Tarot in Reverse

I have been thinking about reversals a lot recently. I never used to use them as I was under the illusion that using reversed cards would give a deliberately negative slant to my readings and why would I willingly inflict that upon myself and my querents? Plus I felt that after it had taken me years to finally grasp conventional card meanings, was I really going to have to do it all again, for all 78 cards in reversed position? I now know that both of the above ways of thinking about reversals are rather wide of the mark. When I first started learning tarot 25 years ago, all reversed meanings I remember seeing were negative ones but recent years have seen new ways of thinking about reversed cards and what it might mean to use them in readings. As I have become more and more comfortable with card meanings – especially Rider Waite Smith-based decks – I found I craved a little more nuance in my readings, a different spin on the accepted divinatory keywords. My readings with the Rider Waite Smith deck itself had come to feel – dare I say it? – a little jaded.  I know people keep telling me that there is a lifetime of symbolism and meaning to unearth in the deck, but the fact is, my interpretations were starting to feel a little tired. Then maybe last year I started thinking about incorporating reversals. It made perfect sense to me to think about logical opposites of card meanings. If you feel you have a grasp on what a card means, it is an interesting exercise to think what the logical opposite of that might be. It really doesn’t need to be doom-laden. Take the Eight of Wands for example; if we think of it as speed and communication, we can logically see it reversed in a spread as meaning delay and crossed wires, perhaps? I was of the opinion that once we feel comfortable with our own card meanings which we have arrived at via trial and error, thinking of that meaning reversed or – as it were  “inside out” – would be a fascinating and useful exercise to get us thinking about the elasticity of card concepts. It seemed to be something that only we ourselves could do, as it would have to be the opposite of something very personal to us. A few times, I did readings for close friends and asked them to reverse some few cards whilst shuffling, but it had to be a deck I knew well; Rider Waite Smith style to the core (e.g Morgan Greer, Aquarian, Hoi Polloi, Royal Fez Moroccan Tarot, Russian Tarot of St Petersberg). Working reversals into these decks, sometimes on the spur of the moment, made sense to me and I got some insightful readings as a result. Yet I still felt that I was poised at the precipice of reversals, unsure of exactly what I was getting into and sensing that there were so many more perspectives to think about that I could very quickly feel overwhelmed. Reading Janet Boyer’s Tarot in Reverse: Making Sense of the Upside Down Cards in a Tarot Spread (Schiffer, 2012) has nudged me into new directions and given me much to chew over.

Over almost 200 pages, illustrated with the Universal Waite Tarot, she anatomises reversed tarot cards, reflecting on what might be appropriate meanings, all done in a quickfire, entertaining manner with pop references and affirmations for each card, Major and Minor, all combining to give fun and – above all – contemporary card meanings. Her take on the Eight of Wands, for example, takes in “traffic jams, no wi-fi, too much caffeine, spam, lost mobile phone signal” to mention only five in a long, long list. I hear time and time again how reading other people’s divinatory meanings is not always very useful for a beginner, who simply has to find their own feet. I have to say though, when I was a beginner 25 years ago, such advice would not have been very helpful for me, but thankfully nobody ever really used to suggest it (that I remember). I think it is always useful and fascinating to reflect on – and bounce off – other people’s ideas for the cards. That is how you come to find which middle ground works for you. What I find especially useful is the introduction which paves the way for how we can think more generically about tarot card reversals. It isn’t all pain and negativity and disaster unfolding. A tarot card which comes up reversed can be approached in many different ways and she elucidates some of the possible ways we might think about this. She gives twelve different ways to think about reversals, any one of which would be enough to give more depth to a reading. For example, a reversed card can be something as simple as a “not” put before all the upright meanings. Or it could signify something overlooked. I found this part of the book especially useful as you could take any one of these twelve approaches and then devise workable reversed meanings with very little mental adjustment to how you actually read now. The book also has some introductory information for those who are relatively new to tarot, but I think the bulk of the book would be useful for both beginners and advanced readers alike. For each card, she gives an extensive list of reversed meanings and then a paragraph with more familiar cultural analogies from Micheal Jackson and the Berlin Wall to Icarus and the BP oil spill. There is also a quotation for each card (e.g Four of Pentacles; “security is a kind of death”, Tennessee Williams), followed by advice and then 20 affirmations. The book is divided up into Majors, then Minors (grouped by number rather than suits) and then Court Cards, concluding with some sample readings. What I found useful was to think about those cards in the tarot deck which I just don’t “get”, and I think we all have about 5 of them (or maybe not?) The Two of Wands, Temperance, Ten of Pentacles are the ones which –  for me  – immediately spring to mind. I mean, I know the meanings as I have looked them up and thought about them a lot but they are some of the cards that least inspire me when they turn up in a reading. Looking at ideas for reversed meanings gives me a new perspective to start from. By looking at what an opposite of it might be I can retrace back to possible new upright meanings. However you approach the book there is bound to be something in it which can bring a breath of fresh air into all readings. Schiffer have been giving us some great contributions to tarot and divination of late, both in terms of decks and also books. I like what I have seen of their publications to date and Tarot in Reverse is a welcome addition to their ever-expanding catalogue.


