Monday, March 18, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Flip it and Reverse it

This is it, guys.  We're entering a brave new world, in more ways than one.  Spring is coming (Never mind that hail outside!  We will refer to it in the Spanish: el granizo, until it goes away.), your Tarot book is careening toward completion, and I've submitted a short story to a couple literary magazines.  I'll be spending the next few months dying of anxiety and anticipation, and compiling a list of second-string choices to submit it to if (when...) no one bites this time around.

I thought for my first non-interpretation tarot post it would be useful to discuss reversals.  It's a question that comes up a lot when people are new to reading the tarot: "What about when the card's upside down??" 

Well, the first tarot book I ever read, the one that taught me the basics and gave me my start, said that reversed cards in a reading meant that the meaning of the card was reversed: it may mean the opposite thing, or simply a light version of the upright meaning. In the given interpretations in this book, this seemed to amount to happy cards having a fifty percent chance of being sad cards, and sad cards being perhaps less sad, but still crummy.  There were exceptions: a couple cups cards so grand that reversing them only lowered the stakes.

I've since come to really dislike that first book, and this is one fine example of the reason why: it just seemed to make the tarot very negative, far more negative than I find it to be when doing readings without that book chained to my  wrist.  Another example of this is how it explains the suit of swords by saying (paraphrased): 'The Swords are everything bad forever.'  Give me a fecking break!  The swords are associated with the element of air: with words, thoughts, our minds, and the truth.  Those are all really good and important things!

I guess where I'm going with the tangent is that no one source of tarot info is perfect, and if you find that you just don't agree with the source you're working with, go find another one.  You've got to interpret the tarot in a way that feels true and intuitive to you, or you're not going to interpret the tarot well.

So, what do reversals really mean?  Well, they very well could mean the opposite of the upright meaning, or the upright meaning, just less so.  When I lay out a tarot spread, I always take a moment to look at the picture it makes as a whole: are there any interesting relationships between cards?  Reversals are one thing that pops out at me during that first impression, and for starters, that's what reversals do.  They're like putting that card in italics: "Death, the Three of Cups, the Five of Staves..."  See what I mean?

As I continue to evaluate the cards before doing any real interpreting, I notice how the reversal impacts the imagery of the card.  A figure may be reaching pointing toward a particular other card in the reversed position, or a facial expression or interaction may look very different.  If none of those things seem to apply, I go about the reading as normal, and when I get to that card, I point out the emphasis placed on it, and then discuss the interpretation of the card, the shadow side of the card, how a reversal could contradict, or lessen that meaning, and then the querent and I put that information into context and figure out which meaning fits the reading thus far.

That sounds very neat, and tidy, but since most querents know little about the tarot going in, and many think you're going to give them simple cut and dried answers, this conversation usually takes a while to get going.  Lets explore what this could look like with the example above.

Me: So, we've talked about death as a card of letting go, transforming, new beginnings, and the three of cups as a card of joyful celebration.  It can mean a party, or a fun social event, or it could mean that a recent endeavor of yours went really well.
Querent: Right!  My friend's bridal shower.  I planned it all myself, and everyone had a great time!  I don't know what that has to do with the Death card, though.

Me: Right.  This last card might be the puzzle piece we need.  See?  It's upside down.  That's calling our attention to it in a special way.  Let's take a look at it.  What do you see?
Querent: Ha.  A bunch of people fighting!  That's the bridal party!  I've got the bachelorette party all set, and it's going to be a blast, but the rest of the bridesmaids are fighting me tooth and nail.  They just won't listen.  I know our friend will love my ugly dresses party idea.

Me: A lot of people see this card as people fighting, and that's kind of the shadow side of this card, but to me, it looks more like they're trying to build something, but it's not working because they aren't cooperating very well.  Maybe you and your fellow bridesmaids are trying to build a really beautiful experience for the bride, but because you aren't cooperating with each other, you're fighting instead. Since this card is reversed, it may mean the opposite. It might be saying that you can't cooperate with these people, that you just have to go ahead and do things your own way.

Querent: Totally!

Me: On the other hand, the reversal might mean that this wedding is going to be difficult no matter what you do because so many people have to cooperate to make it a success.  Before we know which meaning it is, we have to look at it with the other cards in the reading, right?  What could this card mean when we talk about it along with the message of letting go given to us by the Death card?
Querent: ...

Me: Maybe you need to let go of your urge to plan everything.  You planned one party, and it went really well, but this one won't if everyone's fighting, right?  Maybe it's someone else's turn..?

Querent: Yeah, but the card said I should just go ahead and do it!

Me: That was one possible meaning of that card reversed, but we have to look at the reading as a whole, and how these cards best fit together.  I think the message is, kudos on the shower!   Now take a break and let someone else do all the work.  If everyone feels involved, there will be less strife overall.

Querent: Wow, you're a mystical genius!  I want to pay you extra!

This has never happened, and in real life I would have had to invest a lot more effort in turning my querent's attention away from the potential message of beating everyone over the head with her ugly dress stave.  This made up reading was more fun.  ANYWAY, I hope I've taught you something about reversals:

There's no straight answer on how to handle them, and that can make for a sticky part of your reading.  Allow extra time to discuss these cards.  If you're reading for yourself, notice how you may WANT the reversal to mean one thing (like my querent), but the OTHER CARDS suggest a less convenient alternative.  Put your ego aside, and listen to what the cards are telling you.  That's why you laid them out, right?

Happy Taroting! Enjoy el granizo!
~em

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