Half-Steps and Stepping Stones

I believe it was Paul Fenton-Smith, in his book Tarot Masterclass, who first introduced me to the idea that reversed cards represent unfinished business from the previous card in the sequence. Thus, if you get the 5 of Pentacles reversed, you still have accounts to settle with the 4 of Pentacles before the Five will express itself fully and directly in its upright manifestation; think of this as a kind of “short-circuit” that defeats the smooth, linear transmission of energy. The idea of a dissonant “feedback loop” appeals to me, although I don’t often use it in practice (mainly because I forget to). But I’m thinking that it may be even more valuable to see a reversed card as a half-step up from the previous card rather than as a return to an earlier, unresolved state of affairs, a provisional glimpse of what comes next delivered in a roundabout manner. I’ve always considered reversal to show an alternate perspective on the inherent nature of a card, a secondary implication that is oblique or understated, but it may in fact be a salient precursor to the emergence of the card’s upright potential.

Consider, for example, that the 7 of Wands reversed could depict a lone combatant ambushed by a superior force, taken by surprise before he has a chance to reach the “high ground” upon which he might prevail. When upright he at least has a fighting chance, but the reversal topples him from his perch and leaves him vulnerable to being swarmed by the enemy; the proper course of action may very well be a “strategic retreat” or withdrawal that I’ve come to associate with the 8 of Wands reversed (as opposed to the “rout” symbolized by its upright orientation). The 2 of Cups reversed might represent a “blind date,” while upright it shows the achievement of an emotional connection. The 9 of Swords reversed suggests being in a deep sleep, the state of unconsciousness in which nightmares hold sway, while upright it depicts a “waking nightmare,” or awakening to find that things are just as bad as you dreamed them to be. The 3 of Pentacles reminds me of the business aphorism “Plan the work and work the plan.” Reversed, it conveys the planning phase where nothing has been finalized, while upright it shows the plan in action, albeit still subject to critical oversight. These are just a few imaginative examples.

I’m a highly visual person who likes to see abstract concepts illustrated graphically. Here is a panorama showing the minor cards of the suit of Wands, with the reversed presentation of each card serving as a half-step or stepping stone to the upright version following it. This places them in a transitional role in which they usher in the  overt expression “through the back door,” so to speak. Reversed cards are sometimes seen as an unnecessary impediment to interpretation, but in this model I’m postulating them as a “rite of passage” in which the energy is subjectively tested and transformed on its way to objective realization. Every card has a private “cross to bear” or “skeleton in the closet” that shapes its ultimate character; at least it’s an intriguing theory.


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