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LEARNING TAROT REVERSALS
By Joan Bunning
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2003 Joan Bunning
All rights reserved.
LESSON ONE: ENERGY AND THE TAROT
Imagine a finished jigsaw puzzle. Looked at one way, it's a single object presenting a whole picture. Looked at another way, it's a collection of many objects—the pieces of the puzzle. The puzzle is one and many at the same time.
Now, imagine the pieces moving and changing. The overall dimension of the puzzle stays the same, but the picture doesn't. It's recreated anew in every moment. Our universe is like this puzzle. It is a single entity, but made up of countless changing "pieces." I call these pieces energies.
An energy is anything that can be named or identified. Energies enjoy a temporary existence in a certain form. They are born, live for a time, and die, all the while contributing to the eternal flow—the animating Spirit that sustains all energies.
All living beings are energies, as are all inanimate objects. Qualities or states of being are also energies—the energy of love or despair can be a palpable force with a life of its own.
Energies often coalesce into groups to form larger energies. Each of us is such a group. Our bodies are made up of cells and organs; our personalities are traits and tendencies; our moods reflect thoughts, feelings, and desires. A person is a veritable energy vortex! Every minute of the day, energies of all kinds are flowing in, around, and through us. Some are mild, some strong. Some are new, some old. Some are welcome, some not so welcome. How does this energy flow relate to the tarot?
Every card in the tarot deck represents a certain energy. A card's energy is not its energy as a physical object, but the larger archetypal energy it symbolizes. A card's energy is its meaning, but with an added sense of movement and change.
A reading you do for yourself is a snapshot of your personal energy configuration at that moment. The cards you pick are the energies that best reflect your situation at that time.
Just as a snapshot stops the action of a real scene, a reading freezes the flow of your life. But life goes on after a photo is taken, and so do the energies reflected in a reading. Two readings done one after the other rarely contain the exact same cards. The energy pattern changes, even in that short time.
In fact, you impact the energies in and around you simply by doing a reading! You alter the flow of events by examining them. This is why working with the cards is so powerful. A reading helps you become aware of the key energies at play in your life so you can work with them creatively. In the next lesson, we'll begin looking in detail at the nature of energy flow and its expression in the tarot.
Exercise 1.1: Feeling Energies in the Environment
Set aside a stretch of open time during which you imagine everything in your environment as a living energy with awareness. Try to feel the presence of whatever you interact with. See the two of you as equals encountering each other for a shared purpose. Don't analyze your experience at the time. Just go about your life as if this way of being is completely natural. Later, think about these questions:
How did I feel during this exercise?
Did this way of being change my interactions? How?
Were some energies easier to feel than others?
Did I notice any answering responses?
Exercise 1.2: Feeling Card Energies
Choose a card from your deck and look at it for a while. Keep part of your awareness on the card and part near the center of your chest, your heart area. This will help you "feel" rather than "think." If thoughts occur, gently set them aside and return to your meditation.
After a time, allow words to bubble up that capture the card's energy for you. Don't reach for words, just let them come. The words you receive will be unique to you. Repeat this exercise on other days. Some words will repeat, others will be new. Card energies adapt to changes in you and your environment.
Exercise 1.3: On What Do I Spend My Energy?
In his excellent book The Teachings of Don Carlos (Bear & Co., 1995), Victor Sanchez talks about the body as a field of energy. He suggests a number of techniques to enhance our energy bodies. One is making an inventory of energy expenditures. Here is an abbreviated version of this exercise:
1. Divide a notebook page into three columns with these headings:
What was I thinking?
What was I doing?
Is this what I want to do?
2. Set a portable alarm or watch to go off every thirty minutes. Don't set it for the hour or half-hour, as you don't want to anticipate the alarm.
3. For one day, whenever the alarm goes off, answer the above three questions in regard to that moment, writing your responses in your notebook. Don't analyze. Just make a short notation, right away, in the moment.
4. At the end of the day, review your comments, looking for recurring elements and patterns. Note the relationship between your thoughts and actions. How often were you doing what you really wanted to do?
5. Continue this exercise for a week or even a month. At the end of each longer period, do #4 again, covering that greater stretch of time.
6. The goal is observation of yourself, so answer honestly. You want to know what energies are truly active in your life—and they're not necessarily the energies you think!
LESSON TWO: THE ENERGY CYCLE AND ORIENTATION
Take a moment to become aware of your breathing. Feel how your chest expands as you inhale deeply. You fill your lungs, pause for a moment, and then exhale. Your chest slowly contracts as you breathe out.
This is the pulse of life. It's how energies flow within ourselves and our world. A wave builds, peaks, and crashes to the shore. Anger flares up and dies down. Civilizations rise and fall. Figure 1 (below) shows this universal energy cycle—how an energy starts low, builds to a peak, and then fades over time.