About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
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26 Responses to Tarot in Reverse

  1. vee says:

    This is a nice post to read. I sometimes do reversals, but lately have encountered vocal camp of people arguing that reversals are training wheels or baby steps and that ~*advanced*~ tarot readers don’t need them. Now I’m not claiming to be an advanced reader 😉 But I think they can be a useful tool.

    The reversals book that really opened up the world of reversals to me is Mary Greer’s Tarot Reversals. It is quite comprehensive and thoughtful.

    • Le Fanu says:

      I’d not come across that point of view (and I wouldn’t consider myself an advanced reader either). What I have heard is people saying “I don’t reverse the cards but I just know when a card should be read with a reversed meaning.” This is something which I don’t have; that hunch when you know. I can’t imagine ever acquiring it to be honest. I think there are a number of ways to approach reversals and this book and Mary Greer’s book are quite different. I wouldn’t say that there was only room for one book on the market (not that you were suggesting that.) I think the more we reflect on reversing, and what it can bring to our readings, the more interesting our readings can get. But there are decks when it doesn’t feel right for me; Thoth or the very dark decks, or those decks which are already a bit “out there” anyway. I like to use it with the comfortingly RWS decks whose meanings I feel I have at the end of my fingertips.

      • vee says:

        I’ll keep the book in mind, although I think the next Tarot book I want to buy is the Tarot Playbook…as summer approaches, I find myself in more playful mood than thoughtful. Not that they are mutually exclusive.

        I agree I wouldn’t use reversals with Thoth. In general, I try to follow the deck creator’s lead unless I feel strongly one way or another. Do you use elemental dignities? If so, would you combine them with reversals?

  2. Le Fanu says:

    Elemental dignities AND reversals, no. If I’m a bit of a beginner with reversals, I’m a total newbie with EDs. I have studied them and what they mean and how they can be used but that is another tarot challenge for some time in the the future. I think I’d only use them with Thoth anyway, to be honest. The Thoth for me is distinct from all other decks. It has its own rules and things I do and don’t do with it!

  3. Nathalie says:

    I don’t use reversals in my readings but Greer’s book is seminal in understanding them as well as giving even more insight into the card’s meaning when upright–it’s a deep foray altogether into the hundred-fold nuance of a card…and an excellent “dream-time” book to pick up and muse over anytime.

  4. Chiriku says:

    Good. I’m glad you posted your review here, seeing as how the last time we mentioned She Who Must Not Be Named on Aeclectic, the offensive mentions were summarily plucked away and sent off into never-never land. I understand some have quarrels with her, but I’ve been oblivious to all that. She models herself as a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-she-sees-it kind of reviewer *and* tarot reader, and this is mostly what she puts out, IMO (with, I might add, reasons and facts to back up her preferences). She occupies a very contemporary, non-esoteric, highly practical (see for instance, her e-book on occupations in tarot) space in tarotism, and as I like to see a diversity of “spaces” co-existing in the tarot world, I approve.

    I bought and read Greer’s book on reversals when it first came out. Can’t for the life of me remember what she had to say. As it’s in storage and I don’t like repurchasing books unless they’re favorites, I’ll probably read Boyer’s if I want reading material related to reversals.

  5. Free tarot says:

    Great post by you. I got an important point from your post in my tarot reading learning. This post has given me a helpful material. Thanks to you.

    Hope to see some more posts from you.

