Reversed Cards and “Night-Crawler Hunting”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This essay presents the second epiphany I’ve gained from my reading of the 19th Century French tarot book, The Grand Etteilla.

Whenever I encounter reversed cards in a reading and determine that they should be handled in a psychological rather than a pragmatic way, I often treat them as showing where subjective “inner work” is required of the querent (as distinct from the more objective “delay or detour” implications of the typical reversal). But in reading about the Etteilla “Stars” card (more a “Stars+Sun+Moon+Zodiac” sort of thing than the RWS/Thoth “Star,” although there are a few parallels), I chanced upon a different wrinkle. When reversed, the Stars is described as “shedding light on dark matters” that may have remained obscure for a long time. This suggested that any overturned card can bypass cognitive understanding and “dump” its more recondite insights into the subtle mental/emotional strata that lie beneath the surface of the querent’s outward existence, and that may have lain undisturbed and unexamined for ages. This is the realm of persistent complexes and compulsions. Generally, the more reversed cards there are, the deeper the waters and the more “layered and textured” the interpretation.

This is a more potent expression of reversal than I had previously come across, in which its often blunted or oblique message becomes more focused and concentrated on latent issues, bringing buried inferences “front-and-center” to be addressed by the querent. It mimics a kind of occult MRI (call it “mystic resonance imaging”) that dials in the perspective in ways that can pinpoint (perhaps “dredge up” is more precise) old issues that that have previously resisted being flushed out into the open, and that are still confounding the querent. It puts a sharper point on some of my earlier impressions that reversed cards can “insinuate” their tidings rather than “shouting” them, and plays nicely with my assumption that they can point us down less-obvious byways within a reading that might otherwise go unexplored.

I have an extensive set of alternate interpretations that can be brought to bear on the phenomenon of reversal, going well beyond the usual idea that they indicate “blockage” or other impediments on the path to full expression of the card’s energy. Although I agree with the opinion that reversal doesn’t dramatically alter the core meaning of a card and (in my own words) merely changes the mode of delivery or angle of attack, I’m lukewarm to the notion that their influence is significantly diminished. Instead, I can see how their leverage might be constructively redirected toward less visible but no less potent aspects of the matter, in ways that promote identification and application of unusual solutions. It reminds me of those long-ago nocturnal episodes of night-crawler hunting with my grandfather; we would catch the skittish earthworms in the flashlight’s beam and then swiftly pounce on them before they could slip back into their holes (they made excellent fishing bait). I believe this is one tarot technique I will use frequently and to great effect.

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