When you do a reading, the cards you draw represent energies important to you at that moment. Each one is at a certain point in its individual cycle. One may be strong, another weak. One may be on the rise, another fading. To understand the reading, you need to know the status of each energy—where it is in its cycle.
The orientation of a card gives you this information. Orientation is the direction a card faces on the reading surface (or as you hold it). A card can be upright (normal view) or reversed (upside-down). Usually orientation is obvious, but not always. Sometimes cards are slanted or horizontal in a reading. You need to decide ahead of time how you will interpret these cards for orientation.
Figure 2 (below) shows the energy curve with a horizontal line dividing it in half. The section above the line covers the period when an energy is strong—at or near its peak. The section below the line covers those periods when an energy is weak—either just beginning (left) or ending (right).
We can now relate card orientation to energy in this way: An upright card represents an energy in the part of its cycle above the line. A reversed card represents an energy in the part of its cycle below the line.
Upright cards stand for energies that are strong and well developed. They have a clear, active presence. You recognize their impact in the situation. Reversed cards stand for energies that are absent, weak, or undeveloped. They are not clear and obvious. You can't easily recognize their presence for the moment.
For example, an upright World would imply happiness is strongly present. You feel pleased with life and quite fulfilled. A reversed World suggests a lower level or unrealized happiness—for now.
An energy does not become its opposite when reversed. A card's essential nature stays the same no matter what its orientation. A reversed World does not show active unhappiness (the opposite of happiness). It shows the energy of happiness is low—a subtle difference! True unhappiness has its own active energy and might appear in a reading as a card such as the Nine of Swords.
Imagine the energy curve as an island viewed from the side (see illustration, above). The horizontal line is the surface of the water. Above the surface is the part of the island we can see; below the surface is the part we can't see. Although this part is hidden, it's still present.
Sometimes a reversed card represents an energy that is hidden, rejected, or ignored. It's not available because it hasn't yet "come to the surface." An upright Devil might show an obsession you acknowledge; a reversed Devil, one you deny. A denied obsession is unconscious, but very real.
A reversed energy can also be at a low level because it's new and tentative—in the early part of its cycle—or because its almost gone—approaching the end of its cycle. In both cases the energy is weak, but for quite different reasons. In the next lesson, we'll take a detailed look at these phases to see what they can tell us about the energies in our lives.
Exercise 2.1: Noticing Energy Cycles
Become aware of energy cycles in your experience. Notice when one first appears. It may be a feeling, thought, person, or event. Follow the energy as it develops over time. Watch it gain and lose power as it goes through its cycle.
See if you can detect when an energy is peaking. At a group event, you can sometimes feel the exact moment when the group's energy has reached its crowning moment. As always, avoid intellectual analysis. Concentrate on how an energy feels as you experience it.
Exercise 2.2: Is the Energy Present or Lacking?
For each item below, say whether the specified energy is actively present or lacking based on the accompanying statement. Also give the orientation that would best match that energy status. (See Suggestions for Exercises on page 159 for possible responses.)
Example: Energy = Relationship
"I haven't been in a relationship for two years."
Response: Relationship is lacking = reversed
1. Energy = Fitness "I'm in the best shape ever right now."
2. Energy = Depression "I'm depressed all the time these days."
3. Energy = Compassion "I don't feel sorry for him; he knew what he was doing."
4. Energy = Greed "I don't want much, just what's fair."
5. Energy = Pride "I'm clearly the best candidate; the others don't have a chance."
6. Energy = Attraction "There isn't much of a spark between us."
7. Energy = Sorrow "I'm not sad about what happened; it had to be."
8. Energy = Devotion "I'd do anything to help my daughter get well."
9. Energy = Creativity "I haven't come up with a new idea in months."
10. Energy = Denial "I'm not denying involvement."
Exercise 2.3: Lacking vs. Opposing Energies
For each item below, say which of the two statements shows a lacking energy (absent or weak), and which shows an opposing energy, and name the opposing energy. (See Suggestions for Exercises on pages 159–160 for possible responses.)
Example: Energy = Love
#1 = "I absolutely can't stand that man."
#2 = "My love for him is almost gone."
Response: #1 = Opposing (hating)
#2 = Lacking (not in love)
1. Energy = Enthusiasm
#1—"I'm not too enthusiastic about the idea."
#2—"I reject the idea."
2. Energy = Self-reliance
#1—"I depend on my family for everything these days."
#2—"I'm not as independent as I'd like to be."
3. Energy = Honesty
#1—"I didn't say exactly what I was thinking."
4. Energy = Practicality
#1—"That plan is not workable yet."
#2—"That plan is completely crazy."
5. Energy = Humor
#1—"That story didn't get any laughs."
#2—"That story made me cry."
6. Energy = Achievement
#2—"I'm no longer doing very well."
