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when do you know to reverse meanings?

Thread originally posted on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum on 10 Nov 2002, and now archived in the Forum Library.

violinlily  10 Nov 2002 
sup y'all??
so many questions from me, sry bout dat. I guess your point of view matters in thinking whether a lot of questions from one person is a good thing or not.
I've learned alot from this site over like the past two weeks, and have yet another question:
when do you know to reverse the meaning of the cards (is it in the layout, or just which cards come next to each other???)? Do they tell you in the LWB, or in the big book?
Thanks again,

Thirteen  10 Nov 2002 
Not sure I understand this question. I'm assuming you mean, when do you know to reverse the meaning IF the cards are all laid out upright. Yes?

Because the "reverse" meaning in the LWB is the meaning you give upsidedown cards.

Just to be clear here, just in case you didn't understand: you can shuffle the deck so that when you lay out the cards some are right-side-up (to you, the reader's eyes), some up-side-down. Those that are upsidedown have the "reverse" meaning.

Now here's the thing:

1) Not all readers do reversals. And if you're a beginner, it's probably a good idea to avoid them till you're pretty confident in your readings. Reversals take time and practice.

Let it also be known that querents often get nervous when they see reversed cards. In old fashioned tarot books, a reversed card turns the meaning of a good card bad and a bad card worse. So, not surprisingly, nothing can turn a reading into a downer like a spread with a lot of reversed cards.

(2) Readers who don't use reversals feel that (a) there are enough "negative" cards in the deck to get across a reading that isn't all sweetness and light and (2) that even positive cards have a dark side (yin to yang) and they can sense or tell how the card should be read given position, other cards, etc. They shuffle the deck so cards are always upright and rely on intuition to tell them if they should read it as yin or yang.

(3) On the other hand, those who use reversals feel that the meaning of such cards is not all "doom and gloom," that, if done right, they can give real insight into a reading. Most reverse-readers find the cards emblematic of "blockage" of the force of that card, a "reversal" of its energy, if you will. And interpeting them can be fascinating.

If you do want to use reversals study up some past threads on the subject here. We have some real experts (Bec has a whole website devoted to reversals and I recall), and have had some marvelous discussions. Just don't rely on the LWB, it won't be any help at all. 

allibee  10 Nov 2002 
I was very interested to read your reply Thirteen, as this has often played on my mind. To reverse or not to reverse...

I have been learning and reading tarot on and off for about seven years now, and from the beginning I made it a personal rule never to do reversals as I felt learning the meanings of 78 cards on their own was hard enough, without learning another 78 meanings. Not to mention all the shades of grey in between. And then each different book I brought gave me another different set of meanings, until my mind began to boggle and ooze, lol.

Of course the best teacher I came across was real practice and readings, and from there I became aware that where there was opportunity given in a sitters cards, there was also a need for balance, so I would give them the yin AND the yang version of the particular card I was reading.


violinlily  10 Nov 2002 
that's what I didn't get. whether or not to turn the cards upside down. So, later on, if a card is turned upside down, that means i have to say the reversed meaning, I get this now. My problem now is: I am TERRIBLE at shuffling, though that will have to change, and will change w/ time.
I also agree w/ allibee, saying that 78 cards are enough to memorize, for now, and that 78+ more doesn't have a great appeal.

Thanks again,

Silverlotus  10 Nov 2002 
I have trouble shuffling too, usually with the larger sized decks (which is what I seem to buy). The way I handle it, and reverse my cards, is to spread them all out on my cloth and sort of mix them around (face down, of course). Then I gather them up, and do my best to shuffle them with my little hands. :-) That way they get mixed up well and the cards get reversed. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who does this though. :-) But I've honestly never seen another person read Tarot, so I don't know what other people do.


violinlily  10 Nov 2002 
I have BIG hands, and have real issues shuffling (I'm 14, and my hand is as big as my com screen, and I HATE playing basketball), though probably having a small deck doesn't help..... I think that I'll just stick with my pathetic shuffling skills and try to keep the cards straight up for now....
thanx again =),

lawguy51  10 Nov 2002 
Although this thread is not a thread on shuffling, let me continue the digression for a moment before I address reversals. Although I incorporate 'reversed' meanings in my readings, I do not like looking at upside down cards! If you riffle shuffle, doing it Vegas style will ensure reversed cards unless you cut the deck and don't turn one of the cuts around. I prefer to shuffle horizontally, if you get what I mean, riffling the cards side-by-side rather than end on end. I find it easier on the cards, and you can just let them fall out of your hands without really bending them.

OK, as for reversed cards, yes 78 meanings are a lot, but if in your study you remember some of a card's reversed aspects, then you are really only expanding your knowledge of 78 cards, not trying to hold in your head 156. And once you've done that, you look for context to tell you what aspect of a card's meaning is being revealed to you. Simple example, The Hermit may suggest that it is time to withdraw, to leave the rat race for a while and take a good look at yourself. But if that card appears in a reading where the Querant is clearly not facing his or her problems, then perhaps The Hermit is suggesting that this person has withdrawn himself/herself from the day to day activities of living and should get back into the 'rat race'. Now for me, that's not two different meanings, it's one meaning with two different applications. 

violinlily  10 Nov 2002 
cool, I'll look at it like that instead.

I'm still pathetic @ shuffling, no matter how many ways there are, I'm not trying to discredit your post though,


HudsonGray  11 Nov 2002 
Very many (most) cards have a connection to the reversed meanings. Like the Hermit that was mentioned. You get the good side when it's upright, but when it comes up in the upside down position, think about what's 'bad' about being a hermit. You withdraw, you stick yourself away in a room & don't do anything. No motivation, no interaction. Things don't get done.

