Note: This article was written several years ago for the Aeclectic Tarot site. I think that it might still be of interest, so I am presenting it here.
When I first started reading the Tarot, I did not read with reversals. I still don’t. However, I do use Elemental Dignities, and I take a close look at where in the spread a reversed or ill-dignified card is appearing. The point here would be that the reader needs to have some method of determining what the quality of the card is, and what part that plays in the reading.
A reading is a snapshot, a moving picture showing the energies in the Seeker’s life at a specific moment in time. Each card in the Tarot carries a specific type of energy, which combines with the other cards in the reading to create the overall energy of the reading itself. Each specific type of energy manifests itself in myriad ways, from the “oh so positive” to the “oh so negative”. How the Seeker deals with the energy depends on whether they know that it is there, and what their reaction to it is (based on past experiences with this type of energy).
Position within the spread:
I pay a great deal of attention to the position that the reversed/ill dignified card is in, and how that position is defined. Is it in a position reflecting the past? Then this energy is something that the Seeker might be moving away from. Look to the card of the present to see if the Seeker is actually moving away from the energy, or whether they either do not know how to release it, or are deliberately holding on to it.
Is the reversed energy in the present? Look to the past to see the history of the energy, and to the future to see how the energy will manifest itself if not further actions are taken. Reversed energy in the present to me is a very pivotal energy – it cannot be ignored, it needs to be addressed. Look to the surrounding cards to see how it is manifesting in the Seeker’s life.
Is the reversed energy in the future? Look to the present to see what can be done to circumvent the reversal in the future. What needs to be paid attention to? What cannot be ignored? Reversed energy in the position of the future is, for the most part, not written in stone. (If the reversed card is a Major Arcana card, then the Seeker, by definition, has less input into resolving it.)
It is easy to define a reversed card as carrying the energy that is the exact opposite of the card in its upright position. This works, to a degree, but is not always true. This view also limits how a reversed card can be seen, and the role that it might play in a reading.
In “Learning the Tarot”, author Joan Bunning defines the energy of an upright card as energy that is available to be manifested, so be put to work in the Seeker’s life. It is an active energy. She defines the energy of a reversed card as energy that has not been fully developed, that may be incomplete, or even unavailable.
The focus for Bunning is on energy cycles, which she defines in the following manner:
* Early-phase energy is just beginning. It’s not yet developed, but it’s growing. It’s moving towards full expression in the future.
* Mid-phase energy is strong and developed. It’s clear, immediate and obvious in the present.
* Late-phase energy is on the decline. It’s losing power and clarity. The energy’s full expression is in the past.
Mary Greer, in “The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals” defines twelve specific ways in which a reversed card may manifest its energy:
1. Blocked or resisted – blocking/resisting the urge to work with a specific energy
2. Projected – something that you are seeing in someone else
3. Delayed, Difficult, Unavailable – something from the past, or the near future, or something you are having trouble with
4. Inner, Unconscious, Private – inside you, part of your internal self, rather than existing in your external world
5. Releasing – being willing to let go of things that are not necessary, or that need to change
6. Breaking through; Overturning; Refusing; Changing Direction – being in the process of breaking free of the energy depicted
7. No/Not; Lacking – the cards may be asking you not to identify with the energy being shown
8. Excessive; Over – or Under-compensating – either avoiding specific energies, or overindulging in them
9. Misused or Misdirected – using the energy of the card in an inappropriate manner
10. Redoing, Reconsidering, Reviewing, etc. – an energy may need to be worked with again, actions may need to be redone
11. Rectification – If you have a reversed card that you really wish was upright, use this as a wake-up call to get something done.
12. Crazy Version – Finding a bizarre way of doing what the upright card indicates, but not being too serious about it.
For myself, I do see the energy as moving in cycles. I do believe that every card holds a full spectrum of manifestation, and that the energy of each card is affected by the surrounding cards. Following are some of the ways that I see reversed energy as manifesting itself: (1) blocked energy (whether blocked by the Seeker, or by their circumstances); (2) mirroring – energy that is actually the Seeker’s, but that is being projected on someone else; (3) unavailable – energy that is needed, but not currently there; (4) unconscious – something the Seeker is not aware of; (5) energy that is incompletely manifested; (6) shadow – energy that acts to catalyze shadow issues within the Seeker.
