A Perspective Upon Reversals Part 1

This post expands upon the illustrations in the accompanying PDF (link below; note also that the PDF will probably be much easier to read then the bitmap graphic shown in your browser when you view this page). We’ll just briefly recapitulate the content here for the benefit of the web indexers. If you’ve come to this page to see the long text table with the gory details, feel free to scroll to the next section.

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. The Tarosophy Tarot Association has a nice article that provides an overview. In any case, many tarot readers avoid reading reversed cards entirely.

But reversals add perspective.

  • Take the Six of Pentacles. We see the rich guy giving coins to two beggars. Upright, Waite’s divinatory meaning is presents and gifts. Reversed, it’s desire and envy. It’s obvious that we’re seeing it from the rich man’s point of view upright, and from the beggars’ point of view, reversed.
  • How about the Seven of Wands, the guy with the staves on top of the hill? Upright, valor, vantage position. Reversed, perplexity, anxiety. Upright, it’s the situation from the defender’s point of view; a strong position. Reversed, the perspective of the attacking side: not an easy hill to take.
  • The Three of Wands is fun: the rich merchant looks at his ships. Upright, the meaning is effort and enterprise. Reversed, the end of troubles. We can understand that as upright, the ships are going out, starting their voyage. Reversed, coming in, bearing profitable cargo… it’s sort of the objects’ perspective rather than the character’s!

As you can see, 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 look at their perspectives of each other. Where there is a single character, from the point of view of an outside observer.

A Perspective Upon Reversals Part 1 2019-12-06

Can three examples be representative of three dozen? You’ll have to judge by the table below, for now. A small amount of text and graphics—like the accompanying page—is probably the best way to present concepts like these. I won’t promise, but I may illustrate the other cards similarly; perhaps a page for the Twos, another for the Threes, etc. I’m not sure if I should “lump” them under the “One Page Guide” tag or keep them separate; we’ll have to see if I do the entire thirty six or not.

For those who will no doubt ask if the same “perspective” analysis can be done with the majors: I doubt it. They carry so much history and “baggage.” And they’re more abstract than the minor arcana. The symbols are more important than the characters there.

The Upside Down World

The table consists of four columns:

  • Column one consists of the card name, its planetary ruler and sign, and its esoteric title. Though Waite doesn’t reference the latter components, given that the Golden Dawn group’s influence upon his divinatory meanings is so important, I find it helpful to include this information. (Note: if I have already done a one-page-guide, there will be a link in the card name).
  • Column two indicates whether the phrases and descriptions to its right pertain to upright or reversed.
  • Column three contains quotes directly cut and pasted from Waite’s The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. These are separated into rows, generally in accordance with Wait’s punctuation. I read a semi-colon or period in the original as a delimiter. If I have taken part of a phrase from a longer sentence, that is also separated.
  • IsleVue Tarot-Zodiac-Element-Sephiroth Wheel of the Golden Dawn

    Column four is my comment upon whose (or what’s) “perspective” the meanings take on. I’m sure that there will be quite a few changes, as this is very much a preliminary “draft” post. There may be cases in which you disagree with my interpretation but not the perspectives; or vice versa. In any case, this column should at a minimum communicate the “theory.” I am very open to suggestion, and expect this table to be updated extensively. Feel free to leave comments. I do not see this table as authoritative in any way, if only because reading a card is an individual effort. Although I give a very great deal of weight to the deck designers’ points-of-view, I know that isn’t the case for everyone. You will note also that the order of the table is decan order, starting with Aries. If you’re familiar with the tarot wheel, it may be a little easier to locate a particular card; or do a text search.

Card

Orientation

Phrase

Note

Two of Wands
Mars in Aries
Dominion

Upright

riches, fortune, magnificence

"riches… suffering"–the perspective of the "emperor” looking upon his subjects, as influenced by the (probably imagined) melancholia of Alexander the Great

physical suffering, disease, chagrin, sadness, mortification

like the malady, the mortification, the sadness of Alexander amidst the grandeur of this world’s wealth

Reversed

surprise, wonder, enchantment, emotion, trouble, fear

"surprise… fear"–the perspective of the world looking back at its conquering emperor!

