Sunday, 4 September 2011

reversing the reversals

Nothing about Tarot is cut and dried. Every card has its meaning amplified, altered or clarified by the cards around it or by the question being asked. And that's as it should be - life isn't black and white. So, for me, reversals are another chance to put a different slant on the card rather than a reason to see them as the exact opposite of the card's upright meaning.

I've read that the notion of card reversal is quite a recent one. It was apparently only introduced into Tarot technique in the mid-19th century by Eteilla, the French barber-turned-clairvoyant. Although he popularised Tarot, reversals are no longer such a popular idea amongst us readers who often regard it as too monochrome or fatalistic to make readings effective or true to life. I personally don't see any cards as having wholly positive or negative meanings. Each message involves a combination of good and bad and the position or situation within the spread denotes the extent to which I should focus on either.

The truth is the notion of 'bad cards' is just one of the reasons people get the heebie jeebies about Tarot. It's not easy to trust a system that apparently approves of scaring readers shitless or dragging up unpleasant things without any basis on which to improve them or change the querent's perspective on them. Absolute clear cut reversals where the meaning is altered from positive to negative strike me as destructive rather than constructive.

However, I do actually acknowledge reversals. I do not see the card meaning the same way I would in its upright position. If the card involves a certain degree of caution or denotes bad character traits, I will see a reversal of that card as a warning about those things. But that doesn't have to mean it's negative - only that it is giving the querent some food for thought about how to alter the situation before it becomes unpleasant or irreversible. Let's take The Moon, for example. It's a card that has undertones of the dangers of addiction, disillusionment, mental health issues and dependency. When The Moon appears in the upright position I may still choose to focus on that cautionary element of its message, but only if I feel it's relevant. Instead I might focus on the messages of intuition and imagination that the card also offers. But in the reversed position is does seem like a more fitting time to mention the negative aspects of the card as a helpful warning about the querent's capacity to deal with things in a destructive way. I've allowed reversals to help me fathom the complexities of the card meanings and choose what to focus on in each of them without breaking them down into good and bad 'sides'.

Using your own sense of direction when it comes to reversals is key. You may even decide that reversals only mean something some of the time and choose to disregard them unless they speak to you. You may even be one of those readers who only acknowledges reversals in the Major Arcana and not the Minor. Either way, I think the best way to deal with them is to not treat them as a mechanical opposite to the card's usual meaning. This can lead to doom and gloom, apocalyptic messages or an overtly negative reading.

A lot of people have been frightened away from Tarot by an experience with a sensationalist reader. Maybe that's just the reader's style, but being overtly mechanistic certainly doesn't help. If the Queen of Swords appears in reverse, these theatrical readers might choose to talk about a deceitful woman who's backstabbing the querent or something, and even though that might be a valid interpretation, it can be disempowering when too much emphasis is placed on the downside without approaching how the other cards suggest dealing with this woman or how to ultimately solve the problem.

I'm a big advocate of Tarot as therapy. Although not everyone thinks the same way, it's undeniable that even when the cards are being used purely for entertainment purposes, it's not ultimately all that entertaining if it leaves you feeling scared or upset.