Then one day, it all changed. As I sat pondering some reversals in a spread I had just laid out, it hit me. The way for me to conceptualize reversals came in a flash of inspiration.

If the reading is a river in which one card flows into another in a sort of story, then a reversal is an eddy. It calls attention to that particular card. Since the regular cards flow smoothly, those things require less effort to come into being. But reversals are not so straightforward. They offer a choice. The choice is to move either forward or backwards (not placing a value judgement on direction). In other words, you can choose to go back to the card before it or to go to the one next in number. For example, you get the 2 of Swords in a reading. This offers a choice to go back to the potential of the Ace and to deal with it in perhaps a different way. Or you can move forward to the 3 which will cause pain but ultimately enlightenment. Either way, the querent will no longer be stuck on the blocked 2 energy.

This approach works for the court cards as well, but first it might be helpful to think of the court cards as a part of the numbered cards. Because so many people find the courts so difficult to interpret, they are often separated out and treated differently than the rest of the minors when this may not be the most accurate portrayal of their energies. As with the rest of the cards, the courts are part of a flow. The numbered cards represent the events occuring around and to a person, while the courts describe the facets of the personality that emerge from those experiences. For example, the 10 of Pentacles is a card of family and the gifts of family. Tens also represent the end of an old cycle and the beginning of a new cycle. When conceptualized in this way, the Page becomes a natural outflow of the 10. The Page of Pentacles is the child emerging from the family environment to begin to explore the world around him/her. Thus, when the Page is reversed, this indicates a choice of going back to the family nest (10 of Pentacles) or actively seeking new adventures and activities by oneself (Knight of Pentacles). In a similar vein, the reversed King offers the choice of adopting the more passive, nurturing style of the Queen or of beginning a new cycle by working with the raw unformed potential of the Ace of the suit.

Although I am still tweaking it, this theory has helped me a lot in my readings. I find reversals much easier to grasp with some sort of unifying idea behind them.


I had posted my theory of reversals on the Aeclectic Tarot forum (see links for more info) to get some input from other readers. Thirteen's response was particularly insightful, and I wanted to share it. It presents another outlook on what kind of advice might be implied by the choices in reversed cards. I have quoted her exactly. Thanks, Thirteen!

I like the idea of reversals being a "stop" in the flow. Reversals certainly have that feel. And I think, absolutely, that you're dead on in the blockage of energy. Really excellent thoughts. The only thing I'm not sure of (for myself that is) that the way to "unblock" the energy by moving forward or back WITHIN THE SUIT. Or, more to the point, I'm only uncertain about those being the ONLY ways to escape the eddy.

Here's an example: you've got, um, let's say present and near future cards. Present is 5/Cups. Future is 2/Swords reversed. So, in present time, the person is focused on something they did wrong causing emotional pain--lets say, they hurt a loved one, and they just can't get over that they did this. The future is the 2/Swords reversed.

Now if we interpet Swords as "words" and interpet that 2/swords as an inablity to find the right words to heal the emotional harm--that in the near future the querent won't know what to say to the person he harmed, and the loved one, waiting for him to make the first move, won't to speak to him, then your conclusion actually does work. To move forward, be able to get back on speaking terms with the person, the querent either needs to start all over again, fresh (ace) or allow that person to lash out at him (the querent) with venomous, hurtful words--to let the loved on yell at him and get out the poison (3).

The only problem here is that it ignores a third answer: to extend and elaborate on your metaphor, what if reversals are less eddies then just running aground? The boat is ashore and somehow you've got to push it back into the darn river? This opens the "getting unstuck" problem to a new solution--that of an opposite suit. So, let's say that reversed 2/swords means our querent can't find the right words to apologize and make this emotional (5/cups) situation right again--so the way to unstick himself is not to use more words (swords) and/or emotion (cups) but to grab a stick (wand) and a rock (pentacles) and lever the boat up and back into the river. Thus, my advise to this querent might be: "Actions speak louder than words." So, in order to apologize, the querent shouldn't even try to use words, but rather go to the lover they've harmed with a dozen roses in hand--and a willingness to let that loved one take a punch at them That kind of thing.

Great discussion topic by the way. Reversals are difficult and you've got me really thinking about them now. Nicely thought out.


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