Three of Wands
Sun in Aries
Established Strength

Upright

established strength, enterprise, effort, trade, commerce, discovery

"trade,commerce"–the "perspective” of the boats, heading out at the start of the venture

able co-operation inbusiness

Reversed

the end of troubles, suspension or cessation of adversity, toil and disappointment

"end of troubles"–the boats arrive back home laden with profitable cargo

Four of Wands
Venus in Aries
Perfected Work

Upright

country life, haven of refuge, a species of domestic harvest-home, repose, concord, harmony, prosperity, peace, and the perfected work of these

"country life"–the perspective of outsiders looking at the happy townsfolk

country life, haven of refuge, a species of domestic harvest-home, repose, concord, harmony, prosperity, peace, and the perfected work of these

Reversed

prosperity, increase, felicity, beauty, embellishment

"prosperity"–the same as upright, although, it could be the perspective of the townsfolk who may benefit from the presence of outsiders

prosperity, increase, felicity, beauty, embellishment

Five of Pentacles
Mercury in Taurus
Material Trouble

Upright

material trouble above all, whether in the form illustrated–that is, destitution–or otherwise

"material trouble… love"–the self-facing-perspective of the poor couple, who, at least, take joy in having each other. Possibly in contrast to Alexander the Great’s complaint.

love and lovers–wife, husband, friend, mistress

concordance, affinities

Reversed

disorder, chaos, ruin, discord, profligacy

"chaos, ruin"–the perspective of onlookers who see the beggers, as in "there but for the grace of god go I”

Six of Pentacles
Moon in Taurus
Material Success

Upright

presents, gifts, gratification

"presents, gifts"–the perspective of the rich man giving charity to the beggars

attention, vigilance, now is the accepted time, present prosperity, etc

Reversed

desire, cupidity, envy, jealousy, illusion

"desire… envy"–the perspective of the beggars seeing the wealth of the rich man

Seven of Pentacles
Saturn in Taurus
Success Unfulfilled

Upright

money, business, barter

"money… altercation"–the perspective of the failing farmer, worried about how he will pay his creditors. Possibly the "ingenuity” refers to the traditional facility of the indebted to avoid the money lender.

altercation, quarrels

innocence, ingenuity, purgation

Reversed

cause for anxiety regarding money which it may be proposed to lend

"anxiety regarding (lent) money"–the perspective of the creditors, who would not be repaid if the crop fails

Eight of Swords
Jupiter in Gemini
Shortened Force

Upright

bad news, violent chagrin, crisis, censure, power in trammels, conflict, calumny

"bad news… crisis"–the perspective of the hoodwinked person who is tied up in this problem

sickness

Reversed

disquiet, difficulty, opposition, accident, treachery

"disquiet… treachery"–the self-facing perspective of the other side, who have hoodwinked her

what is unforeseen

fatality

Nine of Swords
Mars in Gemini
Despair and Cruelty

Upright

death, failure, miscarriage, delay, deception, disappointment, despair

"miscarriage… deception"–in my view, Waite’s perspective of original sin, for which he appears to wholly blame Eve

Reversed

imprisonment, suspicion, doubt, reasonable fear, shame

"fear, shame"–Eve’s (as imagined by Waite) perspective of the same

Ten of Swords
Sun in Gemini
Ruin

Upright

whatsoever is intimated by the design (a body pierced by ten swords)

"the design"–the perspective of the shish-kebab-ee.

pain, affliction, tears, sadness, desolation

not especially a card of violent death

Reversed

advantage, profit, success, favor, but none of these are permanent

"power and authority"–the perspective of the killers of the body on the ground

power and authority

Two of Cups
Venus in Cancer
Love

Upright

love, passion, friendship, affinity, union, concord, sympathy, the interrelation of the sexes

"love… concord"–the perspective of the "innocent” couple

that desire which is not in Nature, but by which Nature is sanctified.

