Q: Do you do readings using reversals? Why or why not?
I used to, if the deck creator used them in their guidance. I am generally a firm believer in respecting the tradition of the deck and its creators. I love to use the theme and mythology of the deck to guide the flavor of my reading, and I’ll choose a deck based on the context of the reading (I like to use Shadowscapes or The Fountain Tarot or Osho Zen for spiritual questions, for example, the Thoth when facing intellectual challenges, and the Marseille for mundane practical fortune-telling questions).
I stopped using reversals about three years into my Tarot reading career.
When I did have a deck with reversed meanings, I found them more complex to read than the same cards upright. There’s more than one way to read any of the cards (different facets based on question and surrounding cards), but reversals add another layer in deciding how to take the symbolism. I was originally inclined to simply apply the opposite meaning when the card was reversed (for example, the 8 of W above is about swift movement of circumstances, and obviously in reverse would indicate blockages or slowing down), but in my first Tarot book, Tarot Plain and Simple, Anthony Louis, the author, also had both positive and negative options for some of the reversed cards depending on the surrounding cards in the spread. Hmmm.
Thanks to Joan Bunning and her Learning the Tarot, I also learned about blocked energy and the reversal indicating a need to “turn the card around.” I originally liked this perspective because it helped to smooth out and expand my options when dealing with reversed cards. I used both Tarotists’ guidance in my initial readings, but after a while, reversals just seemed cumbersome, and the upright cards often had positive and negative facets available anyway, which would come to light naturally as part of the position they were in and the context of the question.
That’s what I love about the Tarot—the symbolism is so archetypal and rich that it can handle a number of different interpretations depending on deck philosophy, question, or even just which cards are nearby in the draw. Here’s an example of how a seemingly negative card could be a positive in a daily draw.
This draw is part of a spread I use a lot since discovering it on Instagram. It’s called Within, Without, Advice. Works great for daily draws. With that context, let’s look at the cards:
Internally, we have the Page of Swords, which is one of the few generally positive cards in that suit, and our Shadowscapes being is nurturing a new idea, looks like. She’s got all sorts of flying resources to buoy up that idea.
But outside, it’s a bit chaotic with the Five of Wands. Dude is going in one direction, and his foxy passions in another as they try unsuccessfully to focus on the target rabbit. Technically, if this card were reversed, we could go with an opposite interpretation that the chaos is about to resolve itself into focus, especially with the previous card feeding that sort of energy, but the challenge to focus still remains, I think, either way.
The advice card is The Moon, which is a really complex card all by itself. In most decks, it shows its negative side, with warnings about deception and advice to conquer one’s fears. Now if this card is reversed, it’s usually read more positively as the ending of confusion (you can walk the path in the dark with more confidence), or some folks read the upright energy as more intense so that you are in danger of being overcome by your fears. I just find all this reversal speculation way too much (maybe I just prefer a simpler approach). Instead, I take a look at the deck creator’s perspective and keep the card upright. In this case, the interpretation of the Moon is quite different from the perspective of the fae in Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Tarot world. Humans might be fooled by the Moon’s energy, but not the fae, they are calling upon us to take off our masks and join their moonlit dance.
I’ll take that advice to handle the chaos energy of the Five of Wands by embracing the night to feel the focus (rather than see it with my mind) and then apply it to my new idea from the Page of Swords. Cool. 🙂
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Do you use reversals?
I found the questions for this series at a Tumblr account that no longer exists. A lovely person named Rhee started the thing. These are great prompts for telling stories about one’s journey through the world of Tarot, so I’ve started the series again on a weekly basis so you all can get to know me better, and also share your own answers to the questions in comments or links to your own posts. I’d love to hear from you!