  6. Carla says:

    Thanks for this review, Le Fanu. I have been one of the vocal ‘I just know when to read reversed meanings’ folks on AT, but lately, I’ve been thinking about using reversals. Even though an upside down card image really deeply offends my sensibilities! 🙂 I was thinking I might get around that by having little tumbled stones on hand, and when a card comes up reversed, turn it upright but set the stone on it to remind me it has the reversed meaning. I have been hesitant to buy a book on reversals, but your review makes this one sound appealing. (Mary K Greer’s books are fine, but I’d like to read someone else for a change!) Right, off I go to order it, then!

    • Le Fanu says:

      Carla, that’s exactly what I have started doing. I bought a little pouch of “chakra stones” a couple of years back; very tactile little polished discs of various stones. They’ve remained in their little velvet bag – I had no idea what to do with them – and then recently I had this same idea. I turn the card right side up and put a chakra stone above it to remind me!

  7. Carla says:

    So can someone tell me why Janet Boyer is persona non grata at AT? I just started a thread there and received a PM saying threads about her had been removed. What??

    • Chiriku says:

      Carla, I have wondered if it had something to do with a feud she had a few years back with Nigel Jackson (the creator of the eponymous tarot as well as the Rumi and Fortuna’s Wheel tarots, and a practitioner/initiate of the Western Mystery tradition). Unless there were other feuds about which I don’t know, this one centered over her negative review of the Rumi Tarot and then his over-spirited response to her. I don’t know if this played out on AT as well; that’s just my guess.

      Too bad because I like her down-to-earth and detailed reviews, even if they often disagree with my own tastes and desires in decks. And I liked her book Back in Time Tarot.

  8. Janet Boyer says:

    Hi Carla and Chiriku!

    Firstly, thank you so much for supporting my work and for your kind words. It means a lot!

    Secondly, about AT: For some unknown reason (and I’m serious about that), Solandia banned me from AT Forums about 6 years ago (this, while she still continued to use my reviews on AT!). I then asked her to take down all my reviews, as well as the dozens of card scans I provided to her for decks she didn’t have images for.

    All I know is that I take days at a time offline. One day, about 6 years ago, I saw about three DM’s from Mods at AT. When I went to go to AT to see what they were…I found that I was entirely locked out. Solandia refused to tell me why when I asked her politely several times. To this day, I have no idea why. I was never involved in anything remotely controversial the short time I was there (Nigel Jackson’s attacks on me were there on AT and via Amazon.com…but I believe I was banned even BEFORE that, because I don’t recall engaging him directly there at all).

    No only does Solandia and her censoring moderators (especially “Alta”) remove any MENTION of Tarot in Reverse on AT…she also deletes any thread mentioning my Snowland Tarot deck (that is contracted with Schiffer Books for 2013 release…and is 75% completed). http://SnowlandTarot.com In fact, I made a post about censorship at AT back in Feb. on my blog: http://janetboyer.typepad.com/blog/2012/02/aeclectic-tarot-forums-censorship-world-tarot-day.html

    Bizarrely, no one has stood up publicly (other than myself) to ask Solandia/AT why this kind of censorship is being practiced…while any fly-by-nighter can get massive mention and exposure just by including “Tarot” in their blog, eBook, video or self-made deck.

    I’d be lying to say that it hasn’t hurt sales of my book that she stamps out any mention of my work, especially since we just opened pre-orders for our Majors-only deck: http://www.janetboyer.com/SnowlandDeckMajorsOrder.html

    It’s one thing to say for her to say she doesn’t want me in her Forums for who knows what reason…but quite another to censor people even mentioning/discussing my work…especially for a site (supposedly) dedicated to the “exploration” of Tarot.

    Blessings to you all and thanks again, Le Fanu, for reviewing Tarot in Reverse. I greatly appreciate it!

  9. Le Fanu says:

    Of course, censorship is always wrong and we should always be alerted to when it is happening and let others know that we know it’s happening…

  10. Nina says:

    I don’t think the Non Grata thing is only about a discussion with Nigel Jackson or whomever. It’s probably (IMO) more the fact that Janet NEVER lets a chance go by to mention every person she dislikes and why. Puplicly. Every. Where. Possible! And EVERY subject can turn into such a discussion for her.
    I would guess that it also has a lot to do with the book she wrote, in which she kills another (popular and well loved) woman while also describing that woman and the tarot community as a whole in the most disguisting and nasty way.

