Mental Disposition and Reading Tarot Card Reversals

From the Oswald Wirth Tarot.
From the Oswald Wirth Tarot.

Let’s talk about card reversals. No, not how to read card reversals. I mean why some practitioners read with card reversals and some do not. There’s the succinct answer of “to each his or her own; since we’re all different, we all approach tarot differently,” but I mean beyond that, why?

Some practitioners would feel remiss to not consider the energy of card reversals in a reading. For others, an upside down card image drives them mad and thus interferes with their intuitive abilities. You end up with a camp of tarot readers who read with reversals and a camp who does not, leaving beginners who are entering the tarot forum for the first time wondering what the heck they should do. When “just do what feels right to you” sounds too vague of an answer, let’s try to get down to some specifics.

So like reading with reversals vs. reading without reversals, we’ve got two camps of mental dispositions: the left-brained and the right-brained.

leftright

Left-brained folk prefer linear thinking and analysis. They tend to do well on a micro-level, great at reverse engineering, and have the patience to construct a building, brick by brick. Left-brained people are adept at strategic planning, logical analysis, and by nature seem to be programmed to process and compartmentalize data. These people horde details and then organize those details and then analyze those details according to a very specific, tangible analytic process. A left-brained person invented the Dewey Decimal System. Left-brained people wrote the Chicago Manual of Style. They are the ones who wrote that spiral-bound book law students refer affectionately to as the Bluebook. (And–law student joke–left-brained people are the law review editors who dock points off you for italicizing the comma, because according to the Bluebook, it is clear and unambiguous that the comma should not be italicized.)

Left-brained tarot readers are the ones who are going to feel remiss if they don’t read with card reversals. They can’t imagine ignoring the ill-dignified energy of a reversal and how that would affect the analysis. Left-brained tarot readers scrutinize the symbolism and are probably the ones who are going to go in-depth with their deconstruction of numerology, astrology, and elemental dignities.

Right-brained folk prefer intuitive thinking and emotional expression. They’re also very visual. They rely on their imagination and spatial awareness, and tend to be creative and artistic. Thus, an upside down image messes with that sensitivity to spatial awareness and hinders their imagination. Their imagination and their intuition are closely linked. One cannot seem to be extricated from the other. They want to understand, ascend, and transcend. As a result, they’re incredibly innovative. A right-brained person might be Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, or Picasso.

Right-brained tarot readers are not going to be as inclined to observe card reversals. Trusting their intuition and trusting that there is a greater purpose at play that can account for whatever method they are reading with, right-brained tarot readers are less likely to find card reversals helpful. The whole ill-dignified-energy notion is not going to feel relevant to them. They’re not scrutinizing the card symbol by symbol. They’re looking at it as a picture, a picture that will evoke a feeling, a sensation, which will in turn trigger their intuition and from there, the intuition will help them to weave a narrative.

While left-brained tarot readers might be more inclined to seek the answer within the four corners of the tarot card, right-brained tarot readers see the imagery on the card as just the beginning point. Since the card imagery is just a beginning point and the rest takes place in their imagination-intuition, reversals are more of a hindrance than an intuitive aid. Left-brained tarot readers, however, want as much data as possible to use in their linear analysis, and ignoring reversals would strike them as an abominable omission of information.

As it is with nature, very few people fall exclusively under one label or the other, and no advanced tarot practitioner reads tarot exclusively with one part of their brains. It’s always an integrative process. However, chances are one side is going to be more dominant, and that’s how you can assess what kind of tarot reader you will be, whether you read with card reversals or not.

Also, I have found for me that it can vary on a deck by deck basis. Some decks trigger the left-brained version of me and I read with reversals, like the original RWS and most RWS-based decks. Ditto with TdM. Other decks trigger the right brain for me and so I really like to go with the flow of my imagination when reading with those decks, and card image reversals do interrupt that flow. I don’t read with reversals for the Thoth, the Mary-el, or the Voyager.

Essentially, I would argue that both approaches lead to the same destination, so long as the practitioner has mastered the art of tarot. What I discourage in students is neglecting reversals simply because “it seems hard” and they “don’t want to learn another set of 78 card meanings.” That’s a very compelling reason to at least tackle reversals and give it a try. However, if after trying it you realize it isn’t compatible with your mental disposition, then to stick with reading reversals simply because you’re afraid you still have something to prove to other tarot practitioners, well in that case you’re just being silly.

