“Up the Down Staircase” – The Reversed Quintessence Card

A number of years ago, a young woman who went by the online name of “Amanda” on the now-defunct Aeclectic Tarot forum gave me the idea of subtracting the face value of any reversed cards in a spread when doing the “quintessence” calculation, which can result in a negative total and therefore a reversed “quint” card. (All indications are that she came up with this innovative wrinkle on her own.) I had already recognized that the common practice of Theosophical Reduction (the summing of two or more digits to create a number within the trump-card range) can never produce zero, which explains why some people renumber the Fool as 22 for the purpose of the “quint” calculation.

I’ve always resisted doing that and, apart from using “casting out nines” which can arrive at zero, I quickly adopted Amanda’s approach as a way out of the dilemma. I copped the title of this post (and of the associated spread) from the 1967 film of the same name since I think it neatly summarizes how we feel when confronted with the proverbial “good card in a bad position” and vice versa. Both possibilities appear in this spread as a secondary consequence of applying reversed-card values.

I believe this method imparts depth and subtlety to the quintessence interpretation in the same way that reversal adds nuance to any card’s range of meaning. Although I generally prefer “casting out nines” when calculating the quintessence because it lets me stop at a two-digit trump rather than going directly to a single digit, thereby doubling my options for getting the best fit for the question, subtracting reversals brings another useful tool to the interpretive toolbox. I often do the “quint” in more than one way to examine alternate outcomes, so other techniques are welcome.

An example will serve to clarify the procedure. Suppose the draw delivers an upright Ace, an upright Five and a reversed Ten. The conventional way of calculating the quint (1+5+10) would yield “16,” which can be left as the Tower or further reduced by either Theosophical Reduction (1+6=7) or “casting out nines” (16-9=7) to give the Chariot. Subtracting 10 from the total instead of adding it gives a “negative Four” (-4), which would denote the Emperor reversed. Although more than one fearsome Emperor was certainly conversant with the destructive mayhem of the Tower, the reversal makes me think “Machiavellian” rather than “draconian.” This reflects the subtlety I mentioned above.


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