Reversals in a reading:
A reversed card in one of my readings would get instant attention, because it would be a minor miracle! I orient my cards upright, so a reversed card would be the proverbial Divine tap on the shoulder for attention. (I view cards that fly out of the deck while being shuffled in the same manner – they are important to the reading.) If you consciously wish to read with reversals, then orient a certain percentage of your cards in the reversed position before shuffling.
I lay out my spreads face up, so that I can get an overall feel for the reading before I begin interpreting it. Look at what the percentage of reversals is in any given reading, and to their orientation (past, present, or future). Are the reversed cards primarily in the Major Arcana (which will have a longer lasting impact), are they in the Minor Arcana (which have less impact,
In “Learning Tarot Reversals”, Joan Bunning talks about “mismatches” – where the orientation of the card does not meet the expectation of the Seeker. All readers will eventually experience this – where their client (the Seeker) is in total denial about one or more of the cards in the reading. Frustrating, but it is up to the reader, in the course of the reading, to try to help the Seeker become more aware of what is actually going on in their lives.
Court cards, in the reversed position, talk about not connecting well with the people in our lives, or not connecting well with certain parts of ourselves. Here we also need to look at the issue of whether the Seeker is making certain decisions, or taking certain actions, because of the influence of someone else in their life.
Looking at what suits the reversals are in also opens a door to understanding the Seeker’s issues, because it gives an indication as to what specific area of their life is being affected. It may be emotions and relationship, it may be in communications, it may be in their ability (or inability) to acknowledge and put to use their innate skills and abilities, or it may have to do with their everyday life/environment.
In “Learning Tarot Reversals”, Joan Bunning presents a template for interpreting reversals that I feel addresses them well, and is easy to follow:
1. What’s the cards energy? 2. What’s the context for this cards energy? 3. How strong does this cards energy feel to me? 4. Does my feeling (step 3) match the cards actual strength (orientation)? 5. What is the energies phase (reversed cards only)? 6. Is this a repeating energy? 7. Are there any opposing energies? 8. Is the cards energy part of a group? 9. What do I want to do about this energy?
When reading for others, we want to keep an open dialogue, to ask the Seeker what they see in the card, where the energy is manifesting in their lives, and how the energy is manifesting. Once this has been determined, the reader and the Seeker can work to find ways to bring resolution into the Seeker’s life.
Examples of reversed cards in a reading:
Note: It will help in understanding these examples if you take out your deck of choice, pull the cards in the example, and place them in the same pattern. I am reading from the Morgan-Greer deck, which shows the traditional Rider-Waite orientation of the figures and symbols within the cards.
Star – Queen of Swords (r) – Temperance In the Morgan-Greer deck, these three ladies are all facing forward, indicating that the energy is taking place in the present. Book ended by very gentle, positive energy, the reversed Queen gives an immediate impression of anger, and of stubbornness. This Queen has been offered an opportunity, or perhaps several opportunities, in her life, and has chosen to adamantly ignore them. This is a clear and conscious choice. A healing would be effected in this Seeker’s life by determining whether the reversed Queen was someone in their life playing the role of naysayer, or whether this is an internal voice. This is where dialoging comes in handy! I give the Seeker my interpretation of the cards, then together we work on where they see this energy in their life, and what they want to do with it.
Wheel of Fortune
Nine of Wands Tower (r)
The first example was deliberately drawn from the deck, this one was drawn at random. The first thing that we note in this reading is that all of the energy indicates change. The Wheel of Fortune reflects cycles – past, present, and future. Nine of Wands addresses the Seeker’s creative nature, where his/her passions are, what he/she feels the need to defend, and where their endings and new beginnings lie. In the Morgan-Greer deck, the figure on this card is oriented to the past. The Tower represents abrupt, sometimes violent change, and change that, in an upright position, the Seeker has little control over. Look at the energy between the Nine of Wands and the Tower. The Nine of Wands is oriented to the past, to whatever the Seeker felt they needed to protect. In its upright position, the Tower could represent the loss of what the Seeker was trying so diligently to protect, and loss in a very unpleasant manner. Reversing the Tower changes the abrupt nature of the energy of change within the card, and gives the Seeker a sense of control over what is going on. There is no longer a crisis situation going on, and the Seeker may very well be resisting the chaos around them. As a reader, do not be fooled by the reversal in this card. Dialogue with the Seeker to see where this energy is coming from, and what the Seeker needs to do to resolve it, so that it does not sneak back into their life, suddenly appearing full blown to blow things to smithereens! One note here is that the Seeker may indeed need to release something from their life, and that the current reversal of this card is simply showing that their will is, for a time, being dominate. The nature of the Tower is that the Seeker’s will is never dominate in the end! Here we are looking at a modified Celtic Cross spread. I choose the cards at random, and set the reversals before the cards were drawn.