  11. Janet Boyer says:

    ::Rolls Eyes:: Here we go again. Maybe if you actually read my FB pages, my blogs, my Tweets and so on, Nina, you’d realize that its absolutely incorrect. Like most people, I will point out when someone is doing something harmful or egregious in the “Tarot community”…about once every few months. But wasting my time on people that aren’t even on my RADAR? Like I have the time! If you truly followed my work or knew me, Nina, you’d see that I’m far too busy creating and supporting OTHERS to waste time on the small-minded pettiness so rife in the “Tarot community”…the exact behavior you are displaying now.

    I didn’t write a BOOK, I wrote a short story. It was fictional…and people had to BUY it. It wasn’t available publicly for all to consume. You had to actually, you know, go TO my Amazon author page and PAY for it. And, within weeks, I issued an apology which are well aware: http://janetboyer.typepad.com/blog/2011/12/an-apology.html

    Individuals merely use that short story as an excuse to harass, blackball and censor me because–at the core–I’m one of the few that points out when the Emperor HAS NO CLOTHES. (And, dares write negative reviews).

    Your “pound of flesh” (or more) pettiness about an incident that occurred NINE months ago shows just the type of narrow, witch-hunting, bitter attitude displayed in some online Tarot groups and Forums…which many are getting VERY tired of (and, sadly, are turning away from the cards because of…or hesitant to even pick up a Tarot deck for fear of becoming “like them”.)

    I’ve been banned from AT for 6 years or more. Again, never involved in personal confrontation at all when there. The short story was nine MONTHS ago. Do the math.

    • Janet Boyer says:

      And, again, if you actually read my post here–above–you’d see I’m talking about people being prevented from TALKING ABOUT MY WORK…not ME BEING A PART OF AT FORUMS (which I have NO desire to do).

  12. Nina says:

    I did read your blogs, facebook page and everything else for many years. Eventually got very tired of the same old same old nastiness that popped up everywhere. Also in every group on facebook you were let into – I know you still wonder why they keep kicking you out – you do the math!

  13. Nina says:

    BTW…. I’m not saying you were always wrong. I’m just saying that the constant negative attitude made me leave ”rooms” you were in.

  14. Lifeisabutterfly says:

    All morning I have been seeing these comments popping up in my email — I thought Tarot was just something interesting to study, enjoy, delve into and use in many ways such as meditation, divination, art appreciation, dream time, serious soul searching or just plain fun. I quit trying to post things on AT because there were so many rules and regulations and ways of doing things it made my head spin. I was stopped a few times by the moderaters and just didn’t have the energy to figure out what I had done wrong or what I was supposed to do. Life is so short, I don’t understand what all the fighting is about. Janet is usually extremely supportive of tarot artists, I’ve been reading her reviews for years. They are also very warm, down to earth and so easy to relate to. She makes no apologies for her likes and dislikes and should not have to. We are supposed to have free speech here. If some do not like her sometimes frank and brash style then let them turn elsewhere. Heck, I don’t even know the lady and here I am defending her…I see this type of petty sniping on Ravelry, Etsy, and other places too and I just really am baffled at the amount of people out there who spend so much time and effort being mean, hurtful, vindictive and petty toward other people they have never met….It’s really weird and kind of sick.
    So thumbs up to you Janet and keep up the good work 🙂
    Poor LeFanu, are you still on vacation? look what you’re coming home to lol!
    Bet I’ll get a few mean comments now too…whatever!! Talk to the hand lol! (the protective hand of Fatima)

    • Janet Boyer says:

      Thanks so much for your kind (and sensible!) words, Butterfly. 🙂 What people are saying about me and doing to me are MUCH worse than anything I’ve ever done (or what they accuse me of). Amazing, how many look for the negative and are SO stuck in the past. How can you see the blessings in life and go forward if you’re always looking in a (cloudy) rear-view mirror?

      Upward and onward! 😀

  15. What’s up, I read your blogs on a regular basis. Your writing style is awesome, keep it up!

  16. I always use the Tarot in Reverse, its the detective that looks under beds, closets, and draws, that solve the mystery, and answer the questions.Because we,and others have free will, our lives can change at any given moment. I believe the reverse cards are the core of what is hidden inside, under the surface, the good or bad around us.

  17. Melissa says:

    When i first started reading i hated using reversals since i was a newbie. Now I totally agree that there is a need to consider reversals in a spread and have used a couple of your methods before. Reversals make us stop and think a bit deeper.

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