A Perspective Upon Reversals Part 1

Tarot reversals don’t have a rigid consistency. They can increase, decrease, negate, or make the upright meaning its opposite. If you go by the book, it’s twice the memorization. But if you think of it this way: reversals add perspective, it might help. In the RWS minor arcana, we see characters in various situations. We can use these as visual clues to understand reversals by looking at the characters’ points of view. Where there is more than one character, we can look at their perspectives of each other. Where there is a single character, from the point of view of an outside observer. A simple one page graphic showing a few examples, and a full table for the 36 minors might make you think a little differently about reversals.

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The Five of Wands – A One Page Guide

The Five of Wands is a depiction of youthful competition and the battle of life. Waite’s divinatory meanings have a major difference in tone, though not of substance, versus the Golden Dawn’s; imitation fighting and strife vs. real. Saturn and the Sun in combination are the explanation for the difference in tone. There was a belief dating back to Mesopotamia that the planet Saturn was pre-cursor of the Sun. Saturn the “Sun-Star” may be a fragment of the story of the Golden Age. Saturn was the grandfather god who may have required child sacrifice; he presided over a (literally) darker planet, though the Earth provided such abundance that work was unnecessary. It is Saturn vs. the Sun, a past “imitation,” lesser Sun vs. today’s real, greater Sun. We have hopefully thrown light upon the RWS Five of Wands, but found nothing that challenges its accepted meanings in any way.

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The Devil Had a Makeover

Eliphas Lévi’s writings in 19th century France markedly changed the meaning of The Devil in Tarot. Lévi identified this major arcanum with Baphomet, the Sabbatic Goat-demon. Prior to Lévi, the Devil had hooves, but also had a human-like head. The now goat-headed demon was seen as the animalistic/bestial side of us. He could now be defeated by rationality. The new Devil was internalized: the sinner driving themself to sin out of their own stupidity or beastliness. Lévi was a particularly strong influence on A.E. Waite. In RWS and derivative decks, the Devil as Baphomet forms the basis of our view of this card as more about sexuality and biologically based urges (such as addiction) than about pure evil.Yet when we read this card as a type of “personal slavery” today, we must ask: is evil only a personal problem? The world is more evil today. If we recognize that in our society it is usually the case that more evil is done to common people than any amount that they do to others, then perhaps a better read, one that may help more querents in a better manner may be something along the lines of: “evil has been done to you. Evil has been done to many others and you are not alone. You can either give in or find help in healing yourself. And perhaps one day, you and I and the others will fight the Devil, together.”

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The Eight of Swords – A One Page Guide

What do Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pamela Colman Smith, Arthur Edward Waite, Castor and Pollux have in common with that silly Internet meme about “brothers by different mothers?” How about “twins by different fathers?” Colman Smith’s illustration for the Eight of Swords is an incredibly clever play upon Waite’s divinatory meaning; or quite possibly, it was the source for it. In either case, though Waite sees the Eight of Swords as a glass half empty, there is reason to think it’s half full. It all hinges on the origin story of Gemini, the differences between Waite and the Golden Dawn group’s view of the Eight of Swords, and the dual meanings of an obscure word: “trammel!” It is the positive side of Pollux’s sacrifice which showed extraordinary generosity that makes the glass half full: the ability to free oneself from one’s bindings, the power to survive sickness and calumny, the ability to weather bad news.

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The Four of Cups – A One Page Guide

The Four of Cups is noteworthy in the far-greater-than-usual distance between Waite and the Golden Dawn group. And that is to say nothing as to how far away from the qualities of Chesed, the qabalistic influence; clearly it is the widest departure from the Sephirot we’ve seen so far. Waite seems to have gone rogue! He seems to focus on the Moon, which rules the decan and is the planetary association for Cancer, the Zodiac sign for the decan. The Moon’s light is reflected and illusory; it is the opposite of “real” light, direct from the Sun. Waite, in his description for this card, says things seen in this illusory light appear as a “fairy gift.” We might describe the young man’s attitude is such that anything less then “the real thing” is unsatisfactory. There is a sense of profound alienation. It appears to me that Waite is setting up a contrast between the young man and the High Priestess, the major arcanum associated with the Moon. If you do not have the secrets, mystery and sacred law, you are just an empty vessel to whom spirituality is like an illusion of an empty cup. I would suggest that a modern interpretation is that it signifies alienation from the materialistic world. But it doesn’t suggest the antidote—going out into the spiritual sunlight—but I don’t think Waite meant it to. Frankly I prefer the “enjoy it while you can” message of the Golden Dawn group for this card, for that is something that we can do in the companionship of real world friends and family.

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The Six of Swords – A One Page Guide

It is no doubt a startlingly long leap from Charon, the ferryman of Hades who’ll leave your spirit wandering on the shore of the river Styx for one hundred years if you don’t have the penny for his fare, to a positive affirmation of life and continuity that foresees safe journey through the person of your child. It is odder still, in my opinion, to see A.E. Waite, in the Six of Swords, not only make that leap but also get away with it! We shall see that an unusual word—commissionary, a Christian qabalistic take on Tiphareth, and perhaps a bit of “soloing” by Colman Smith while Waite wasn’t looking are the clues by which we arrive at this serrendipity for what otherwise might be a dreary card.

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The Three of Pentacles – A One Page Guide

I had previously looked at the Three of Pentacles as a fairly prosaic card… just a day at work. Ho hum. But it’s actually about the nobility of creation and creativity. The card is at once obvious and subtle. Why does Waite specify that the workplace is a monastery? After all, the monastery’s functions include far more than just work. And why does Waite specifically say that the worker of the Three of Pentacles is the same person who we see in the Eight of Pentacles? There’s a trail we can follow via the major arcana associated with the planetary influence (the World): a reference to Genesis, no less! The answer is that the Three of Pentacles is not just about work… it’s about ennobled work. If we put aside Waite’s mystical Christianity, and think about his message in terms of today, we might see that when this card is drawn by a querent with questions about their job, for example, perhaps it is to suggest that one should consider whether that job is spiritually rewarding. This is a card that says “Quit the stock brokership, move to Hooterville and grow vegetables!”

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