Reversed

passion

"passion"–the perspective of someone not so innocent upon seeing the "innocent” couple

Three of Cups
Mercury in Cancer
Abundance

Upright

the conclusion of any matter in plenty, perfection and merriment

"conclusion… plenty"–a focus upon the thing being celebrated; the cornucopia, for example

happy issue, victory, fulfilment, solace, healing

Reversed

expedition, dispatch, achievement, end

"end… enjoyment"–a focus upon the celebration

the side of excess in physical enjoyment, and the pleasures of the senses

Four of Cups
Moon in Cancer
Blended Pleasure

Upright

weariness, disgust, aversion, imaginary vexations, as if the wine of this world had caused satiety only

"disgust… aversion"–a backwards-in-time perspective upon what was already had, such as the cups upon the ground

no consolation

blended pleasure

Reversed

novelty, presage, new instruction, new relations

"novelty, presage"–a forward-in-time perspective on what more can be had and enjoyed

Five of Wands
Saturn in Leo
Strife

Upright

imitation, as, for example, sham fight

"imitation" light from the planet Saturn, which some thought was the "Sun Star" in the Golden Age: the perspective from Earth

the strenuous competition and struggle of the search after riches and fortune

the battle of life

gold, gain, opulence

Reversed

litigation, disputes, trickery, contradiction

"Litigation"–etymological source "litem agere" to move to law… the perspective from space, seeing Saturn’s physical movement

Six of Wands
Jupiter in Leo
Victory

Upright

a victor triumphing

"great news"–the perspective of the messenger bearing the king’s message

great news, such as might be carried in state by the King’s courier

expectation crowned with its own desire, the crown of hope

Reversed

apprehension, fear, as of a victorious enemy at the gate

"apprehension"–perspective of the civilian population that sees a messenger/conqueror entering the city walls. “Messenger” vs. “conqueror” is possibly influenced by Waite’s nationalistic view of the British empire.

treachery, disloyalty, as of gates being opened to the enemy

indefinite delay

Seven of Wands
Mars in Leo
Valour

Upright

valor, for, on the surface, six are attacking one, who has, however, the vantage position

"valor"–the defender’s perspective looking down at the attackers

discussion, wordy strife

in business–negotiations, war of trade, barter, competition

success, for the combatant is on the top and his enemies may be unable to reach him

Reversed

perplexity, embarrassments, anxiety

"perplexity"–the view of the attackers trying to "take the hill,” having realized they face a greater challenge than they thought

a caution against indecision

Eight of Pentacles
Sun in Virgo
Prudence

Upright

work, employment, commission, craftsmanship, skill in craft and business, perhaps in the preparatory stage

"work"–the perspective of the buyer or employer who has hired the young apprentice

Reversed

voided ambition, vanity, cupidity, exaction, usury

"vanity"–the apprientice’s view of the one who buys the finished "trophies"

the possession of skill, in the sense of the ingenious mind turned to cunning and intrigue

Nine of Pentacles
Venus in Virgo
Material Gain

Upright

prudence, safety, success, accomplishment, certitude, discernment

"prudence"–the woman’s perspective: how she appears to herself, having accumulated wealth

Reversed

roguery, deception, voided project, bad faith

"voided project"–such an independent woman was not acceptable in Waite’s times; this is society’s perspective of her… the "voided project” is lack of family

Ten of Pentacles
Mercury in Virgo
Wealth

Upright

gain, riches

"Gain"–the old man’s perspective of his accumulated wealth

family matters, archives, extraction, the abode of a family

Reversed

chance, fatality, loss, robbery, games of hazard

"chance"–the perspective of the little boy encountering the dogs, or also, a different perspective upon the old man’s wealth

gift, dowry, pension

Two of Swords
Moon in Libra
Peace Restored

Upright

conformity and the equipoise which it suggests, courage, friendship, concord in a state of arms