Look through your deck & see if you can spot the 'downside' of the cards. That's less to memorize then, if you take the natural thought of the upright & see what's the opposite of it. It's a start, you can always fine tune as you learn each card a little more.

OR you can shuffle however you want & when the cards lay down in the spread upside down, just turn them right side up and read them that way. Nobody says you can't use that technique. Then it's not so bad shuffling, you don't have to worry how they come up, you're intending to only read upright positions.

Each reader does it their own way. 

isthmus nekoi  14 Nov 2002 
I don't have "set" meanings for reversals. Interpretation of reversals for me is always dependant on the context of the reading. For example, if the legs of a reversed page appears to be growing out of a card above it (I use Vertigo so this happens a lot), that's going to give me a different impression than if the page was upright and not so intimately connected to the card above it.

I don't necessarily assume a reversal gives the card a more negative or repressive tone although I often do take this into consideration if it works w/the context of the throw. has a great approach to reversals, very flexible... 

HudsonGray  14 Nov 2002 
Oh, I probably should point out too that not ALL reversals are negative! Some have quite good interpretations.

And when it comes to something like the Sun which is very good, it's just a diminished aspect, usually, when it's reversed. Like the difference between feeling good and feeling great. 

fairyhedgehog  15 Nov 2002 
Originally posted by violinlily
I'm still pathetic @ shuffling

After 3 years working with tarot cards (I think it now is) I am now pathetic at shuffling. Before, I was worse }) 

Espy  02 Dec 2002 
Originally posted by Thirteen

If you do want to use reversals study up some past threads on the subject here. We have some real experts (Bec has a whole website devoted to reversals and I recall), and have had some marvelous discussions. Just don't rely on the LWB, it won't be any help at all.

I don't know if it is too late to do a post here... But who is Bec? And which website is that? I'm just beginning to read reversals and any information is welcome.


wakeboarder  02 Dec 2002 
I've only got one deck, and I'd like to do reversals, but for some reason, the book doesn't have any meanings (which I know are usually poor anyways), and the fact that it is the Celtic Dragon which has wands/air and swords/fire rather than the normal wands/fire and swords/air. Anyone got any ideas on where I should find some reversal meanings or how to figure them out on my own? Peace.


Keslynn  02 Dec 2002 
I don't know if it's true for Celtic Dragon, but I notice that the switch of fire and air really doesn't tend to alter the meanings of the cards that much. I think it only really affects it if you use elemental dignities. At any rate, all the same advice should apply to you and your deck. While Mary Greer's tarot reversals book does look specifically at the RWS deck, it also explores several different theories of reversals that might be applied to any deck. My theory of reversals (at my website and several other people's (for example: that a reversed card is blockage of the upright) work for any deck. Just search the boards under reversals.

:) Kes 

mehrdad  03 Dec 2002 
Very interesting discussion! I think the first method of interpreting the reverse meaning, as bad becoming worse is unfair. This is because in this method, the number of negative meanings reaches over 64%. The other method of interpretation in which the meaning becomes a weak straight card, also seems not fitting to the whole picture, for not integrating naturally into the tarot fabric.

I like the ideas that try to eliminate the reverse by selecting a particular spread. For example the ‘Cicero Cross’ or the ‘Thoth’ spread (15 cards) that determines a negative or positive energy by looking at the card next to it. However, these spreads take a lot of time and one needs to be an expert (which I am not) to understand them fully.

So some time ago I decided to interpret the reverse cards not as reverse cards but cards that are changing direction. Usually in a Celtic spread, left means something that is leaving or belongs to the past. Right means, something that is coming or belongs to the future. Up is what is visible (head, top) and down is what is not visible (too far past or known by unconscious.) So if I get a reverse knight for example, I look at the direction that faces are pointing to, also where in the spread the reverse appears, and then interpret the meaning accordingly.

A happy reverse card as the final result, might means that the result would be positive but not long lasting (looking to the left), Takes some time to accomplish (go right), Is quite reachable if stay in course (go up), happiness is there but cannot be seen, felt or reached following this course (go down). 

juice  03 Dec 2002 
Keslynn I love that idea and will work on it a bit I think. Mehrdad I've heard that one before but forgot where think it will work part of the time. I've added both your reversal method to my tarot journal.

A note on making great cards (sun) merely good and terrible cards (tower) merely unpleasant. I've never been comfortable with that approach. Maybe you could look for the obscure exception in the meaning. The sun can be not being able to see the beach for the glaring sand. The tower may be time to kick that habit of yours or get out of a bad but comfy job.

And a rare option. All cards have positive and negative aspectss as well as shades of grey. Get used to the Sun and 10 of cups having negative aspects while the Tower, Devil, and swords have positive ones. Then read upright as GOOD to enhance and reversed as BAD warnings. I find that a well shuffled deck has as many upright as reversed cards.

Reversals could be used as clue for you to think of the less common meanings you know but don't so often use.

I wonder if anyone has ever tried to reverse or alter the meaning of the position instead of the card.

Add those to shifting or rerouting blocked energy as described earlier or noted in links. Then add in things you are doing and shouldn't and things you aren't doing and should. Don't forget you can reverse the meaning of the usual interpretation, which is what many do and not quite what I said earlier. With all that I suspect reversals are going to be like courts. You get to use all the tools in the case. You may start the job with the screw driver. But, you might have to use the hammer and drill before you finish up with the exacto blade. 

The when do you know to reverse meanings? thread was originally posted on 10 Nov 2002 in the Using Tarot Cards board, and is now archived in the Forum Library. Read the threads in Using Tarot Cards, or read more archived threads.

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