4 1, 2 (r) 6
2. Knight of Wands (r)
3. Queen of Cups
5. Emperor (r)
6. Four of Cups
There are a few things that we want to note at first glance: three out of six cards are Major Arcana, two our of six cards are Court Cards, and two out of six cards are reversed. The two cards that are reversed are both essentially people cards, and contain strong, active male energy. The reading starts on a high note (the Magician), and ends on a low note (the Four of Cups).
The Knight of Wands in the Morgan-Greer deck is oriented to the right, or to the future. In this reading he is sandwiched between the Queen of Cups (who faces the left, or the past), and the Four of Cups, which shows a face, masked in greenery, that is facing the right, or the future. The Knight and the Queen are facing away from each other – it is as if they are each denying the existence of the other. This Knight is certainly not showing his best face. In this position, energy of the Knight could represent someone being very superficial, or someone taking risks that are not well thought out.
The Emperor reversed shows the Seeker in the present. There is a lack of structure in the Seeker’s life, and they may not be making the best decisions, or taking the best actions, for themselves, or for those around them.
Each of the cards in this reading is essentially a “people” card. It is for the reader to recognize that this is a difficult time for the Seeker, and that the Seeker needs to look at where the voices of these people are coming from (within themselves, from the environment around them, or from specific people in their lives). The Magician tells us that the Seeker does have the skills and abilities within him/her to deal with the situation, while the Four of Cups says that of the Seeker doe not take some action to bring about resolution to these voices, that they are going to end up dealing with depression.
Developing personal definitions:
It is important when learning the cards to work with some form of Tarot journal. In it, both upright and reversed meanings of the cards, as they appear to the reader, are developed. Note that I said “as they appear to the reader”. It is of great value for a student to write down their impressions of a card, or a reading, and then to refer to book meanings, or the meanings that others have developed. Recognize that for both upright and reversed meanings, there is a large range of what can be. Where the energy is manifesting in the Seeker’s life, and how, is determined by the spread itself, and the meanings of the different positions.
There are no wrong answers here! If something does not make sense, start a dialogue with the Seeker, and see how they feel about the card, and where the energy is manifesting in their life. If you are reading for yourself, ask yourself these questions!
The use of reversals is a wonderful tool of empowerment. It adds depth to a reading, and can be used to show the “way out”, or the resolution to the Seeker’s issue(s). Know that there are no wrong answers here, and understand that the Seeker will sometimes adamantly refuse to admit that a glaring energy is anywhere near them! In such a case, although as readers we know that it is indeed there, we might say something to the effect that the energy, while near them, is perhaps something that has not yet manifested in their life. Save face, and give them a way out.
Something else that can be done here is to look at cards whose energy balances the energy of the reversed card(s). The added cards represent energy that the Seeker can bring into their life in some manner, on a conscious level, to counteract the energy that is currently manifesting. For example, the resourceful energy of the Queen of Pentacles might be helpful when the Magician is drawn reversed. The disciplined energy of the Nine of Pentacles might be helpful when one of the Knights is drawn reversed. This is a good place to let go of the defined meanings of the cards, and have the Seeker go through the deck and pull out the cards that he/she intuitively feels will be helpful.
These are but a few suggestions for dealing with reversed cards. Each reader will develop their own method(s), and their own meaning(s). Reversals give the story of the reading depth, and offer clues as to where the obstacles in the Seeker’s life are, and how they are manifesting. Dialogue with the Seeker will help develop resolution.
Bunning, Joan. http://www.learntarot.com/less17-htm.
Bunning, Joan. http://www.learntarot.com/ltr.htm. Learning Tarot Reversals. Red Wheel/Weiser, Inc. 2003.
Greer, Mary K. The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals. Llewellyn Publications, 2002
© Bonnie Cehovet