The mother in me is going to start out with, 'Now don't be rolling your eyes at me.' And yes, it's because I'm telling a story about back in the day. No, I didn't have to walk ten miles to buy my first deck of tarot, but in some ways, that adage isn't too far off from the mark. This is an organic story about reading tarot reversals.
As some of you may recall, I've stated that the 1JJ Swiss was the first deck of tarot I ever owned. For those unfamiliar with that deck, it is in the Marseilles/Milan tradition (TdM). The photo above shows a sampling of some of the pip cards from that deck. With little exception, it is difficult to readily identify some of the pip cards when they appear in reverse.
I cannot recall the first deep down and serious esoteric tarot book I ever bought, I've read so many books on the topic, but I do recall that the first book I ever bought on tarot was the Eden Gray book which accompanied the then named, Rider Waite deck. Among other revelations, the Eden Gray book discussed the reverse meanings of every card which initially was a challenge for me using a deck that by and large had pips that did not lend themselves to reverse positions.
You might ask, why buy a deck and book that don't match? Well, this was 1970s suburban Philadelphia. We had a bookstore at the brand new mall, and the only deck of tarot available on the shelf that day was the 1JJ Swiss Tarot. The only tarot book on the shelf that day was the Eden Gray. Why the store did not supply the Rider Waite Eden Gray book along with the matching Rider Waite deck I'll never know, but I'm glad they did not.
I was eager to learn and I bought the disparate deck and book. I read that book from cover to cover and handled those cards every chance I had. It was an easy lesson for me to see that that particular book with that particular deck had on the surface, very little in common. I was learning tarot at the ground floor and I was my only teacher trying to make sense of the limited information I had. From this very humble beginning, I understood that there were at least two camps of tarot.
It became obvious that both camps referenced the Major Arcana which more or less shared the same titles. The lesser Arcana shared similarities also, in that they were both Ace to King of four suits.
When I eventually found more books similar to my deck, namely the Oswald Wirth publication, it became apparent that books discussing the TdM style did not generally concern themselves with reading the minor arcana at all, and in fact, did not even discuss reversed meanings.
My deck had seventy eight cards for a reason, and I was determined to read all seventy eight. For me, the logical next step was to learn numerology, which meant reading all I could about numerology. (You can read about my process of assigning meaning to TdM styled pips in my earlier article titled, 'Assigning Meaning the TdM Styled Pips.')
Within a year or two, I was reasonably competent at reading the cards, and had established my own technique for understanding each of the TdM pips. What I wasn't doing at that time was reversals, since my deck as I mentioned, with very limited exception, did not allow for reversals. But I knew reversals were prevalent with the RWS deck and I knew that eventually, I would own that deck too and possibly read reversals.
One day, after weekly visits to our bookstore for about a year, I bought my 2nd tarot deck once it finally appeared on my mall bookstore shelf. It was the Rider Waite deck. I had learned all about it and I had great familiarity with the images since I had devoured the book a year earlier. The meanings I had assigned my TdM pips didn't always jibe with the new deck, but that was easily remedied by simply reading the new deck and not trying to force my established meanings onto images that didn't always mesh. By learning both camps so early in my tarot career, I likened it to simply learning a different dialect of the same language, or even learning a 2nd language altogether which was something that came natural to me as a bi-lingual person.
Once I had the Rider Waite deck, (probably in 1977), the cards would naturally as I knew they would, upon occasion appear in the inverted position. There was a decision that had to be made, ignore the reversals, or apply meaning to them?
You're glad I finally got to the point right? Here is where the mom in me comes out a 2nd time. Anything worth learning well requires an investment of time. AND, it needs to come naturally. Rote learning is only good for the short term. Me telling you how to read reversals will mean nothing to you in the long term. Lifelong understanding requires organic evolution. What the neophyte needs to know, is that her or his way is as good as any. We each need to learn what makes sense to us and live it. In every arena of life.
OK, now back to reversals...
The process which made sense to me was to see the reversals as an indicator that something required particular attention, perhaps there was a weakness. Other times, it appeared to mean that the negative aspect of the card was applicable in that instance. Because the Celtic Cross Spread was pretty much the only spread I ever used back in the 1970's, there were plenty of surrounding cards to help assist me in knowing which attributes would apply.
While reading TdM style cards, I tend not to read pips in reversals. I can tell if a particular card needs attention by the nature of the question and the surrounding cards. So while reading TdM pips, reversals is rarely an issue for me. Some contemporary TdM style decks do give the pips distinguishing upright and reversed imagery, so they are now more obvious to read.
Decks in the RW tradition can very obviously be recognized in reverse and reading them in reverse is probably more common place.
Sometimes, even if a card does not appear in reverse, it is obvious that the negative aspect of the card is the intended meaning, or that a nuanced interpretation is called for. Using reversals does help in identifying areas of weakness or danger, but those issues tend to be readily recognized once a reader begins reading at a high level of proficiency.
I admittedly did not discuss reading reversals from other esoteric camps, namely the Thoth which per Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, encouraged reading the cards in the upright positions. Naturally, there are many readers who read reversals using those decks and at times, I do also.
In a nutshell, reading reversals may help draw your attention to an aspect of a reading, but eventually you pick up on it anyway.
I tend not to pay much attention to upright positions as I mix and handle a deck. I let them align the way they will and read them in the way they present themselves.
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