Reversals? Why Not?

I’m constantly encountering people who say “That deck has non-reversible backs. You can’t do reversals with it.” and “That’s a Golden-Dawn-based deck, they didn’t use reversals so you can’t either.” My unspoken response is “So? Rules were made to be broken.” Another favorite excuse for not learning to use reversals effectively is “I don’t need them, there is plenty of negativity in the cards already.” This argument completely misses the point: reversals are quite often subtly oblique in their expression, not blatantly contradictory, and they rarely represent the exact opposite of the upright meaning. I think these dismissive attitudes show flawed thinking on the part of modern tarot writers and teachers who really should know better. We have a lot of tools in our interpretive toolbox, and I can see no reason why we shouldn’t use any that will do the job. While something can be said for not throwing tarot neophytes into the deep end by dumping reversals on them right at the start of their journey, it should be acknowledged that experience will ultimately bring the wisdom to  decipher their intricacies to good effect. Unfortunately, many people get stuck in neutral on this point and become entrenched in their aversion to reversals. I applaud those who succeed in climbing out of the hole dug for them by their teachers.

Regarding non-reversible backs, who cares? I deal the cards face-up into my spreads anyway; paying attention to the card backs is way too anal for me. Even if I do know in advance that a card is going to turn up reversed, it certainly doesn’t taint my interpretation since I presume nothing until the card is laid. “Read ’em as they lay” is my motto. Reversals can add nuance and depth to a reading, and open up new vistas in a matter that are difficult and time-consuming to come to any other way. Sure, you can usually arrive there through arduous deconstruction of the minutiae in a card’s imagery and its relation to the other cards in the spread, but why work that hard when you have  a ready-made pointer that gives you a head-start? Used judiciously and with sensitivity, reversal can point the way to some remarkable revelations while also improving the reader’s efficiency. Win-win, eh?

The “Golden Dawn prohibition” is another one that makes no sense to me. Just because Liber T is silent on reversals and champions Elemental Dignities instead, that doesn’t mean the two are mutually exclusive. Personally, I use EDs in spreads that are conducive to them as a way to adjust the potency of cards in combination, and reversal as an indication of the “angle of attack” or “mode of delivery” for a card’s energy without materially altering its meaning or strength. The two serve entirely different purposes and shouldn’t be confused as stepping on one another’s toes. Both are valid in their own unique ways.

I don’t use reversal 100% of the time, of course. I frequently create spreads that are designed to be read entirely upright since reversal would add no real value to the testimony. And I never use reversals in Lenormand readings since that system of divination has numerous patently negative cards that get the point across, whereas tarot really has none that can’t be painted in shades of gray. On the few occasions when I decide to attempt psychological exploration with the tarot, reversals can add an entire “psychic underbelly” to the proceedings that can show all manner of hidden things: motives, compulsions, vulnerabilities, misapprehensions, etc. I love them for what they are, warts and all, not for their contribution to the “negativity quotient”

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