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About This Book
This book contains meanings for reversals based on many different theories and traditions. The intent is to give you a background in both "traditional" Tarot meanings and modern approaches to generating such meanings based on principles and analogies drawn from numbers, elements, and pictures. The interpretations are meant to stimulate your own intuitive ideas. As you try them out, note which approach works best for you. This will depend, in part, on your own world-view, style of reading, purpose in doing the reading, and kind of question asked.
If your intent is purely to tell fortunes and predict the future you may find the interpretations labeled "Traditional," with their specific referents, sufficient. There is little ambiguity here except in how the meanings relate to other cards, a skill that comes from observation, intuition, and experience. But if you are examining personal motivations, clarifying goals and desires, or seeking new options, then you will probably find the modern approaches to reversals more pertinent.
Traditional interpretations for reversals usually include illness. This makes sense because reversals suggest that an adjustment needs to be made, and stress is the body's response to adjustment and change. Doctors now believe that all illness originates in stress. The greater the stress reaction the more potential there is for harmful effects from it. Stress picks on the weakest link in the chain of the body. Reversals merely point to the major "weak links" at the moment. Dean Shrock acknowledges in Doctor's Orders: Go Fishing that "the most common approach to health care historically over time and across cultures, is shamanism." In shamanism, "sickness is thought to be a positive messenger that says you need to rebalance spiritually." 1
This book includes a shamanic and magical perspective for each reversal. Tarot is an excellent feedback mechanism for receiving the messages before imbalances can manifest either physically or in stressful actions and interactions. It can also pinpoint a source of energy imbalance that has already manifested so that you can work to free it from underlying patterns of criticism, anger, resentment, guilt, and fear.
References to health and illness in this book are in no way to be taken as medical prognostication. Do not predict illness or give medical advice in a reading, whether for yourself or others, unless you are qualified to do so. Advise all querents to see a qualified medical practitioner if they are concerned about their health.
All references appearing here to health and physical conditions are purely metaphoric. They indicate analogous psychic tendencies and thought patterns that may precipitate the kinds of stress that, when unrelieved over long periods of time, can result in illness. At no time is it suggested that a particular person has any physical condition mentioned herein. For instance a "brainstorm" can indicate a fresh idea, or the misfiring of neurons in the cerebral cortex. Metaphorically the term represents a continuum of possibility.
A Personal Story
I began this book with the intention of rectifying the "erroneous" idea that reversed cards represent an opposite, often negative aspect of the upright meaning of a card. While confronting and dealing with problems is essential, in my readings I emphasize clarifying goals and the conscious creation of what you want in your life. Problems, then, represent energy that is constrained and can be liberated. In doing so we access their hidden wisdom and potentials. What I did not fully realize, but should have, was that, like a dirty pipe when the water is first turned on, all kinds of stuff must come up before the line runs clear.
As with everyone who has written a Tarot book, taught or studied a card-a-week, or created a deck, you find uncanny synchronicities between your life and the cards. Frieda Harris worked on the Thoth deck during World War II. While painting the card named "Victory" (Six of Wands), there was a major Allied victory, and during the painting of "Defeat" (Five of Swords), there was a major Allied defeat. Harris felt that the cards and the events were connected, although common sense said it was absurd. And so, I too experienced each reversal in my own life.
The following are only a few personal examples of what happens when you enter the underworld of psyche or soul. Reversals are certainly not evil, but they sometimes represent adversity: the kind that teaches us what we are capable of, the kind that teaches us what really counts and what is truly important, the kind that tests our moral fiber and character. By struggling with reversals we learn to respond with integrity and a determination not to turn away from the teachings of each circumstance.
Before I mention some of the situations I encountered I want to note that I have been blessed in my life with almost no prior personal injuries or experience with family illness, and I nearly always meet my deadlines.
My first delays occurred when it took more than a month to get delivery on a new computer. I had the same tenant for three years, yet as I began writing, starting with the reversed Court Cards I went through four tenants in four months. Throughout the Swords I dealt with a crisis in an organization that involved alleged deception. The Ace of Pentacles Rx corresponded with a badly sprained ankle that occurred four days before a Tarot tour of Italy.2 With the Ten of Pentacles Rx the bank lost two checks that were intended to pay my house taxes.
