There is often confusion about reversed cards in a reading. Some readers don't use reversed card meanings, they say, and some of those who say that mean that they aren't looking at the negative concepts that a reversed card often suggests (this is a misconception, by the way - not all reversed card meanings are suggestive of negative indications) while other readers who say they don't use reversed cards do understand that some cards have influences around them that will lead toward what can be found in books under the "keywords for reversed card meanings." Then this leads to the question of why some use reversed cards in their reading (that is, should the card land in an upside down position, it will be read differently than if read while upright) and why some do not. And among those that do not, how can you tell if they are using what are called "dignities" or influences around the card to determine if it reads its generally "positive" upright definition or if it should read its sometimes less positive meaning?
For instance, the Ace of Wands is like a giant match stick. It signals in a reading a sparking of ambition, the initiation of a new direction, optimistic energy and maybe an adventure. And in certain cases it can represent the growing excitement of the sexually active male. But is that all there is to this card? Doesn't it sometimes also mean missing an opportunity? Having a bad start at it? Going limp and needing time to start over another day? Yes, such would be the case if your reading included reversed cards. But if the reader doesn't "use" reversed cards, how would they know which ideas to choose from?
There's always the old standby answer of "I just use my intuition." But if you research the clinical tests that have been done concerning intuition and its development, or ask someone who is certainly very intuitive where the intuition comes from, after the typical cheap answer of "I dunno, it just (yawn) comes to me," they will ramble on about how this showed up and that showed up and they thought this and this shined brighter and that made sense and so suddenly they were able to feel as if they just somehow knew the answer. That is, according to research, intuitive leaps occur when there is enough variety of data (and sometimes maybe too much to add up all at once) that the picture or complete idea behind everything began to just seem simple to see. Like looking at those pictures where you have to squint your eyes, look far away and then close up again, and then suddenly seemingly random dots and blobs take on the shape of a three dimensional picture of dolphins in the sea at play around a yellow submarine. Intuition doesn't "just happen," it’s a product of a collection of data and the ability to assimilate it all at a glance. Intuition is a gift, but it is a gift that all mammals are born with (except of course those with cerebral handicaps). Trustworthy intuition, on the other hand, like any talent that any human being could learn to increase, is a trained skill.
The amount of data that exists in tarot is incredible. Lay down five, ten, fifteen or more cards on your table and that data has increased exponentially! Add to this that some cards will land upright and some will land reversed (unless, like me, you have certain decks you shuffle in such a way as to insure that they don't mix with reverse cards in them) and your amount of available data has just stacked itself to the ends of time. It's huge!
But as I hinted above, it doesn't matter if you allow reversed cards to be on your table or not, every card has two sides to it. If you, as a reader, do not know that or refuse to accept that, you are falling short of giving the most accurate and detailed reading you can.
There are those who don't read reversed cards in their readings who I've seen in conversation get very vehement about this subject. Sometimes I just get the impression that this topic stirs a great deal of spiritual pride in these people. This troubles me because spiritual pride is, to me, the greatest hallmark of a roadblock to spiritual progress. I would say for certain that spiritual pride is definitely not the hallmark of a worshipful master or teacher. Can a teacher be qualified if he or she has forgotten what it was like to be the pupil? It's for this reason, among others, that I decided I needed to write about this subject. Another motivation behind this article is for the other side of the fence, those who use reversed cards in their readings and how I want to 1) explain to them how not using cards turned upside down as the sole indicator of significance is a viable practice and 2) how they can use the "non-reversed" card systems to enhance their reading depth and accuracy.
Allow me to begin by explaining the basic nature of the tarot cards. Tarot is based on both the Western Qabalah and Astrology. It is a collection of pictorial expressions in numbered fashion designed to suggest to the reader the concepts associated with each card as understood by both the study of Western Qabalah and Ancient Astrology. The suits of the Minor Arcana represent the Four Worlds of the Qabalah as do the numbers represent the Ten Spheres or Sepheroth as understood in the Hebrew based numerology system. On top of the numeric and mystic system of the Qabalah is superimposed the system of Astrology. The Major Arcana contains the 12 signs of the Zodiac, the Seven Sacred Planets of Ancient Astrology, and the Elements. Four of the sixteen cards that are called the court cards also belong to the elements, but not at the same level as the three Majors do. The other twelve members of the court cards belong to signs of the Zodiac also, but again, not in the same way as the Majors (The majors are actually the Signs & Houses they rule whereas the court cards suggest rising signs). The aces are the elements themselves and the remaining 36 small cards fit into each of the 36 decanate of the Zodiac, representing ten degrees of The Wheel each. This alone can make for a very complicated system.
Add to this system, just like you would in using Astrology, that some of the planets can be stationary or retrograde, some of the Houses or Signs can be negatively afflicted or captured (also known as "hidden"), and some elements or configurations can lead to afflictions of some or all the natures and intelligences found in an astrological chart, and you have the same concepts that would be expressed if we were to say that a card in a reading was afflicted, averse in its influence, or (if used) reversed.
So as you might imagine, if you know your astrology and your tarot well enough, and you have a pretty solid tarot spread you use that allows well for this knowledge of astrology and its techniques, you do not need to use reversed cards to determine if this card or that should read this way or the other. And further, the more you know about this system of using DIGNITIES to determine exactly what a card is meaning, the more information you can glean in the reading. But this is not the only system of dignities readers are using. There's another, much simpler understanding of dignities that merely depends on the four elements of each card and how well they work together as well as the "active" and "passive" (or male and female) nature of each card. This is in conjunction with the astrological method, but pairs it down to a more general sense and (no pun intended) elementary model.
I'm not sure when reversed cards came into fashion. All the older works on Tarot that I have studied do not mention them although they do mention the two tiers of meaning each card can have. These two structures of meaning assigned each card are variously called "card meaning" and "averse meaning," or "ill-dignified," or "inflicted." Those, by the way, are all astrological terms used as far back as writings about astrology have been in existence. On the other hand, it isn't until the 1960s or 1970s when popularized tarot decks become a vogue that we start seeing the words "reversed meaning" in books. But if someone wants to play detective and discover the first time this terminology was used, I would be eternally grateful. So... until I am proved otherwise that this fashion did not exist until Tarot became a toy available to any school girl to buy and play with, I am going to say that using reversed cards in your reading is a lazy way of excusing a lack of knowledge about the astrological method of reading the cards.
That isn't to say that I don't use reversed cards in my readings. In some spreads, only the use of reversed cards can give us enough information to allow for a fuller understanding in the reading. For instance, using the Celtic Cross spread would be incredibly inferior in reading the situation(s) if we didn't use reversed cards. Also, with my "Yes/No Answer" spread, I use reversed cards and with my "Relationship Perspective" readings. For these spreads/readings, I have assigned specific decks to each in which when I shuffle I not only allow for reversals, I encourage them. But with my Thoth decks, which I use for the fifteen card spread and for some three card spread readings, as well as some other more complicated readings I do for personal use, I shuffle them in a so as to avoid reversed cards (but in that deck, on the rare occasion a card comes up reversed I do consider if it might be more significant for some reason).
As a final word, even if one uses the reversed card method of reading this does not mean that they cannot also incorporate the concepts of the elemental dignities or numerological dignities and so forth, nor are they prevented from using the astrological concepts I alluded to before - but as for that, the astrological dignities, I wouldn't encourage mixing it with reversed card spreads. That could lead to confusions.