Reversals and Shadows in the Rider Waite Smith Tarot
There have been several articles written about Reversals on the TABI Blog and Forum, so for this one, I decided to mainly look at the Shadow side of The Rider Waite Smith Tarot.
You have probably heard the term Upright & Reversed meanings of the cards. Some readers will ask that the deck is shuffled by spreading them out on the table and moved around (often called washing!) so that some cards are the right way up and some upside down, i.e. reversed.
I personally use The Ancient Italian Deck (a TdeM influenced deck) and starting with all the cards the right way up. Also, if you use a Tarot de Marseilles influenced deck, it is often difficult to decide which way is Upright or Reversed with the Pips/Minors anyway, especially the Batons or Wands.
Whether you choose to use reversed cards or not is down to personal choice, there is no right or wrong way of doing this. However, if a reversed card is laid when I am doing a reading, then I feel that the card has a greater significance for some reason.
The reversal of the cards does not necessarily mean that the card’s meaning is completely reversed either, just that it is diluted in varying degrees or even that there are delays of some sort. The cards all have positive and negative qualities in the imagery anyway, and are also influenced by the cards around them. The Star can very often lift a very negative spread; to give the Querent something positive to focus on for example.
But turning now to the Shadow side of The Tarot, this refers to the hidden side of the images of each card and gives an extension of the meanings. Many years ago, I was introduced to The Tarot of the New Vision by a fellow Tarotist, Michael and the images in this article are from this deck.
The images on each card have now been rotated 180 degrees, so that we no longer see the figure on each from the front, but from the back of him or her. We are given a view of what the scene is behind the figure on the card and potentially what the figure has not or cannot see from the front; we are essentially looking at the scene they are looking at before them. For example, the 6 of Pentacles from the traditional view, shows a man giving coins to those less fortunate than himself. In the Tarot of the New Vision, the man handing out money has rips & tears in the back of his coat which maybe suggests giving out more than he can really afford to and therefore possible financial loss due to excessive generosity.
Not all of the 180 degree turn images are negative of course and some enhance the meaning of the normal image on the card, The Sun and 10 of Cups/Chalices for example.
Some of the Shadow images are surprising; on The Hermit, a serpent is by the Hermit’s feet and on the Page/Knave of Wands, a woman holding a lit torch is seen walking away from the Page. The figures arising from their coffins on Judgment look positively happy and on the 2 of Swords, there is a horse approaching the blindfolded woman; perhaps this is someone coming to her rescue that she cannot see?
There has been a little bit of ‘artistic licence’ with the Shadow images to enable a behind the scenes picture to be formed. The veil behind The High Priestess has been allowed to drop a little and many of the throned Court Cards are at an angle.
All in all, the Shadow side of the deck is to help us look at what is perhaps behind the scenes, hidden agendas or not what it seems and I am sure the images on whichever deck you use could be turned 180 degrees in your mind’s eye to see what lies behind them.
As an exercise, have a look at each image and then imagine what could possibly be behind them; what are they not seeing about the matter.
I often use The Tarot of the New Vision in conjunction with my usual cards and if need be, pick out the relevant card from this deck to emphasise or explain something to my Querent, especially if it is something they cannot ‘see’ about their question.
A useful tool in my box!