To a certain extent the Fours of the RWS deck can be said to deal with the results of abundance. How best to celebrate abundance other than as part of the community? That is the question that is answered by the Four of Wands. Or how to deal with the ennui of non-stop abundance? That would be the Four of Cups; our wastrel appears to have been the Kardashian of his day. How to deal with the problem of keeping that abundance when you’re a miser? This we see in the case of the Four of Pentacles. The seeming outlier here is the Four of Swords. It’s important not to claim a rule or order when perhaps there is none, so I shall not claim that this card focuses on abundance, as the other three do. Although… we could look at the Four of Swords as an example of the man who has successfully dealt with an abundance of activity in life. He now rests in peace, fondly remembered by the community. Community appears to be the unifying “perspective” in the Fours’ reversals; for it seems to be the community’s view that applies to the reversed meaning in each.
Frankly, if that had been the intention, which I doubt, the fact that the Knight/soldier is now just an effigy doesn’t sell the idea of the active life very well. But perhaps that is the point. For Waite, the next step after too active a life is death, but if you’ve devoted it to the community and God, then you move onto the life everlasting. We see that particular new beginning in the Annunciation scene in the chapel.
But perhaps if we place all four figures on the printed page, we might see a relationship between the figures themselves. Indeed, it might be said that the Fours represent the pop-karmic saying of “What goes around, comes around.” In that respect, we could even place the four figures on a mini-Karmic-Wheel-of-Fortune, which is as good an organizing principle as any.
As usual, this post reiterates the text within the illustrations in the accompanying PDF (link below; note also that the PDF will probably be much easier to read then the bitmap graphic). The purpose is to place the content of the PDF here for the benefit of the web indexers. Unlike the posts at accompany the One Page Guides, there’ll be little or nothing new from this point forward that is not in the PDF. Feel free to skip to the PDF.
In the first post in this series, we introduced the idea that relationships between the divinatory meanings (as defined by Waite in the Pictorial Key to the Tarot) of the upright vs. reversed minor arcana in the RWS can be interpreted as a change of perspective.
In the thirty six cards corresponding to the decans, we find 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.
For the four Fours, the After the Goldrush of the RWS deck, to illustrate the idea of these perspectives, we find the following (Waite’s meanings in regular typeface, my notes in italics):
Four of Wands: Upright: country life—the perspective of outsiders looking at the happy townsfolk. Reversed: the same—two agricultural festivals, spring and fall, opposite side of the zodiac.
Four of Cups: Upright: disgust… aversion—a backwards-in-time perspective upon what was already had, such as the cups upon the ground. Reversed: novelty, presage—a forward-in-time perspective on what more can be had.
Four of Swords: Upright: vigilance—the perspective of the knight before battle. Reversed: administration—the world’s perspective of the soldier’s every day duties on behalf of the crown.
Four of Pentacles: Upright: surety—the perspective of the miserly King, clutching his wealth. Reversed: suspense—the perspective of the would-be inheritors that would like that wealth, awaiting the King’s death.
Though I rely on Waite’s writings, the tarot wheel, wikipedia, and my general cultural education to wrest the stories out, there are many other means to do so. I suspect that what I’m demonstrating in the one page guides, and now, these takes upon the reversals, is that there is no “pure” approach to understanding any given card. If you rely 100% on what has been written by the Golden Dawn, A.E. Waite, or anyone who came after them, you won’t ask the questions that lead to a proper understanding. If you take a 100% intuitive approach, you are likely to miss some of the enormous wisdom and energy that was injected into tarot in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially by Waite and Colman Smith.
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