7. Energy = Sacrifice
#1—"I'm going to take that position for myself."
#2—"I'm not ready to give up my position."
8. Energy = Running Away
#1—"I won't go until you're feeling better."
#2—"I'll stay with you forever."
9. Energy = Weariness
#1—"I'm full of vitality."
#2—"I'm not so tired after that good night's sleep."
10. Energy = Imagination
#1—"The orders spell out exactly what to do."
#2—"The orders don't leave much room for creativity."
LESSON THREE: ENERGY PHASES
In the last lesson, you learned about energy cycles and orientation. Figure 3 (below) shows how a cycle is made up of three distinct phases—early, middle, and late.
Each phase has its own unique character:
Early-phase energy is just beginning. It's not yet developed, but it's growing. It's moving toward full expression in the future.
Middle-phase energy is strong and developed. It's clear, immediate, and obvious in the present.
Late-phase energy is on the decline. It's losing power and clarity. The energy's full expression is in the past.
An upright card represents an energy in the strong, middle phase of its cycle (above the line). Interpreting upright cards is fairly straightforward because there's only one possible phase. The energy is well-developed, active, and near full strength.
A reversed card is not so easy to identify because its weak energy can be in either of two phases: early or late (below the line). You can tell which one by looking at how the card fits into the overall situation.
The best clue comes from an awareness of timing. A reversed card is in the early phase if you haven't really experienced its energy as yet. It may be new, or tied to some upcoming event. A reversed Five of Swords is in the early phase if you know you're heading into some contest or battle.
A reversed card is late phase if you've already experienced its energy. It's been active in the situation in a way you can easily recognize, but it is now past. A reversed Five of Swords is in the late phase if you've gone through some battle that is now winding down.
You can also identify phase by sensing the "feel" of an energy. Is it growing or fading? A growing energy is developing, expanding, or moving toward you. You sense it's going to get stronger and more noticeable. A fading energy is contracting or moving away. It's getting weaker and less noticeable.
The reversed Knight of Wands can represent a low level of passion. The passion is early phase if you feel it's going to get stronger and more compelling. It's late phase if it's lost most of its drive and power.
Sometimes a reversed card shows an energy that's absent. Its level is so low that, to all intents and purposes, it doesn't exist. But, appearances can be deceiving! If a card appears in a reading, you can assume its energy is playing some kind of role. The energy may be so new, you can't perceive it yet. It may only seem absent because you're unconscious of it, but it's still having an impact.
Let's look at how you might interpret one reversed card's energy. I'll use the Five of Pentacles as an example. The keyword meanings for this card are Hard Times, Ill Health, and Rejection.
If the Five of Pentacles is upright, you know its energy is in the middle phase of its cycle. It's strong and developed. You might be in debt, out of a job, sick, or suffering a rejection. These are all obvious instances of the energy of hard times in the present.
If reversed, the Five of Pentacles energy is either absent, weak, or undeveloped. If no hardship comes to mind, it may indeed be absent for the moment, but you should still be on the alert! You may be getting sick, but don't know it because there are no symptoms. You may think you're unconcerned about money, but an unconscious fear of poverty is affecting you nonetheless.
If you can identify a hardship, but it's not yet strong or active, the energy's in the early phase. Perhaps you've heard rumors of layoffs, but no one has yet been let go. Maybe you've had some minor chest pains, but you've been ignoring them.
If you've already experienced a hardship, the energy is in the late phase. It's passed through your life. If you were laid off, that would be a major difficulty that's now behind you. If you've been having serious money problems, you can guess they're now going away.
Knowing an energy's phase can help you deal with the energy effectively. You can anticipate what to expect knowing where the energy is in its cycle.
In the next lesson, we'll see how energy cycles tend to repeat themselves.
Exercise 3.1: Which Phase?
Decide whether the energy of each event below is in the early, middle, or late phase of its cycle, and say why. Also give the orientation that matches that phase. (See Suggestions for Exercises on page 161 for possible responses.)
Example: Event = Arriving at a party
Response: Early phase = reversed
Your experience of the party is just beginning.
1. Handing in a finished test
2. Watching the opening scene of a movie
3. Saying goodbye to a friend
4. Giving a talk you've been preparing for months
5. Seeing your child off on the first day of school
6. Reaching the top of a mountain you've been climbing
7. Returning from a week's vacation
8. Preparing the soil of your garden in early spring
9. Being served the main course of a meal
10. Saying your vows at your marriage ceremony
Exercise 3.2: Growing or Fading Energy?
For each item below, decide whether the given energy is growing or fading based on the accompanying statement. Find a tarot card to represent that energy. You can use the keyword lists and card description pages for guidance. (See Suggestions for Exercises on pages 161–162 for possible responses.)
Excerpted from LEARNING TAROT REVERSALS by Joan Bunning. Copyright © 2003 Joan Bunning. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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