It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters why you do it. You always have to be self-aware enough to know why. When it comes to tarot practice, and this concept is demonstrated in the reading reversals issue, it doesn’t matter what your approach is. It matters that you know why that approach is your approach. So. It’s not enough to just say “well everybody is different.” Yes, that’s true, but why are you different or not different? Know for yourself why you read or don’t read with card reversals because as minuscule and mundane of a point as that might seem, it exemplifies in a very large and profound way who you are.

7 thoughts on “Mental Disposition and Reading Tarot Card Reversals

  1. Hi Benebell. This is a great explanation of why some readers should use reversals and some shouldn’t. Thanks!
    I’ve always thought a beginning reader should look at a reversed card and ask if it conveys a meaning to them, say, in the first 3-4 seconds. (Using the “delay, deny, retreat” rule of reversals.) If it doesn’t, then turn the card right side up and read the cards.
    You make a good point about students who think they have to learn a whole new set of card meanings if they use reversals. Not so!
    May I use your blog in my Tarot class?
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the only reason for not using the reversed tarot was because I didn’t want anything negative in the reading as they can put quite a damper on things and make one feel extremely negative (ok me personally) especially if I wanted something positive or uplifting or perhaps I just wanted it to tell me what I wanted to hear and not what I needed to hear.

    Regardless I have come to the conclusion that I will only do upright cards as they contain both positive and negative aspects as I mentioned in the first post and like you said, Shagambo, I think if its meant to be placed in the reversed position I would feel that and it might reinforce the message the card is trying to convey or point out things which are lacking.

    I might have to re think this 🙂

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  3. I’ve been reading for 14 years without ever using reversals because to me it seems like all the “reversed” meanings are in the upright card anyway. Many times i interpret an upright card with a meaning traditionally attributed to the “reversed” position–but I just know which meaning it is. I can tell if it’s “reversed” without it actually reversing it. But maybe I should try using actual reversals just to see what it’s like. Couldn’t hurt to try 🙂 Thanks for giving me something to think about!

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    1. Card reversals can actually hold back and hinder some individuals’ intuition, whereas reading with reversals blows wide open many doors for others. It really goes back to your personal style for learning and how you best access your intuition. If you know what works with it, work with it! 🙂

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  4. For me, I always felt that reversed cards were unnecessarily arbitrary, as each card can be negative or positive (or whatever in-between) depending on the context. I see the cards less as “energies” and more as tropes or archetypes that are symbolic pointing to something of relevance for the person for whom the reading is for.

    I look at a spread as providing the framework to ascertain the overall context to interpret a card…which alone has a dualistic or multiple interpretation. Even a traditionally “happy card” signifying abundance (like the RWS 9 of pentacles) when in a position signifying a challenge or obstacle, can take on a whole meaning, such as being held back from necessary changes or personal growth because of material comforts (and the distractions they can afford).

    As such, I’ve never felt comfortable with reversed cards, even as a beginner…and not simply because it was a lot to learn (I’m an information sponge), but rather because the cards and various spread already contain everything one needs for a reading.

    Also, a reversed image is not processed in the same way neurologically (because you don’t get subconscious visual recognition) that you do with an upright image…forcing one to look at things analytically rather than intuitively.

    For me, that’s a huge hindrance to an accurate reading…and why, even though I’m super familiar with all the cards now, I still can’t bring myself to read with reversals.

    Oddly enough I use RWS and RWS-based decks…but this is still the case.

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  5. Hi Isabelle!

    Reversals resonate with me, and so maybe because of that, it doesn’t feel arbitrary to me. However, the whole concept of reading reversals is a personal matter and it boils down to how your brain and intuition work. What works for Jane isn’t necessarily going to work for Joe. Jane and Joe both need to find their own way.

    That being said, as a teacher I do instruct my students to try both ways and give both approaches an equal shot. You can’t say for certain you’re “one way” until you’ve experienced the “other way.” So whether the seasoned tarot pro reads with reversals or not, I would contend that the tarot beginner should be working extensively with both, and *then* at the intermediate level, make a conscious decision one way or the other.

    Bell

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