Monday 15 October 2012

Caitlín Matthews | Reading Reversals

How do we cope with reversals? If you’re a beginner, as I was back in 1969, you probably have enough on your hands just getting to grips with 78 cards, never mind what they might be doing in different positions.

The Wildwood Tarot doesn’t list reversed meanings in the book, mostly because neither Mark nor John personally use them because they are visual readers who like an upright image to read with.  But this doesn’t mean to say that you can’t use them.

If you look at tarot books the world over, you will find that different writers give different kinds of reversals. This is a big variable in tarot, mostly because individual readers have learned their own method of reversal rather than slavishly following someone’s method. Before you pull faces at this variance, look at it this way: it means you are free to decide how to gauge reversals for yourself.

If you are used to reading reversals you will have your own methods already established, but you will have already discovered that there are degrees of difference as to how to read them. While XIII Death/ XIII The Journey reversed can mean ‘escape from death’ it could also have the connotation of ‘a living death,’ for example.

If you are new to reversals, let’s look at five simple ways of reading them which you can remember by the simple acronym of TAROT. Reversals can be gauged as:

Tardy – slowing things down, trailing its coat or reluctant to reveal its quality
Abate– it can abate or reverse the card’s usual effect
Restrained – it can indicate stuckness, obstacles or restraint.
Obverse – just as a coin has a head and tail, sometimes the card shows its complete reverse.
Transferred - when we are in a weak place we tend to find compromises that justify staying where we are or hiding out somewhere else: the card’s power is transferred elsewhere not to us.

Let’s see a single card in action, so you can get the idea: I going to choose a happy card that makes trouble for people when it shows up in reversals: XIX The Sun.

A tardy reversed Sun is when the sun is slow in coming out, or when expected happiness is late arriving. You experienced this when you’re looking forward to going on holiday but are so tired from your travel preparations that you actually only start enjoying it on day 3!

An abating reversed Sun shows up when, instead of things growing, they begin to wither. Instead of the sun coming out, the day is gradually darkening. You can already tell that things are slipping back the other way.

A restrained reversed Sun is when conditions in the card are trying hard but coming to little good. We experience this as forced happiness or when we make excessive attempts to get our health in the right place. We are pulling against the odds and failing. There is a blockage or something we are not seeing?

An obverse reversed Sun can be when, instead of giving radiance and light, the sun becomes intense, burning and overbearing. Suddenly you are in the desert under a blazing heat that is not what you desire.

A transferred reversed Sun can be when we find reflected glory from living in the shadow of someone else. Or instead of growing into your power as a human being, you act in a naïve and immature way. It doesn’t fool anyone and can be damaging to your self-worth.

Part 2 to follow.....

Please note that the content of this blog post is copyright to Caitlín Matthews.


  1. What a great article!! I'll try this out, since I'm feeling a draw to use reversals in my readings.

  2. Hey,
    Thanks for sharing such an amazing and informative post. Really enjoyed reading it. :)


  3. awesome, thank you.... I have struggled for a while trying to determine if there is a "right" way to read the reverses....this helps tremendously!!!

  4. I've often been reading them as like a weak/collapsing core to the upright meaning (with my antique anatomy deck anyway): like page of cups reversed could be a lovely looking relationship that's now rotting from the inside, or death reversed could be holding on so tightly that the transition can't take place. Is this like the abated meaning?