As I wrote about the High Priestess Rx I was reading a biography of Christiana Morgan, whose paintings of her inner visions (begun under analysis with Carl Jung) became the basis of a four-year seminar taught by Jung. The biographer regularly described Morgan in terms of the High Priestess reversed,for instance, "as mirroring anima-as the beloved who reflected, completed and created the man. . . . The femme inspiratrice . . . [who] disappears beneath the role, while the man who loves his reflection feels he has the right to the reflector as part of his own imaginative property."3
Many of the books I read and classes and workshops I taught and attended dealt with subjects corresponding to the current card-again echoing word-for-word the material I was writing; for instance, when there was a discussion of "sacrifice" in a Jung seminar as I worked on the Hanged Man.
My divorce was finalized the day I started Death. The Tower corresponded with a friend's burst appendix. The hottest day all winter fell in January while I worked on the Sun card. As I began editing I fell and sprained my back so seriously that I was first bed-ridden and then could not function without a brace. Then came snowstorms, electricity outages, e-mail glitches, and, as I madly slashed and cut for the final edit of the manuscript, my stepdaughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I put everything temporarily aside. It is only through the understanding of Llewellyn acquisition editor Barbara Moore that I have been able to finish this work in my own time.
While immensely difficult, these stressful experiences have brought me face-to-face with material from the psyche, which I must face honestly and with all the clarity I can muster in order to do my own healing, and to bring about a "harmony of forces."4
I have had equally good experiences including the support of friends at a level I never have known before. I received my Reiki I and II training in time to use it as needed. And, midway through the book, I was honored by Barbara Rapp, organizer of the Los Angeles Tarot Symposium (LATS), with an award for my service to the field of Tarot. The award is a bronze sculpture by Eden Gray of the RWS Hanged Man. It is a magnificient piece, Gray's only Tarot sculpture, which Barbara purchased at the first International Tarot Congress in Chicago when Eden Gray was given her own award. Barbara had it in her home for three years but felt the time was right to pass it on, just as I was working on a book that to me is symbolized by that card. As the symposium began, I was asked to draw a card for everyone to represent the day-it was the Hanged Man.
A Note on the Interpretations
Contemporary or English card meanings are generally based on visual elements from Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) influenced decks and on concepts and keywords used in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck of 1909 was first to feature pictures on all seventy-eight cards, changing forevermore the state of Tarot art. Using other decks may significantly modify your interpretations, however, as the most popular English deck it has the strongest influence on modern interpretation.
Older, or what I call "Traditional," meanings are based on those originating in France with Etteilla in 1783 (see the history section of chapter 1) and modified by later writers who used either Etteilla- or Marseilles-style decks. Variations are found in modern Italian, Spanish, and French works. Some reversed interpretations seemarbitrary and may be completely independent of the upright meanings. In several cases the reversed and upright meanings have been exchanged when making the transition from traditional to contemporary meanings. Modern techniques favor modifications to the upright meaning rather than using unrelated concepts. Still, you can discern Etteilla's influence at the root of many of our contemporary English interpretations, and they may give you new insights into the cards.
Traditional interpretations are taken from the following authors whose books are listed in the bibliography:
Etteilla (ca. 1780s) as reproduced in Papus (1909)
MacGregor Mathers (1888)
Eudes Picard (1909)
Lo Scarabeo Publishers (contemporary)
Grand Orient/Waite (1889)
A. E. Waite (1910)
M. C. Poinsot/Anon (1939)
Alessandro Bellenghi (1985)
Maritxu Guler (1976)
Fournier Publishers (1992)
Docteur Marius (1975)
Grand Etteilla/B. P. Grimaud (1969)
Remember, the interpretations given in this book are only suggestions. Images on different decks, other cards in the spread, or personal intuitions and associations may suggest entirely new, and more appropriate, meanings.