I’ve mentioned that I’ve been reading Jonathan Dee’s Fortune Telling Using Playing Cards. In it he describes a “Romany” method of reading that uses reversals (apparently old playing cards weren’t double-ended so you could do that easily; now you have to mark them first). In his discussion of reversals he brought up a point that I hadn’t considered before, at least not in quite the same way. He suggested that reversal shows a full or partial “undoing” of what the card might have meant if it were upright. Most modern interpretation focuses on blocking or delaying of the card’s expression, an active obstruction of its usual influence. To me, undoing implies a loss of momentum, resolve or enthusiasm for whatever might have been “in the cards,” like the energy somehow loses its way and becomes moot within the context of the question. Now that I think of it, the uncommon word “mooting” (or rendering irrelevant) is also an interesting possibility. It brings to mind an “in-process unraveling” of the thread of the story before it eventually (and hopefully) jells. Derailment of purpose, as in “running out of gas,” stalling, or being “shunted off” is another more recognizable analogy.
I have dozens of terms that I use to describe the potential effect of reversal on a card’s typical action. Now and then I add a new one, as I did in my last post on the subject. I’ve wandered far afield from the old assumption that reversal simply represents the exact opposite of the upright meaning, such that a “bad” card miraculously becomes “good.” It always struck me that the Universe just doesn’t work that way; if you’re going to stumble, perhaps all reversal does is deflect your attention and make you less aware of the consequences of landing on your head. We might think of them as shuttering our conscious perspective such that our reaction to the stimulus may be instinctive, the way a cloud passing across the face of the Sun surprises us with the sudden lack of sunlight. There is a Pink Floyd song that speaks to it, “Comfortably Numb” – although the lassitude isn’t (necessarily) drug-induced. Reversal might also reflect a valuable distraction that “takes our eye off the ball” to the point that we’re able to see what is really going on in the situation “out of the corner of our eye,” so to speak; rather than merely “living through” the moment, we are afforded an opportunity in advance to contemplate its significance.
In a practical sense, the concept of “undoing” takes a half-step backward into the traditional idea that what was likely to transpire under normal (that is, “upright”) circumstances is somehow “canceled.” But I believe (as I do with almost everything connected with reversal) that it isn’t as simple as that. I like to say that reversal adds color and nuance to a card’s interpretation (think of it as “shading”), making for a more subtle impression. Granted, to be “undone” means to be defeated in one’s aspirations, perhaps “coming unglued” as we struggle to make progress in the matter. “Shooting with blanks” is another way to look at it; we can see the target vaguely but we couldn’t hit it to save our lives because we’re led astray by misapprehension. There is a gap between the appearance and the reality of the situation that defies our ability to confront it with confidence. It may mean a loss of traction or mobility in trying to come to grips with an elusive (and perhaps fleeting) opportunity to do something constructive or avoid doing something self-destructive – depending on the nature of the card – that may be “hiding in the bushes” or “flying under the radar.” In any event, there is nothing straightforward about the phenomenon of reversal.