"conformity/equipoise"–the meditating woman’s balanced state of mind gives her a balanced perspective

tenderness, affection, intimacy

Reversed

imposture, falsehood, duplicity, disloyalty

"imposture" self-perspective of the one who has hoodwinked her

Three of Swords
Saturn in Libra
Sorrow

Upright

removal, absence, delay, division, rupture, dispersion

"removal"–the perspective of the beloved, who is in the process of leaving

all that the design (pierced heart) signifies naturally, being too simple and obvious

Reversed

mental alienation, error, loss, distraction, disorder, confusion

"alienation" the perspective of the lover, abandoned

Four of Swords
Jupiter in Libra
Rest from Strife

Upright

vigilance, retreat, solitude, hermit’s repose, exile, tomb and coffin

"vigilance"–the perspective of the knight before battle

Reversed

wise administration, circumspection, economy, avarice, precaution, testament

"administration" the world’s perspective of the soldier’s every day duties on behalf of the crown

Five of Cups
Mars in Scorpio
Loss in Pleasure

Upright

loss, but something remains over

"inheritance" the disappointed heir’s perspective of the inadequate legacy

three have been taken, but two are left

inheritance, patrimony, transmission, but not corresponding to expectations;

marriage, but not without bitterness or frustration

Reversed

news, alliances, affinity, consanguinity, ancestry, return, false projects

"News" the perspective of the executor of the will who notified the disappointed legatee

Six of Cups
Sun in Scorpio
Pleasure

Upright

a card of the past and of memories, looking back, as–for example–on childhood

"past… memories"–the goddess in fall looks back at spring

happiness, enjoyment, but coming rather from the past

things that have vanished

new relations, new knowledge, new environment

disporting in an unfamiliar precinct

Reversed

the future, renewal, that which will come to pass presently

"future, renewal"–the goddess in spring looks forward to the new harvest

Seven of Cups
Venus in Scorpio
Illusionary Success

Upright

fairy favors, images of reflection, sentiment, imagination, things seen in the glass of contemplation

"fairy favors"–the dreamer’s perspective on their dreams

some attainment in these degrees, but nothing permanent or substantial is suggested

Reversed

desire, will, determination, project

"desire"–the real world’s perspective of the dreamer of those dreams

Eight of Wands
Mercury in Saggitarius
Swiftness

Upright

activity in undertakings, the path of such activity, swiftness, as that of an express messenger

"activity… undertakings"–the "target’s" perspective of its movement

great haste, great hope, speed towards an end which promises assured felicity

that which is on the move

the arrows of love

Reversed

arrows of jealousy, internal dispute, stingings of conscience, quarrels

"arrows of jealousy"–the "archer’s” perspective

domestic disputes for persons who are married.

Nine of Wands
Moon in Saggitarius
Great Strength

Upright

strength in opposition

"strength in opposition"–the soldier’s perspective of himself

if attacked, the person will meet an onslaught boldly

he may prove a formidable antagonist

delay, suspension, adjournment

Reversed

obstacles, adversity, calamity

"obstacles"–the defender’s perspective of the threats he faces

Ten of Wands
Saturn in Saggitarius
Oppression

Upright

oppression

"oppressed"–the laborer’s perspective of his social position

fortune, gain, any kind of success

the oppression of fortune, gain, any kind of success

false-seeming, disguise, perfidy

the place which the figure is approaching may suffer from the rods that he carries

success is stultified if the Nine of Swords follows

if it is a question of a lawsuit, there will be certain loss

Reversed

contrarieties, difficulties, intrigues, and their analogies

"contrarieties" the land owner’s perspective of the laborer

Two of Pentacles
Jupiter in Capricorn
Harmonious Change

Upright

gaiety, recreation and its connections

"gaiety"–the jongleur as seen by his audience

news and messages in writing, as obstacles, agitation, trouble, embroilment

Reversed

enforced gaiety, simulated enjoyment, literal sense, handwriting, composition, letters of exchange

