The Man Behind the Curtain

In The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan as the Wizard thundered at Dorothy and her companions, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” If memory serves (it’s been a few years since I read the book), in his “master class” material Paul Fenton-Smith mentions that he treats a reversed card in a tarot spread as showing that the potential of the card coming before it in the numerical series went unfulfilled, even when that card doesn’t appear in the reading (it’s “behind the curtain,” so to speak). In other words, the reversal is steering the seeker back up the path to attend to any unfinished business of the earlier card, ideally armed with insights obtained from the inconclusive encounter with its reversed successor. Reversal becomes a type  of “ring pass not” that discourages further growth in the matter until its deficiencies are understood and reconciled with the unrealized aspects of its predecessor. (If there were no unresolved issues with the latter, there would be no reason to populate the full sequence; all we would need is the Fool and the World, or the Aces and Tens.)

In considering Paul Huson’s observation that the Tower (Trump XVI) should really be designated “the Devil’s House,” it struck me that the Devil (Trump XV) is therefore the behind-the-scenes “heartless landlord” for the hapless residents of the stricken tower, especially if he has spurned (literally, “turned his back on it” when reversed) the moderation offered by his antecedent, Temperance (Trump XIV). I can see this applying even when the Tower isn’t reversed; for that matter, reversal may never be a prerequisite for making this idea work across the entire deck. However, it does add nuance to the equation since it can imply willfully evading what should be as “plain as day” about past inadequacies or imperfections. (“If we don’t look at it, it will go away.”)

As the “calm after the storm” and with the passing of time, the reversed Star presents the risk of glossing over the causes that led to the catastrophe of the Tower (“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana), and – especially when reversed – the noncommittal Moon following it isn’t about to delve into that particular can of worms, preferring to “let sleeping dogs lie.” It takes the unblinking glare of the Sun (pitiless when reversed) to chase the shadows that the Moon allowed to linger, but Judgement (when its “fangs are pulled” by reversal) may feel that the Sun was entirely too arbitrary in roasting all and sundry when they at least deserved a trial. For its part, the World is not at all certain it wants a fresh batch of apocalyptic refugees on its doorstep just when things were going good, and reversal emphatically closes the door. It looks like the bickering of a dysfunctional family to me, with reversal adding fuel to the fire in the form of stubborn unwillingness to cooperate or even to consider the earlier point-of-view.

In the minor arcana, the RWS 9 and 10 of Swords provide an instructive case study, with the reversed Ten being more of a “9.5” than a “perfect 10.” I’ve long noted that the sword-points in the 9 of Swords disappear off the right side of the card almost as if they’re eager to bury themselves in the back of the unfortunate traveler in the neighboring 10 of Swords. It suggests that the despairing person in the 9 of Swords (let’s call it a woman) can assuage her dark fantasies only by visiting them on a scapegoat or sacrificial victim (I see a voodoo-doll “pincushion” in the 10 of Swords). For his part, the man in the 10 of Swords “never saw it coming.” In fact, if the 10 of Swords were reversed it might even thwart this goal because the man would have his back turned away from the incoming swords.The advice for the querent would be to examine her motives for always trying to transfer blame for her anxieties onto others.

The point of this exercise is that any reversed card should be handled as part of a developmental “duet” with its foregoing neighbor. It’s unlikely that the rest of the two-card combinations would mesh so seamlessly, but it seems like a notion worth pursuing. The Empress and Emperor make a compelling pair from this perspective, she as the “power behind the throne” with the Emperor’s reversal making him seem impotent in comparison. Another take would be that when he is occasionally away (out on campaign or off on business), she “rules the roost;” it also suggests a full-time “absentee father” who forces her into the spotlight as family authority figure and provider. The Moon and Sun are another, with the Moon pushing its agenda when the Sun is looking the other way. With the Sun reversed, it could in effect be “obscured by clouds,” making it imperative to “look in all the dark corners” when the dawn eventually breaks. In these instances, reversal implies a past lack of trust or error of judgment (maybe an “error of omission?”) regarding the previous card’s expression that must be rectified in the present. Something about the situation has “lost its way,” and querents are advised to retrace their steps to see where they went astray, effectively getting back on firm ground.

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