"enforced gaiety"–the jongleur’s perspective of himself

Three of Pentacles
Mars in Capricorn
Material Works

Upright

métier, trade, skilled labor

"Métier"–the stone mason’s perspective, i.e., he is good at his profession

nobility, aristocracy, renown, glory

Reversed

mediocrity, in work and otherwise, puerility, pettiness, weakness

"mediocrity"–the perspective of the same stone mason in the past, when he was an apprentice (as referred to by Waite in his mention of the Eight)

Four of Pentacles
Sun in Capricorn
Earthly Power

Upright

the surety of possessions, cleaving to that which one has, gift, legacy, inheritance

"surety" – the perspective of the King, clutching his wealth

Reversed

suspense, delay, opposition

"suspense"–the perspective of the would be inheritors that would like that wealth, awaiting the King’s death

Five of Swords
Venus in Aquarius
Defeat

Upright

degradation, destruction, revocation, infamy, dishonor, loss

"degradation"–the victor’s perspective of the losers

Reversed

degradation, destruction, revocation, infamy, dishonour, loss

"same… burial"–the losers perspective of their utter defeat

burial and obsequies

Six of Swords
Mercury in Aquarius
Earned Success

Upright

journey by water, route, way, envoy, commissionary, expedient

"journey by water"–the passengers’ view

Reversed

declaration, confession, publicity

"declaration" – a perspective of the judgment awaiting at the end of the ferry ride (as in the case of Charon’s ferry in the underworld)

a proposal of love.

Seven of Swords
Moon in Aquarius
Unstable Effort

Upright

design, attempt, wish, hope, confidence

"design… that may fail"–the planner’s perspective of the mission (though I suspect Colman Smith was more optimistic!)

quarrelling, a plan that may fail, annoyance

Reversed

good advice, counsel, instruction, slander, babbling

"good advice" the perspective of those who would advise him not to as regards to that plan

Eight of Cups
Saturn in Pisces
Abandoned Success

Upright

deserting the cups of… felicity, enterprise, undertaking or previous concern

"deserting… felicity" – the perspective of man at the crossroads, the beginning of his journey

giving joy, mildness, timidity, honor, modesty

the decline of a matter, or that a matter which has been thought to be important is really of slight consequence–either for good or evil

Reversed

great joy, happiness, feasting

"great joy" – the perspective of those he meets at the end of his journey, as if he were the "prodigal son.”

Nine of Cups
Jupiter in Pisces
Material Happiness

Upright

concord, contentment, physical bien-etre

"concord"–the material perspective of the feast

victory, success, advantage

satisfaction for the Querent or person for whom the consultation is made

Reversed

truth, loyalty, liberty

"truth" – a spiritual perspective upon the feast

mistakes, imperfection, etc.

Ten of Cups
Mars in Pisces
Perfected Success

Upright

contentment, repose of the entire heart

"contentment" – the perspective of the father and mother at seeing the rainbow, house, etc.

the perfection of contentment, repose of the entire heart

perfection of human love and friendship

if with several picture-cards, a person who is taking charge of the Querent’s interests

the town, village or country inhabited by the Querent

Reversed

repose of the false heart, indignation, violence

I suspect this is either something personal on Waite’s part, or something to do with Mars. We may not have enough information to understand his meaning for this one.

Playing card backgrounds of the feature image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

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John Iacovelli

I have spent 30+ years in the computing industry. In it I've pretty much done everything from tech support for elderly people doing genealogy, to documenting compilers, to software evangelist, to direct mail guru, to CIO of an international corporation. And here I am, older and gray, getting interested in Tarot? 😉

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